Essay Workshop 101: Lesson 1: The Audience

Last Updated on June 27, 2022 by Laura Turner

Medical school admissions committees comprise anywhere from a handful to two dozen members, and are generally made up of a combination of full-time admissions staff, faculty, students, and doctors from the community.
There are often a variety of medical backgrounds represented, from clinical to general science, and from M.D.s to Ph.D.s to students. Because decisions are made by voting, this variety helps to eliminate bias and ensures that your application gets a fair trial.

Although there are a few schools that will set a cut-off point based on MCAT scores and GPA, it is rare that your application would be summarily rejected based on numbers alone. More likely, it will be read in its entirety by at least one of the members of the committee (usually one of the faculty members or second-year medical students). They will consider all aspects of your application, and if they like what they see, you will be invited to interview.

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When we asked admissions officers how much time they usually spend looking at each essay during this first read, the answers ranged from three to ten minutes. Below are the comments of one admissions officer who assisted in the creation of this course:

The time spent reading an essay can vary from a quick overview to a lengthy dissection of content and grammar. We will always look to the essay to prove interest in and research of the intended profession. If an applicant has an unexplained period of below-average grades in an otherwise strong academic record, we will look to the essay to explain the circumstances. If an applicant did some or all of their prerequisite coursework in another country, we will look to the essay to ensure strong English language skills. The standard of evaluation varies with each individual application package.

We then asked how many statements admissions officers read in a day and their answers were not surprising: Admissions officers can (and often do) churn through 40 to 50 essays a day during peak weeks. This is more than just interesting; this is important. It means that your personal statement must stand apart from dozens of others read in the same day. The same two pages that will take you days or even weeks to put together may get only a few minutes in front of the committee.

As a result, your personal statement needs to function both as an essay and as an advertisement. If you are not convinced, then ask yourself this: When was the last time you read over a dozen short stories in a day, spending only a few minutes on each one? Now ask: When was the last time you spent a few minutes each on a dozen or more commercials in a day? However, please do not interpret this to mean that your statement should be gimmicky, cutesy, or include a sing-a-long song.

What it does mean is that the best essays, like the best ads, are going to be interesting enough to grab the reader’s attention on the first read and powerful enough to hold it even if it’s the fortieth essay the reader has read that day. But unlike most ads, the essay must also withstand longer, more in-depth scrutiny.

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From Essays That Will Get You Into College, by Amy Burnham, Daniel Kaufman, and Chris Dowhan. Copyright 1998 by Dan Kaufman. Reprinted by arrangement with Barron’s Educational Series, Inc.  Materials for Essay Statements Workshop 101 are provided courtesy of EssayEdge.

Copyright 2002 EssayEdge. All rights reserved.