By Henry Ng
The medical school application essay is one of the hurdles in the application process which strikes dread in the heart of many a medical school applicant. Applicants sweat and fret over what to include, what not to include and how to write this important essay which tells their story of why they have journeyed into the medical field and why they should be considered a top applicant for medical school.
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Remember, the primary essay (AMCAS essay) is your opportunity to sell yourself to the school’s Admission Committee. This essay is primarily about you – your experiences, education, skills, and other factors which will make you a great future physician. Secondary essays are specific to the school you are applying to. Secondary essays seek to find out how well you may fit into a school’s academic milieu.
After reviewing thousands of applications and reading hundreds of essays, here are ten tips that separate average, “meh” essays from compelling compositions which will peak the interest of your application review and Admissions Committee.
- Be clear
Be clear and tell the story of why you want to be a physician. Share the important influences (people, events, experiences, times) that shaped your decision.
- Be creative, but not overly so. . .
Your essays are meant to introduce and raise interest in your reader. This is not a literary exercise “War and Peace” or a dramatic poetry reading. Avant-garde writing styles may confuse or put off some of your readers.
- Avoid repeating listing your extra-curricular activities or CV.
Instead, try to explain why your extra-curricular activities help you develop into who you are now, why they were formative, and/or what life lessons you learned which you can apply to medical school and medicine.
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- Proofread your essays!
Check for grammatical errors, typographical errors, and review essay content. Your essay sets the tone and first impression for your admissions team. Make it a good one!
- Just because you can, does not mean you should write about it.
Students can choose to write about any topic they choose in primary and secondary applications to answer essay questions. However, be mindful of topics which are controversial, hot-button topics or deeply personal. Ask yourself, what more does writing about this topic inform the Admissions Team about you as a candidate and if it will be viewed positively.
- Be reflective.
Consider your life, work, and educational experiences, what you learned and how they shaped you. Reflective exercises and writing are a part of many medical school curricula.
- Be sensitive to extreme hyperbole
Literary freedom aside, hyperbole can be a turn-off for some readers.
- Remember your audience
Members of admissions committees (health educators, physicians, medical students) may be privy to your thoughts and writing. A good rule of thumb is that if you would write/say something to a VIP in your family or community, you should avoid that language in your essay. I strongly recommend against the use of expletives, even when quoted.
- Answer the question!
Sometimes, in the flurry of activity and writing, applicants start and finish an essay and have completely avoided answering the question. Another set of eyes can help make sure you stayed on track.
- Be forthright: Although secondary essays may be shorter than primary essays, they are the ones used to differentiate applicants.
Primary essays generally follow a pattern.
Person of influence => describes experiences => with the person of influence.
The first essays focus on what you want to tell the schools.
The secondary essays, however, focus on what the schools want to know about you.
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Adapted from Dr. K. Franco Assistant Dean, CCLCM