For most college students, the path to medical school is a painful 8 year slog. After four years at an undergraduate school where you compete tooth and nail with your peers for grades, volunteer hours, and that coveted research internship, you then get to struggle through MCAT preparation and nerve-wracking medical school admissions. Luckily, there is an alternate path that you can take, one that will allow you to avoid the competitive excesses of pre-med undergrad while also (in some cases) saving one or two years in the process.

That path, of course, is to apply for a guaranteed admission medical program, better known to most people as seven or eight year medical programs. In recent years, these guaranteed admission programs have exploded in popularity, offering students a guaranteed place in medical school right out of high school. Often, they will include compressed undergraduate degree timelines that reduce the total time requirement by one or even two years in the case of Penn State and the University of Missouri Kansas City (UMKC). While they may be niche, these programs have grown increasingly competitive, and acceptance rates are lower than undergraduate acceptance rates at Harvard and Stanford.

In addition to the Common App essays, specialized programs often require you to write separate essays specifically about medicine. The majority of these essays can be grouped into a few major categories. Some will ask you why you want to be a doctor and for you to address why you specifically want to attend a guaranteed admission and/or accelerated program. A variation on this theme will ask you to explain why you wish to attend both the undergraduate and medical school in the program. Some programs will ask specifically about your patient care experiences, while more research-driven programs will ask you to discuss your interests and accomplishments in science.

The following are a couple of representative prompts from guaranteed admission medical programs that illustrate the archetypes mentioned above.

Penn State

Write a personal statement indicating why you want to be a physician, why you want an accelerated program, and why you’ve selected this Penn State/Jefferson program.

Rutgers

A 600 word essay consisting of the following four specific parts:

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)

Responding to these prompts

Success in medicine is the synthesis of two equally important factors: a passion for science and a passion for serving humanity and caring for other human beings. Medical care is not just about recognizing symptoms, making diagnoses, and prescribing the correct course of treatment. The second word in the phrase “medical care” is equally important. A top-notch doctor must be able to care for patients and make sure that their emotional state improves alongside the physical healing. Medical schools know this all too well, and so both of these are core themes that you must touch upon in your essay.

Demonstrating passion for science is relatively easy. A good starting point is pure scientific passion for biology or biochemistry, which you should discuss both as an intellectual pursuit and as a extracurricular focus. Intellectually, you should mention what aspects of biology, or even of a specialized biological field like genetics or neuroscience, appeal to you and why. On the extracurricular side, you should discuss what activities, ideally research ones, crystallized these passions. If your resume lacks strong biology credentials, chemistry can be an imperfect substitute. Without chemistry or biology, you have to get more creative, perhaps discussing extracurricular activities where you had to leverage analysis skills, and then connecting that to the analysis skills used in diagnosing patients.

Demonstrating your understanding of and passion for the humanistic elements of medicine is easiest if you have patient care experience: volunteering at a hospital or nursing home, shadowing a physician, or ideally both. You should definitely create a narrative around your entire experience interacting with patients, but that narrative should be anchored by one or more specific anecdotes (i.e. specific patients) depending on the prompt length. If you don’t have any patient care experiences, you can draw on volunteer work or community service and follow the same pattern of framing a narrative around specific anecdotes and reflections. If you lack both of these types of experiences, then your extracurricular profile may hamstring you in the admissions process anyway, but the final imperfect method of conveying your understanding of the humanistic element of medicine is to reference a family member or friend affected by severe health problems and discuss how the experience affected and/or inspired you.

Since this is one of the most overused tropes in medical essays of all kinds, it is better to use an indirect approach to explaining how this relates to your personal career in medicine. Instead of giving the standard explanation about how seeing your mother/brother/best friend deal with cancer/lupos/lyme disease affected you deeply, you should instead use it as an opportunity to comment on how their doctor or doctors handled the relationship with your family member or friend. The doctor(s) may have done an excellent or poor job of taking care of your friend/family member’s emotional needs, but either way, that gives you a compelling entry point for a larger discussion about the role such non-scientific care plays in being a successful physician.

Justifying the undergraduate and/or medical schools

These parts of the essay are relatively less important, but you should still take them seriously and tick off all the boxes. To justify the undergraduate school, you should use the same techniques that you would for “Why School” essays (i.e. “Why Yale”) compressed as a part of a larger essay if necessary. The main tactic is to make sure that you discuss classes, professors, programs, traditions, and other elements specific to that school, not generic descriptions that could apply to several different schools. You should discuss both academic and social aspects of the school, paying special attention to unique academic programs in the sciences as well as specific social philosophies espoused by each school.

To justify the medical school, you should discuss the specific strengths of that medical school and the things that it can teach you. This can of course speak to the well-regarded sub-specialties at a particular school, such as internal medicine at the University of Washington. But there are also other elements of the medical school that you can reference as reasons you want to attend. For example, a major trauma center in the school hospital will expose you to a unique set of patient pathologies, while a school hospital located in an economically disadvantaged and culturally diverse neighborhood such as that of Drexel University will give you a more well-rounded set of patient experiences.

Explaining Why You Want to Join a Guaranteed Admission Program

This is usually the hardest part of the essay to write. For many students, the answer is simply because it saves them time or helps them avoid competition, but schools obviously don’t like hearing this. A better answer is to reinforce your commitment to becoming a physician, and mention experiences in high school that led you to make this decision (both inside of medicine and outside of medicine). The specific drivers here are not important: colleges just want to see evidence that you are mature and have carefully thought out this decision and will probe those trends more deeply during the interview.

One cautionary note for international students. Most guaranteed admission programs are open to US residents only. It’s okay if you’re a US citizen living abroad, but unless you are a US citizen or permanent resident, you will in all likelihood be unable to gain acceptance to one of these programs.

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