The Pre-Writing stage is meant to equip you with the necessary tools and information, but the writing stage is the stage where the actual work is done. There are a lot of generic tips that you can get about essay writing by doing a quick Google search. So instead of just listing out some of those, I wanted to discuss three points of advice I found to be most helpful when I was first struggling with putting thoughts on paper. Hopefully you too will find them just as helpful as I did, so keep reading below!
Given the number of essays you are going to have to write for BS/MD programs, there is of course no way for you to avoid writing about activities that you’ve listed on your resume. In fact, that should never be the goal. Essays should be used to help the reader better understand your learning experiences from involvement in activities listed on your resume. I do, however, recommend that you find one activity that you thoroughly enjoy, which isn’t on your resume, and write about it. This will help BS/MD programs see you as more of a human rather than as just an applicant who exclusively does things for resume purposes. The following quote from one of Duke University’s prompts I believe exemplifies this best: “Real people are reading your application, and we want to do our best to understand and appreciate the real people applying to Duke.”
Some programs (such as Case Western’s PPSP), will actually explicitly ask you to write about a non-resume activity, while others may not. For those programs that don’t specify whether or not that activity needs to be a non-resume activity, you should take that opportunity to talk about something you haven’t previously mentioned on your resume. By doing so, you’ll set yourself apart from all other applicants, who are likely to talk about an extracurricular activity for which they have earned several awards and accolades. It’s fine to do either, but with BS/MD programs, which garner sometimes 1,000+ applicants for a mere 10-15 spots, you’re looking to differentiate yourself in whatever way possible.
So what types of non-resume activities should you talk about? Think about something you do to relax yourself. This is one of best answers to give, especially for BS/MD programs. Of all the doctors I have ever spoken to (including members of my own program faculty), one piece of advice that each one always gives is to prioritize your “me-time” and spend that time doing whatever helps restore and revitalize your energy. The journey to becoming a doctor is long and arduous, so the only way to help maintain your sanity whilst going through it is by making sure you take care of yourself throughout the process. Thus, by talking about an activity that isn’t listed on your resume but is something that helps relax you, you show the admissions committee that this activity is important enough to you that you’re willing to devote an entire essay on it. This will also show that you have the capacity to make it through the medical field without burning yourself out. The activity itself doesn’t matter much. For me, personally, it’s baking. I find myself happiest and calmest when I make myself a home-cooked meal with raw, fresh ingredients. For some people, that activity might be running; for others, it might be yoga. Regardless of what it is, talk about why that activity is important to you and what about it makes you feel so relaxed and at peace with yourself.
One of the most common mistakes people make when they first start writing their essays is that they get so involved in the story they’re telling, that they almost forget to relate its personal importance to them. To a certain extent, it actually makes sense why. We don’t typically go about our day experiencing different moments and then making a conscious decision to reflect on how that experience changed or affected us. Instead, we usually just take note of the moment at face value and move on. But that’s the exact opposite of what colleges are expecting you to do. They want you to be introspective and to recognize how different encounters and experiences have impacted you. And when you’re writing your essays, that’s exactly what you have to keep in mind.
Remember: YOU should always be the main character in your essays. There might be one particular person that you write about because they’ve had a strong influence on you, but in the end, it’s not about them, it’s about you. A lot of people say they want to be doctors, but the stories that are the most convincing aren’t about other people. They’re about you. So with every detail you include in your essay, ask yourself how it relates back to you and how mentioning it will help the reader better understand your perspective. Of course, there are going to be some details you must include to help set the scene or to help the reader understand some background information, but the core content of your essays should be about you and how this experience or encounter made a difference in the way you value or perceive things. Try not to get too bogged down by tiny, irrelevant details about other people; prioritize yourself first!
Ask anybody who has ever been on an application committee or who has ever worked with college applicants before: the difference is always in the details. When describing an experience in your essays, you want the reader to have such a complete and thorough understanding of where you are and what you’re doing that they could envision it in their minds. And the best way to accomplish that? Use every sense to describe the details of your environment and atmosphere (and yes, that includes touch and smell!). Some senses will be easier to describe than others, but it’s those harder ones that are really going to help paint a complete picture in your readers mind.
As mentioned in the last blog post, reading multiple other essays is a great way to get a better understanding of what makes up a successful essay (in contrast to an unsuccessful essay). You will quickly find that the essays that stand out to you most have a unique way of explaining details that shows a strong command of the English language. What does that mean? Well that means don’t just go on thesaurus.com and use a bunch of adjectives to describe your five senses. Instead, use words, analogies, and metaphors that still help you relate your senses, but in an unconventional way. There will be more on this idea in the next blog posts, which focuses on editing your essay, but for now, make sure that you at least have incorporated details about all five senses so you have something to work with when you get to the later stages.
Again, these are not the only writing tips that you should apply when starting out on your essays. In fact, these are some of the less commonly known ones. You can find more fundamental tips anywhere online, but these were what I believed to be most beneficial in helping elevating my writing to the next level. Beyond this, it’s all just editing; be sure to check out the next blog post which talks about what to do during the editing process to take your essay from good to great!
Be sure to read the entire Tips on Approaching BS/MD Essays series:
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