The AMCAS Essay: Before You Start

Sometimes the most challenging step is the first one. While it is really important to begin your AMCAS essay sooner rather than later, it is crucial that you get started in the right direction. Writing the AMCAS essay is hard enough, but it will be much harder if you end up wasting hours writing something you can't use. Below are a couple of steps you should think through thoroughly before you even start planning your essay.

How to Start Your AMCAS Essay the Right Way

1 - Don’t answer the wrong question

Why do you want to be a doctor?

No, no, no.

The biggest problem with the AMCAS process is a fundamental misunderstanding. Most candidates writing the essay believe that they are explaining “why I want to be a doctor.” So it is not surprising that so many deathless clichés come into play in countless AMCAS essays (“chance to serve others”; “opportunity to serve my community”; “pursue my passion”; “share my knowledge”). This won’t do at all.

You need to answer this question:

What have you done to prepare for medical school?

The good news is that this is a much easier question to answer to your own benefit, because this is not a “why” question (leading to the countless deathless clichés about your motivation) but rather a “what” question (in response to which you can offer facts that no other candidates can offer).

There are of course many different approaches to writing an AMCAS statement. But as an editor who has a lot of experience with AMCAS statements, I believe that answering the wrong question is what gets most students into trouble. They are asking themselves “why do I want to do this?” throughout the writing process, stumbling upon repetitive platitudes. Instead, they need to be asking themselves “what have I done to prepare for this?” – and stick to the facts.

2 - Don’t write to the wrong person

The other problem you face is the unique nature of the AMCAS statement. It is an essay, a personal statement, and a marketing document, in many ways unlike anything you have ever written before.

The most important thing to remember is this: This is marketing. The tone is actually much more important than the content. For this reason, I recommend this approach: write your essay to a specific friend. The person needs to be someone you trust and whose guidance you value.

There are two advantages to this approach. The first advantage is that this will keep you from saying anything like this:

My academic background will combine with my leadership experience and athletic training to enable me to provide my classmates with valuable insights based on my personal experiences.

This is a lovely sentence. But would you write such a sentence to a friend? Of course not. It is very formal, and it does not really tell your friend anything, does it?

Again: It is all about the tone, and if you are writing for some vague, unseen and potentially threatening reader, no wonder you are having trouble! Stop writing for a “teacher” or “reader” and actually write your AMCAS essay to a specific friend. The result can be a more clear and concise essay, and a more humble one as well.

The other advantage is that if you are writing to a friend, you will actually leave out quite a few personal details about your motivation, trying instead to clarify the facts, and your reader on the admissions committee is more interested in the facts than in anything else.

Your reader is your friend. This is not just a saying. Put it to work for you.

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