As you start to work on your secondaries, one of the things that will become clearer and clearer is that you’re working within some VERY tight character limits!
How can you build on the character-count-wizardry you got going during your primary app? We have some tips for you:
1. Identify what the question is asking, and make sure you’re answering it.
There’s some overlap among secondary questions, but before you try to reuse a story or adapt an essay you’ve already written, make sure it fits the question.
2. Do some prewriting.
Organizing your thoughts can help you stay on target, and also help you think of experiences you want to share in other essays.
3. Once you have a first draft, revise, revise, revise.
It’s OK if your first draft is longer than the character limit, because you’re going to cut away those extraneous words. Read it through – reading aloud can help. Then do a first revision. It’s helpful to take a break and do something else before you come back for another review.
4. As you revise, pay close attention to the details of your writing.
Make it more economical wherever you can. For example:
• Active sentences are usually shorter than passive ones.
• Mark any long windups (those long phrases tacked onto the front of the sentence before you get to the content) or qualifiers – not only do they make your writing more wishy-washy, but they take up precious space. Unless they’re absolutely necessary for a point you’re making, cut them out.
• Have you used a lot of adverbs? Sometimes you can communicate the same meaning (and sometimes even more effectively) by substituting a stronger verb.
5. Once more, edit!
(We know we said it already.) Do a final review: read your essay aloud, and fix any awkward phrasing or typographical errors. Check (and double check) your character count.
By Dr. Rebecca Blustein, Accepted consultant since 2008, former Student Affairs Officer at UCLA’s Scholarship Resource Center, and author of the ebook, Financing Your Future: Winning Fellowships, Scholarships and Awards for Grad School. Dr. Blustein, who earned her Ph.D. at UCLA, assists our clients applying to MS, MA, and Ph.D. programs. She is happy to assist you with your grad school applications.
• Writing Your Medical School Secondary Essays, resource page
• The Biggest Application Essay Mistake, short video
• Get Organized in Preparation for Secondaries and Interviews