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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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!