Writing your medical school essay

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THE PRE-MEDICAL Studies Program

The Catholic University of America

Washington, DC

The AMCAS application and the applications for most non-AMCAS schools require the student to write a personal essay. The following explains the reasons for this requirement and the factors you should consider when fulfilling it.

Why Is There An Essay?
The admissions selection committee for medical school considers a variety of information in deciding whom to interview and, finally, admit. Initially most information is fairly cut and dried—grades, MCAT scores, lists of work and extracurricular activities. This information suggests potential to perform well in the classroom and eventually as a physician.
However, being a successful medical student and later a responsible, capable physician depends on a variety of factors—maturity, motivation, determination, communication skills and empathy, to name a few. For that reason selection committees seek information about candidates, many who share similar academic records, that reveals their uniqueness. Obviously the interview is the best opportunity to gain that familiarity. But in choosing which candidates to invite for an interview, some prior exposure to their personalities is needed.
The essay portion of the application is your opportunity to distinguish yourself from others. You can express why medical school is important to you, how your goals have evolved, your strengths, how you’ve grown as an individual and student, and why you would be a good medical student. It is true that reference letters offer some insight into your character. However, initial screening of applications (of which the essay is a part) is often done prior to the receipt of reference letters. Since the initial screening leads to selection of candidates for interviews, it is critical to offer as positive, polished and sincere a picture of yourself as possible for the committee to consider.

How to Write The Essay
1. The essay should be well-organized and show a progression of ideas towards conclusions at the end.
2. Correct grammar and spelling is absolutely essential. Eliminate typographical errors and avoid the use of slang phrases. Proofread it carefully, and have someone else review it too!

3. Keep your essay concrete and avoid generalization. Readers will be interest in what you have to say if you stick to the topic.

4. In preparing to write your essay, spend considerable time thinking about the following:

  • your past experiences which have made you who are

  • your view of the world and your place in it

  • your motivation for entering professional school, and your certainty of that motivation

  • your goals as a professional

  • how you became aware of and informed about the profession and what a practitioner does

  • how a disadvantaged or an advantaged background may have affected your education or personal development in significant ways

  • what else you want for your life outside of your work

If there are any items in your application which are at variance with the usual and could have a negative effect on an admissions committee, e.g. a poor semester, multiple withdrawals, pass/fail courses, a failed course, do draw attention to them. Offer a brief explanation that is honest and not defensive, which shows that you have learned from the experience.

If you are a transfer student, or if you withdrew for a period of time, give a reason.
Comment on any significant weakness in your MCAT scores. Be sure to discuss this with a Pre-Medical Coordinator.
If married, especially with children, comment on how you plan to cope with the demands on your time and finances.
Some Don’ts

  • criticize the application, admission process or physicians

  • expose controversial social or political causes. (This isn’t the time, nor do you have the space to do so adequately!)

  • criticize your school, department or teachers or assume a generally negative attitude.

Some Tips on Style

  • Don’t try to cover too many points. You do not have enough space to write about everything. Choose 2 or 3, which are usually all you can adequately cover in one short page.

  • Try keeping the essay biographical, as opposed to a discourse on your philosophy of medicine. Reviewers are interested in you, not some abstract essay.

  • Be yourself in the essay. Don’t try to sound like a textbook or encyclopedia. Let a little humor enter your essay if such is your style. Write it the way you would say it, except for slang.

  • Visual attractiveness and variety – having the material look easy to read can help. Short paragraphs and sentences make the material seem easier to go through

  • Don’t hesitate to promote yourself. You can accentuate the positive without being boastful.

Final Point
The Pre-Medical Coordinator is available to assist you with your essay. Some students also wish to utilize the writing assistance services of the Counseling Center.
Students should be aware that a considerable amount of time, perhaps several weeks, may be necessary to prepare a well written essay in its final form. A publication of The National Association of Advisors for the Health Professions titled “Write Your Success – Preparing a Successful Professional School Application” is highly recommended. You can purchase this through the website of the Association of American Medical Colleges (aamc.org).

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