Medical School Admissions Essay
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How Am I Unique? - Admissions Essay
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The purpose of this section is to show you how other people capitalized on their unique qualities. When it comes to your own essay, only you can identify the optimal strategy for making yourself stand out. One way to start is to look over your answers to the brainstorming questions in Lesson Two and try to find aspects of your background that separate you from your peers. Ultimately, however, what will make the difference is your ability to assess yourself honestly and thoughtfully.
The examples that follow are not meant to be exhaustive. Rather, they represent the efforts of particular individuals to recognize the unique elements of their background and use it to their advantage. You should notice that these unique elements often have nothing to do with medicine, but can still be tied effectively to the applicants' goals or integrated with their character and background.
1. Jane is a woman from a military background. Notice that her first paragraph grabs the reader's attention by emphasizing extreme experiences to which the average person has never been exposed: "I am a 26-year-old woman who has spent much of the past nine years engaged in such unusual activities as jumping out of airplanes, briefing Chuck Yeager (on more effective flying, of all things!), running through trenches, being a test parachutist, taking apart and then reassembling (blindfolded) a vintage M-1 rifle, earning a pilot's license, and learning how to survive behind enemy lines (including resisting interrogations and escaping captivity)."
Q & A: College Admissions Essays
Don't dilute the power of your description with premature, forced connections to medicine. Your first task is to convince the reader that what you're describing is indeed unique on its own terms. In fact, this applicant never forces an explicit connection on the situation, but rather simply notes that she can finally apply to medical school because her term of military service is ending. The reader can easily deduce for himself how the rigor and intensity of her military background have prepared her for the challenge of medicine.
2. Another applicant describes his experiences performing in a Las Vegas show. Again, he does not try to argue that his work as a performer will directly help him in handling dental operations, but instead makes the following point about his character: "Working each night, for a total of 42 hours a week, has forced me to structure for myself an educational schedule that has required more time in college than most spend. However, as a result, I will be emerging from my university experience with greater maturity, self-knowledge, and certainty about the professional direction I am choosing to follow than many of my peers." The one mistake this applicant makes is his continual emphasis on how he's different from his peers. In general, you should try to let uniqueness speak for itself; if it's noteworthy, the reader will pick up on it without having to be told.
3. This applicant describes the unfortunate circumstances of his childhood. He does so without seeking pity, instead focusing on how these circumstances shaped his character. Here a connection to medicine is natural: "I spent a great deal of time trying to care for my mother, a fact of my young life that I think later on may have subliminally drawn me toward a career in medicine. Besides instilling within me a desire to help others who are ill, my experience with my mother also heightened my sensitivity to other people and the difficulties with which they sometimes must cope." The writer goes on to back up his heightened sensitivity by describing his work assisting a doctor in rural Mexico-itself also a noteworthy experience.
4. This applicant details her commitment to martial arts: "Martial arts and medicine. They seem worlds apart, but they both have played significant roles in my life and for reasons that are surprisingly similar. They both offer challenge, require great discipline, and necessitate a goal-oriented approach." In this case, the activity itself is far from unique, even among the specific population of medical school applicants. Nevertheless, the qualities she has cultivated in her experience and the way she ties them to medicine provide a new dimension to her candidacy. This essay is an effective example of how you can turn even a standard extracurricular activity into a unique strength by using illustrative personal details and an insightful perspective.
Again, these examples are only a few of the possible routes you could take. There are even more obvious routes for which we did not include examples, such as extraordinary talents in athletics or the arts, or extensive work experience in another career. One particularly delicate issue is how to approach diversity. If you are, for example, a minority, foreign, or older applicant, you should not hesitate to use this to your advantage. To do this effectively, however, you need to show how your background has shaped your life in some tangible way and possibly tie that in to how you plan to contribute to the school's community. You should not mention it for its own sake and suggest-even implicitly-that you expect some kind of special attention, because you risk offending the reader or coming across as manipulative.