On your medical school application, you will have the opportunity to disclose yourself as a “disadvantaged” applicant. The AAMC provides little information as to what this means, so it is a point of confusion for many students. This disadvantaged statement is an optional short essay where you can explain any extenuating circumstances that affected your life or your circumstances in applying to med school. Students who check this box self-identify as having extenuating circumstances that affected their grades, MCAT scores, activities, health, or other factors relevant to their application. Marking yourself as a disadvantaged applicant provides a greater context for your application. If you choose to use it, this statement can provide an explanation for any weaknesses you are concerned about and keep your application in the pile! However, not every applicant should write a statement of disadvantage; you should consider whether your circumstances were extenuating, how they compare to your peers, and more. Here, we break down our tips on the disadvantaged disclosure section of the AMCAS application.
By writing a statement of disadvantage, you are asking the admissions committees to consider any challenges, obstacles, or barriers you have faced on your path to medical school application. In other words, you lack the same resources, opportunities, or access to services that most applicants have. This can provide context and explanation for areas of your application that could be considered weak. For example, your circumstances could have affected your grades, attendance, MCAT score(s), or ability to secure shadowing or research opportunities.
Generally the AMCAS considers three types of disadvantages: economic, educational and social. Economic disadvantages may include but are not limited to having a low-income household, parental unemployment, helping support your own family, or facing food and/or housing insecurity. Types of educational disadvantage may include lack of academic resources or support, disruptions to your education, having a learning disability, lack of pre med resources, or being a second-language speaker. Social disadvantages could include personal loss or trauma, being undocumented, having a disability, facing discrimination, family challenges, surviving violence, or medical difficulties.
The statement of disadvantage is focused on how you have responded to, overcome, or managed your disadvantage(s) to apply to medical school. Whereas a secondary essay on diversity may be focused on what makes you unique, and can certainly include examples of challenges you have faced, this prompt is focused solely on how your circumstances have presented hurdles to your path as a premed–not just how they make you a unique candidate. In this prompt, admissions committees want to hear about your circumstances and how you have grown from them or responded to them.
One of the hardest parts of the statement of disadvantage is deciding if you should write it. Applying to medical school is a long, expensive, challenging, and grueling process. It is a challenge to any applicant. You need to consider your circumstances in the context of your fellow applicants. For example, most college students work part-time, but not all medical school applicants help financially support their families through school. Many applicants take some “gap years” after college graduation, but not everyone does so because of a serious illness. That being said, don’t automatically dismiss or discredit your experience as not being “disadvantaged” enough. We recommend that you seek advice from advisors or mentors if you are unsure of your individual case. Overall, you should consider writing a statement of disadvantage if you believe your circumstances were extenuating and explain any areas of your application that may be weak.
Marking your status as disadvantaged will not change your application in any other way. You will only need to provide a statement explaining the challenges you have faced and why you consider yourself at a disadvantage because of them. The admissions committees will take these circumstances into account when reviewing your application.
The point of disclosing your challenges is to demonstrate how they have put you at a disadvantage so that admissions committees can consider your application in the best light possible. Your circumstances cannot ostensibly be used to discriminate against you, and explaining disadvantages you have faced is a valuable tool to keep your application in consideration. However, if you think that your statement of disadvantage could put you at risk in some way or decrease your chances of admission, you should discuss it with an advisor or mentor, or one of our excellent medical school application advisors.
You have 1325 characters to explain any obstacles or extenuating circumstances that have influenced your path to medicine. This is not the place to focus on all the details, meaning, and lessons learned from your story— the personal statement is a better place for that. Instead, focus on the facts. Describe the barriers you have faced and how they affected your path to applying to med school. Importantly, it will help to end your statement on an optimistic note. For example, you can briefly state how you have risen above your challenge, or how you have grown from it, how you will handle more in the future, or how it influenced you in your decision to apply to med school.
Do you need help brainstorming ideas for your disadvantaged statement? Click here.
Avoid expressing bitterness or seeking pity. Describe your situation in neutral language, focusing on the facts of the situation and how you have overcome or worked through it. Don’t just summarize your circumstances, use specific examples. Avoid describing other people’s challenges. If you cared for a sick family member instead of going to school, for example, focus on how it affected your academic opportunities or performance, not on the extent of the illness.
The statement of disadvantage can serve as a strong addition to one’s med school application. Most applicants are unsure whether or not to consider themselves disadvantaged or not. It is important to carefully consider whether your circumstances qualify you as disadvantaged or not. Seek out the help of advisors, mentors, or one of our medical student team members at Motivate MD to help you with this important decision.