Since the number of secondary applications that you receive can be overwhelming, you may be tempted to take a few shortcuts. Some shortcuts are warranted while others are just too risky to consider using. To ensure that you are one of the “lucky” few who receive a medical school interview, avoid the following egregious errors:
1. Cutting and Pasting material from other essays and submitting with the wrong school name.
Almost every secondary application will have a question about why you want to attend their medical school. It may be tempting to cut and paste this essay response over and over again. However, the best essays that respond to this type of question include specific details about the school that you have researched and therefore pertain only to that particular campus. Also, it may be obvious if you provide a generic response that you are recycling it—or worse, if you forget to change the school name before submitting it—you may forfeit an interview. It’s such an easy mistake to prevent by proofreading each application carefully before submission. Having another person review it may be the best way to prevent errors that you may have difficulty seeing yourself.
2. Writing about the same activity for each essay response.
Since most secondary essays have multiple questions, it’s important to be strategic in selecting the content for each response. Make sure that you cover a wide variety of leadership, community service and clinical experiences in the essays so that you do not find yourself writing about one example or activity over and over again—especially within one secondary. To avoid this kind of repetition, print a copy of your updated CV or resume and a copy of your AMCAS application activities and review the list. You will have lots of options right in front of you!
3. Focusing on events or experiences in high school.
Unless an essay specifically requests that you include information about your early life, I don’t recommend focusing on that time period. If you are asked a general question about the most stressful event in your life or a meaningful clinical experience, often, it would be best to cover material from college and after. There are some exceptions—like the serious illness or death of a loved one—but very few. If you focus on high school as being a defining moment in your personal history, the application reviewers may question your maturity level. Ideally, you will have encountered many challenges that culminated in periods of significant personal development during college and after. Keep track of the areas you tend to focus on in the timeline of your life.
4. Going off topic or not answering the prompt.
This is one of the worst mistakes to make because it can be the most time intensive to correct. Also, it would immediately disqualify you for an interview since you wouldn’t be providing the adcom with the information that they are requesting. This type of error often occurs from either cutting and pasting material from other essays or completing essays at the last minute. If you are rushing through your essays, it may be better to slow down and take more breaks to stay focused and on topic. The best way to avoid this problem is to create outlines for each essay prompt. A carefully planned and constructed essay will actually take less time to write and you will end up with a better final product.
While these approaches can have the most damaging results on the medical school application process, they are easy to avoid. Using the simple strategies provided above, you can significantly increase your chances of receiving a medical school interview. Remember to take your time and do your best.
Alicia McNease Nimonkar is an Accepted 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.