How to Answer Tufts University School of Medicine’s Secondary Essays

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By: Ryan Kelly

“What are they looking for?”

Pre-meds find themselves asking this question a lot as they complete their secondaries.

For Tufts, there doesn’t seem to be one straightforward answer. Based on its offerings, it seems to have a little bit for everyone. So, it appears that the school is keeping its secondary prompts rather broad, so that applicants can play to their own strengths.

Since schools rarely change their prompts from year to year, let’s examine each of Tufts’s prompts from last cycle, discuss some tips, and frame each in the larger picture of secondaries:

Tufts University School of Medicine Secondary Essay Topics ('17-'18)

Prompt #1: Do you wish to include any comments (in addition to those already provided in your AMCAS application) to the Admissions Committee at Tufts University School of Medicine? (1000 characters)

This is what most “Optional” prompts look like. Just a blank canvas with seemingly limitless possibilities. We will do our best to provide you with an “order of operations” in how to approach these “additional info” prompts:

  1. Does the prompt have any language that implies the ideas of hardship, adversity, or disadvantages (Tufts doesn’t)? If yes, then only answer it if you answered the optional disadvantaged essay in the primary application. Disadvantaged students are encouraged to elaborate on that aspect of their applications here, if necessary. If not, proceed to the next choice.
  2. Do you have an issue with scores or grades that you want to clear up? If yes, and if the school doesn’t have another opportunity to explain that (Tufts does), then focus on that in your response here. If not, proceed to the next choice.
  3. Does the school already have a “Why Our School” essay? If not, it might be wise to address your strongest connections to the school, its mission, and its offerings. The thought process behind this: other candidates might take the time to do this, and if they do it compellingly, you’ll be at a disadvantage by not doing so. There are some schools that have publicly stated that they don’t want students to discuss the school itself in their optional question. But schools like this are few and far between.
  4. Does the school already have a “diversity” essay (Tufts does)? If not, then perhaps just reuse a diversity essay you have from another school. Other considerations would be essays about major accomplishments or leadership experiences.

If a school has several other prompts, then there is less pressure to answer the “additional info” question, since you’ve already given them a pretty comprehensive view of your candidacy. However, if the “additional info” prompt is one of the only questions for a school, there’s much more justification for including some content.

In the case of Tufts, choice #3 seems to be wisest unless you qualify for choice #1.

Why Our School? How to Knock Out 12 Medical School Secondaries with One Essay    

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Prompt #2. Do you consider yourself a person who would contribute to the diversity of the student body of Tufts University School of Medicine? (1000 characters)

Gotta love the way this one is phrased. Who would answer “no?” No doubt there are many pre-meds who don’t feel particularly diverse, but this is one of Tufts’s only significant prompts and needs to be given extra oomph.

If you’re underrepresented in medicine (mainly Hispanic and African American candidates), then it’s advantageous to incorporate that aspect of your candidacy here. Otherwise, it might not be that convincing or unique to focus on your family’s ethnicity or your medical trips overseas. These topics can be done well, but most essays in those genres don’t stand out.

The solution? Focus on your “intellectual diversity.”

  • How are you going to make their campus a more interesting place?
  • Pretend you’re in a conversation with your future medical school classmates about the state of healthcare in the United States. What point of view could you contribute to that conversation?

Are you a dancer? An athlete? Had an unusual job? Did you major in something unique? What makes you different from other pre-meds?

If all else fails, focus on your talents. Are you particularly creative? Good at talking to other people? A good friend? What are your personal strengths that will make you a good physician and contribute to the lives of your classmates?  

Prompt #3. Do you have any withdrawals or repeated coursework listed on your transcript(s). (1000 characters)

This one is pretty straightforward. Medical schools want to give you the chance to explain any extenuating circumstances for a period of poor/unusual performance.

Most applicants should leave this question blank. In case it’s not clear, only answer if you’ve withdrawn or retaken classes.

How do you account for these blips in your academic record?

Consider:

  • What pressures, obligations, or conflicts help explain the poor performance?
  • How have you improved in the aftermath?

Don’t apologize; do explain. Try to focus on ‘compounding factors’ in your life that led to the anomalous performance. Were you caring for a sick family member? Did you take on new, unfamiliar responsibilities as part of a job or student organization? Were you taking 18 or 20 credits so that you could graduate on time? Did all of these things happen at once? Your academic issues will seem more forgivable if you show yourself being pulled in multiple directions.

Prompt #4. Did you take any leaves of absence or significant breaks from your undergraduate education? (Do not include time off after graduation.) (1000 characters)

Just to be clear - summers and holidays don’t count.

For the vast majority of candidates, this question won’t apply and they can leave it blank. If you’re one of the few who took significant time off during college (a quarter/semester or more), take a few sentences (or a paragraph at the most) to explain your reasons.

Most of the time, these candidates have a valid reason, like financial or family struggles, or some rare opportunity extended to them.

If you don’t have any “legitimate” justification, then you’re not left with much choice here; you’ll just have to attribute the time off to a lack of goals, perspective, maturity, or a clear vision, and then discuss your transformation over time. If your excuse is less “legitimate,” keep things brief and try not to overcompensate, which could run the risk of sounding neurotic about a relatively small issue.

NEVER feel obligated to fill up all the available space in a secondary prompt, since many don’t merit the extra fluff you would tack on.

Thankfully, this question isn’t asked too frequently, so you won’t have to continuously revisit it.

 

What should you know about Tufts University?

Potential “Value Connections” with the school:

School’s mission focuses on four core values: Excellence (read: innovation), Humanism, Social Responsibility, and Professionalism.

They tout their commitment to the diverse, underserved population in the nearby Chinatown district of downtown Boston.

Potential “Concrete Connections” with the school:

We don’t always recommend this, but take a look at the Dean’s Message. Similar links might just lead to generic values and mission statements, but what’s key here is the focus on Tufts as an innovative and pioneering medical school. They have a state-of-the-art clinical skills and simulation center. They are a leader in cutting-edge initiatives, having pioneered problem-based learning and an online multimedia curricular management system known as TUSK.

Other possibilities:

 

Although we advise you to reuse your secondary essays as much as possible, it’s still wise to understand your audience and cater to specific schools.

Hopefully these aspects of Tufts’s mission and offerings will help guide you, but make sure to do your own research to see how else you might mesh with Tufts’s culture.

Stay tuned for more secondary essay guides in the near future! Happy writing!  

Click here to see The Savvy Pre-med's past posts on secondary essays.