In recent years, guaranteed-admission medical programs have exploded in popularity. These programs allow students to apply for a guaranteed place in medical school right out of high school. Often, these programs will include compressed undergraduate degree timelines that reduce the total time requirement by one to two years, leading to so-called seven- and eight-year medical programs. These programs have grown increasingly competitive, and acceptance rates are often lower than undergraduate acceptance rates at Ivy League schools.
In addition to the Common App essays (for the latest info, check out our blog post How to Write the Common Application Essays 2017-2018), these specialized programs often require applicants to write separate essays specific to the medical program. The majority of these essays can be grouped into one of two categories.
Either they ask the applicant why he or she wants to be a doctor, or they ask the applicant to address why he or she wants to attend the undergraduate and medical school in the program in addition to detailing the reasons behind their desire to be a doctor. The essays for Case Western’s Pre-Professional Scholars Program (in medicine), as well as for Rutgers Newark’s BA/MD program are presented below as representative archetypes for each style of essay.
We spoke with CollegeVine co-founder and essay specialist Vinay Bhaskara, who was accepted into seven-year medical programs last year about how he would approach these essays.
Case Western Essay Prompt
By applying to the Pre-Professional Scholars Program, you are applying to gain admission to professional school earlier than students who apply in the traditional way. Please indicate why you’re interested in your chosen profession. How do you see yourself being particularly suited to this field? What events and/or experiences have led you to your choice? This essay should be between 250 and 500 words in length.
Rutgers Essay Prompts
Part I. Discuss why you are interested in pursuing a career in medicine. (150 words)
Part II. Describe your health-related volunteer experiences and the time devoted to them. (150 words) Provide supporting documentation in your portfolio from a supervisor, coordinator, etc.
Part III. Discuss what has attracted you to apply to Rutgers University-Newark College of Arts & Sciences, apart from the BA/MD program. (150 words)
Part IV. Discuss why you are specifically interested in attending Rutgers New Jersey Medical School (NJMS) over other medical schools. (150 words)
Addressing ‘Why Medicine’ in Medical Program Essays
Vinay: The critical thing to remember here is that success in medicine is the synthesis of two equally important factors: a passion for science and a passion for serving humanity. Medical care is not just about being able to recognize symptoms, make a diagnosis, and prescribe the correct course of treatment, it’s also about the second word in that phrase — being able to care for patients and make sure that their emotional state improves alongside the physical healing. These are the core themes that you must communicate with your essay.
The science side of the ledger is relatively easy to describe. You can approach it from the pure science aspect of a passion for biology or biochemistry. If you choose to highlight biology, be sure to research the various biological subfields, such as genetics, neuroscience, et al. and pick the one for which you feel the most affinity.
This approach can also be enhanced by descriptions of your work in a non-class lab environment if you have it. Such experience is advisable for applicants to seven-year programs, though not absolutely essential. Another approach to discussing the academic aspects of medicine is to talk about your passion for the analytic problem-solving that medicine necessitates.
On the passion-for-serving-humanity side, the best approach is to refer to a patient care experience (typically either volunteering at a hospital, nursing home, or clinic, shadowing a physician, or [ideally] both), and relate a specific anecdote from that experience that stuck with you. Using that anecdote as a base, you would then transition into a discussion of how that has inspired you to pursue medicine and heal people.
If you lack patient care experience, the next option is to draw on volunteer or charity exposure (outside of medicine) and follow the same pattern of an anecdote or reflection.
If you don’t have any of these experiences either, a third possibility is to draw on experiences with a family member or friend who dealt with severe health problems and discuss how that experience affected and inspired you. If you don’t have any strong examples of any of these three cases, you can still discuss and analyze a passion for the non-academic aspects of medicine, but it will not have as much substance backing it.
Justifying the Undergraduate and Medical Schools
These parts of the essay are not as important relatively speaking, but you still must make sure that you meet the requirements for these. For the justification of the undergraduate schools, it is the same process as general “Why school XYZ?” essays, which we will cover in a later blog post.
The general guidelines here are to make sure that you discuss things specific about that school, not generic descriptions that could apply to several different schools. You should discuss both academics, and social aspects of the school, paying special attention to unique academic programs as well as specific social philosophies espoused by each school.
With regards to the medical school, you should discuss the specific strengths of that medical school and the things that it can teach you. For example, a major trauma center will expose you to one whole set of patient pathologies, while a hospital in a run down and culturally diverse area of town will expose you to an entirely different set of patient pathologies and interactions.
Similarly, hospitals specializing in oncology or neurology will provide a unique experience that you can highlight in the essay. One good point to always mention is that if the medical school is in a city, it will expose you to a diverse and varied set of patient pathologies and patient interactions, which will enhance your skills as a doctor.
Addressing Why Accelerated Programs
This is usually the hardest part of the essay to write. The answer for most students is simply because it saves them time, but schools do not like to hear this. A better way to approach it is to state that you are certain about your desire to become a physician, and say that the additional academic rigor presented by the program (a science — heavy curriculum, GPA requirements, working through summers, et al.) strongly appeal to you.
If you’re thinking about a BS/MD program, but you’re unsure if it’s the right fit or you don’t know where to begin, consider the CollegeVine BS/MD Apps Assistance Program. Here, you’ll be paired one-on-one with a specialist from one of the top combined undergraduate and medical school programs in the country, who will help to prepare your application, guide your essay choices, and coach you through the interview process.
Zack was an economics major at Harvard before going on indefinite leave to pursue CollegeVine full-time as a founder. In his spare time, he enjoys closely following politics and binge-watching horror movies. To see Zack's full bio, visit the Team page.
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If you are a high-achieving high school student intent on a career as a doctor, BS/MD programs are a great option. They allow you to complete a Bachelor’s of Science (BS) degree and then proceed directly into a medical program for your Doctor of Medicine (MD) degree. In essence, you apply for and are accepted to your undergraduate program and med school at the same time, thereby streamlining the process and sometimes even completing the entire program at an accelerated pace.
But these advantages aren’t easy to come by. BS/MD programs are extremely competitive. In fact, while Harvard’s admission rate hangs around 5%, the average BS/MD program admits only 4% of applicants.
The application process for BS/MD programs is rigorous. First, you fill out an application, write essays, and gather recommendations. Sometimes, you are then asked for secondary materials if you make it past the first round of review. Ultimately, if you make it on the final short-list of applicants, you’ll be invited to interview. This interview will determine your fate as a BS/MD applicant.
The BS/MD interview is not like a regular college interview. Its format varies significantly from program to program, with some taking place over the course of an entire day in multiple stages and others entailing group interview phases or one single interview with a large group of interviewers. Fewer than half of students who interview will ultimately be offered acceptance to BS/MD programs. It is an integral part of the application process and your admittance hinges on it.
So, what specifically do these interviews entail? What sets them apart from the traditional college interview? And what questions should you anticipate? Read on to learn more about the BS/MD program interview.
Where Do BS/MD Program Interviews Take Place?
Like almost every aspect of the BS/MD program interview, the location varies from program to program. For some, you will interview at the undergraduate institution. For others, you’ll interview at the med school. And still for others, you’ll interview at the teaching hospital associated with the program.
Sometimes, programs will not provide a lot of information about the interview. This might be because application season is an exceptionally busy time and they aren’t able to elaborate in detail for every applicant, or it could be by design in order to level the playing field and keep interviewees on their toes.
Regardless, one piece of information that a program will always have to provide is the location of the interview. If you haven’t been given other information about the interview process, the location can sometimes provide important clues about who will be conducting the interview.
For example, if the interview takes place at the teaching hospital, you should anticipate being interviewed by a doctor or resident. If it takes place at the medical school or undergrad institute, you will probably be interviewed by at least one professor and perhaps a student as well.
While these rules of thumb aren’t set in stone, they can be good guidelines to help you anticipate the tone of your interview.
Who Usually Performs the BS/MD Program Interview?
As discussed above, sometimes you will be told in advance who your interviewer will be or at least what role your interviewer plays in the program. In general, interviewers are professors, doctors, or students themselves.
If you aren’t sure who will be interviewing you, prepare yourself for any eventuality by anticipating that all of the above roles could be represented. Sometimes, you will have more than one interviewer or you will complete multiple interviews in quick succession. Anticipating the interests of each of the roles filled by possible interviewers will help you to frame your preparations for each.
If you miss the interviewer’s title initially, be certain to ask what their role is at the institution to help you frame your answers. In general, student interviewers will be interested in how you’ll fit in with the student body. Professors will be interested in your academic prowess and commitment, while doctors will be interested in the driving force behind your interest in medicine and your dedication to the field of medicine.
What Is the Goal of the BS/MD Program Interview?
The BS/MD program interview is not a quiz of knowledge. You will very rarely be asked any questions directly related to knowledge of the medical world, and when you are asked such questions they will usually be framed around current events or your personal opinion.
Instead, the goal of the interview is to give the schools some insight into who you are beyond your grades and test scores. Obviously your application impressed them enough to invite you to an interview. Now, you need to convince them that you’re everything you claimed to be on paper more.
You should aim to communicate your sincere desire to become a doctor, your dedication to serving others, and your deep interest in medical research and advancements.Backing these claims up with concrete examples from your background will drive home your authenticity.
What Is the Interview Process?
The interview process also varies widely. In most cases, you will be told about the general format in advance. If you are not given any details, it’s alright to ask how much time you should plan to allow for the interview, especially since some students will have travel plans that hinge on time allowance. It’s not generally acceptable, however, to ask for more details about the interview format itself, since the goal of the interview committee is to evaluate all candidates on a level playing field. Usually, you will be given all the information that they are willing to share upfront.
Some programs will conduct interviews in small groups with other BS/MD candidates and a team of interviewers. Others will conduct interviews one-on-one. Sometimes you will have just a single interview, and other times you will have a series of interviews.
Some interviewees at University of Miami reported being asked to watch a short film while they waited for the interviewer, and then later finding out that they had been observed while doing so and were asked questions about the film during the interview. Other interviewees at SUNY Albany reported being asked to participate in an observed group activity before the interview.
The bottom line is that you should arrive for the interview prepared for any eventuality. Don’t let these surprises throw you off your game, and assume that everything you do from the moment you walk in the door is being included as part of your overall evaluation.
What Questions Will They Ask During the BS/MD Program Interview?
Of course, there’s no complete and reliable set of questions available for the BS/MD interview, but there are some questions that are widely asked. The following questions are certainly not an exhaustive list of the ones you can expect during your BS/MD interview, but we can almost guarantee that you will be asked at least some of these questions. In addition, reviewing them all will help to put you in the right mindset for anticipating other, related questions.
Some common questions in the BS/MD interview include:
- Introduce yourself and talk about your experiences and background. (Keep in mind that the committee has already seen your grades and test scores. Take this opportunity to highlight extracurricular strengths or experiences that have led you to a career in medicine.)
- Why do you want to become a doctor?
- Why do you want to attend this school in particular? (Prepare for this question by researching the program well in advance. Be prepared to speak about its unique features and notable strengths.)
- Why you are considering an accelerated BS/MD program?
- What your plans are if you are not accepted into the BS/MD program?
- What do you think some complex issues in medicine are today, and what can be done about them? (Topics to discuss in your answer could include infectious disease epidemics, public health concerns, immunizations, current events, or drug costs for consumers)
- Who has inspired you most?
- Do you have any idea of which specialty you want to pursue? (It’s perfectly acceptable to say if you don’t know and are waiting until you experience the med school rotations to decide on that.)
- What experience do you have in understanding the life of a doctor? (This is an opportunity to highlight your volunteer work, shadowing, or other extracurriculars in the medical field.)
What Are Some Top Tips for the BS/MD Interview?
Our number one tip for the BS/MD interview is to be confident in yourself. The purpose of this interview is to gain a better understanding of who you are as a person, so it’s important that you present your true self. In order to do so, you need to be confident in who you are and why you’re pursuing this dream.
Think critically about your motives in advance and be prepared to discuss them in detail. Also consider what has led you to this path. You don’t need to have experienced a monumental, life-changing event to justify your choice to become a doctor. It could be something as simple as watching an episode of Sesame Street as a child, or meeting a friend’s parent who is also a doctor. Try to recall the earliest experiences that have shaped your interest in becoming a doctor, and start there. Make sure that you fully understand your own path so that you can clearly articulate it to the interview committee.
Another common tip is to avoid politics during your interview. While politics is often an unavoidable issue in medical practice, ultimately your decisions as a practitioner should be based on treating your patient to the best of your ability. Your own politics should not weigh in the choices you make.
Also try to avoid conversations about money and earning potential. Everyone knows that in general, doctors make a healthy living and that some specialties make significantly more than others. Do not even hint that money could play a role in your decision to practice medicine. Instead, emphasize that your choice to become a doctor is rooted in your interest in medical science and your desire to help others.
Because there’s so much on the line, the BS/MD interview can be intimidating. It’s natural to feel anxious about an experience that will bear so much weight on your future. But keep in mind that being invited to interview for a BS/MD program is a major accomplishment in and of itself. You’ve already placed yourself in the top 10% of candidates. Take confidence from that, and use it to propel yourself through the interview with grace.
If you’re interested in learning more about BS/MD programs and admissions, consider CollegeVine’s BS/MD Application Help service. Here, you’ll be paired one-on-one with a specialist from one of the top accelerated medical programs in the country, who will help to prepare your application, guide your essay choices, and coach you through the interview process.
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Senior Blogger at CollegeVine
Kate Koch-Sundquist is a graduate of Pomona College where she studied sociology, psychology, and writing before going on to receive an M.Ed. from Lesley University. After a few forays into living abroad and afloat (sometimes at the same time), she now makes her home north of Boston where she works as a content writer and, with her husband, raises two young sons who both inspire her and challenge her on a daily basis.