Well, here you are again, Last Minute Larry. You can't claim innocence -- as usual, you did it to yourself. The deadline you've been dreading is now staring you in the face, and it ain't pretty. On the contrary, it's terrifying. And that big blank white computer screen isn't going to fill itself with words. So what do you do?

Whether you've got a week, a day, or only an hour, here's a simple plan to help you make the most of the time you have left and put your best foot forward.

STEP ONE -- FORGIVE AND FORGET. Yes, you are a bad, bad boy or girl or genderfluid person. Naughty, no biscuit. But forget that noise, because the cycle of self-recrimination and avoidance is what got you here in the first place. You need to forgive yourself for the past, and forget everything but what's in front of you right now. Write it down so you won't forget. X minutes to midnight. Time to get serious.

STEP TWO -- SHUT OUT DISTRACTIONS. I know, I know, you're busy like Lady GaGa. You got so much going on right now it's not even funny. Well you know what would be really funny?  You missing that deadline and having to explain to your parents why you're not going to college/grad school this year. I'd enjoy being a fly on the wall for that conversation, because yes, I'm jaded like that. So lock the door, kick out your cat, shut down your Insta feed and get to work already.

STEP THREE -- WRITE VERY BADLY. Yes, you're a brilliant, clever perfect person who must always and forever be admired. But forget that salient fact for just a minute. Because right at this moment, "you" are a space where some words should be. And it's time to fill that space with words. And no, they're not going to be the best words. In fact, they might be some of the worst words. But that's OK. Because you have to start somewhere, which is exactly what you've failed to do up until this point.

STEP FOUR -- FINISH WITHOUT SELF-CRITIQUE. Write the whole thing, right now, don't stop, don't think, just write.

STEP FIVE -- SHUT DOWN AND WALK AWAY. Go have fun, have a snack. Now, if the worst happens, you can hit submit. Even though you probably wouldn't want to.

STEP SIX -- COME BACK FRESH AND IMPROVE. Come back when you're refreshed and read your bad words. Now it is OK to be a judge, but try to come with solutions, not problems. Say -- I think I could tweak this. I think I can punch up that. Not -- I hate myself and this is so bad.

STEP SEVEN -- FIRE AND FORGET. OK, you've revised, it's 10 minutes to the deadline. Time to send it off and forget about it. I know, now that it's been rattling around in your brain because of how long you spent NOT doing it, that might be tough. But just remember you did the best job YOU were capable of doing AT THIS TIME. And that's always enough. Next time, perhaps, you'll be better. Or maybe you'll be worse.

Good luck!

PS: If you procrastinate and you know it -- maybe get some professional help with that.


Photo by Dinesh Raj Goomani



The college admissions process is stressful in so many different ways. One of the biggest challenges for many college students is the sudden pressure to decide what they're going to pursue as a career. After all, students are quick to point out, I haven't really had a chance to try many things -- or maybe anything at all!  Why are schools asking me in supplemental essays what I want to study, and what I want to do with my life?  Is this some kind of test?

No, it's not a test. And no, you do NOT have to have, at age eighteen, a clear and firm idea of what kind of work you want to do after graduating. That said, for certain disciplines, it can be very helpful to have a general sense of what interests you, and which direction you want to take your career. 

But it's important to remember that nothing is final!  Just because you write about something in an admissions essay, or talk about it to an admissions officer, doesn't mean you're 'locked in' -- you always have the right to change your mind!

***

Here are a few common career paths we encounter at Forster-Thomas, including our advice on each.

IF YOU PLAN TO BE A DOCTOR, you need to start laying the groundwork even before applying to college. Medical school is unbelievably competitive, and most successful candidates are already shadowing and taking relevant coursework at sixteen or seventeen years old. If you're in this camp and applying to college, it's a good idea to let your school know what you're planning to do.

IF YOU PLAN TO BE A LAWYER, don't go into too much detail about it during your undergraduate application process. Express a general interest in law and justice, but leave it at that. And don't pursue pre-law as a major, it generally works against you, rather than for you. Philosophy, engineering and various liberal arts degrees are the most common feeders into law school.

IF YOU PLAN TO GO INTO BUSINESS, again, you don't need to go into very much detail while applying, nor do you need to write about what kind of business you want to pursue. It might be a good idea to join relevant clubs and fraternities shortly after getting on campus, though, since networks make business careers.

IF YOU ARE INTERESTED IN THE ARTS, study whatever you like, BA or BFA, but create lots of really good work while you're in college, and take internships as a way to shake hands and start meeting people in your target industry. For classical musicians and theater types, there is some advantage to pursuing relevant BFA programs, although it is not decisive, and certain film BFA programs also confer professional advantages.

IF YOU ARE INTERESTED IN STEM, the proof will largely be in your academic prowess and the history of things you have created and made, competitions entered, et cetera. These are very hierarchical, grade-focused fields, and so it helps to specialize early.

IF YOU ARE INTERESTED IN A TRADE, such as ELECTRICIAN, PLUMBER or AUTO REPAIRMAN, your career path may not involve college at all. In that case, you definitely want to have a pretty clear idea of which trade you'd like to pursue and why you'll be good at it, since you'll probably have to spend a decent chunk of money on training, and it won't be transferable to any other profession.

IF YOU DON'T KNOW WHAT YOU WANT TO DO AT ALL, you should start to try and figure it out. Undecided is OK, clueless is not. Narrow it down to three or four possible paths, without attempting to eliminate any, prioritize any, or choose between them.

IF YOU ARE INTERESTED IN ANY OTHER CAREER, write briefly about it while applying, and indicate a relevant major preference if you have one. But don't get too specific, and be open to other possibilities that may arise along the way.

***
Need help crafting great college essays?  Let us know!

Photo by FADY HABIB. Article by FORSTER-THOMAS, INC.


 

Medical school admissions are more competitive every year. The toughest part for some is the dreaded MCAT test; six hours of academic torture, followed by six weeks of equally torturous waiting. So just how concerned should you be about earning a 515 or better on your MCAT?

Every student applying to allopathic (MD) medical school must take the MCAT. Unlike with business school and certain other types of degrees, there is no substitute test that can be used in place of it. Generally speaking, it is wiser to only take the test once, since all scores must be submitted to the school. There are obviously exceptions.

Since medical school applications have risen in recent years, the MCAT has become more important because it is the most efficient way for schools to weed out large numbers of candidates. 

Here are some of the basic facts you need to know about the MCAT, and how important it really is.

All allopathic (MD) medical schools have MCAT cutoffs, but where that cutoff lies varies by school and by year.

For all intents and purposes an MCAT score below 495 will make it almost impossible for you to gain admission to allopathic (MD) medical schools. You will still be competitive for osteopathic medical schools, podiatry schools and Caribbean medical schools.

For some of the more prestigious medical schools in the country, the minimum MCAT score is between 508 and 512 - below which you will not make it past any screening for interviews, regardless of how strong the rest of your application is. That's a minimum -- if you earn that score, you're still very unlikely to be admitted!

This is the conventional wisdom, although the medical school establishment is working to counteract it. In 2008, 2009, and 2010, the AAMC polled students to determine what their GPAs and MCAT scores were, then compared that to whether they were accepted to medical school.  One important caveat here; the study evaluated whether the students were accepted to ANY school, not to their first choice school. The data showed that approximately eight percent of applicants with UGPAs ranging from 3.80 to 4.00 and MCAT total scores above 523 were rejected by all of the medical schools to which they applied. In contrast, about 18 percent of applicants with UGPAs ranging from 3.20 to 3.39 and MCAT scores ranging from 495 to 505 were accepted by at least one school.

The MCAT matters more for getting an interview than it does for getting admitted.

In 2007, Kaplan test prep reported that in a survey sent to all allopathic medical schools (about 125 at the time) and admissions officers from 83 schools responded. 77% of the responding schools reported that GPA was the first or second factor considered in applications.

75% of the responding schools reported that MCAT was the first or second factor considered in applications. This implies that about 75% of the MD schools consider GPA and MCAT to the first two factors considered in an application.  Letters of recommendation and community service round out the top five most important factors in determining admission.

Yet, the five most important pieces of data for making offers of acceptance are, in order:

1) Interview recommendation

2) Letters of recommendation

3) Science and math GPA (BCPM)

4) Medical community service

5) Cumulative GPA

Clearly, once you pass a certain threshold, the numbers become less important and other factors are weighed more highly.  In the words of one Dean of admissions at a top 10 school, "As much as we hate to turn away that 525/4.0 student in terms of our average numbers, if (s)he is an arrogant jerk they are gonna have to go somewhere else. We use the interview to screen out the arrogant jerks."

The advantages of a high MCAT score tail off after a certain point.

In 2012, a score of 498 puts you at the 50th Percentile. A score of 512, one standard deviation from the mean, corresponds with the 84th Percentile, and a score of 521, two standard deviations from the mean, corresponds with the 99th Percentile.

Obviously, even top schools cannot fill their ranks exclusively with 99th percentile MCAT students. Nor would they want to; diversity is an important factor in every school’s admissions policy. In fact, if you do have exceptionally high numbers, it is important to project humility and concern for others even more strongly than an average or above average student, to offset the impression of arrogance. Might not seem fair, but it is reality. Ultra smart students face a certain amount of prejudice, partly due to jealousy, and partly due to the fact that a lot of really smart people are arrogant.

A high MCAT score can compensate for a low GPA, or vice versa.

The GPA reflects how seriously an applicant has taken his or her undergraduate studies. A high GPA is a reflection of strong study habits.  Obviously, not all GPAs are created equal. Medical schools love to see high science GPA’s, in particular.

Generally, anything above a 3.5 GPA is considered very good and very competitive. Jumping from a 3.0 GPA to a 3.5 GPA will make a huge difference in someone's application, whereas jumping from a 3.5 GPA to a 4.0 will not be quite as dramatic (although it is obviously an advantage to have a 4.0 versus a 3.5 GPA) -- unless that candidate has a low MCAT score. Then, that extra boost to GPA can really matter a lot.

Conclusions

So, do you need a 515 or not?  That depends on what you are trying to achieve. If you want to get into a top school, you will need at least a 515 to clear their cutoffs.  From that point on, the other factors in your application will begin to matter more and more. If you just want to get into a medical school period, then you should make sure to study enough beat the 50% mark and focus more on other factors that are easier to control, such as recommendations and community service.  If you cannot clear 495, then you should probably choose a different type of school; there are many types of medical schools that are not as concerned with MCAT scores.

Do you have questions about your MCAT score, whether to retake a test, or how to prepare your secondary essays?  

We're happy to help -- you can contact us directly, or read more about our services.


SUPPLEMENTARY SOURCES INCLUDE:

https://www.aamc.org/download/261106/data/aibvol11_no6.pdf

https://benchprep.com/mcat/prep/what-is-a-good-mcat-score

https://ulife.vpul.upenn.edu/careerservices/blog/2012/01/09/is-it-all-about-my-grades-and-mcat-score/

http://www.startmedicine.com/app/gpamcat.asp


Photo by Amy, Article by David Thomas and Ben Feuer




Photo by Creative Ignition

Around this time of year, lots of teenagers are getting some very exciting fat envelopes and/or brief phone calls.  Yes, it's Early Decision / Early Action season, and in this age of instant gratification and high-stress admissions gamesmanship, more and more families have turned to this safe haven. After all, it increases your odds of getting in and gives you peace of mind throughout the Spring. What's not to love?

Money, mostly. The not-so-attractive facts about Early Decision are this -- it's an option that only the well-heeled can pursue, since you have to make your college choice independent of FAFSA, and there's no guarantee that your chosen school will cover the difference. True, if you can prove financial need, they'll usually meet you halfway, but then you're right back in the stress laden boat you were trying to get out of in the first place!  And in the meantime, you're waving goodbye to any potentially better offers from other schools. Since almost everyone who applies ED does so to a reach school, usually there ARE better financial packages on the table by the time April rolls around, but at that point, your only option is to say no.

Given this state of affairs, it's not surprising that some families are beginning to wonder just how binding Early Decision really is. 
The answer is, quite binding. Schools look very unfavorably on candidates who walk away from ED, and doing so can hurt not only your own reputation, but that of your brothers, sisters, counselors, and even your school.

So if you know you're going to be in a tricky financial situation, do yourself a favor and bypass Early Decision. There are still plenty of non-binding Early Action options to get you that coveted peace of mind.  And if you've already made your bed, find a way to sleep in it!  Call your school and work things out. After all, if you were in love with them enough to apply in the first place, you should be in love with them enough to attend.



Article by Ben Feuer, photo by John Brawley

If you want to direct the next big Hollywood blockbuster, how do you get to where you're going?  There's certainly no one size fits all answer, but looking at the ten directors of top grossing films in 2017, it's easy to see their similarities (and differences!)  PS: We're not including animated films, because the business/operational side of animation is so radically different from traditional feature filmmaking.

THE LIST

BILL CONDON (Beauty and the Beast): Columbia University BA. No film school (considered UCLA MFA). Worked in LA as a writer very shortly after graduating.
PATTY JENKINS (Wonder Woman): Cooper Union BA. AFI MFA. Directed well-regarded first feature, "Monster", 3 years after graduating. Lived & worked in LA.
JAMES GUNN (Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2): St. Louis U BA, Columbia MFA (prose writing). Worked for Troma as a writer immediately after graduating, first produced movie one year after graduating.
JON WATTS (Spider-Man Homecoming): NYU Film School (degree unclear). Worked as a commercial and music video director for Park Pictures immediately after graduating. Got his first feature made by name-checking Eli Roth in a fancy horror film trailer. Sundance director.
ANDY MUSCHIETTI (It): 40 year old Argentinian director. Film school background unclear. Credited feature directing began at age 25 (approximately).
TAIKA WAITITI COHEN (Thor: Ragnarok): From New Zealand. Victoria University of Wellington UG, drama. Nominated for a short film academy award in 2004 (aged 29). Sundance director 2x. Top grossing filmmaker in New Zealand 2x.
JAMES MANGOLD (Logan): Born in New York City, raised by two artists. CalArts Film (UG), Columbia Film (MFA). First feature won best director at Sundance film festival (Heavy). Got his first deal, with Disney, at age 22.
F GARY GRAY (The Fate of the Furious): Born in NYC, raised in Southern LA. Directed Friday, starring Ice Cube, at age 23.
ZACK SNYDER (Justice League): Studied painting, Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, CA. Became a commercial director, made feature debut, Dawn of the Dead, at age 29.

CHRISTOPHER NOLAN (Dunkirk): Raised in London, England and Evanston, Illinois. Moved to Chicago as a teenager. Educated at Haileybury and Imperial Service College and University College London (UCL). Funded first feature, Following, out of pocket in 1998, aged 28. Film was a 'festival success', and paved the way for Memento in 2000.


Questions about how you break through?  Reach out to us, we're happy to share what we know.

Article by Mark Puner, photo by Martin Fisch

As Forster-Thomas’s Chief Editor, I spend a lot of my time thinking about my limits. Word limits, that is. Contrary to popular belief, a genie will not appear in order to grant your every wish when you submit your personal statement at the exact word count. (Two myths debunked: genies aren’t real, word counts are.) But I will be singing your praises, or whoever else is helping you edit your essays.

Word counts are not an attack, a punishment, a test or a deterrent. Believe it or not, they’re actually helpful, once you understand why they exist. They’re forcing you to focus, to be judicious and selective about what you choose to say, and what you choose to leave out.

Consider the Common App’s maximum word allotment of 650 in terms of time, either 6:50 a.m. or 6:50 p.m. A train leaves the station at 6:50…

For STEM students:

If a train leaves the station at 6:50, it’s best to arrive early. This is an approximation of the train’s departure time. It does not account for the time you will spend buying a ticket, figuring out which track the train arrives on, or pondering multi-differential equations in the meantime.

For non-STEM students:

Get there early

For everyone:

Leave some cushion

As someone who has read your essay at every stop along the way, I invariably like the express version—the passion of your first draft combined with spit and polish that takes time to cull. Yes, this is easier said than done. No, this will not exceed 630 words. At 6:30 everyone can comfortably enjoy the ride to the next destination. No genies needed.

Have questions about how to get your essay down to size?  Contact me!




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.





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.

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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.

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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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