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Five Common Personal Statement Mistakes and How To Fix Them

By Sue Afsari

As we head into medical school application season, thousands of aspiring doctors are brainstorming and drafting their primary applications. Year after year, I see applicants making some common mistakes in their personal statements. Crafting an effective statement is a process that often involves multiple revisions and begins with deep self-reflection. It's essential to remember that your story is uniquely yours, and there's no magical formula for creating the perfect statement. It takes time and introspection to develop authentic narratives that resonate emotionally and leave a lasting impression on the reader.

Mistake 1: Not Trusting Your Inner Voice and Reflection

Imagine you're chatting with a close friend or confiding in a parent about your dreams of becoming a doctor. You'd speak from the heart, right? Your personal statement should do the same. One of the most common mistakes I see is applicants not trusting the uniqueness of their own perspective. Begin writing as though you’re in a heartfelt conversation with someone who believes in you. Share your genuine thought processes and aspirations as if you were talking to your biggest supporter. What compels you to seek this path? 

Mistake 2: Not Making Thoughtful Content Choices

Crafting a compelling personal statement hinges on making deliberate choices about what to include. The statement isn’t your opportunity to list your accomplishments but an exercise in the art of selection. What experiences mattered the most to you on your journey to medicine? If you decide to write about a clinical or research experience, picture yourself there and go beyond the surface to explore your experience.

Resist the temptation to fill your statement with every academic and professional detail. Less is more when it comes to your personal statement. Think of it as curating a gallery of your pre-med journey's most significant moments. Handpick a select few snapshots, the extraordinary moments of personal connection, realizations, patient interactions, or instances where medicine directly impacted lives.

In my collaborative work with students, I prioritize the process of uncovering the “why” behind their choices and assist in selecting the key moments that authentically showcase their journeys and aspirations. 

Mistake 3: Overloading Your Stories

In crafting their key moments, I often see students using excessive details, including too much backstory, or relying on clichés like describing racing hearts or teary eyes. Instead, aim for a concise, personal depiction to create vivid, engaging moments with just a few well-chosen words. You’ve probably heard about the importance of "showing" rather than "telling." Showing involves creating scenes and allowing the reader to draw their own conclusions while telling simply states facts. Showing is much more powerful.

I understand that not all pre-med students are natural writers. Crafting a compelling narrative that stirs emotions and leaves an impact requires a unique skill set. My role is to help students strike the right balance, ensuring their personal statement evolves into an engaging and memorable reading experience.

Mistake 4: Being Overly Formal

Your personal statement isn't a formal essay; it's your opportunity to reveal your personality, aspirations, and the journey that has brought you to this point. Some applicants tend to sound overly formal—attempting to cram too much into their sentences and using overly complex vocabulary words that feel forced.

Trying too hard to impress is often noticeable, so it's best to be yourself. In your final edits, you can refine word choice, but the overall flow of your narrative and how you express your genuine self will be the most critical factors in crafting a compelling statement.

Mistake #5: Relying Too Heavily on AI

In this era of AI-assisted writing tools, students need to exercise caution. There is a big gap between genuine, authentic writing and AI-generated prose, and admissions committees can easily spot the difference. Also, as AI detectors become increasingly sophisticated, there’s a growing risk of breaching the integrity standards of the medical school application process set forth by AMCAS and TMDSAS. 


When it comes to your medical school essays, maintaining originality is a must. Your unique voice should resonate consistently throughout the extensive body of work you’ll produce through the application process, from your personal statements to the multitude of secondary essays you’ll craft. Don't fall into the trap of letting AI overshadow your genuine narrative.

With over a decade of experience in the medical school admissions landscape, Sue Afsari has integrated strategic consulting, professional writing, and storytelling skills to guide aspiring doctors toward their dream of medical school acceptance. 

For a complete list of mistakes, tips, and advice for approaching the Personal Statement, reach out to Sue at True North Essay Consulting. For a deeper dive into effective strategies to improve your application, hone your school lists, and set yourself up for success, contact Julie Leff at Leff Premed Advising


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