Essay Prompts For Medical School

Part 4: The “Why Us?” Secondary Essay

Example "Why Us?" Essay Prompts

Example 1: “What makes LLUSM particularly attractive to you?” (Loma Linda University School of Medicine)

Example 2: “How will becoming a Creighton educated physician enable you to achieve your lifetime goals and/or aspirations?” (Creighton University School of Medicine)

"Why Us?" Essay Background

These are everyone’s favorite prompts (I wish my sarcasm could jump through the screen).

The first step to writing an effective “Why us?” essay is to restrain yourself from writing about how great their medical school is or where it's located.

Glad that’s out of the way.

Consider why admissions committees want you to answer this question. After all, they know you’re applying to many other schools and that your GPA and MCAT scores are at least reasonably close to their admission averages (learn Where to Apply to Medical School to Maximize Admissions Odds).

Admissions committees read thousands of essays annually and want to know that you’ve considered them for reasons beyond the obvious (location, prestige, average GPA and MCAT, etc.).

By integrating your qualities, experiences, and aspirations with their specific mission, programs, and resources, you will have a unique opportunity to demonstrate "fit" in your application. Don’t take this for granted!

"Why Us?" Essay Misconception 1: “I should just read a school’s mission statement and research available resources on their website, and then rewrite the same information in essay form.”

The vast majority of students approach the “Why us?” essay this way, so it won’t make your response seem very special.

I basically see the expanded version of the following essay 90+% of the time:

“I want to go to [School Name] because of their wonderful [program name] and incredible [resources]. {Program] cultivates [attribute] that helps their students become great physicians. In addition, [resources] provide support to help students reach their potential.”

You should be able to see how this essay says nothing about why YOU want to go to their school.

Moreover, medical schools already know about all of the programs and resources they offer, so you wouldn’t be providing much value through your writing.

The better approach to this essay would be to look through schools’ websites to find programs and resources that actually interest you and to identify what each school keeps boasting about (e.g., perhaps they mention diversity or early clinical experience multiple times on their homepage). Then, consider:

  • How YOUR experiences fit with their offerings
  • What YOU could contribute
  • How YOU would uniquely benefit from their program

For example, if a school focuses a lot on community service and you have similar experiences, mention that. In addition, let the school know how you want to further focus your skills while there. On the other hand, if you have a more research heavy background and are applying to the same school, you could either focus on research or discuss how community service will make you a more well-rounded physician. The more specific you can be, the better.

"Why Us?" Essay Misconception 2: “There’s no other way to find out information about a medical school than by reading their site.”

Looking at a school’s website and demonstrating fit is certainly a tried-and-true approach to answering "Why us?" essay prompts, but it isn’t the only one.

To really impress admissions committees, you could integrate information from current students or recent alumni into your response. Ask these individuals whether they would be willing to share their experiences attending a particular school, and also whether you would be a good fit there given your background and goals.

How do you find these people? The easiest people to contact are those you know personally or through a mutual acquaintance. Otherwise, you could contact a school’s administrative staff and ask whether they could connect you to a current student. While this requires additional work, it will be well worth it for your top school preferences.

If you have to contact a stranger, use the following email template:

“Dear [Student Name],

I hope this email finds you well. My name is [Your Name}, and I am currently completing my med school applications. I’m especially interested in attending [School Name] and am therefore hoping to get some more information about the program. [School Name]'s admissions committee gave me your email address as someone who could help me out.

I'd really appreciate it if you would spare 15-20 minutes to answer 3-5 quick questions in the upcoming days. If so, please let me know some days and times that are most convenient for you, your time zone, and the best number to reach you. I’ll do my best to accommodate.

Thanks for your time and consideration. Looking forward to hearing from you soon!

Best,

[Your Name]

Sample "Why Us?" Essay

(Note: All identifying details have been changed.)

Benjamin Franklin once said, “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.” Throughout my undergrad years, I’ve found that working hard to involve myself with others and their unique perspectives is one of the most productive ways in which I can learn. For example, I used to believe that illnesses were just a set of tangible symptoms that resulted solely from maladaptive genes. However, after working closely with families in Boston's inner city, I have come to realize how racial, physical, and social factors, such as a lack of access to fresh produce or primary health services, can influence the likelihood of disease. As I obtained a broader understanding of the many factors that contribute to health, I find myself asking new questions and wanting to learn more. How can we properly assess a community’s needs and design appropriate solutions? How can an understanding of sociocultural factors be used to heal current patients and prevent new ones? I believe that the answers to these questions and others will come from the Community Health Program at the University of Washington (UW). The year-round lecture series on topics, such as “Health Disparities: An Unequal World's Biggest Challenge,” will allow me to engage closely with faculty and students to work towards developing holistic community-based solutions. Furthermore, the UW PEERS clinic and Friends of UW provide an opportunity to work closely with urban Seattle neighborhoods similar to those I have worked with in Boston. Having connected with a range of Boston families, varying in age, socioeconomic status, and ethnicity, I have improved my sense of self-awareness and cultural sensitivity, attributes I hope to continue developing with the surrounding Seattle community. I am confident that UW and the Community Health Program can further prepare me to be a physician who not only improves the lives of individual patients, but also addresses the needs of entire communities.

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Final Thoughts

Secondary applications will likely be one of the most time-consuming, stressful, and exhausting parts of your application process (the other is the medical school admission interview circuit if you’re fortunate to receive multiple invitations).

Nevertheless, you should give yourself some breaks to recharge so that you never rush submissions for the sake of rolling admissions and sacrifice quality.

Like every other piece of written material you submit, aim not only to answer the prompt, but also to give admissions committees deeper insights into what makes YOU so great for their school specifically.

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Enjoyed this article? Get the FREE guide we use to help over 90% of our students get into med school—the first time.

The Personal Statement is your opportunity to introduce yourself to admission committees.  It can explain your motivation and why you have made the decision to apply.  It can bring out your personal attributes and competencies and weave together all of your experiences.  A sincere, thoughtful, and introspective personal statement may make the difference to committee members as they decide whether to interview or admit an academically qualified applicant. This is the time to strengthen the narrative part of your application and demonstrate how you view the meaning of your experiences rather than just present them as an annotated resume. 

Composition

A 5300-character essay (the character limit for AMCAS) requires focus in your essay. You might have a particular interest that spans both your academic achievements and your extracurricular experiences and you can use that interest as a thread to tie your essay together. You may have a unique background that you'd like to begin with.  Or you may want to describe a meaningful clinical experience.

Here are some key points to keep in mind when writing the personal essay:

Do

  • Use perfect English.  Check for typos and remember that spell checkers don’t catch all errors (e.g., “there” vs. “their”)
  • Use action verbs and active voice rather than passive.  Don't say “I was given the opportunity to volunteer (or work) in”, but rather "I volunteered in ... "
  • Circle all the times you used the word “I” and if there are too many, rewrite your sentences
  • Be personal when you write, as though you were talking with someone in person
  • Be sure to explain the lessons learned, skills, and attributes you’ve cultivated through experiences
  • You might use an engaging story and anecdote to personalize your essay; if you do, be careful not to spend half of your essay describing someone else - the essay is about you
  • Write an essay that describes you, one that only you could have written
  • Multiple rewrites over a period of time are to be expected
  • Ask others to read your essay for content, especially those individuals who know you well to ensure that your authentic voice is coming through

Don’t

  • Don’t be wildly creative.  This is not a creative writing essay
  • Don’t be gratuitous
  • Don’t use trite and vague phrases such as “gained valuable experience” and “became intrigued with the human body”
  • Don’t list
  • Don’t over inflate or under-inflate your accomplishments/activities
  • Don’t include inaccuracies or unsubstantiated claims
  • Don't begin your essay with how you wanted to be a doctor at age 4 when you received your first Fisher Price doctor kit
  • Don’t place blame on others

There are a wide variety of sample essays online (google sample essay questions medical school) that might give you ideas, but remember that this is your personal statement and it needs to be written from the heart. 

 If you are applying to an MD-PhD program, you will write and include two other essays, one on why you are applying to these programs and one on your research experience. 

Essay Revision

Our office will be glad to read a draft of your personal statement and offer comments. You can submit a statement with your RMA or at a later date.  We'll provide details on how to do this during the spring.

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