Medical School Essay Character Count

Given that the average applicant in 2009-2010 applied to 13 programs, the AMCAS can save you a ton of time by allowing you to submit just one application rather than a dozen or more. Learn more about the AMCAs personal statement in this article.

AMCAS (American Medical College Application Service) is a centralized application service for medical schools, allowing you to save time by submitting just one application. With over 140 MD granting institutions participating, you’ll likely use AMCAS if you’re applying to medical school in the US. While this service does enhance convenience, it also makes it even more difficult to stand out. Most applicants will have similar backgrounds to yours, and the AMCAS personal statement is your biggest opportunity to show who you are as an individual and persuade the admissions officers to choose you.

As part of your AMCAS application package, you’ll be asked to write a personal statement of not more than 5,300 characters. Although it varies from essay to essay, this will give you enough room for an essay of about one page and one paragraph. This is a hard limit, and the system won’t accept more characters than that, so it is important to keep this limit in mind as you plan and write your essay. Most word processors will give you two character counts, one that includes spaces and one that does not. For the AMCAS personal statement, spaces count as characters.

However, the bigger issue for applicants is that AMCAS doesn’t provide a traditional prompt. You will simply be asked to write an essay about why you want to go to med school. Therefore, what exactly should you include in your AMCAS essay?

Ultimately, that decision is yours, but the admissions officers will be looking for you to show passion for patients and potential to excel both in medical school and in your future career as a doctor. To help, consider these four questions.

Why are you pursuing a career in medicine?

Of course, you are free to answer this question any way you like. However, unless the answer is that you want to make patient’s lives better, medicine might not be for you. From beginning to end, make sure that your essay is patient-focused.

Also, it is common for applicants to begin their essay with an anecdote from their childhood. In our experience, med schools are really only interested in your life after you began college and won’t particularly be impressed with anything before that regardless of how important it was in your path to choosing this career. Instead, choose stories that show the adult you taking concrete steps in the field of medicine.

What makes you an excellent candidate to become a physician? Why do you have what it takes to succeed?

Not only do you need a strong academic track record in the sciences, med schools are looking for applicants who have developed the personality characteristics that will serve them well as a doctor. In your essay, you might want to write about compassion, team work, and respect for patient autonomy. You don’t need to write about all three, but the anecdotes that you choose should reflect an applicant who has not only technical knowhow but ethics and interpersonal skills.

What do you feel that an admissions officer should know about you that is not included elsewhere in your application?

The other parts of the AMCAS application are highly standardized, so the essay gives you a chance to elaborate on who you are outside of your transcripts, test scores, and activities. What activities do you enjoy outside of the classroom? How will you contribute not only to study groups but to the student body as a whole?

Are there any elements of your application that need further explanation or elaboration?

Life is college is not always smooth, and you might have some areas in your transcript or test scores that warrant further explanation. Applicants can be very apprehensive about addressing these issues within the essay out of fear that what they write will harm their application. Therefore, when writing about these situations, always be factual about what occurred and then move quickly to how you resolved the issue and have become a more mature and resilient applicant as a result.

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Don’t underestimate the power of the medical school personal statement to make a strong, positive impression on an admissions committee. Combined with your interview performance, your personal statement can account for 60% (or more) of your total admissions score!

Medical schools want to enroll bright, empathetic, communicative people. Here's how to write a compelling med school personal statement that shows schools who you are and what you're capable of.

Personal Statement Topics

Your medical school personal statement is a component of your primary application submitted via AMCAS, TMDSAS (for Texas applications), or AACOMAS (NB: If you are applying to medical school in Canada, confirm the application process with your school, as not all application components may be submitted through AMCAS).

These applications offer broad topics to consider, and many essay approaches are acceptable. For example, you could write about:

  • an experience that challenged or changed your perspective about medicine
  • a relationship with a mentor or another inspiring individual
  • a challenging personal experience
  • unique hardships, challenges, or obstacles that may have influenced your educational pursuits
  • your motivation to seek a career in medicine

You'll write an additional essay (or two) when you submit secondary applications to individual schools. These essays require you to respond to a specific question. Admissions committees will review your entire application, so choose subject matter that complements your original essay .

How to Write a Personal Statement for Medical School

Follow these personal statement tips to help the admissions committee better understand you as a candidate.

1. Write, re-write, let it sit, and write again!

Allow yourself 6 months of writing and revision to get your essay in submission-ready shape. This gives you the time to take your first pass, set your draft aside (for a minimum of 24 hours), review what you’ve written, and re-work your draft.

2. Stay focused.

Your personal statement should highlight interesting aspects of your journey—not tell your entire life story. Choose a theme, stick to it, and support it with specific examples.

3. Back off the cliches.

Loving science and wanting to help people might be your sincere passions, but they are also what everyone else is writing about. Instead, be personal and specific.

4. Find your unique angle.

What can you say about yourself that no one else can? Remember, everyone has trials, successes and failures. What's important and unique is how you reacted to those incidents. Bring your own voice and perspective to your personal statement to give it a truly memorable flavor. 

5. Be interesting.

Start with a “catch” that will create intrigue before launching into the story of who you are. Make the admissions committee want to read on!

6. Show don't tell.

Instead of telling the admissions committee about your unique qualities (like compassion, empathy, and organization), show them through the stories you tell about yourself. Don’t just say it—actually prove it.

7. Embrace the 5-point essay format.

Here's a trusty format that you can make your own:

  • 1st paragraph: These four or five sentences should "catch" the reader's attention.
  • 3-4 body paragraphs: Use these paragraphs to reveal who you are. Ideally, one of these paragraphs will reflect clinical understanding and one will reflect service.
  • Concluding paragraph: The strongest conclusion reflects the beginning of your essay, gives a brief summary of you are, and ends with a challenge for the future.

8. Good writing is simple writing.

Good medical students—and good doctors—use clear, direct language. Your essays should not be a struggle to comprehend.

9. Be thoughtful about transitions.

Be sure to vary your sentence structure. You don’t want your essay to be boring! Pay attention to how your paragraphs connect to each other.

Good medical students—and good doctors—use clear, direct language.

10. Stick to the rules.

Watch your word count. That’s 5,300 characters (including spaces) for AMCAS applications, 5,000 characters for TMDSAS, and 4,500 characters for AACOMAS.

11. Stay on topic.

Rambling not only uses up your precious character limit, but it also causes confusion! Think about the three to five “sound bytes” you want admissions committee to know and remember you by.

12. Don't overdo it.

Beware of being too self-congratulatory or too self-deprecating.

13. Seek multiple opinions.

Before you hit “submit,” ask several people you trust for feedback on your personal statement. The more time you have spent writing your statement, the less likely you are to spot any errors. A professor or friend whose judgment and writing skills you trust is invaluable.

14. Double-check the details.

Always check for grammar, spelling, and punctuation errors. This goes for the rest of your application (like your activities list), too. A common oversight is referencing the wrong school in your statement! Give yourself (and your proofreaders) the time this task truly requires.

15. Consult the experts about your personal statement strategy.

Our med school admissions counselors can diagnose the “health” of your overall application, including your personal statement. Get expert help and guidance to write an effective personal statement that showcases not only your accomplishments, but your passion and your journey.


Want to get an edge over the crowd?

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