What is the target length for your ERAS personal statement? Aim for between 600 and 800 words.
A great personal statement will help present you as a top-notch residency applicant, and making sure yours is the proper length is the first step toward engaging your readers.
That said, word count is not as important as content. If your residency personal statement is littered with errors or isn’t compelling, it will negatively affect your chances of matching. Check out my comprehensive guide to writing a winning personal statement for tons of tips.
Okay, but why am I so sure about my 600 to 800-word guideline? Because, over many years now, I’ve personally helped HUNDREDS of students land THOUSANDS of interviews. In fact, check out my comprehensive guide for tons of tips and best practices you can use to write a winning personal statement.
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Why the "One Page" Myth is BAD Personal Statement Length Advice
By now you’ve probably heard from friends or advisors that your residency personal statement length should be exactly one page. No more, no less.
The problem with this rule is that “one page” could mean lots of different things.
For example, one page in Microsoft Word using Calibri 11pt font will yield a different word count than a single page in Google Docs’s default Arial 11pt font.
What if you use longer or shorter words? And didn’t you ever mess with a document’s spacing to try to spread that two-page undergrad term paper into three pages. Can you try those types of tricks with our medical residency personal statement?
No. You can’t.
ERAS automatically formats the text of your personal statement once you copy and paste it into its field. With ERAS standard formatting, 530 words or so are typically all that will fit on one printed page, and that’s only if programs even bother to print it out at all. Of course, word length, punctuation, indentation, and paragraph frequency and spacing factor in as well.
The truth is that most readers don’t care if your personal statement’s length is more than one page. Especially if it’s engaging.
All that said, you do want your personal statement to be at least 600 words.
How To Write More
500 words is not enough. If you submit such a short personal statement, many readers will think you are either bored or, worse, they might think you’re BORING.
But my life and/or medical journey is totally uninteresting, you might say. I can guarantee it’s not! Quite literally, there is nobody on Earth like you -- just being a human being ensures you are one of a kind.
So, please, wave hello to your imposter syndrome, put it aside, and get to work brainstorming.
Don't worry about coming across as some kind of mind-blowing candidate. Forget about writing an earth-shattering personal statement. Think about it: That’s what your competition is doing.
Everyone wants to stand out, and in doing so, they’re all fitting in with one another.
No, instead of exhausting yourself and your readers by trying to jump off the page, highlight a few details about your journey and touch on them honestly.
So you want to enter IM only because you like it? Great! Jot down three things that, for you, separate it from other specialties.
Interested in surgery because you love fixing things with your hands? Cool! When did that start to materialize for you? When you were playing with Legos as a toddler? In the anatomy lab?
If it’s authentic, it’s probably worth talking about.
Also, consider that the patient story is typically an easy place to to fill out with more content. Add in a detail or two or three:
Over what subject did you and your patient connect? Did you have any interactions with their family members? What symptom made you think of the correct differential? What little thing did you do to help the team?
Often, even the smallest details are worth sharing because they all come together to paint a more vivid picture.
How to Write Less
Most residency applicants try to cram too much into their 600 to 800-word personal statement. Is that you?
If your medical residency personal statement length is over 800 words, readers might get the impression you have an over-inflated ego. Programs DO want stand-out residents. But they also want their star team members to be humble and hardworking.
Every element of your application is a brush stroke in the picture you’re painting for your readers. Keeping your medical residency personal statement concise shows you are modest, respectful, and aware of the rules.
Concise writing is difficult. If you’re way over 800 words, you’ll have to trim entire sections. Believe me, I know how painful that is after working so hard to make everything perfect.
Otherwise, reread your personal statement. Circle sentences that are:
1. pointing out the obvious
2. saying something you've already said, only in a different way, or
3. saying something that isn't very important.
Cut them without mercy or remorse because they are weakening your message and tiring out your readers.
"I ran quickly down the hall to the patient's room." = 10 words
"I sprinted to the patient's room." = 6 words
What Are the Exceptions?
There is one notable exception to my advice about your medical residency personal statement length, which is the supplemental paragraph. It is an awesome tool for explaining ERAS application red flags, but it should only be used sparingly and in certain situations.
Otherwise, do you really not have enough to fill 600 words? Can you truly not communicate what you want to communicate in under 800 words?
I guarantee you can. Keep brainstorming, keep revising, keep trimming.
If you feel stuck, force yourself not to look at your personal statement for 48 hours. Sometimes it takes fresh eyes to see what was there in front of you all along.
And if you want professional help, contact me! I offer an array of services and I’ve literally seen it all at this point.
1) Your personal statement should be between 600 and 800 words.
2) Quality matters more than word count. If your residency application personal statement is well-crafted and genuine, readers will respond positively, and it will improve your chances of being invited to the interview.
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