Columbia’s medical school places a high premium on creating physician-leaders who can communicate with their patients and who are positioned to collaborate with other health care professionals in different settings.
Columbia Medical School (Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons) 2020 – 2021 secondary application essay tips
Columbia Medical School essay #1
Did you work for compensation during college, during the year, or the summer? (300 words)
This is a straight-forward question, requiring applicants to choose one of two paths to answer it: yes or no. This is not a trick-question, so do not read into it.
If you worked for compensation, explain what work you did, what it entailed and why you did it. This is not an opportunity to complain, blame, or imply disadvantage. Quite the opposite. This prompt could assist an admission’s committee to identify applicants who have worked for compensation and reduce bias against them, because working for compensation out of necessity may have resulted in less volunteer work or more routine internships. A working parent, for instance, may not be able to travel globally for a public health mission. A twenty-something applicant may have to work for compensation to pay student loans. A first-generation college student may have familial expectations, or need, for financial independence at a younger age than other medical school applicants.
If you did not work for compensation, explain what you were doing instead, briefly, so that you demonstrate that you were engaged meaningfully in activities that require dedication and responsibility. For instance, sometimes volunteering is the only way to gain access to experiences that build the character of future doctors.
Medical schools seek well-rounded attributes among students accepted for incoming classes, so there is no “right” answer to this question. Tell your truth honestly, and tell it well.
Columbia Medical School essay #2
Please describe your most meaningful leadership positions. (300 words)
There are two key words in this prompt. The first key word is “leadership.” Within its multiple definitions, leadership is a word that provides quite a bit of latitude for finding your fit with it.
First look up the word leadership in a good dictionary. Find several different meanings for it. List your experiences (and roles) in the relevant categories of leadership that you have chosen. You may find a connection among your entries within one sub-definition of the word. You may find a connection among your entries across sub-definitions. If you write about leadership from more than one definition, be sure to redefine the word leadership as you transition in your essay to explain another kind of leadership.
This prompt asks you to write to a theme. To stay clear, the definition of leadership you use should be directly stated in the first paragraph. Then, do not evade or sidestep the theme. If you choose to redefine leadership to suit another experience, be sure to redefine leadership positively in your transition. Stay tight and true to your experiences. Do not generalize about the importance of leadership. The importance of physician leadership is made explicit by the prompt already.
The second key word is “positions.” First, the word “position” in the context of this prompt refers to “rank.” Were you the “head” of any paid, volunteer, or student endeavor? Stay true to what you have done in your life. Do not fabricate or exaggerate your responsibility.
This is not a prompt about being a superhero. Leadership is not necessarily about being heroic; you do not need to have saved a sinking ship. Ordinary leadership can stem from personal attributes that in time put you in a key role as a leader because you instilled trust in others, instilled confidence, or empowered a collective value for diversity. Were you ever the self-appointed spokesperson for “good trouble?” How did that turn out?
Also, there is a way to turn a “non-prescribed” leadership role into a leadership story. This leadership story is about suddenly finding yourself having to take the reins. Can you identify a moment when a situation turned – suddenly a supervisor dropped out of a project, or got sick, and your role changed? How did you stand tall in light of new responsibility?
Another note about the second key word, “positions,” is that it is plural. You must have more than one story to tell. The stories you do tell do not need to come from the same cloth. You could have another leadership role within a family experience, for instance.
Avoid using this prompt as an opportunity to list everything you have done. Choose two or three moments that you can thread together and tell well.
Columbia Medical School essay #3
Columbia Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons values diversity in all its forms. How will your background and experiences contribute to this important focus of our institution and inform your future role as a physician? (300 words)
This prompt ties the past to the future. Talk forward about your life.
If you have diverse characteristics in your pedigree, explore them. How will these personal attributes improve the scope of medicine for all? How does this truth assist the mission of Columbia Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons? Speak to their mission as your diversity relates to it, and how this is an asset to patient care.
If you don’t see diversity in your pedigree (if you are white, middle-class, straight and male) speak toward a situation when you found yourself less represented, less privileged, and write about what you learned in this instance that has become a core value in your vision as a physician moving forward. What has sensitized you toward a core value of inclusion?
Columbia Medical School essay #4
Anything else? (300 words)
This prompt is an opportunity to reveal something about yourself that is not otherwise in your application. Do not reiterate or summarize application content or the content of your personal essay. Not everyone will have an “Anything else?” That is okay. If there is nothing further to say, do not pad this prompt.
It appears this prompt is required. There is no disclaimer that says this prompt is optional. So, if you do not have anything else to say, find a simple way to say that. Do not leave this prompt completely blank.
This prompt is an opportunity to say “and there’s this” – as long as “this” is beyond what is stated in the application thus far. Anything else? – could be a specific circumstance that highlights a feat beyond the odds. Did you find your birth mother? Did you take the MCAT after a car accident? Did you win the State Spelling Bee? How did you learn to manage a disability? Did you perform CPR on someone at the park?
Others may want to approach this prompt another way. Tell a story about yourself, a situation or anecdote, that circumscribes a core value. As a child, did you get to meet John Lewis? Is there a book by a physician that moved you so deeply it changed your vision of what it means to be a doctor? Have you published poetry? Do you paint abstract impressionism? Are you a concert violinist? Do you run marathons?
If you would like professional guidance with your Columbia Medical School (Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons) application materials, check out Accepted’s Medical School Admissions Consulting and Editing Services, which include advising, editing, and interview coaching for Columbia Medical School’s application materials.
Columbia Medical School (Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons) 2020-2021 application timeline
|AMCAS Application Due||October 15|
|Secondary Applications Due||October 29|
***Disclaimer: Information is subject to change. Please check with individual programs to verify the essay questions, instructions and deadlines.***
Dr. Mary Mahoney, Ph.D. has over 20 years of experience as an advisor and essay reviewer for med school applicants. She is a tenured English Professor with an MFA in Creative Writing from Sarah Lawrence College and a PhD in Literature and Writing from the University of Houston. For the last twenty years, Mary has served as a grad school advisor and essay reviewer for med school applicants. Want Mary to help you get Accepted? Click here to get in touch!