How to get into medical school: 8 expert tips on crafting the perfect personal statement

With the UCAS deadline less than one week away, your personal statement is hopefully nearly finished. But before you submit, make sure you haven’t made these eight common mistakes

Rohan Agarwal
Monday 10 October 2016 10:24 BST
Students gearing towards a career in medicine will need to send off their UCAS personal statements soon
Students gearing towards a career in medicine will need to send off their UCAS personal statements soon (Getty)

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1) Give it your all

You’ll frequently hear statements like “Medical schools don’t care about your personal statement anymore — it’s all about your admissions test (UKCAT/BMAT) and interview scores”.

Don’t let this demoralise you — many universities still shortlist for interviews using the personal statement. And although certain universities won’t focus much on the personal statements in the initial stages, many will still use them at interviews.

Thus, it’s worth investing time into your statement to ensure it mentions topics that you’d potentially like to discuss at your interview.

2) Don't state the obvious

This includes phrases like “I am studying A-level biology which has helped me learn about human biology”.

Admissions tutors can see from the UCAS form what A-level subjects you are studying and the knowledge you claim is obvious. They are looking for what makes you unique and how you differentiate yourself from others.

Most applicants study broadly similar A-levels, anyway, so this won’t help you stand out — It is unnecessary and a waste of words.

3) Remember, you can't predict the future

The most common way students do this is by writing about books they haven’t read yet — this is risky.

Even if you genuinely intend to read the book, you can’t make any intelligent observations about it if you haven’t read it yet. In addition, you are then committed to reading it through even if you find it very dull, or you risk being caught out in an interview.

Stick to things you have already read. If you don’t have much to say, pick some short books and journal articles and make a start today!

4) Avoid harsh criticism

It’s great to show two sides of an argument and it’s perfectly acceptable to disagree. However, it is wise to avoid excessively strong criticism of anything for two reasons.

Firstly, you are still early in your academic journey; questioning established knowledge makes a good scientist, but dismissing the work of eminent scientists will make you seem ignorant or arrogant, and should be avoided.

Secondly, you never know who is going to interview you — it could be the person you are criticising, or a close friend or work colleague of theirs.

I am aware of one Cambridge interview where a student had strongly criticised a book in their personal statement. Guess who the interviewer turned out to be....

In general, it’s a good idea to avoid controversy in any form, be it strong opinions or any other matter. You don’t want to make an impression for the wrong reasons, and if you irritate the reader you’re making life needlessly difficult.

5) Don't make long lists

Anything you include must be there for a reason.

Very few things have an intrinsic value, rather the value comes from the knowledge you gain and the skills you develop by doing the activities. Therefore, reeling off a long list of sports that you play won’t impress anyone.

Instead, focus on specifics and indicate what you have learned from doing each thing you mention.

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6) There's no point in including anything that happened before GCSE

If something started when you were nine, and you have continued it up until today then you should absolutely include it, as it shows great commitment.

Resist the temptation to talk about the archery you stopped practicing four years ago, however. This could signal that you don’t have much going on now – not the impression you want to be making.

7) Plagiarism is a no-no

It goes without saying that you must not plagiarise, but it's still the most important point to make.

Plagiarism of another personal statement is the easiest way to get yourself into big trouble. UCAS use sophisticated detection software and if any significant match shows up (not necessarily the whole statement, just a few identical sentences are enough), then universities you apply to will be notified and are likely to blacklist your application for this year and for the future.

8) Leave out the clichés

Admissions tutors have to review hundreds of applications. As you can imagine, after they read ten personal statements, all of them start to blur into one.

To make this worse, students tend to take inspiration from “model statements” leading to some statements being carbon copies of each other... For example: “From a young age, I have always been interested in…” and “For as long as I can remember, I have been fascinated with…” were literally used over 200 times each in last year's applications (and that’s not even accounting for very similar variants).

Remember, your personal statement needs to be personal to you — resist the urge to copy, paste or adapt sections of other statements which may sound good.

Ultimately, your personal statement is your opportunity to show your reasons for choosing medicine, your motivation and your personal skills which will make you succeed and excel as one of tomorrow’s doctors.

Rohan Agarwal is the Director of UniAdmissions — a tutoring agency that helps students with their applications to Oxbridge, Medical and Law schools.

Parts of the above are adapted from The Ultimate Medical Personal Statement Guide which contains examples of 100 successful medical school personal statements.

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