June 12, 2014

How to answer "Why Our School" Essays

Rob Humbracht

Last week, we looked at how to research med schools properly in order to help improve your chances of getting in. To recap, med schools only want to accept you if you would choose their medical school, even if you’re accepted to another school on your list. That’s why the most common secondary essay is “Why our school,” or better interpreted, “If we accept you, how do we know you will actually choose our school out of all of the ones on your list?”  

The "why our school" secondary essay is your chance to prove that you are indeed a good fit at that med school. Let's figure out how to tackle this tricky prompt.  

Here are some sample secondary prompts from schools that ask this question:  

  • George Washington: What is your specific interest in the MD Program at GW? What opportunities would you take advantage of as a student here? Why? (2000 characters)
  • Miami: Why have you selected the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine for your medical education? Please be as specific as possible. (500 words or less)
  • UPenn: Please explain your reasons for applying to the Perelman School of Medicine and limit your response to 1,000 characters.

So how do you tackle this essay question? Well, we’ve got a formula that – if you execute it well – will help give you structure and purpose to your essay.  

Here’s the formula: A + B = C

  • A – what a med school offers
  • B – what I want from med school (as exhibited by past experience)
  • C – happy connection

Let's break down the formula one letter at a time:  

A – what each med school offers There are two main sources of information on medical schools: a) the school’s specific website, and b) the MSAR (paid, $20 for a year’s subscription)   Use one (or preferably both) to try to find information about what each medical school offers. Remembering our list from last week, consider:

  1. Location – is the school located in an urban area with a diverse patient population? A rural area with more chances for hands-on interaction in primary care? Are there specific communities that you would be interested in getting involved with?
  2. Curriculum – how does the school teach its science classes? Organ-based systems? Is there small-group, problem-based-learning? Does the school offer an opportunity to get early patient contact? A research thesis as part of its curriculum?
  3. Residency placement – Looking at the residency match placement list for the school, do the results look good? Are there people in the areas that most interest you?
  4. Class size and student-faculty ratio – is the class small? Would you get a chance to interact with faculty?
  5. Student groups – looking at the list of student groups on the school’s website, are there specific ones that you could see yourself getting involved with?
  6. Research - are there research projects at the medical school that you think you could contribute to? Does the school have NIH funding in the areas that most appeal to you?
  7. Mission Statement – does anything appeal to you about the school’s mission statement?
  8. Overall – based on the school’s website, what are the things the school prides itself on? How does that match with what you want from a med school?

B – What I want from med school (as exhibited by past experience) B is a list of preferences about what you want from a medical school. Your list might look like something like:

  • I want a school in an urban environment with a diverse patient population that will prepare me to practice medicine in a similar setting. relate to past experience: my time volunteering in a free clinic for the homeless
  • I want a school with lots of radiology research dollars so that I can gain hands-on experience in the specialty that most appeals to me at the moment. relate to past experience: my undergraduate research project in a radiology lab
  • I want a school that offers Problem-based learning (PBL), since that’s the way I learn material best. relate to past experience: the group projects I did as an undergrad.

C – Happy Connection The happy connection exists when the two match up – what you want from a med school and what each med school offers.   Here’s the litmus test for whether you’ve answered this secondary question well:

Can you change the name of the school to any other medical school and have the essay still work? If so, then your essay is not specific enough.   A completed essay looks like 3 distinct reasons for why you would attend a given school, all tied to past experiences and in line with what you’re looking for from a medical school.  

So there you have it – a flexible formula to help answer the most common secondary essay. Happy secondary writing!

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