As you start to work on your secondary essays, one of the things that will become clearer and clearer is that you’re working within some VERY tight character limits. You may sit and stare at your computer screen, thinking you have nothing to say, but once you start writing, you may see that you have too much to say!
How can you build on the character-count-wizardry you got going during your primary app? Here are 5 tips for writing a concise secondary essay:
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. Don’t try to bend the question to fit your answer. The questions are designed to extract certain information. Giving a different answer won’t gain you any points.
2. Do some pre-writing.
Organizing your thoughts can help you stay on target, and also help you think of experiences you want to share in other essays. Don’t worry about the character count in this step. You’ll be able to work on that later on.
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 soon going to cut away those extraneous words. Read it through (reading aloud can help), and then do a first revision. It’s helpful to take a break and do something else before you come back for another review. Having someone else read your essay is also a good idea. A different set of eyes may see things you missed.
4. As you revise, pay close attention to the details of your writing.
Make it more economical wherever you can. Take a look at these wordy-turned-concise sentences:
• Active sentences are usually shorter than passive ones, for example:
Wordy: The research project that I worked on was in genetic engineering.
Concise: I researched genetic engineering.
• Delete unnecessary helping verbs, for example:
Wordy: I will be going to Africa this summer to work with underprivileged children.
Concise: I will work with underprivileged children in Africa this summer.
• Forget about “taking advantage of the opportunity to do,” for example:
Wordy: I took advantage of the opportunity to work in a clinic.
Concise: I worked in a clinic.
• Look for the verbs in nouns, for example:
Wordy: I used the assumption…
Concise: I assumed…
• Take out any words or phrases that are just not needed – 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.
Wordy: So, in the end, I made the decision to go to Uganda.
Concise: I decided to go to Uganda.
• Have you used a lot of adverbs? Sometimes you can communicate the same meaning (and sometimes even more effectively) by substituting a stronger verb.
Wordy: I slowly and carefully walked through the quiet house.
Concise: I tip-toed through the quiet house.
5. Once more, edit!
Do a final, final review: read your essay aloud, and fix any awkward phrasing or typos. Check – and double check – your character count.
These editing tips will take your long character-laden essays into succinct and highly readable ones that the adcoms will long remember.
Need help fine-tuning your secondary essays? Explore Accepted’s Medical School Admissions Consulting Services and work one-on-one with an advisor who will help you maintain your personal voice and highlight your unique stories…all within those rigid character limits.By Dr. Rebecca Blustein, Accepted consultant since 2008, former Student Affairs Officer at UCLA’s Scholarship Resource Center. Dr. Blustein, who earned her Ph.D. at UCLA, has helped hundreds of applicants get accepted to top MS, MA, and Ph.D. programs. She's also an expert on grad school funding and scholarships. Want Rebecca to help you get accepted? Click here to get in touch!
• From Example to Exemplary, a free guide to writing outstanding admissions essays
• Writing Your Medical School Secondary Essays, resource page
• Get Organized in Preparation for Secondaries and Interviews