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. 

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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 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.

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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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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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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!