Writing your college essays, both the personal statement and supplementals, stress out many students, and we’ve covered before (and will cover again) how to approach writing these essays. The highly competitive BS/MD programs, however, have their own unique essay requirements, which go far beyond what normal applications require, and which present a novel challenge for students who want to apply.
We explain what BS/MD programs are, and how to know if they’re right for you, in a previous article. In this article, we’ll go into some specifics on the applications, namely, how to write the essays that these programs typically ask for. While each program is different and asks its own questions, there are commonalities between them.
Why are BS/MD Essays?
The first element to understand is why these essay questions exist, and why you are required to answer them. The BS/MD supplement varies in length by program, and the exact questions asked to vary as well, but all seek to gain a deeper understanding of you and your motivations than the standard application provides.
BS/MD programs are long, arduous, and intellectually challenging. The field of medicine itself requires long hours and a high degree of dedication. Thus when selecting the students who will make up the next crop of doctors, schools want to make sure the ones they select will be up for the task. They use applications, especially these supplemental essays, to do this.
What you write about in these essays should be separate from what you write about in your other supplementals, or in your personal statement. Those essays, especially your personal statement, should not have your desire to be a doctor as their main focus.
The BS/MD supplements exist to answer that question; you shouldn’t go over the same ground more than once. In the same way activities and extracurriculars you address in supplements for a college should not be repeated in the BS/MD supplements. You want to give your readers the most complete and in-depth view of who you are possible, and repeating information doesn’t do that.
This is one of the most common questions BS/MD programs will ask (and later, med schools will ask for those who apply to them). It is a simple enough question, though that does not necessarily mean it is easy to answer. Schools want to know what motivates you to pursue medicine, and what internal drive you have that will help you stick with the pursuit.
Whatever you write about should be personal to you, and should be an internalized motivation. Some event happened, or some experience you had, made you want to be a doctor. If the major factors in your pursuit of medicine are external, such as career goals or family pressures, your essays will not be as effective, and you will have lower odds of acceptance.
You should be careful to avoid cliches with the essays, which can be a difficult thing. After all, losing a loved one to a disease, or suffering from a disease yourself, are common motivators for becoming a doctor, and thus make for common essay topics. This does not make these bad essay topics but does mean that additional work is required to make your essay stand out.
When writing about your experiences and motivations, make them unique, and personal to you. The more generic your motivations sound, the less you will stand out, and the worse your chances of admission. Thus if your story seems like a common one, you should try to tell it in a unique way or use unique language to set it apart from essays that tell similar stories.
Why This School?
This is an essay question also asked by many non-BS/MD programs, as many colleges want to know why you are interested in attending them in particular. If “Why Us?” is asked by a college outside the BS/MD program, then the program itself will likely not ask the same question.
When answering this question, you should be as specific as possible. You want to discuss what your aspirations in the field are, and how the school you’re writing about will help you pursue them specifically. Writing about how a school has a “great program” or “strong academics” is terribly generic, and applies to every one of these programs. Look for specific examples of what a school offers that appeal to you.
By researching and referencing specific professors, programs, and offerings at a school, your desire to attend becomes more convincing, and your essays become more effective. Begin by determining what you want from a BS/MD program, then research how each program you are applying to meets those specific desires.
Your essay should focus primarily on academic factors. While a school’s culture and extracurriculars are well worth mentioning, they should not be the main focus. A school’s location should not be covered in more than a sentence.
These essay questions are more varied and nebulous and ask you to expand upon parts of your resume, or on activities, you participated in that you did not list. The goal is to gain a deeper understanding of what you’ve done and learned outside the classroom, and how those experiences have shaped you.
While most of these essays should and will focus on your extracurriculars which directly prepared you for and interested you in medicine and research, try to take at least one to discuss an activity, not on your resume; one you do merely to unwind. Some schools will ask for this directly, others will merely provide a more open response. BS/MD programs, and indeed the entire process of becoming a medical professional, is an incredibly stressful time. Showing that you have a way to unwind and mentally recuperate shows resilience, and care for your personal mental health, which these schools like to see.
When discussing your more academic-oriented activities, make sure to go beyond what you did, and discuss what you learned, and how these activities changed you. Schools are looking for more than a collection of skills; while skills are helpful, they will still expect to teach you many of them. Instead, they want students capable of introspection, with mature outlooks. Showing how participating in a research project changed your view on the value of research is more valuable than merely listing every technique you learned and employed.
As a final point, make sure that the essays you write are original and unique to you. This is an important consideration throughout the college application process, but the sheer number of essays required by BS/MD programs makes it worth repeating here. Students may be tempted to copy example essays, from friends or online, which saw previous success when applying to BS/MD programs. This is a mistake.
What schools are looking for varies year-to-year, and student-to-student, so merely copying what made another student successful will not guarantee your own success in turn. This holds true for extracurriculars, essays, test scores, grades, and all other metrics of an application. While the same advice about achievement and accomplishments holds true, exactly mirroring the strategies of others is not an ideal approach.
You should participate in activities and write essays because they represent your dreams and desires, and will help in furthering them. The essays you write should likewise reflect your inner self, and not be a regurgitation of the thoughts and ideas of others.
While the specific essays that BS/MD programs ask for will differ, we hope that this guide will give you a solid launching point to begin answering them. The programs themselves are all quite different but are frequently looking for similar things in students, bright, passionate, motivated, and eager to learn and grow.
If you are concerned about your own BS/MD applications or want guidance on writing your own essays, don’t hesitate to schedule a free consultation. We’re always happy to hear from you, and we have long experience helping students prepare for college, from selecting activities to editing essays.