Writing medical school essays: prioritize depth

medical school admissions writing
By Siraj

Deeper is always better.

I am currently applying to medical school, and I have been overwhelmed by the success I’ve had with the process. And I have some educated guesses as to why things are going so well. At almost every one of my interviews, the same thing has happened: my interviewers have commented on the introspective nature of my writing—they recognize how deeply I have analyzed my own experiences. The ability to reflect is an important quality in a physician; a doctor must be able to learn from each patient-physician encounter, from their mistakes, from their interactions with their colleagues. Medicine is a career that requires you to grow throughout your life, and medical school admissions committees know that. They expect their physicians to take on rising healthcare costs, racial inequity in medicine, and other pressing issues in the world—how can they do that if they don’t reflect, if they don’t challenge their own assumptions? Your ability to analyze your experiences in writing is how you show medical school admissions committees that you are ready to become a doctor.

So, deeper is always better. But, as a medical school applicant, how should this affect what you write? 

1. Don’t be afraid to discuss your assumptions about topics, people, and the world.

Even more importantly, be sure to describe how your assumptions have changed. For example, one secondary prompt asked me to describe how COVID-19 has affected me. I chose to discuss how my view on medicine has shifted because of my work as a first responder during the pandemic. In another essay, I discussed how my perception on teaching has changed from experiences working with prison inmates. 

2. Don’t be afraid to describe your thoughts while writing.

We always hear “show, don’t tell,” but it’s honestly not a fantastic guideline. What’s the use of “showing,” if you don’t analyze your experience, if you don’t give your reader some insight into what you were thinking? For instance, in one essay, I wrote about advocating for a patient I had as an EMT. But at every point in my story, I was careful to let the reader into my mind—to do a bit of “telling,” to explain why I made a particular decision, to describe the doubts I had about that decision.

3. No cliches.

Absolutely none—those cliches don’t encapsulate how you’ve learnt what you did. 


academics MCAT study skills SAT medical school admissions expository writing English college admissions GRE GMAT LSAT MD/PhD admissions chemistry math physics ACT biology language learning writing strategy law school admissions graduate admissions MBA admissions creative writing homework help MD test anxiety AP exams interview prep summer activities history philosophy career advice academic advice premed ESL economics grammar personal statements study schedules admissions coaching law statistics & probability PSAT computer science organic chemistry psychology SSAT covid-19 CARS legal studies logic games USMLE calculus parents reading comprehension 1L Latin Spanish dental admissions DAT engineering excel political science French Linguistics Tutoring Approaches chinese research DO MBA coursework Social Advocacy case coaching classics genetics kinematics skills verbal reasoning ISEE academic integrity algebra business business skills careers geometry medical school mental health social sciences trigonometry 2L 3L Anki FlexMed Fourier Series Greek IB exams Italian MD/PhD programs STEM Sentence Correction Zoom amino acids analysis essay architecture art history artificial intelligence astrophysics athletics biochemistry capital markets cell biology central limit theorem chemical engineering chromatography climate change curriculum data science dental school diversity statement finance first generation student functions gap year harmonics health policy history of medicine history of science information sessions integrated reasoning international students investing investment banking mba meiosis mitosis music music theory neurology phrase structure rules plagiarism presentations pseudocode secondary applications sociology software software engineering teaching tech industry transfer typology virtual interviews writing circles