Article by Ben Feuer, Photo by Lillith

If there is one type of essay every college hopeful moans and groans about — it’s their Common App personal statement.  But the “why school” essays run a close second.  Everyone struggles with them.  Shawna, bright and funny with a GPA to die for, was aces when it came to writing about her background as a half-Filipina woman trying to find her way in a prejudiced society. But once it came time for her to do school research, she stalled out. It feels like hitting a single, not a home run, she told me. But I disagree --

ANYBODY can hit a home run with a “why school” essay — if she’s willing to put in the work.  

Writing a great school-specific essay requires a very different set of skills than writing a great personal statement, but both types of essay are important. You should always take them when you have an option, AND you should always write at or near the maximum word-count for Why School essays (unlike other types of essay, where it isn’t as important).  Here are some commonly asked questions about this essay type --

Why are schools so concerned with research?  

Don’t they already know what is great about their school?  Of course they do (although it never hurts to hear it again).  They’re asking because of something called demonstrated interest. Demonstrated interest is a fancy way of saying, how much do you really want to go to OUR school?  Did you pick us just because we’ve got a good ranking, or do you actually know something about how we work?  Have you visited campus?  Have you spoken to alumni?  Are you familiar with the enviroment?  Class size?  Cultural reputation, IE, what the students behave like and what they value?  Schools like DI. DI correllates to yield, and yield boosts rankings — and everybody likes high rankings.

OK, fine.  What am I even supposed to talk about?


The world is your oyster!  Here’s a partial list.  There are many more.

Top professors (shared history, publications, work history, teaching reputation), student body (diversity, age, work history), recent alumni (willingness to communicate, quotes drawn from experience), advanced alumni (internships and placement), career services, industry strengths (sectors, disciplines), specialized majors, ability to cross-enroll, strength of cross-disciplinary opportunities, campus setting (proximity to family, friendliness, size, appearance), local opportunities (incubators, fellowships, internships, work-study, volunteering), clubs and organizations (duration, comparative strength, leadership opportunities, ways to grow or give back), conferences and campus speakers (relevance, reputation), entrepreneurial opportunities (competitions, incubators), classes (first year, second year, specializations), campus visits (info sessions, experience, sitting in on classes), family history (connections, early life)

I’m overwhelmed. Where do I start?

Start by creating a ‘headline’ for each of your target schools.  ALL of them, not just your favorite.  Summarize, in 1 or 2 sentences, what you think the unique fit is between yourself and the school. Treat these sentences as a hypothesis you need to prove.

Remember that your research will be more effective if you do early research into ALL your schools at once, or at least all the ones that have Why School essays. That way, you’ll have a basis for comparison (and a good school research point should ALWAYS be comparing one school to another, albeit not by name).

School research can be divided into three main categories.

  1. DEEP WEB RESEARCH. This should be the heart of your essay, as well as the meat and potatoes. Reading the school’s website is not a bad start, as it will give you a basic overview of what’s on offer. Keep an eye peeled for course listings, recent news events, maps and descriptions of important campus buildings, student run organizations, and other key terms.  Then take those terms and plug them right into Google, Youtube and Linkedin!  Yes, it’s that easy.  After reading 10-15 links on the things that interest you, you’ll understand it almost as well as someone at the school!  Statistical websites like College Factual are tremendously helpful here as well, as are blogs from current and former students, Vlogs, Instagram feeds – anything and everything is fair game. Cite a wide range of sources in your essay to show the depth of your research.
  2. TALK TO CURRENT/FORMER STUDENTS AND PROFS. Anyone more than 10 years out from graduation is not likely to be helpful, but more recent grads, particularly folks with similar backgrounds to you, are tremendous sources of information. But do your web research first, that way, you’ll be able to ask more specific questions. Remember, you’re trying to get interesting observations you can paraphrase, so if they’re speaking generally (or you’re not taking good notes) the whole thing will be a waste.  Don’t ask “How did you like the school?”  Ask “You took Professor Trelawney’s Divination II, right?  How did you like the reading material for that class, did you find it useful in your overall understanding of the degree?”  Focused questions result in focused answers. Better!
  3. DO A CAMPUS TOUR. Again, be prepared to take notes and take names. If you can’t get there in person, do a virtual tour. Note the date of your tour in your essay, sometimes that information comes in handy!

How many points should I be discussing?

A common bad strategy for this type of essay is overstuffing it with poorly supported points — referencing three classes in a row without explaining why any of them are necessary (or particularly strong at your chosen school), name dropping professors without explaining how their book on Cannibal Theory changed your life, using alumni quotes but providing no context as to their relevance.

Instead, make a few well chosen points and back them up.  What are the two or three things you, personally, MOST need from a college?  This, by the way, is ALSO the reason nobody can do this work for you. Ultimately, you’re the one who really knows your priorities and the things you most need in order to grow.

I wrote it, but I don’t like what I wrote. It feels general and vague. 

Every early draft of a why school essay shares the same pernicious flaw — blanket statements made without evidence (to back them up) or context (to explain why they belong in the essay).  So how do we fix these statements?  Watch the following bland comment transform into a great point — through action.

U.Chicago’s campus is very diverse.  Awful.  A blanket statement with nothing to back it up — not a shred of research or introspection.

When John Smith ’13 told me about U.Chicago’s diverse campus environment, I was very excited.  So-so — at least you spoke to (and quoted) an alumni.  But not much effort shown, nor much reflection on your own goals and needs.

When John Smith ’13 told me about U.Chicago’s diverse campus environment, I was very excited — my four years at Ball State proved to me that I thrive when I am learning from my peers as much as my professors.  Above average — not great.  Action taken, related it back to your own experience.  This is what I’d consider “bare minimum” for making a solid point as to why you and a school are a good fit.

When my best friend John Smith ‘20 told me about U.Chicago’s diverse campus environment (ranked 23rd in the nation by College Factual for its strong geographic and ethnic balance), I was excited, but skeptical — diversity can mean different things to different people.  So I went to see for myself, visiting on September 9th, 2017.  The info session was intimate — more so than any other I have attended — with a relatively select group of students offered full campus access.  Bob Davis ’12, my tour leader, was extraordinarily patient, walking me through U.Chicago’s outstanding array of clubs and societies, including the MSAC Committee. U.Chicago is one of the only schools I am considering that even offers a student-led Diversity Committee, much less one that advises faculty and university management on key outreach issues.  Outstanding.  The candidate walks us through his thought process — smoothly incorporating his actions taken (alumni interviews, campus visit, talked to tour guide for 1/2 hour) into a larger journey of how he came to fall in love with Booth.  We believe him.

Don’t fake it.  

I know, I know — you’re thinking, nah, that sounds too hard, or too expensive — I don’t want to Google-stalk a professor, or haunt an internet forum, or network on LinkedIn to meet alums from a school — I’m busy!  (as 1000 tiny violins play)  Campus visits, I’ll just make it up.  Ok, big boy, you do that.  And you might fool your parents, or even a peer reviewer or two.  But you won’t fool the experts, who have to read literally THOUSANDS of these things.  They know their own programs, and if you think you can generalize your way around campus — sorry, no.

You can’t have fit without a goal.

Your school may ask you “why us” but may not ask specifically about your goals.  Use one or two sentences to tell them about your goals for college.  Why?  Because if you don’t, how are you going to show that you are a good fit on campus?  People with dreams need help making their dreams come true.  Your goal and your past experience dictate what you need from the school. 

But be as specific as you can when it comes to your needs. Let’s say, for argument’s sake, you want to master leadership in college.  OK.  What aspect of leadership are you looking to develop?  Small teams?  Big teams?  Collaborating remotely?  Speaking in front of groups?  Setting long term visionary goals?  Achieving short term objectives?  By better defining your growth areas, you can focus more precisely on what the school has to offer you.  The same thing applies to every discipline you wish to develop — precise thinking and precise language will set you apart.

The end -- and the beginning.

That's it -- everything you know to write a great "why school essay.  It's not complicated -- but it's also not easy.  It takes time, and thought, to get it right.  Still, as with everything in this process, practice makes perfect -- so get to work on those drafts!

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Don't be shy! Schedule a consultation to find out how we can help you.






Every once in a while at Forster-Thomas, our blog takes a break from tips, tricks and shortcuts to a better admissions future to comment on something we consider to be of great importance to the future of education in our country. A recent article in the New York Times, derived from a speech given in Australia, raises just such a topic.

The article, called the Dying Art of Disagreement, raises some incredibly disturbing findings. One that jumps out is that over twenty percent of liberal arts students think it is acceptable to silence a speaker with violence, if that speaker is saying something with which they disagree. That's one in five students fully prepared to become a fascist, as long as they're marching behind the 'right sort' of Dear Leader. And this is the most educated subset of our society. I promise you that in the swamps, plains and plateaus, the same and worse is espoused.

The facts of the situation are grim. Liberals (and intellectual conservatives) are in the process of 'normalizing' the worst habits of their worst enemies, including fear, oppression and blind hatred. Morality, the act of making another's opinion 'immoral' or 'ethically wrong', does as much damage to you as to your opponent. Morality binds and blinds, and hate is anti-scientific, anti-rational, and thoroughly tribal. If you think your feelings are leading you to a more just world, you're deluding yourself, and more importantly, helping preserve the delusion of those around you who value your opinion.

Our higher education system, the envy of and the model for much of the developing world, should be designed to combat that kind of thinking. Education, as the Lowy Institute speech makes clear, is not a fixed lesson, but rather a process of self-interrogation. To treat no proposition as sacred, and no objection as impious, used to be the cornerstone of a liberal education. And any intellectual not currently competing for a social media popularity prize would probably allow that it still is.

Many people today justify intellectual laziness by proudly labeling themselves partisans. It's too oppressive, they claim, too triggering, to be forced to consider anybody else's point of view. Besides, they're activists -- living in what has also been referred to as soldier mindset -- 24/7. How can it be wrong when it feels so right?

Because the root of activism is action. No change in the world can take place without action. A tweetstorm is not an action, it's a reaction, and a poorly reasoned one at that. Action occurs in the real world, with other people. Meaningful action takes place when we are forced to justify our beliefs before those who hold the opposite view -- we disagree well, because we understand well.

As educational consultants, we here at Forster-Thomas try to play this Socratic role to our future scholars. We challenge their preconceptions, push them to explore their own flaws and failures, and remind them how important it is to deeply evaluate difficult questions about their own futures, and the role Universities play in that future. Their choice of college or graduate school, after all, will help define them. Not every idea our clients hold dear is currently trending. On the contrary, many would get you shouted down on Twitter, or worse. But they're a necessary part of a balanced intellectual breakfast, and as long as the client can make a rational case for his perspective, we say, go for it!

IECs speak to an important audience. Our charges will one day, relatively soon, rule the world. When they do, they will face entrenched societal problems, including issues of climate, massive transfers of wealth, and a worldwide assault on free speech. We should not stand by and encourage those who disagree with us to remain silent. A silent mind never changes.

If you agree with what we're saying here -- if you want our future leaders to be well-versed and prepared to refute the specious arguments of nativists, fearmongers and opportunists -- then take action. Make sure you tell each and every one of your students that they are in college to learn, not to inform the faculty of what they already 'know' to be true. Tell them to reject any and all ideas that hold them back from gaining a better understanding of the world as it is. Tell them to stop demanding, and start understanding. Remind them that no idea is sacred, not even their favorite one. And thank them for the service they are doing for us, themselves and future generations.

Or, in the words of Badass Historical Lady Evelyn Beatrice Hall (sometimes misattributed to Voltaire) --
I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.


By Ben Feuer, photo by Phil Dolby

There are literally thousands of secondary essays put out by medical schools each and every year. But most of those essays can be subdivided into specific categories and dealt with in groups. In this blog, we’re discussing the ‘adversity’ category.

DEFINITION OF THE ADVERSITY CATEGORY

Any medical school secondary essay touching on a long-term challenge lasting 5 years or more. The challenge can be external or internal in nature, but should constitute a meaningful obstacle to the student’s aspiration to practice medicine. The challenge need not have been fully overcome, and may not be possible to overcome – it is the process of the struggle itself that defines the adversity essay. 

EXAMPLES OF SECONDARY PROMPTS IN THE ADVERSITY CATEGORY

 

Describe a problem in your life. Include how you dealt with it and how it influenced your growth.  DAVID GEFFEN SCHOOL OF MEDICINE, UCLA.

 

Briefly describe a situation where you had to overcome adversity; include lessons learned and how you think it will affect your career as a future physician. JOHNS HOPKINS SCHOOL OF MEDICINE. 

 

While you were growing up, did you experience any of the following types of adversity? Economic, Educational, Ethnic/Cultural, Family. Please describe the nature of the adversity. OREGON SCHOOL OF HEALTH AND SCIENCE

 

Describe an obstacle you’ve overcome and how it has defined you. STONY BROOK SCHOOL OF MEDICINE.

 

TECHNIQUE FOR ANSWERING THE ADVERSITY CATEGORY

Medical school secondary essays can be divided into two basic subtypes – narrative essays, which require the applicant to tell a story, and factual essays, which require the applicant to answer a series of factual questions.  The adversity essay is a narrative essay, and one of the most challenging essay types for the typical applicant. We find that this is in the top two most challenging prompts to answer for our candidates.

Begin by eliminating challenges that make for bad essays or sound like justifications of a problem or bragging – academic struggles, making second place instead of first in your swim meet,  not having enough time in the day to do everything you want to do.

Avoid discussing trivial problems, such as malaise or stress, self-incriminating problems, such as depression or severe drug addiction, and temporary problems, such as having a broken leg for six months and having to walk around in a cast.

Instead, look to your core strengths – the virtues that make you who you are. Reliability, wisdom, confidence, bravery, or whatever they may be. Ask yourself, is there a dark side, a flip side, to my strengths? Is there a consistent area of my life where I struggle to apply these strengths?

Classic examples (DO NOT copy these – come up with your own!) include overcoming a challenging cultural or learning difference, adjusting to family circumstances (loss of money, sudden wealth, divorce, moving around the country), inter or intra-family struggles (managing relationships with sick loved ones over a long period of time, job loss), or a long-term ambition that didn’t work out (getting most of the way to being a professional baseball player, only to tear your hamstring and end your career).

Once you know the topic of the adversity you are discussing, you must figure out IF you have overcome the adversity, HOW you have overcome the adversity, and HOW you have grown as a result of facing this adversity. Use concrete examples from your life to illustrate your points about growth – I couldn’t have done XYZ years ago, but I can now.

This essay should be written in a warm, engaging personal tone – it should move the reader, and be heartfelt, funny and/or personable, not technical, cold or disengaged. 

***

Do you have more questions about this secondary essay, or about other secondary essays?  Feel free to contact us and we’ll be happy to help.





By Ben Feuer. Photo by Kevin Dooley.

ZeeMee has big dreams. They go like this.

What if your personal statement wasn't in writing, but was, in fact, a video, complete with well-thought out picture and sound, brilliantly clever and funny editing, and a great, sophisticated voice-over narration?

That's the promise of the ZeeMee platform (as well as its cousins/competitors, such as the infamous Coalition app) -- using video to supplement (replace?) written essays and save admissions officers time and sweat. Great, we're onboard. After all, a picture is worth a thousand words. So you're clearly offering at least 1000 percent better information in a ZeeMee video, right?

Not so fast. As everyone who's ever read a book and then gone to watch the movie of the book knows, written English contains a lot more nuance and sophistication than its spoken counterpart. That said, video can certainly drive home points clearly and strongly, and it has its place in the admissions process.

So that's what a ZeeMee IS and why you might want one. Now, how do you make a good one?

Tough question. Fortunately, we've taken the time to watch hundreds of ZeeMee videos with a careful and critical eye. We're not going to single out the fails ( ... you know who you are ...) but we are going to call special attention to a few that have some really good things going for them. We have also put together a basic list of do's and don'ts so you can avoid the most common pitfalls.

We're linking to YouTube because it seems that about half the time, ZeeMee links don't play on their own website.  :(  And we want to make sure you guys get the benefit of all of our fabulous free advice.  

And please remember before reading further -- we are NOT in any way criticizing the people who have made these videos. This is a tough thing to do well, and all these people deserve (and have probably since gotten) rewarded for their efforts.  Give them all a big hand!  Yay!

OK, enough being nice. Let's get picky.

EXAMPLES

This is a good video. It almost gets away with being 4 minutes long. The repetition of "every day" creates a rhythm, as does the varied pace of the footage. The order of ideas is surprising (computer science!) and even though the images are sometimes goofy (which is fine, but not very informative), the narration keeps it grounded. The voice-over is paced well, so it's easy to understand.

Production values are quite sophisticated here, which does help, but the real strength of this video is the way the voice-over and images complement one another to tell a complete (if not terribly original) story.

This one is too short, and technical production's not good (could have used subtitles), but listen to how detailed the voice-over writing is. It's very specific and you really get a vivid picture of how her mind works.

We don't hear enough of the candidate's voice in this one, but when we do, there are some great facts that really illustrate the points she's making about herself. The clips show off her quirky and original perspective on the world.

This video tries to cover too much ground, and the jokes don't always land, but the pacing is great, there are some great visual choices that really highlight what the narration is saying, and the mood is upbeat and fun.

OK, this video has serious problems. Music's too loud, it's way too long, lacks visual variety, and the opening is too negative. HOWEVER. Check in around 2:00 and you'll see some really great, detailed storytelling. The candidate goes into real detail about the joys and struggles of her life, and it's moving and compelling in a way most introduction videos just aren't.

***

Now that you're getting a feel for these ZeeMees, you might be thinking you're ready to start making one. OK, gung-ho, just read our list of do's and don'ts first and save yourself a lot of time and trouble.

Important -- ZeeMee profiles have LOTS of different kinds of videos on them. These notes do not apply with equal force to all the other types of video. This article is just about intro videos. k? k.

DO

Come up with an original spin for your video.  Copycats never stand out from the pack. Don't just make another 'day in the life' video, or another 'my most memorable moment' video, or another music montage. Figure out what YOUR personal version of that is. What are you doing that's going to fit particularly well with your story, your background? What are you burning to say?

Create a thoughtful, informative poster frame.
You won't always have control over how your video is watched or in what context, but a poster frame can speak very strongly about what kind of video you're making and what the viewer should expect. Use simple text and graphics, they help. Here's a perfect example.



Use a voice-over narration script. One of the great things about movies is the way that picture and sound can combine to tell a story. You don't need to rely on just words (talking to a camera), or just pictures (without any words).  And reading from a VO script (unlike reading from a prompter in front of the camera) feels natural and easy for most people. Even if you have an accent, it's still a good idea to do this, you just might want to speak more slowly so people can understand you better.

Subtitle your video and make it sound-off-friendly. If you're like most of us, you're watching online videos on mute, paying half attention, or in a noisy environment. Shakespeare it ain't. So make sure your video can still tell a story with the sound OFF. Do the visuals send their own strong message?  Are there helpful subtitles and intertitles to guide the viewer's attention?

Here's a great example -- you can watch it with the sound off and still get the message. In fact, you SHOULD watch it with the sound off, the sound is really bad. 

DON'T

Use famous copyrighted music.
unless you're a founding member of Weezer, don't put their music under your videos. You risk a takedown notice, wasting all your hard work, and you distract from the main point -- your voice, personality and style. Famous music (especially with lyrics) calls up strong associations for people and puts your own work out of context.That said, it's OK to use commercial music -- just not a song everyone has heard on the radio 1000 times.

Hide in your own video.  This one is HUGE, and it absolutely KILLS a video stone dead. You cannot, cannot, cannot refuse to be the star of your own admissions video. I know, you don't think you're doing it. But you are. Here are a few ways students LOVE to shy away from making the video about them actually ... about ... them.

Are you ... barely seen in your own video (all shots of other people/places, or framed so we can't tell which one is you?)

Are you ... inaudible when you speak (because of that awesome Weezer song blaring over you, or not subtitling where necessary?  Remember, subtitling is a thing now)

Are you ... obviously reading from a script?  (Yeah, we can tell. And no, you are not a professional politician, you can't read off a prompter and act at the same time. Memorize, Mary Sue -- or get a couple of extra acting lessons! This goes DOUBLE for people who are trying to show off how many languages they speak. Does obviously reading them really count?)

Are you ... obviously uncomfortable talking about yourself?  (Hesitation, awkwardness, nervousness, looking around like you're waiting for someone to please please please rescue you and say you don't have to make this stupid profile video anymore ... :)  It's OK to have some wonky takes, but then it's your job to film a couple more, until you get more comfortable with what you're saying and doing on camera.

Are you ... drawing your video so that we never see anything but your hands?  Ha, thought you were gonna get away with that one, didn't you?  Nope.  Faces required.

Are you ... forcing your friends, neighbors and relatives to come up with a word-salad association about you and then making a video of THEM?  Yeah, you thought that one was gonna sneak by too. NOPE. #admissionscliche

*Overload people with information.  Let's be honest with ourselves for a hot minute. Number one -- yes, we do look fat in that dress/suit, don't be gender normative, yo. Number two -- how much do you think admissions officers REALLY want to know about you?  Ten things?  Think lower.  Four things?  Maybe if your officer is brand new and all idealistic and stuff. 

Adcoms want the highlight reel. They want the one or two most important, distinctive things, and they want those things to be MeMoRaBle.  You're trying to give someone something to write home about -- literally. So talking about how hard-working or curious or nice or whatever buzzword 101 you think colleges are looking for is NOT going to cut it.

It's about depth, people. Go DEEP into a couple of points about your personality or history, just like you would in an essay. Don't skim the surface and help them 'get to know all about you', by which I mean, make yourself into another clone. That's what your actual application is for.

Obsess over your travel, mountain climbing, winning races, captaining teams, or other college admissions cliches.  This is an old canard from essays that is now migrating to videos -- the 'if it was special to me, it's automatically special to you' problem. I know, it felt special to YOU -- but we just watched fifty videos in a row with basically the same clip. We aren't telling you not to vlog about these things, but you need to put a SPIN on them, bring some of your PERSPECTIVE into the mix. Otherwise, we might as well be reading a bullet point list.

Include more than one bathing suit clip. C'mon, guys, you're sending these videos to admissions officers, not frat brothers.

Go over 2.5 mins.  Because no one wants to watch all that. This is the internet, fool!  You're competing with kitten videos. KITTEN -- VIDEOS.

Of course, there are a million other little things that make a video feel just right -- not leaving 10-15 seconds of black before or after the video, not messing up cuts so there are tiny little jumps or repeats in the picture, varying style, speed and cadence of the narration -- but as long as you take care of the big things, the little things take care of themselves (or better still, someone takes care of them for you).
PLEASE REMEMBER -- all of this is SAID WITH LOVE. We know it's not easy to make a smokin' cool video about yourself, which you write, edit, and star in. It took Lena Dunham freaking forever. She was like 24 by the time she was finished!  Talk about a slacker.  But, and here's the amazing news ... you can do this. You just need to be honest with yourself, seek smart feedback where appropriate, and put in the work to get your video to the next level.

Always remember, in the admissions game -- if a tree falls in the forest but makes a bad ZeeMee video about it, it might as well not have happened. That's the way that old proverb goes, right? And if you need help, we're just a phone call away.


Article by Ben Feuer, photo by K.B.R.

School Nickname: Albert Einstein School of Medicine

Median MCAT: 515

Median GPA: 3.82

DeanAllen M Spiegel, MD

Prior to joining Einstein, Dr. Spiegel was Director of the National Institute of Diabetes & Digestive Diseases & Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) at the National Institutes of Health, the culmination of a distinguished 33-year-career at the NIH.

 

A member of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences, Dr. Spiegel earned his bachelor's degree summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa from Columbia University in 1967. He received his M.D. degree cum laude from Harvard Medical School in 1971 and completed his clinical training at Massachusetts General Hospital.

He began his career at the NIH in 1973 as a Clinical Associate in its Endocrinology Training program. He then served as a Senior Investigator in the Metabolic Disease Branch from 1977 to 1984. In 1985 he was appointed Chief of Molecular Pathophysiology, and then Chief of the Metabolic Diseases Branch. In 1990, he was appointed Director of the NIDDK's Division of Intramural Research. He served in these various capacities until his appointment as Director of the NIDDK in 1999. In this role, Dr. Spiegel had responsibility for a staff of 625 full-time employees and a $1.7 billion budget.

Details on the School: Highlights below

36 Global Initiatives, 20 Research Centers, and over $160 Million in NIH grants.

One need only look at the devastation caused by emergence of the Zika virus with resultant microcephaly in babies born of mothers infected during pregnancy to see that the concerted efforts of public health experts, virologists, immunologists and neuroscientists will be critical to preventing further tragic consequences. Einstein students trained by our outstanding faculty in some of our leading laboratories will be at the forefront of the research that ultimately makes the difference for this and other major health challenges. Just as infection with HIV was turned from a certain death sentence from AIDS to a treatable chronic condition, biomedical research will provide the answers to the major threats from Alzheimer’s disease, and currently poorly treated malignancies such as pancreatic cancer.

Top Residencies: 

Anesthesiology

psychiatry

emergency medicine

Internal medicine

Application: More here

Two-stage.  First stage MUST be done through AMCAS, with a deadline of October 15th.  There is also a secondary application that usually arrives between July and September.

It is rare that we admit individuals from foreign universities because the Admissions Committee does not have satisfactory means of evaluating premedical educaiton at universities outside of the United States and Canada.

Premedical Coursework

In response and to prepare applicants for holistic review that will evaluate, equally, their personal characteristics and academic readiness for medical school, the Albert Einstein College of Medicine has instituted a competency-based admissions process.

Applicants should know –

Chemistry, biology, physics, mathematics, and humanities & social sciences.

Knowledge Competencies are most successfully attained by applicants who have had a minimum of three years of study toward a baccalaureate degree from an accredited college or university in the U.S. or Canada as well as 40 credit hours of science and mathematics, including advanced biology courses for which letter grades are available (not Pass/Fail, unless college policy), 40 credit hours of humanities and social sciences, and substantial experience in clinical, community, and/or research activities (as described above). Students who complete their science course work in a post-baccalaureate program must have completed at least 30 credit hours in a U.S.-chartered college or university whose grades can be reported and verified by AMCAS.

Previous Year Questions:

Albert Einstein College has a somewhat unusual secondary. It is a series of questions. If you answer no, no further explanation is required. If you answer yes, you must write 100-200 words explaining further.  Here are the 2015-2016 questions.  Your strategy with these questions, as well as the other short answers on the application, should be to be as clear and complete as the word count allows, without dwelling on or overemphasizing any particular point in an attempt to ‘sell’ yourself or show off.

***

Series of yes or no questions. Any ‘yes’ answer requires a brief 100 word explanation.

I have taken time off between high school and college

(Please explain your activities in detail, and your reasons for taking time off, and include dates)

I have taken time off during my undergraduate years

(Please explain your activities in detail, and your reasons for taking time off, and include dates)

I have taken off at least a year since college graduation

(Please explain your activities in detail, and your reasons for taking time off, and include dates)

I plan to take off this year, after just having graduated, while I apply to medical school.

(Please explain what you plan to do this year and please provide confirmation of your plans when they are complete.)

I have taken and received credit for online courses

(Please note that the College does not accept online courses that are not offered by (as opposed to, approved by) your undergraduate or graduate institution. If you have taken online courses, please indicate what courses, where they were taken, and why you elected to take the courses online.)

I have worked part- or full-time, for pay, during the academic year while in college.

(Please indicate when you worked, e.g., freshman year, what months of the year you worked, and how many hours. Briefly describe the work you did.)

I have applied to medical school previously

(Please list schools and year of application, and tell us what actions you have taken to improve your application.)

I have submitted an AMCAS application to Einstein previously

(Please keep in mind that if you completed two prior applications, you are ineligible for reapplication.)

(Please indicate whether you completed the application process for Einstein, the year(s) you applied, and whether you were interviewed.)

I am presently enrolled in the Sue Golding Graduate Division

(Please indicate the year you enrolled, when you plan to take your qualifying examination, and the name of your mentor/department. It is required that your mentor write a letter of recommendation on your behalf.)

I am presently enrolled as an undergraduate student at Yeshiva University

(Please indicate the month and year that you will graduate.)

I had been accepted to medical school previously but chose not to matriculate (Please indicate the name of the school, the year, and your reasons for not matriculating.)

I had been enrolled previously in a medical school

(Please indicate the name of the school, the dates of your enrollment, and your reason for leaving.)

I have not yet completed all of the competencies

(Please indicate what you are missing, and when and how you plan completion.)

I will have a Baccalaureate Degree by the time I matriculate in medical school

(Please indicate why you will not have your Degree.)

I am presently holding a deferred enrollment to a medical/professional school

(Please indicate where you are holding a deferral and why you are applying to Einstein now.)

I have received a grade of “F” during my college/graduate school years

(Please indicate the name of the course and the reason for the failure.)

I have received a grade of “D” during my college/graduate school years

(Please indicate the name of the course and the reason for this grade.)

I have received a grade of “W” during my college/graduate school years

(Please indicate the name of the course and the reason for this grade.)

I have received a grade of “I” during my college/graduate school years

(Please indicate the name of the course and the reason for this grade.)

I have transferred from one college to another during my undergraduate years

(Please explain why you chose to transfer, and indicate the names of the colleges involved.)

I have been the recipient of a warning notice for a non-academic issue that did not result in a disciplinary action

(Please explain when, where and why.)

I have been subject to a disciplinary action and/or an administrative action, expunged or not, while in school

(If yes, please answer the following questions.)

Expunged? No Yes

How many warnings did you receive prior to an action being placed on your record?

(Please explain how all of the above affected you.)

I have disciplinary charges pending

(Please explain in detail.)

I have been convicted of a crime

(Please explain in detail.)

I expect that there will be criminal charges brought against me which are now pending

(Please explain in detail.)

I have been prohibited or suspended from practicing in a professional capacity due to or as a result of alleged misconduct

(Please explain in detail.)

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Don't be shy! Schedule a consultation to find out how we can help you.



Article by Ben Feuer. Photo by Barry Solow.

School Nickname: Langone

Median MCAT: 520

Median GPA: 3.91

Associate Dean: Rafael Rivera, MD

Specialties include Pediatric Radiology and Radiology. Earned his MD from Cornell in 1995, and his MBA from NYU in 2015.  Has published on Appendicitis and Magnetic Resonance Angiography.

Details on the School: Highlights below

In 2016, NYU Langone received two significant awards from Vizient—the Bernard A. Birnbaum, MD, Quality Leadership Award and the Ambulatory Care Quality and Accountability Award for demonstrated excellence in delivering high-quality, patient-centered outpatient care. We also received The Gold Seal of Approval® by The Joint Commission, the leading accreditor of healthcare organizations in America, reflecting a commitment to high-quality patient care.

 

U.S. News & World Report named us one of the top ten hospitals in the country for neurology and neurosurgery.

 

NYU offers an accelerated 3-year MD, which is uncommon among top medical schools.

 

Top Residencies: 

Anesthesiology

orthopaedic surgery

emergency medicine

pediatrics

Application: More here

Two-stage.  First stage MUST be done through AMCAS, with a deadline of October 15th.  There is then a secondary application that usually arrives between July and September.

It is rare that we admit individuals from foreign universities because the Admissions Committee does not have satisfactory means of evaluating premedical educaiton at universities outside of the United States and Canada.

Premedical Coursework

 

We recommend that MD program applicants demonstrate proficiency in the following premedical courses:

 

general biology with labs

general physics with labs

inorganic chemistry, organic chemistry, and biochemistry with labs

genetics

English

We consider courses completed at schools of dentistry, nursing, veterinary medicine, or pharmacy as part of your application materials but do not provide credit for such courses.

If you’re invited for an interview, you participate in multiple mini interviews, in which you meet with several interviewers, rather than just one.

Previous Year Questions:

1. What unique qualities or experiences do you possess that would contribute specifically to the NYU School of Medicine community?

2. If you have taken any time off from your studies, either during or after college, please describe what you have done during this time and your reasons for doing so.

3. CHOOSE ONE: The most meaningful achievements are often non-academic in nature. Describe the personal accomplishment that makes you most proud. Why is this important to you?

CHOOSE ONE: Conflicts arise daily from differences in perspectives, priorities, worldviews and traditions. How do you define respect? Describe a situation in which you found it challenging to remain respectful while facing differences?

This is a ‘CHALLENGE’ essay, specifically focused on working with people who are different than you. What kind of different?  That depends – it could be a socioeconomic or cultural difference, a language barrier, or pretty much anything!  But in order to answer the question effectively, you need to break down your own thinking in detail – how did it feel to encounter someone so different from you?  What was your first response?  How did you overcome that initial resistance and eventually find an effective way to work with or help this person?

CHOOSE ONE: Describe a situation in which working with a colleague, family member or friend has been challenging. How did you resolve, if at all, the situation as a team and what did you gain from the experience that will benefit you as a future health care provider? 

4. The Admissions Committee uses a holistic approach to evaluate a wide range of student qualities and life experiences that are complementary to demonstrated academic excellence, strong interpersonal skills and leadership potential. 

5. If applicable, please comment on significant fluctuations in your academic record which are not explained elsewhere on your application.

6. The ultimate goal of our institution is to produce a population of physicians with a collective desire to improve health of all segments of our society through the outstanding patient care, research and education. In this context, where do you see your future medical career (academic medicine, research, public health, primary care, business/law, etc.) and why? Your answer need not be restricted to one category. If your plans require that you complete a dual degree program, please elaborate here. 

This question falls into a category we call ‘PRACTICE’ essays – they ask about your future intentions as a doctor. Some people have a tendency to get too detailed when answering this type of question, filling in details about their field of practice and specialty that they honestly don’t know yet. Others have a tendency to freeze up completely and feel they have nothing to say. But everyone has something to say about what kind of doctor they want to be, what they consider important or valuable about the practice of medicine, where they’d like to practice, and what kind of people they see themselves helping. So focus on that, and you’ll be fine!

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Don't be shy! Schedule a consultation to find out how we can help you.

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Article by Ben Feuer, photo by Rosemary Voegtli

There are literally thousands of secondary essays put out by medical schools each and every year. But most of those essays can be subdivided into specific categories and dealt with in groups. In this blog, we’re discussing the ‘practice’ category.

DEFINITION OF THE PRACTICE CATEGORY

 

Any medical school secondary essay touching on a student’s ambitions as a doctor or plans for a future medical practice. Some of the prompts emphasize certain disciplines, others emphasize time-frames (10-15 years after graduation, for example), and other ask about the student’s degree of interest in research.

 

EXAMPLES OF SECONDARY PROMPTS IN THE PRACTICE CATEGORY

 

Are there any areas of medicine that are of particular interest to you? If so, please comment. 

 

The ultimate goal of our institution is to produce a population of physicians with a collective desire to improve health of all segments of our society through the outstanding patient care, research and education. In this context, where do you see your future medical career (academic medicine, research, public health, primary care, business/law, etc.) and why? Your answer need not be restricted to one category. If your plans require that you complete a dual degree program, please elaborate here. 

 

What medical specialty are you thinking about pursuing at this point?

 

Please describe the basic and/or clinical research fields that you think you might like to explore and/or develop expertise in during your MSTP training. To the extent that you have defined potential specific future clinical interests, please describe the type(s) of medicine that you might be interested in pursuing once you have completed the MSTP.

 

How will the University of Connecticut School of Medicine best serve your needs of becoming a physician or physician scientist?

 

What are your aspirations for your medical practice? Fast-forward to 15 years in the

future: where do you imagine yourself? 

 

TECHNIQUE FOR ANSWERING THE PRACTICE CATEGORY

 

Medical school secondary essays can be divided into two basic subtypes – narrative essays, which require the applicant to tell a story, and factual essays, which require the applicant to answer a series of factual questions.  The practice essay is a factual essay, so brainstorming should be centered around the specifics of the type of career the applicant wants to pursue.

 

Always answer this type of question narrowly. In other words, if a school doesn’t ask you what specialty you are interested in pursuing, don’t tell them. Answer only the questions you are asked by each school, as each wants to know a different set of things.

 

Although this type of essay is primarily about simple, direct factual answers to questions, it’s still important to have reasons and stories behind your choices. For instance, suppose you wanted to pursue a blend of research and clinical – why is it important to you to pursue both?  Or, say you wanted to start a practice in a small town – why would you prefer that to a big city?  By telling schools your reasoning, you invite them to engage with (and support) your way of thinking.

 

Remember that you are answering a question about the distant future, so it’s more important to have a clear emotional plan in your mind – the types of people you want to help, and why – than it is to have a perfected road map, which would have to change anyway.

 

***

 

Do you have more questions about this secondary essay, or about other secondary essays?  Feel free to contact us and we’ll be happy to help.


Article by Ben Feuer, photo by Robyn Jay

When we work with medical school students, one of the most common questions we hear is about AMCAS Activities versus Secondary Essays. Applying to medical school is a ton of work, and a lot of that work can seem redundant. Many candidates worry that they are talking about the same topics on their secondary essays and their AMCAS Activities, particularly the ‘most meaningful’ activities.

An understandable concern – here’s how to deal with it.

AMCAS ACTIVITIES TEMPLATE – This document should read like a resume on steroids. Students should be including extended descriptions of every activity that is important to them, taking full advantage of the available character count to show what is distinctive, and meaningful, about each position. The focus is more on facts, but not exclusively – particularly for the most meaningful activities, a couple of leadership anecdotes to show how the student is taking full advantage of the opportunities the position offers can add a special spice to the document. But for the most part, this work should be bread and butter, covering a lot of ground, giving technical/medical detail where appropriate, and differentiating the student from the pack.

SECONDARY ESSAYS – These are all about reading the prompt, considering the context and the available word count, and crafting something tailor-made to fit. In other words, if the AMCAS Template is Forever 21, the Secondary Essays are 5th Avenue Boutiques. Students should aim at a smaller, more targeted audience, should focus on storytelling over fact-listing, should avoid diving into dull, technical detail, and should limit themselves to discussing specific, focused aspects of a commitment rather than the entire scope of it. For example, in a secondary ‘challenge’ essay (talking about a challenge they have overcome), they might talk about the three-month period when they were treasurer of their local chapter of a volunteer group giving free medical education to the needy, rather than focusing on the entire 2-year scope of their commitment to the organization. They would talk about the names of their supervisors and how they convinced them to change policy, rather than discussing the position in abstract terms. And they would focus on results, subjective psychology (how do they feel about what they did?) and details rather than broad strokes.

So you see, they’re actually two very different things. In the vast majority of cases, it’s possible to write about a single activity in the AMCAS template as well as one or even two essays, depending on the scope of the commitment. But you don’t want to write all your essays about the same topic – after all, there’s more to you than just one thing!

Got more questions – we’d be happy to answer them.



By Ben Feuer, photo by Steven Lilley

The 2017-2018 common application questions have been released into the wild. This year they’re pretty consistent with other recent years, but there are a few new twists, so read carefully.

First, a few ground rules.  Your word count should be between 250 and 650 words for each question.  Don't feel obligated to use every word -- but don't go over, either.  Double and triple-check your spelling and grammar -- don't get dinged on a technicality!  Read all of the topics and consider each of them before choosing which one you will answer.  Don't choose based on what story about yourself you feel like telling, or what you think the committee 'ought to know' about you -- instead, select a story where you grew, changed or evolved as a person.

THE QUESTIONS

1.  Some students have a background or story that is so central to their identity that they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.

Read this prompt carefully.  This is a standard 'diversity' prompt -- which means it asks students to share some distinctive element of their background or upbringing -- BUT the wording is very strong.  Only choose this prompt if your background is so integral to your life that you really can't imagine writing about anything else.

Note that this prompt also invites you to tell a story that is central to your identity -- that could be (for instance) a narrative about personal growth, or about an unexpected friendship or chance encounter -- again, so long as it is central to who you now are as a person, it's fair game.

2.  The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?

The common App has softened this prompt, perhaps after a bunch of complaints of being triggered by even thinking about past failures … 😊  So now, you can write about a challenge, setback or failure. But guess what – you should still write about a failure. If you don’t feel up to it, or don’t think you have a strong failure to discuss, then call us. But seriously, if you don’t have a strong failure, you should pick another prompt, you certainly have plenty to choose between.

OTOH, if you're applying to a reach school, or if you're concerned about other areas of your application, this prompt is your chance to stand out from the crowd and make an impression.  Nothing grabs admissions officers' attention as quickly as a well-thought-out failure essay, particularly because most students run screaming from this kind of prompt.

So what makes a great failure essay?  We cover this at length in our MBA admissions book, but the fundamentals are this -- you need a singular, powerful failure narrative where you failed not just yourself, but others you cared about.  The failure must be absolute -- no saving the day at the last minute.  It must point to some underlying aspect of your character which you then identify (stubbornness, overcaution, arrogance).  You finish up the failure essay by telling a brief (50-100 word) anecdote about how you have changed as a result of this failure -- use concrete examples here! 

3.  Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome

The flipside of the failure essay, the challenge (or as we call it, the leadership) essay is one of the most commonly seen essays on the common application.  This, too, has been weasel-worded down to a softer “questioned or challenged”, but your story about that time you asked the teacher if you really had to sit at the front of the class all year is NOT good essay material, trust us.

If you have accomplished something that was exceptionally challenging for you and really shaped who you are as a person, this is your prompt.  If you are just looking to brag about your killer grade in that AP History class or your five goals in the championship bocce match, this is NOT your prompt.  Move along.

When thinking about challenges, students always want to focus on the external -- what happened and why it's impressive.  This is the wrong approach. The question-writers are giving you a very big clue when they ask you to describe what prompted your thinking – they want to understand how your mind works. The important story to tell is how you GOT to the impressive result -- and what you thought about, did and said that led to that result.

Finally, remember that these types of stories work best and are most impressive when you're motivating other kids (or adults!) to excel -- contrary to what your lovin' mother told you, it ain't all about you.

4.  Describe a problem you've solved or a problem you'd like to solve. It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma-anything that is of personal importance, no matter the scale. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could be taken to identify a solution.

This prompt is a somewhat unusual spin on a common theme of transformation and growth.  There is an obvious STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) spin to this question -- after all, a laboratory experiment or a planned course of study fits into this prompt very neatly.  But resist the urge to get completely technical and step outside your own experience!  Remember that whatever prompt you choose for your essay, the central figure in the story is you -- your challenges, your growth, your maturity.

This prompt also might be a good choice for students who have been fortunate enough to have interesting experiences in unusual places and contexts.  Worked on a social issue overseas?  Spent eight months living with the Amish?  Shadowed a researcher at CERN?  This could be your prompt.

5.  Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.

Rites of passage can be fascinating topics for essays -- if they're handled well.  No one wants to hear about how grandpa cried at your confirmation -- snoozefest!  Becoming an adult is about accepting the responsibilities, limitations and joys of being human, and so should your essay.

The focus on a particular event is important.  It's very easy when writing an essay to drift from one subject to another, but great essays have a singular focus -- they're about one thing and one thing only.  In this case, the event or accomplishment in question and why it became a period of maturation.

It’s also worth noting the emphasis on understanding others. Surprising or difficult events often deepen our ability to empathize with others’ struggles – if you have a story that involves learning to see the world in a new way, this could well be your prompt.

6. Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more? [New]

This is a brand new prompt, for those of you who are just 100 percent not comfortable talking about yourselves in any way, shape or form. Now, before you breathe a sigh of relief and rush off to write yet another paean to microbiomes or Martin Luther King, let us insert a caveat. This is usually the wrong kind of prompt to choose. For most people, most of the time, you’re going to get an essay that’s dry, technical, and reveals nothing about the candidate – in other words, a waste of word count.

In order to write a good essay about an idea or concept, you have to loop in … feelings!  Yours and others.  Talk about the people who share your passion, or the ones who inspired it. Talk about the key moments in the development of your favorite obsession – how did it all begin, where do you see it going?  Relate it back to larger themes in your life. How has this experience helped you to grow and mature?

7. Share an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you've already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design. [New]

This is what we call an open-ended prompt. You can do whatever you want with it, which most folks find utterly terrifying. Not to worry – this should really be a last resort prompt if you have a fantastic essay already written that just doesn’t seem to fit any of the other prompts.

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So there you have it!  Not so scary after all, huh?  Still, you probably have a lot of questions as yet unanswered.  Or maybe you have a draft all written up and you want some seasoned eyes to take a look?  If so, drop us a line -- we'd be happy to help!


By Ben Feuer, photo by Franck Mahon


If you never read past this point, you have already learned something vitally important.

What is it?

The first and last commodity, no matter whether you are writing an essay, a personal statement, a short article or the Great American Novel, is attention. If you don’t have a reader’s attention, you have nothing.

So why is it that so many people preparing to apply to college or graduate school seem to forget this basic fact, relying on bad ideas, safe, vague statements, or (worse still) quotes to begin their essays?

We get it. Writing is hard. Starting writing is even harder. So we wrote this article to help out!  Of course, there are the usual bits of advice that are helpful in any section of an essay: don’t fall back on clichés, write actively and with good grammar, make your points quickly and sharply. But the first sentence presents a unique set of challenges, and those challenges demand a specialized set of solutions. Here goes!

Hit hard. After reading a half-dozen essays or more in a row, it’s easy for a reader to fall into an unconscious rhythm. OK, here comes the part where he talks about his parents. And here’s the part where he talks about his work experience. Cookie cutter. Your opening sentence should break down those expectations. Let admissions know that you have something to say, and you’re dying to say it – get right to your toughest, most important point, right off the bat.

Don’t start at the beginning. This isn’t a fairy tale – once upon a time just won’t cut the mustard. You don’t have the word count to ramp up to what you’re planning to say, you don’t have the time to take it slow. Jump into the middle of the story. Start with the good part – the climax, the big realization, the surprising idea – and then work backwards from there. Or circle around. Or just turn the whole thing on its head. The unexpected is your friend.

Don’t start with something abstract. This is an essay about you – not your ideas, not someone you know, not ‘the world’ – you’re writing about yourself. So show the committee right away that you’re prepared to do just that. Make a bold statement that shows you know yourself, and you’re prepared to share.

Feel like we missed something vitally important?  Desperate to learn even more about the keys to good essays?  We’re happy to talk about it. Just make sure you come up with a snappy opening line for our first conversation.