Many medical schools include an “optional” essay in their secondary applications. Obviously, this “optional” essay is not required. The essay prompt sometimes emphasizes this point. Often, it will include the stipulation that you cannot include anything that was already mentioned in your primary application or other essays. Some schools even state that most applicants don’t complete this optional essay. However, I always recommend that students dig deep to write this essay to set themselves apart from other applicants.
There are many successful ways to approach this essay. Here are a few ideas:
• Use this space for updates
Technically, any new events or activities that you haven’t covered in the primary would make excellent content for this essay. As long as there isn’t another secondary question requesting updates specifically, writing about something new could be the most effective use of this space. With an updated copy of your CV or resume, make a list of all the latest developments in your academic and professional life. Depending on the character limit, provide as many details as is necessary. For the conclusion, discuss how these recent developments have better prepared you for their program.
• Discuss any hobbies or talents that you have not previously mentioned.
If you play an instrument, compete in a sport, or create some form of art, you can discuss your development in these areas, if not already mentioned. Developing your fine motor skills or working well with a team are valuable abilities in medicine. While you may think that your interest in portrait photography doesn’t relate to the medical field, I’ll never forget a former client who became an otolaryngology surgeon; he used his love of portrait photography to develop his aesthetic sensibilities for reconstructive surgeries. Sharing your personal interests with the selection committee can often reveal what unique talents you will bring to your practice of medicine.
• Share a recent personal experience or achievement.
If you have recently participated in a conference, hike or marathon, you can write about the experience. As long as it’s not discussed anywhere else in your application, demonstrating how you enjoy finding new ways to challenge yourself to develop your skills can impress a selection committee. This type of essay could reveal your dedication to lifelong learning and personal development. In medical school, you will be encouraged to continually push yourself to discover new limits and talents. Why not start now? At the same time, it’s not going to impress anyone if you decide to hike Mount Everest and never return. Use good judgement in finding safe and healthy ways to test your limits.
If none of these strategies will work for you, you are always welcome to contact me or my colleagues at Accepted for assistance. I love working with clients on challenging essay questions. Many students discover things about themselves they never expected to learn through this process of self-examination and those newly revealed qualities are great material for optional essays.
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.