Master Essay Writing For Med School Applications

Updated: Apr 1, 2021

Just when you thought med school applications couldn’t be any more painful… you get hit with the essay writing.

First, you dig deep to condense and organize into succinct bullet-points all that has made you the bright, shining star you are. Then, if you’re lucky, you get the opportunity to try your hand at being a short-story author. Perhaps this is a form of training for a consolation career.

Most secondary (aka supplemental, aka institutional) applications are pretty simple… after all, by this stage of the game you’ve made it through the virtual strip search that is primary applications through AMCAS or AACOMAS.

The bulk of these secondary applications purport to be a means of holistically evaluating applicants… through essays. Basically, tell us who you are aside from your GPA, MCAT, and resumé.

If you’re planning on applying broadly to medical schools, get comfy with your keyboard.

Here are some things you can do to prepare for this marathon and attack with a plan.

1. Research School Prompts

While you might believe that supplemental essay prompts for schools are some secret, kept on the guarded side of an invitation, a quick Google search will dispel such anticipation.

Trust me, they’re all over the net and rarely change much, if at all, from year to year.

2. Make A List

Compile a list of essays required by schools to which you plan to apply.

For each, make note of:

  • the school/program

  • the essay prompt

  • character/word limitations

3. Categorize

What is each prompt really asking from you?

Run back through your list and beside each prompt summarize its purpose/intent in a short 1-5 words.

As different as schools may be, they’re not incredibly original on this front–then again they don’t have to be when they have their pick from a sea of applicants. It’s on you to wow them.

Notice the repetition. Go ahead and exploit this wherever possible! If multiple schools ask the same question, maybe in cleverly different ways, categorize them together.

A few common descriptors I used were:

  • Diversity (What of your experiences or background will add spice to their student body?)

  • Why DO? (If you apply to osteopathic programs)

  • Service (Tell a story to show your commitment to community service/others.)

Occasionally, schools do a tremendous job of creating totally unique prompts that I just came to label “ad hoc” so I’d know that a completely one-off essay was required.

4. Make A Version Map

After identifying common themes, you now know truly how many essays you need to write (this is the number of different categories you created).

Work smarter, not harder, right? Kill two birds with one stone… maybe even more!

BUT before you get too excited about chopping your essay writing down to a fraction of its height, you’ll have to have multiple versions of each.

On a blank space, write out your categories.

Go back through the original list and for each category just jot down the character/word limitations for each.

Almost all schools ask for some variation of a diversity essay, but of varying lengths.

For this, your note might simply say something like:


1 essay x 2,000 characters

2 x 500 words

1 x 250 words

For this example, you need a diversity essay of 3 lengths (2,000 character, 500 word, and 250 word versions).

5. Associate Experiences

Imagine being on an admission committee and being tasked with reading these essays day in and day out. You’d be hoping for some stellar stories, right?

Entertain them!

Despite the decades of life from which you can draw thrilling tales, it’s incredibly easy to fall victim to unnoticed redundancy across categories.

Adcoms don’t want to read the same story told 3 different ways to fit their prompts.

Do your darndest to avoid this by taking some time to thoughtfully brainstorm specific experiences. Then double-check that none overlap.

Now a portion of a version map might look something like…

Diversity - raised in South Texas border town, story about drug house

1 x 2,000 characters

2 x 500 words

1 x 250 words

You want to read that story now, don’t ya?

Trust me, in no other category do I even come close to mentioning drug houses.

6. Write

With the prep-work put in, it’s about time to finally put pen to paper.

TIP: start with an essay category you could go on and on about. Go ahead and do just that!

The goal is to reach the lengthiest version of this essay.

Note the character/word count to ensure that it just about meets the longest version you need, or goes a little over.

Do a couple of passes to spruce it up so it sparkles as your pride and joy.

Save. Copy, paste.

Now butcher it–I mean, comb through and see what you can dice and slice out, without losing impact when read.

For some essays, this can be really difficult (the harder this is, the better you likely wrote the original version).

Create condensed copies to fit within the smaller character/word restrictions.

7. Submit Strategically

Take extra care to match the school and prompt with the essay you plug into each application.

You did it. Congratulate yourself on recycling and reusing essays! 😉

Using these steps, I was able to conquer over 75 prompts with just about 25 essays. You can too!