By: Ryan Kelly
“What are they looking for?”
Pre-meds find themselves asking this question a lot as they complete their secondaries.
For George Washington, it seems like the school wants doers, movers, shakers, and producers. Candidates with conscientiousness, but also the will to put that into action. Based on its offerings and secondary prompts, it also seems like GW wants well-rounded candidates who have layers - pre-meds who have the versatility and curiosity that are conducive to interdisciplinary efforts and contributions in both the public/private sector.
Since schools rarely change their prompts from year to year, let’s examine each of GW’s prompts from last cycle, discuss some tips, and frame each in the larger picture of secondaries:
This school does not count spaces in its character counts! So you actually have more space than it appears! Yay?
The good ol’ gap year question. Nothing too complex or intricate here. Medical schools simply want to know that you’re using the time before matriculation to enrich yourself and prepare for the path ahead.
If you’re stuck, here are some alternative ways to ask the question:
Be honest about what you plan to do. It’s okay if it’s just a plan at this point. Personal relevance is key. Are you building off your past work on a significant project? Are you seeking further exposure that aligns with your past experience? Are you participating in a novel experience that will offer you insights into a new facet of healthcare? Are you pursuing travel or stimulating hobbies that you didn’t have as much time for as an undergrad?
If you have several part-time experiences during the gap year, then present them as a catalogue to show your wide exposure in a short amount of time. If you’re putting most of your energy into one activity or experience, then dive deep into the responsibility and commitment required. It’s smart to briefly mention the skills, insights, or exposure you’ll be gaining that will be valuable as a medical student and future doctor.
Good luck trying to fit in any stories or examples here. 350 characters, even when you don’t count spaces, is a suffocating limit. You’ll have room for about 3-4 sentences, so make them count. Avoid “throat clearing” sentences that overtly answer the prompt in the beginning of your response (i.e. “My most meaningful community service experience was when I…”). They know you’re writing about community service, so just dive right in.
Focus on creating emotional appeal, if possible, but make sure to avoid sentimentality or cliches. Ideally, your essay will reveal your passion for medicine or show positive qualities that can translate to your role as a medical student and doctor.
Think about times you stepped out of comfort zones, encountered new types of people, or gained unusual insight or access.
Again, make sure to dive right into your answer to avoid wasting precious characters. Medical schools want to know what kind of care provider you are and see evidence of your ability to connect with people from a different background than yourself.
Even though you can’t copy and paste from your personal statement, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Find a new way to write about the experiences you already wrote about in your personal statement and most meaningful essays. Focus on unexpected challenges, ethical dilemmas, or hidden rewards from that exposure to the field. Perhaps there were other facets that you’ve yet to share?
George Washington is kind enough (ha!) to bundle the two most difficult secondaries into one question: they ask for diversity and challenges simultaneously, all under 1000 characters.
If you’re disadvantaged or underrepresented in medicine, then this question might be easier to approach, since your diversity and challenges go hand-in-hand. If you’re one of these candidates, then this essay can essentially be a spruced-up or slightly altered version of your disadvantaged essay in the primary application.
For the majority of candidates, your best bet is to focus on what makes you “intellectually diverse” and then expound on the associated challenges of your atypical experiences and endeavors.
If you’re stuck, here are some alternative ways to ask the question:
Think beyond the traditional definition of diversity (race and culture). 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 you decide to write about a "typical" case of diversity (socioeconomic or cultural diversity), then be sure to indicate how your experiences have influenced your worldview and goals as a physician.
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 that will contribute to the lives of your classmates?
“I am interested in attending George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences due to its ___________, ___________, and ___________.”
DON’T start your “Why Our School” essays this way. The schools will be used to hearing this narrative, and it will likely bore them to death.
Think about it this way: they know what they have to offer, and they know why it’s generally attractive, but they don’t know why it’s so personally relevant to you. You’re the interesting X-factor in the whole equation, so even though it might seem counterintuitive, you should start your “Why Our School” essays with something about yourself.
Para 1 - An example, story, or anecdote that serves as a hook and establishes your major healthcare involvements and values up to this point.
Para 2 - Based on what you’ve shared about yourself, build a “value connection” with the school that incorporates some element of its mission, emphases, culture, etc.
Para 3 - Remember those _________ spaces from above, those XYZ things you want to mention about the school? Mention those “concrete connections” towards the end and position them as ways that you’ll embody the value connection you’ve established earlier.
Para 4 (Optional) - Bring up any locational or personal ties to the school (grew up nearby, have family in the area, relationships with alumni or current students, etc.). These should be sprinkles on top of your answer, rather than the focal point.
If you follow this formula, you can reuse the part about yourself across your secondaries and find new connections to the other schools. If you start these “Why Our School” essays by establishing yourself first, then you’ll sound more personalized and less like a template (even though it’s indeed a useful template for you!).
It’s the 11th oldest medical school in the country, and the school seems pretty proud of that, but the website also emphasizes the ways that the school is innovative and relevant to the times:
Here are some “key themes” of Vision 2021, the George Washington University Strategic Plan:
The school emphasizes its “Strategic Plan,” a multifaceted approach to “transforming health care education and expanding research to improve lives.
Here are some ways you might contribute to the Strategic Plan:
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 George Washington’s mission and offerings will help guide you, but make sure to do your own research to see how else you might mesh with GW’s culture.
Stay tuned for more secondary essay guides in the future! Happy writing!
Click here to see our blog’s past posts on secondary essays.