By: Ryan Kelly
Everyone knows that frustrating interview question that asks you to “Describe yourself in three words.”
How can you capture your personality in three words? It feels impossible to be unique yet so succinct at the same time.
The toughest secondary essay prompt for Albany Medical College, “Describe yourself,” might elicit similar feelings of frustration. In this case, you get 1,000 characters, but that’s still a pretty restrictive limit.
It’s the first prompt the admission committee will read, so how do you make a good impression? What are they looking for?
What Not To Do For Albany Medical’s Secondary’s Prompt:
Students tend to overthink this prompt. It’s not about choosing the perfect descriptive words for yourself, like ‘compassionate,’ ‘innovative,’ and ‘diverse.’ A thesaurus won’t help, either. I don’t care whether you’re sedulous, eggheaded, and commiserative; those three adjectives will not make you memorable to the admissions committee.
Instead, choose a specific story that illustrates those qualities.
Secondary Essay Strategy 1 - Describe Yourself Through an Example
Show, don’t tell. Talk is cheap. An image is worth a thousand words.
You get the idea. You need to exhibit concrete proof for your characteristics and values. So start by brainstorming the moments and events in which you had the most impact. It can be anything from solving a complex research problem, to organizing a new club at your school, to helping a friend get through a very rough day. The key will be telling your detailed, individualized story in a way that’s memorable.
With 1,000 characters, you’ll have space for approximately 10-15 sentences. The majority should go towards the example or moment you share, with only a few being saved for the concluding thoughts. Let your impact in the anecdote speak for itself. The last few sentences should express how your example encompasses your personality and speaks to your future goals.
Secondary Essay Strategy 2 - Describe Yourself Through a Theme
Sometimes students don’t have enough to say about one experience. Rather than showcasing one example, you could introduce a catalogue of examples that are tied together by a certain theme or common denominator.
The three experiences from above - research, club, friend - could easily be tied together by a common denominator like ‘innovation’ or ‘perseverance.’ Perhaps each required creative approaches (innovation) or resilience in the face of setbacks (perseverance).
With this strategy, you’ll need to be brief. Ideally, you’d spend three or four sentences on each example, followed by a few concluding sentences. Even though your examples will have to be concise, make sure they contain enough details to be convincing.
Secondary Essay Strategy 3 - Describe Yourself with Repurposed Material
With secondaries, it’s all about working smarter, not harder. Since you’re applying to 20+ schools, it makes perfect sense to knock out multiple schools’ prompts with the same material.
Certain secondary prompts from other schools lend themselves well to answering Albany’s “Describe yourself.”
University of Southern California – Keck School of Medicine
What is the most fun you’ve had in the last year? (3-5 sentences)
If you could give yourself a nickname, what would it be? (3-5 sentences)
These prompts are great fodder for Albany, since they’re concise and (hopefully) full of personality. It’s easy to imagine an Albany response that opens with the nickname, shares the fun event as proof of the nickname’s accuracy, and then concludes by adding some overall significance about your character and goals.
University of California, Los Angeles – Geffen School of Medicine
Describe involvement in the ONE most important non-academic activity that has been important in your life: (800 characters max)
What has been the ONE most unique leadership, entrepreneurial or creative activity in which you participated? (800 characters max)
What has been the ONE most important volunteer work you have done and why was it meaningful? (800 characters max)
What is the ONE most important honor you have received? Why do you view this as important? (800 max)
With only a few small tweaks to the intro and conclusion of these essays, you’ll have a readymade “Describe yourself” answer that matches the approach in Strategy 1 above.
Duke University School of Medicine
Describe a situation where you have chosen to advocate for someone who is different from yourself. What does advocacy mean to you and how has your advocacy developed? What risks, if any, might be associated with your choice to be an advocate?
Describe an experience when you were confronted with an individual or group whose values differ from yours? How did you resolve the conflict/ challenge? Describe at least one outcome that the experience created.
Describe a situation where you failed. What did you learn from the experience? Describe at least one functional impact of the experience.
For students on the East Coast, Duke is a good place to look for reusable material. But you’ll have to pick and choose your borrowed material carefully, because Duke’s limits are 600 words! (Stay tuned for future blog posts that cover Duke’s prompts in depth).
We hope these strategies will help you describe yourself in a way that feels specific and authentic. Keep in mind that “Describe yourself” is just one of Albany’s secondary prompts. They also ask you to share a formative medical experience that motivated and prepared you for the career. So don’t feel like you have to cram everything into one answer. Just focus on making each essay strong and self-contained, and you’ll end up with a stellar secondary application.
Good luck writing!