“Lack of Substance” is the first post in our series, 5 Fatal Flaws to Avoid in Your Med School Essays.
Writing about nothing tends to bore, like a trite sitcom or movie with no plot. They lack substance and so will your essay if it isn’t based on:
• Substantive self-reflection.
• Use of specifics, examples, and anecdotes.
• Willingness to reveal your thought processes and feelings.
So start your writing process with self-knowledge. You don’t have to search the internet or a large library. Start with your experiences and your dreams. Search your head and your heart. That is where the substance of a good personal statement is stored.
Then use anecdotes, specifics, and examples to reveal what’s in your heart and show that your dreams are grounded in experience. Good examples can bring your essays to life and engage the reader.
At the same time, recognize that essays with only examples and anecdotes don’t reveal your thought processes and consequently are also superficial. Make sure you balance your stories with insight and analysis.
Avoid Fatal Flaw #1: Bring your personal statements to life with self-reflection and astute use of examples balanced by analysis
The Wharton MBA adcom offers you some help in shaping your Wharton application – by clearly and succinctly defining the four core components of “the Wharton difference.” Understanding these components is a key to conveying your fit with the program.
These four components are encompassed in Wharton’s emphasis on “putting knowledge into action.” This value should guide your application approach: action is always specific, anecdotal. Therefore, keep your resume, essays, and application answers specific, anecdotal, and action focused.
In this post I’ll discuss two of the four components that are tightly correlated, then I’ll do one post each for the remaining two. In all, I’ll keep on the radar screen the overarching “putting knowledge into action.”
Largest Global Network and Culture of Engagement are the two interconnected components. They go hand-in-hand:
• The vast global alumni network is an immense resource, and culture involves a cyclical process of using, synthesizing and creating new resources.
• A network and a culture are both built on and serve people.
• The network component uses the phrases “call on” and “tap into” while the culture of engagement component uses the words “join” and “collaborative” – reflecting dynamism, connection, proactivity.
There is another fascinating but perhaps less intuitive point of alignment between these two components: impact.
• “Increase your impact through the resources of this diverse, connected community” (from Global Network).
• “…Turning knowledge into impact” (from Culture of Engagement).
What does all this add up to? PEOPLE TAKING ACTION CREATE IMPACT. That’s basic. What you want to demonstrate, and what Wharton seeks, is you being part of PEOPLE TAKING ACTION TOGETHER TO CREATE CONSTRUCTIVE, DESIRED IMPACTS.
Here’s how you can demonstrate fit with Wharton by incorporating these values into your application:
• Refer specifically in your application and interview to how you will use the global alumni network to advance your goals and/or how you will engage with it (specific actions as opposed to the ubiquitous but bland “contribute to”).
• Give examples and anecdotes in essays that illustrate your resourcefulness and collaboration leading to concrete outcomes.
• In discussing how you will achieve your goals, include these elements, which also align with the action orientation.
• Ensure that your resume reflects these values, and start bullet points with verbs to underscore action.
• If your recommenders are open to your input, ask them to use examples and present strengths that reflect these attributes (and not just “ability to” but also achieving impacts).
• In your interview frame your answers and points to reflect these elements and even refer specifically to them, if you can do so naturally.
By Cindy Tokumitsu, author and co-author of numerous ebooks, articles, and special reports, including Why MBA and Best MBA Programs: A Guide to Selecting the Right One. Cindy has advised hundreds of successful applicants in her fifteen years with Accepted.com.
Journeys with Joshua: Joshua Wienczkowski walks us through med school at East Tennessee’s College of Medicine with his monthly blog updates. Get an inside look into med school down South and life as a student adcom member through the eyes of a former professional songwriter with a whole lot of clinical experience — thanks Joshua for sharing this journey with us!
I’m over 50% finished with my MD program in the Appalachian Mountains, done with (and passed!) the first part of my licensing boards, and am finally onto the greener grass of clinical medicine. So, what have I learned, and how have I changed in this process? Through my first year, my clinical research in sepsis taught me so much about the bigger picture of medicine; I began to fine-tune my bedside manner; I was finally able to see and understand the undeniable impact of socioeconomic status on health. The second year of medical school is notoriously the hardest, because while balancing an even more challenging course load, preparation for licensing boards begins simultaneously. Yes, I learned about disease processes, drugs, interventions, and all that, but I learned about my priorities in the process. I was even crazy enough to get married – to another 2nd year medical student! I’m going to share something incredibly personal that I’m hoping you can grow from – my grades, how I got them, and why I chose (and continue to choose) life over numbers.
During my first year, I began to study how I study, the outcomes, and the most effective ways for me, personally. After dozens of exams, countless hours banging my head against my whiteboard, and proverbially throwing mud at the wall for months on end, I made some pretty interesting discoveries about how I learn. Turns out, it takes me personally about an extra 15-20 hours per exam of additional, dedicated study time on top of my normal study habits to achieve a strong A. What did getting that A do for me? Were those hours worth it? Well, also turns out it just means I pounded into my head the additional minutiae to get the detailed questions, but those details didn’t impact my overall understanding of the material or the concepts. Hmm… I found myself at a fork in the road – I could achieve a higher GPA, class rank, and increase my chances of matching somewhere fancy, OR I could invest those hours into something else.
I made the conscious choice and effort to achieve B’s in the first 2 years of medical school, and I don’t have a single regret about it. Here’s why:
With those extra 15-20 hours per exam (there are a lot of exams), I invested in my relationship with my girlfriend, who became my fiancé, and is now my dear wife. Clearing up some hours meant I always had an extra hour per day to take our Great Dane, Wrigley, on a walk or to the dog park with my wife. Those walks meant we had more quality time together every single day. We started taking longer lunches and dinners together. We talked more. We grew more. We went on more dates! We even built strong friendships at the dog park because we made the conscious effort to put ourselves before the books. I actually watched tv shows and kept up with them with my wife, and we had something to look forward to on Monday nights and could laugh about what farmer Chris was going to do next week on The Bachelor.
With more time, I began songwriting again, and recording things for pleasure, which I haven’t done in years. I even performed one for our school where I wrote about the life of my anatomy group’s donor, Winston. I even started brewing more beer while crafting new recipes, and I invested some time to learn about the craft brewing business to see if opening a brewery one day is a feasible option. With more time, my best friend taught me how to paint, and I was able to give my wife a meaningful piece on our wedding day.
Making the conscious effort to focus on myself, the people around me, and investing in the things I care about instead of numbers is one of the greatest decisions I’ve ever made. I noticed that when I did achieve an A, it came at the expense of my relationships with those I love as well my own ability to be introspective. Being introspective and decompressing with hobbies and life outside of medicine is one of the most important pieces to handling and managing the immense pressure of medical education. Of course I’ve never been perfect in the process, and when I noticed myself turning sour to those around me, like a corked bottle of wine left too long without being enjoyed, it was because I had lost focus on my priorities. It’s a balancing act, and I’m thankful I have those who love me enough to help in this imperfect science.
With two years of medical education and a few weeks of clinical medicine under my belt, I’ve learned that medicine can be a selfish and consuming mistress, if you let her. I’ve learned it is incredibly easy to achieve at the expense of personal growth. However, if you choose day in and day out to love and invest in those around you instead of her, the payback is invaluable. I have also learned that your value can never be measured in numbers or letters, but instead in the depth of relationships you have with loved ones and the impact you make in your community. As a medical student, time is our most valuable asset – be wise with it. Invest it as you would your hard-earned money; buy things with it that will last the longest, and stretch your time-dollar as far as it will go with the things that matter most to you in life. I’m not top of my class. Not even close. But my relationship with my wife has never been better, and because I bought time to work on some humanities, I haven’t noticed any soured wine in quite some time.
Joshua A. Wienczkowski
MD Candidate, Quillen College of Medicine 2017
“Choosing From Multiple Business School Acceptances” is the final post in our series Navigate the MBA Maze.
You’ve been accepted at two solid schools. Great! Or, you’ve been offered admission to an OK school with a significant scholarship and your #1 choice with no financial aid. Or, you’ve been admitted to a top-tier program, but you really wanted to go to Harvard. You should be celebrating, but instead you’re worrying.
What do you do now? What criteria do you use in making your decision? Here are the factors that should guide you:
1. Which institution best supports your future goals and most likely career path? This criterion is paramount when you have clear, well-defined goals, for instance, “I want to run an IT consultancy serving financial services firms.” If financial aid is an issue, calculate whether the full tuition program will increase your earning power by more than the amount of the scholarship, or whether your preference for the more expensive school is worth the difference in cost.
2. Which educational approach do you prefer? Do you prefer to learn through case study or analysis, or a combination of the two?
3. Where would you rather live for X years? Do you want to live in a big city or small college town? What region do you want to live in? Do you prefer a big university or a small college? Religious or secular? Liberal or conservative?
Enjoy your great options and use these criteria to guide you as you make your decision.
It is important to focus on your leadership roles and the diversity of your experiences and activities in this secondary application. UCSF accepts students with highly competitive GPA’s and MCAT scores so it would be to your advantage to explain any decreases or irregularities in your academic records or test scores, if you have not already done so in your primary application. Be sure to highlight the qualities, experiences, awards and scholarships that set you apart from other applicants.
UCSF 2016 Secondary Application Essay Questions:
• One 500-word essay with additional information
• Two additional 500-word essays for students interested in applying to the Joint Medical Program, described below.
• Applicants should use single line spacing and 12 point size font.
• Responses should be constructed strategically to highlight all of an applicant’s strengths and research interests.
1. If you wish to update or expand upon your activities, you may provide additional information below. (500 word limit)
Use this essay as an opportunity to update the adcom on your current activities. Focus on the diversity of your commitments—in leadership, volunteering, tutoring, mentoring, as well as your academic, cultural, musical, athletic and professional interests. If you have long-term commitments to organizations, discuss your years of service and continued commitment. What sets you apart as an applicant? Strategically bring their attention on the strengths that you have not covered in the primary application.
JMP Program Only
1. Please describe the basis for your interest in and your preparations for the MS with research thesis. Given the opportunity to pursue such a degree, what topics, questions or areas of research might you be interested in addressing? (500 word limit)
The Joint Medical Program is hosted by UC Berkeley School of Public Health and UCSF. It is a five-year program that allows participants to earn a Master’s Degree in health and medical sciences (HMS) as well as a medical degree. Students are expected to complete at least 20 units of coursework and to write a thesis in addition to their medical education requirements. To see a list of recent research topics, please see the invitation to the sixth annual UC Berkeley—UCSF Joint Medical Program Research Symposium.
Be sure to discuss in detail any research experience that you have. Explain the projects that you participated in and the outcomes of your contributions—publications, poster discussions, panels, or workshops. What was the level of your responsibility in the lab? How long did you work on each project? What issues did you encounter in your research and how did you find solutions these problems either individually and/or collaboratively? If any of the topics that you covered are health-related, how could you further develop your ideas into a research project?
2. Please describe the basis for your interest and experience with small group, case-based problem oriented learning. (500 word limit)
You should focus on any experiences that you have working successfully in small groups in this essay response. This could range from athletics to clinical experiences. Describe the roles that you played within the teams you have participated on. What were you able to accomplish as a team? What did you as an individual contribute? How would you benefit from a program that uses a case-based learning model?
If you would like professional guidance with your UCSF application materials, please consider using Accepted’s Medical School Admissions Consulting and Editing Services, which include advising, editing, and interview coaching for the UCSF application materials.
Alicia Nimonkar is an Accepted.com advisor and editor specializing in healthcare admissions. Prior to joining Accepted, Alicia worked for five years as Student Advisor at UC Davis’ postbac program where she both evaluated applications and advised students applying successfully to med school and related programs. Explore Accepted.com’s services to see how Alicia can help you achieve your professional dreams in healthcare.