Medical School Admissions: Getting the Application Essay Right

Posted by Jack the MCAT Slayer on 1/27/14 8:54 AM

med school resized 600One alternative to applying to medical school. 


When I applied to medical school, I found the essay to be one of the most stressful parts of the application. My grades and MCAT scores were what they were, as were my extracurriculars, but this was the final part of my AMCAS that I had control over. I know many other students are in similar situations, as I've had the opportunity to read an endless stream of essays from students who were looking for some feedback before clicking submit. Through reading these essays, I've seen some trends, pitfalls, and best practices that I'd like to share with anyone who's struggling with their essay right now.

1. Be honest.

This is so obvious as to be barely worth mentioning, but it's worth saying. NEVER LIE IN YOUR ESSAY. Besides being unethical, it will almost certainly come back to bite you. However, there's a more subtle meaning to this as well. Your essay should sound like you, and should be written in a such a way that if someone who knew you well read it, they would think that it sounded like you. It should reflect your real interests and passions, as well as your way of looking at the world.

2. Be humble.

Some students have done incredible things before they started medical school. While it's ok to be proud of your accomplishments, it's always good to acknowledge the role that good fortune and support have played in your successes. I've read essays where a student claims to have single-handedly made an important scientific discovery when his name was 7th on the publication. Phrases like "I was a part of the team that discovered...." or, "With the help of my mentor...." paint a picture of a much more down to earth and self aware person.

3. Write simply.

In my opinion, one out of every hundred medical school applicants is a truly gifted writer. If you think there's a chance that this might be you, disregard the rest of this section. Otherwise, avoid writing a gimmicky essay. Anything that involves an extended metaphor, time travel, fictional characters, or mystical creatures is much more likely to be extremely bad than effective. Write short, simple sentences in plain language. The essay is not a creative writing contest.

4. Start early.

Around May of the medical school admissions cycle is the latest that you should first put pen to paper on the first draft of your essay. You'll want to spend a lot of time trying out different ideas, and deciding what it is you want to communicate to the admissions committee. Also, the earlier you start, the more time you’ll have to revise, which brings me to my final piece of advice:

5. Edit often.  OFTEN.

Editing is the most critical part of writing a good application essay, and if you only follow one piece of advice, this is the one. Find a few people who you trust to edit multiple drafts of your essay. I picked a friend of mine who I knew to be an excellent writer, and who would be honest in her criticism of me. If you know someone who has gotten into med school, they might be a great person to ask. The key is someone who will give you consistent and honest feedback.

Good luck!


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Tags: medical school admissions, MD/PhD admissions