3 reasons your personal statement is making you look foolish and what to do about it

by     6 Comments    Posted under: Interviews, Personal Statement

medical school personal statementNothing gets our back up more than an unrealistic attitude to what a career in medicine is all about. We want to recruit competent future doctors, not disillusioned, depressed dropouts”

(Former admissions tutor at a UK medical school)


I’ve seen a great number of personal statements and one thing is clear. It is very easy to separate the clear winners from the clear losers. Apart from these there are those ‘in between’ statements who may get just about qualify for an interview but are highly likely to get shot down and rejected on the basis of one or two misjudged sentences.

The plan is to get shortlisted of course, but be aware that a large percentage of your interview will be based on your personal statement. Interviews will be stressful and that ridiculous line in your application will come up at some point of the interview. Don’t shoot yourself before you begin.

Mistake number 1: Unviable reasons for choosing medicine.
I’ve seen alot of statements recently that hinge around one pivotal life event such as a family bereavement (or worse still 9/11!) leading to a sudden desperation to become a doctor. This may make your statement easier to write, particularly if you’re finding it difficult to define your real reasons, but they rarely stand up to scrutiny.

So if you had surgery at a young age or your mother is on dialysis, mention it very briefly as a reason that sparked your interest but not as a sole cause. Better to mention how various aspects of a medical career appeal to you such as an interest in science, working with people, being able to provide effective interventions to solve problems etc. True or not, these are realistic and easy to justify at interview. Remember, your success in getting into medical school does not depend on having the most unique and awe-inspiring reason for wanting to be a doctor. If you are still struggling here, check out our article on how to explain why you want to go to medical school.

Mistake number 2: Poor English
Obviously poor grammar and spelling are a disaster and if you send off your application form with either of these problems you deserve to fail.

More commonly, applications are technically fine but are worded badly or use convoluted sentence structures. This often happens following multiple revisions of a statement by numerous well meaning people who know little about eloquence  or sentence structure.

Keep your sentences short and sharp. Avoid cliches. Each clearly seperate paragraph should deal with a specific area of your application.  Remember George Orwell’s rules

  1. Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
  2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.
  3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
  4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.
  5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
  6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

Mistake number 3: Lies

Lies are more common than you might believe. They are also quite easy to spot, particularly under the glare of an interview. If you get found out you will lose out on the whole application for the current year and possible future years too, as word travels upstream quite fast.

More importantly, people who lie have usually misunderstood the whole point of the application process. Quite apart from any ethical considerations, there should be no need to lie. It is quite easy to make a half achievement from year 7, sound good enough to your reader by careful wording and some thought to what the admissions tutors are looking for. See the personal statement guide for examples of how to do this.

There are plenty of other mistakes people make, but the above are very common and really make you impossible to differentiate from the many many fools in this game.




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6 Comments + Add Comment

  • Plenty of people lie on their section 10 and I personally know people who have benefitted from it.
    How often do you as a an interviewer catch people out for lying?
    Also if you suspect something is a lie, do you always explore further at interview?


    • Quite often Mary. Although I’m sure many people get away with it too.
      I recently heard someone get rejected for stating fluency in a language that one of the interview panel knew well.
      It didn’t take long for the lie to get full exposure and the candidate was sent home empty handed.

      I have many examples. Who knows, they may appear in a long and entertainig article here.

  • Awesome.

    Just wanted to say thanks for helping me out in my interview! I’m sure you remember me.

    • Hey I think I do!

      Well done on everything, really. Exemplary.

  • A quick question for you.

    I have a definite preference for oxford or cambridge as I’m applying there and my personal statement will reflect that.
    Does that mean other med schools will look down upon my application? Shood I leave the personal stateent more ambiguous? Or would other schools know where I’ve applied anyway?

    Thanks for the great website and unique info.

    • First of all, why are you applying to Oxford or Cambridge? Is it for the reputation? Are you planning an international or academic career?

      For most doctors there isn’t a major advantage careerwise but a definite disadvantage for your univeristy lifestyle and available time to chill out.

      However, in answer to your question, no the other medical schools won’t know for certain where else you’ve applied, and if you’re good enough for them they’ll offer you a place anyway.

      Be the best you can and you’ll be OK!