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Adcom Advice #2 – Be Relevant, Specific and Concise

When going through applications, nothing ruins a good application faster than ambiguous writing. Unclear statements make it hard for adcoms to review your application objectively and when in doubt, adcoms will tend to give lower scores as a precaution. Therefore, it is absolutely necessary that your application provides the most important, relevant, specific, wanted information and nothing more. Extra fluff or resume padding will not help you. Medical school admission committee members can tell when the listed activities are meaningful. By adding irrelevant and maybe even harmful to your application details, you diminish the impact of the true activities that are important.

The secret to a concise and well written application is to treat it like a resume. You want to cater your best and most relevant aspects of yourself to the medical school. You want to use Power-verbs to describe what you did. I managed, lead, coordinated, organized, taught, spoke, changed, etc. You want to include numbers, figures, specific roles. You want to sell your best and only your best and you always cater your resumes according to the job wanted.

Give the relevant information in a straightforward manner. For example, when it says to list awards / achievements, this section should be filled out in a direct way. Below is a sample template that you should follow.

Name of the scholarship – monetary amount $$$ – level of award (international, national, state/provincial, local, university-wide, high school) – basis of award (financial need, merit, etc) – Date Applicable

For example: “Medaholic Scholarship, $20000, National Award (one of ten), for leadership and community service in university” is much better than, “this Medaholic award was given to me by the Medaholic foundation for leadership and community service, from which I did blah blah blah activity and blah blah blah volunteering.” In this situation, they are asking for what awards you received, not why you received them. You will not get any extra points for the explanatory sentences because that’s not even what the question was looking for. Always address the prompts. They are clues to how we grade your applications. Follow instructions, answer the specific question and don’t go on tangents.

Cut out unneccessary fluff and give us the information adcoms are looking for! Adcoms burn through dozens if not hundreds of applications a day. Point form notes are OK! As long you make your shortened descriptions informative and specific, we will understand what you are saying.

Anyone should be able to read your application and understand it. If there are unique or local activities that aren’t that well known – explain it. When describing an activity, most applicants make the mistake of only thinking in terms of me, me, me. They talk about how these experiences shaped them to be a better person, how they discovered why they wanted to be a doctor through this, etc. But remember to include what you did for others too! I provided home care to eight elderly patients. I instructed five lower-income children math.

Use Numbers – as you can see in my previous examples, I specified the number of people involved. Adcoms love numbers. They are tangible and help us grasp the significance of your activities. I raised $30000 dollars for cancer research is much stronger than I did fundraising for breast cancer by doing a walkathon, singing contest and raffle. It’s good to know you can organize events, but it’s hard to understand the scale or magnitude if we weren’t there ourselves. Numbers help us see your contributions.

Similarly, for leadership activities, it’s not the activities you did that matter but the people you did them with. Use numbers to describe the number of people you worked with and managed. I worked with a group of twelve students, I was part of a six man team, I was in charge of recruiting 20 new members. When we ask about leadership, we want examples of how you interact and work with other people.

So when you are filling out the application, READ THE QUESTIONS PROPERLY. Give us what we want to hear (But Don’t Lie, that’s an even bigger mistake). Treat the primary or secondary as a serious job application and give us your best resume. Be clear, be precise, be concise.

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  1. Joshua
    Joshua December 4, 2008

    Lots of great advice here!

    Being concise and specific is super-duper important, and after having read many application essays in general myself, you’d be surprised at how many students don’t know this.

  2. medgirl
    medgirl August 23, 2009

    what are your thoughts on presenting things point form?

    • medaholic
      medaholic August 23, 2009

      Perfectly acceptable as long as no relevant information is lost and the message is still clear and coherent.

  3. grace
    grace August 21, 2011

    Just realized it would probably be more appropriate to post here instead:

    Great points. I was just wondering whether you think abbreviations would be acceptable in the autobiographical sketch?

    Example: exec instead of executives

    • medaholic
      medaholic August 22, 2011

      yes, they’ll understand what exec is, same with VP for vice president, etc

  4. Micky
    Micky August 9, 2014

    Dear Joshua,
    Thank you for your post – great advice! I wonder if you know about the activities description on UBC applications. The help guide (find lick below)says that they prefer us to list the context and our role more so than what we learnt. But I think it is also important to say what we gained from the activity. It is hard to fit this into 350 characters, which is why I’m debating whether to completely leave out “what I learned” part. Please let me know your thoughts if possible.

    Thanks so much

    Link to UBC help guide:
    See p. 13

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