Medical school admissions officers will often emphasize that they don't care what you choose to write about in your essay. They stress this because most writers try too hard to meet the expectations of their imagined readers, discarding all of their own personality in the process. Of course, there's truth in their advice: you should write with the goal of expressing your own values and conveying the qualities most important to you. But you must exercise your creativity with an eye toward the themes and points that will justify your suitability for medicine. After all, your ultimate goal is not just to stand out as a likeable person, but to obtain admission to a medical school.
In addition to the challenge of crafting a fresh take on standard ideas, you face the difficulty of integrating multiple sophisticated themes into a single coherent piece. The themes can be grouped into two basic categories: those that speak to your motivation for becoming a doctor and those that demonstrate the characteristics and abilities that qualify you for the profession.
As the founder of EssayEdge.com, the Net's largest admissions essay prep company, I have seen firsthand the difference a well-written application essay can make. Through its free online admissions essay help course and 300 Harvard-educated editors, EssayEdge.com helps tens of thousands of student each year improve their essays and gain admission to medical schools ranging from Harvard to State U.
Having personally edited over 2,000 admissions essays myself for EssayEdge.com, I have written this article to help you avoid the most common essay flaws. If you remember nothing else about this article, remember this: Be Interesting. Be Concise.
Because people don't usually make career decisions based on pure reason, it can be difficult to explain why you've chosen the field you have. Moreover, your basic reasons probably look a lot like everyone else's. In this type of essay, you'll have to develop your ideas effectively and insightfully while emphasizing your uniqueness.
Medicine requires such a serious commitment that few people stumble across the idea of pursuing it late in life. It's very likely that you have always wanted to be a doctor, and that's not a fact that you should hide. But don't offer your point in such a clichéd, prepackaged way as to make your reader cringe. For example, you shouldn't start your essay, "I have always wanted to be a doctor" or "I've always known that medicine was my calling." Better to describe early experiences and then let your interest unfold naturally.
Describing the direct impact a doctor had on your life or the life of someone close to you can be an effective way to demonstrate what draws you to medicine. A twist on the "patient's perspective" approach is to describe a time when medicine failed to save or heal someone close to you. The purpose of this tactic would not be to rail against the medical profession, of course, but rather to show how a disappointing loss inspired you to join the struggle against disease and sickness.
How Are You Qualified?
The way to prove your qualification is not to list attributes you believe you possess but to discuss concrete experiences that show your abilities and qualities. As always, details are paramount. The rest of your application has already summarized your accomplishments and your activities. Show the reader what you did in concrete terms, and again, highlight your active roles.
The experiences that demonstrate your qualification are not necessarily distinct from those that explain your motivation. You shouldn't plan on dividing the essay into two separate sections for each, but rather organize the structure by topic and extrapolate insights as they develop. It's important that you think of the essay as an integrated whole, not as a checklist of questions you must answer.
Some degree of hospital experience is usually expected, though it's more essential to the "testing your interest" aspect we discussed in the last section of the course than to your qualifications. The main point you're trying to convey here is that you will work well with patients and in a clinical setting. Your shadowing experience might overlap this material, but the emphasis here is on what you learned through observation.
A strong research background helps your case, because the laboratory is such an integral part of the medical school experience. It's not possible to prove your intellectual capability through a short description of your projects, so you should try to convey such intangible qualities as creativity, initiative, and original thinking. Focus on your contribution rather than your research topic. For example, you could describe a situation where you recognized a flaw in a procedure and had the initiative to show your supervisor how efficiency could be improved. No matter how minor your contribution seems, it's better to focus on some tangible input that you had than to describe the project as a whole. As always, the key is to delineate your active role.
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