Brainstorming

Some people may want to use the following list as a springboard as they develop their own connections. You can browse the questions below without a specific structure in mind and see what results from that free-association process. On the other hand, some people prefer to have more guidance as they brainstorm, and for those people we have ordered and grouped the questions into a logical structure.

Each subtopic begins with a series of questions and then an explanation of their potential relevance to the big picture.

Long- and Short-Term Goals

We have started with the question of what you hope to be rather than what you are because the former provides a broader context into which everything else should fit. You possess a wide range of skills and qualities, of which only some are relevant to your candidacy for medical school. Once you clarify your long-term vision (even if you haven't planned all the particulars, you should at least outline your ideals), you will be in a better position to recognize how the details fit together.

Because medical career paths are in a sense less goal oriented than business, you may find that the most important question to answer is the first one. Your ultimate ambition might not be a particular position but the underlying purpose you hope to fulfill through a career in medicine. The questions about your short-term goals and how the school can help you attain them are still important, however, because they may help you assess your current strengths and weaknesses, which will come up again in later categories.

Accomplishments

The important point here is that you develop insight into your accomplishments beyond their face value. Your essay should not merely list your most significant successes, nor is it enough to say that you're proud of them. You need to dig deeper to discover what these accomplishments mean to you, what they say about you, and how you learned from them. Also, reflect closely on your path to achievement rather than the result itself.

Significant Activities

Again, do not summarize your resume. Don't feel obligated to bring up every activity you've ever done, especially if it has been sufficiently covered elsewhere in the application. Remember that depth is more important than breadth. Your readers want to gain insight into what you care most about, and to see how you've devoted yourself.

For medical school admissions, a certain amount of volunteer and research work is expected. But again, it's not sufficient just to mention these and draw superficial conclusions about your work. If you really focus your mind to reflect on, for example, a summer job at the local hospital, you should find that you cannot fully describe a three-month commitment in a two-line statement about "the value of helping others." Be personal, and be specific.

Skills and Characteristics

In this section you should begin by thinking broadly. Don't just name skills that you know the schools are looking for, because that will detract from the unique portrait you're trying to paint. Also, you might be surprised about how you can tie a skill from one area of your life into your current goals in medicine. That's why we also suggested that you come up with different combinations of your skills and characteristics. This exercise will help you to see yourself from different perspectives and recognize all that you have to offer.

Just as listing accomplishments and activities is unfruitful, you won't accomplish anything by simply naming skills. That's why this section has emphasized the question how. How have you demonstrated your skills and characteristics? Where is the evidence? Here again it's important to remember the movement within this brainstorming section from broad to specific. Perhaps you showed a specific ability in activities unrelated to medicine. The evidence can come from this separate area and still be tied in ultimately to your current situation.

Turning Points

In your responses to these questions, you may want to draw on answers from previous sections. The purpose of this section is for you to begin synthesizing your previous accomplishments and activities into a coherent argument for your candidacy. Because there won't be room for you to describe every aspect of your involvement in an activity, you may choose to relate a particular episode that epitomizes the key points you want to convey.

One issue you must be cautious about is placing too much emphasis on one-time events. In most cases, you will be adding meaning to a scenario retrospectively. Few of us are ever in the situation to make life decisions based on epiphanies. You don't want to attribute too much significance to any one event, because that would detract from your purpose of demonstrating a well-reasoned, serious commitment to medicine. Nevertheless, detailing the most meaningful, significant episodes from your background can help ensure that your essay stays concrete and personal.

Next: Topic Selection

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