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Writing Medical School Essays Is HARD

By Robert A.G. LeVine and Debra Karstadt

By Robert LeVine

Applying to medical school is the culmination of a rigorous college career. Students must achieve excellent scores; perform well on the MCAT examination; build a resume of relevant experiences; and, of course, prepare their admissions applications.

Here is an absolute truth that most applicants do not appreciate until it’s too late: there are a lot of secondary essays for medical school.

How many is “a lot”? If you are ambitious in your pursuit of medical school, expect to write over 100 secondary essays, perhaps closer to 150.

Oh, and each school tells you to write their essays within two weeks. If you are writing for several schools at one time ….

It’s a lot, and there’s not that much time.

We would like to offer you a two simple tips on how to lessen the load. After all, you must do great work, not just good work, to get the results you desire.

Tip Number One: Apply to Fewer Schools

With the difficulty in achieving acceptance by a medical school, applying to fewer schools may sound like blasphemy. It’s not. Most applicants create a blended list of schools, searching for reach, target and “safety” schools based upon all manner of statistical criteria. Let’s be aware of what does not work.

First, applying to public medical schools outside your home state is a questionable strategy. Remember, public schools are … public. They are funded by the tax dollars of the citizens of that state. Consequently, they are looking for students who will likely treat the people of their state by practicing in their state. If you’re not a resident, are you really going to be selected?

As example, we had a student who intended to apply to the University of North Dakota School of Medicine and Health Sciences. On its website, UND specifically addresses applicant eligibility: “Anyone can apply to UND SMHS, but as a state-supported school, we grant admissions preference to North Dakota residents or those who have strong ties to the state. We also admit a small number of applicants from Minnesota and Montana.”

The applicant is from Florida. He went to school in the Ivy League. He has no connection to the state of North Dakota. Yes, this applicant was a strong candidate, but not for UND. We convinced him to skip this school.

Another Florida applicant was considering the University of South Carolina for his medical school. Upon receiving the opportunity to write secondary essays, he noticed that the school uses six criteria for selecting its students. Not being a resident of South Carolina, this applicant only met two of the six criteria. Skip it!

These two examples may suggest that you avoid one or two out-of-state medical schools. However, unless you have some other good nexus to the state, our advice is to avoid all out-of-state medical schools.

Tip Number Two: Prepare Your Thoughts In Advance

There are three phases in the medical school application process: filing your (American Medical College Application Service) AMCAS document; secondary essays; and interviews.

The AMCAS filing period usually begins at the end of May. After filing, you will have two weeks to one month before getting requests for the additional secondary essays. Use that time wisely.

It would be nice if all the medical schools use the same essay prompts, but they don’t. You are likely to get a “why medicine” or “why this medical school” prompt from most schools. You are also likely to get questions about how you faced challenges, or how you overcame disadvantages, or any number of topics. Please review each school’s essay prompts from the prior year; perhaps they will repeat those prompts.

However, please also note that this coming year’s prompts may be very different from last year’s prompts. On June 29, 2023, the Supreme Court came out with its decision addressing affirmative action in college admissions. Logically, the court’s ruling will also apply to graduate admissions.

Although we saw the colleges change their essay prompts to comport with the new law, the medical schools did not. Why? Secondary essay prompts were already finalized and given out before the court’s decision. We anticipate that the medical schools will alter their prompts next year and, if their action is anything like what the colleges did, there will be more essays than before.

We want you to achieve the best possible admissions results. When it comes to medical schools, less is more.

Robert LeVine is the founder and CEO of University Consultants of America, an independent educational consultancy assisting students around the world with applications to colleges, universities and graduate schools. For more information, call University Consultants of America, Inc. at 1-800-465-5890 or visit

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