Med Student Mentor: Tips for Writing Admissions EssaysAug 15, 2014
How can “telling your story” get you into Harvard Medical School? Dr. Robert Mayer, faculty associate dean of admissions at Harvard Medical School reveals what the admissions staff looks for in a candidate. He shares some insider tips on preparing a great essay and discusses the dos and don’ts of writing a successful essay.
Announcer: This is the show by med students for med students. It's the Med Student Mentor on The Scope.
Interviewer: We are here today with Dr. Robert Mayer who is the faculty Associate Dean of Admissions at Harvard Medical School to talk about what makes a good essay. Thank you for being here Dr. Mayer.
Dr. Mayer: My pleasure
Interviewer: So, just to jump right in, can you tell me what makes a good essay?
Dr. Mayer: A good essay tells the admissions committee a bit more about who the candidate is. What their passions are why they went to medical school, what one or two experience in their lives have been really career changing that have really made it clear to them that medicine is in their future. But it should express what the candidate is really thinking about. Let me add that there is a major essay that is part of the standardize applications. But every medical school has secondary applications which tell specific questions about school and just about each one of them has additional opportunities to write about themselves. So, the essay, main essay and the secondary essays are something we look at very carefully
Interviewer: What makes an essay may not be so good?
Dr. Mayer: Spelling mistakes You may love at that but when you are sitting there reading lots and lots of essay, lots and lots of applications, it gets a really degrading and irritating when an essay is put together in a sloppy manner, doesn't read particularly well, its awkwardly structured, has nothing to say. It also... a bad essay is also one which is full of ego, "I did this, I did that." Somebody may be very proud of their accomplishments, but let the accomplishment speak for themselves. Don't make it boastful because that turns people off. On the other side, an essay that is so polished, one really wonders whether the candidate actually wrote it. Because it isn't really personal. It isn't really talking about themselves... sort of doesn't do any favors either.
What's important is to write from the heart. Who you are, why you are doing this, what's important to you and experiences that have taken place that really defines your personality?
Interviewer: Let's say that I'm a medical student and I have picked a subject that I can really write about from the heart. What sort of advice do you give me on the structure? Would you say larger words are better, you know longer is better? What structure do you prefer to see?
Dr. Mayer: I think an essay should tell a story and make one understand who someone is. we have applicants who somehow are able to have such ability to manage their time... their time management that they can be a fast athlete, play a cello in a string quartet, do research and still volunteer. How somebody can do that, you sort of wonder how can they do them in depth. Its very nice if you tell us a little bit about how those experiences are and why people, why you began to do it. We get really fascinating letters or essays. People who were dancers, and how it seems all those dancers do something that their ankles or their knees, they write about it and how they met physicians or trainers and it taught about humility and it taught them about the care they could receive. These are wonderful stories.
Interviewer: We have talked a lot about actually writing an essay and somehow to create an essay. What's the purpose of an essay in your mind? What's the end goal? What is it supposed to accomplish?
Dr. Mayer: I think an essay just like any interview is an opportunity for a reader, for an interviewer, for a member of admissions committee to learn a little bit about the values that the candidate has, the interests the candidate has, and again an opportunity to get a sense of why candidate has chosen to become a physician.
Interviewer: Thank you very much for all your advice Dr. Mayer.
Dr. Mayer: My pleasure.
Announcer: The Med Student Mentor is a production of The Scope.