Medical School Application Essays, Part One: It’s in the Details

Ah, spring. The flowers are blooming, the robins are chirping in the leafy trees, and the weather’s finally getting warm enough to peel off those hats and gloves. It’s the season for something else too: yes, it’s medical school application time. If you’re aiming to attend medical school next year, chances are you’re getting ready to look that AMCAS application square in the face and fill it out like you were born to do it. Maybe you’re thinking of enlisting one of our awesome editors to help you brainstorm, write, and put the finishing touches on your essays. Of course, as an aspiring medical student, writing may not be your favorite thing in the world. Crafting a great essay doesn’t have to be like brain surgery, though. In fact, you’ve already got everything you need to do it.

Want to save time in the editing process and increase your chances of writing a great essay from the start? Here’s a sweet tip: it’s all in the details.

Just think about it: you know yourself backwards and forwards. As you write your essays, it may not seem important to name the year in which you shadowed your first physician, the purpose of the student medical association you founded, or what it really felt like to volunteer at that clinic in Nicaragua (and where the clinic was, and who you were treating there). It’s easy to overlook these things when it seems like your task is to convince your reader how accomplished, dedicated, and fantastic you are. However, it’s precisely these details that will make your essay—and, therefore, you—memorable.

Working on a first draft that you’ll revise a few times? Working with an editor to craft and hone your essay? Try starting out with what feels like too many details than too few. You (and your editor) can always pare down excess words later. You’ll be glad, though, that you started out with too much rather than too little.

While the rest of your application will be mostly comprised of facts and forms, your essay is where you can really tell your story—to share your experience, reflections, and goals with your readers as only you can. Details are what make that story vivid in a reader’s mind. They’re also what make an essay compelling and memorable—just like you.

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The Freedom of the Freewrite: Part II

In our last post, we promised to let you in on our tried-and-true method for vanquishing writer’s block, our constant go-to for accessing inspiration, our foolproof tool for writing a brilliant application essay when it seems like the river of words has utterly dried up. It’s called the freewrite, and it’s a beautiful thing.

The technique is simple: pick a topic, set a timer, and write without stopping. Even when the inner critic pipes up (and it will), even when your mind says “no, don’t say that,” don’t listen. Just keep writing. Write whatever wants to come out, even if it doesn’t seem to make sense. You never know what you’ll discover about yourself!

To practice, start with no topic at all—set a timer for five minutes and just write. I call this the “brain dump,” because it feels like clearing out all the gunk that’s in the way of what I really want to write about. The only rule is to keep the pen (or your typing fingers) moving. Often, in my journal, I’ll fill up half a page with the words “keep writing keep writing keep writing” because I don’t know what else to say. Usually, after doing that for a few moments, something in me will click and I’ll start writing about something real. Again, it doesn’t matter what you say in a freewrite; the trick is to just keep writing, without judging, without worrying, without stopping, until the timer goes off.

Ready to apply it to your application essay? Pick something about the essay you want to explore or that you’re stuck on. Perhaps you want to freewrite on an experience that particularly inspired or challenged you, or maybe you want to see what comes out when you write without stopping about why you love your chosen field so much. I especially like freewriting on my future visions, goals, and dreams—it’s easy to limit ourselves when we’re writing about these in an essay, and so much more fun to let ourselves really go crazy and dream big. Again, it’s helpful to set a timer or limit—five minutes, ten minutes, a paragraph, a page. And then see what comes out.

When you’re done, stop. Save the file, put the paper away, and let it rest. Then, after a few hours or a night of sleep, come back to the file or page and read it. What stands out? What do you find most true and interesting in your freewrites? Most likely you have the seeds for an interesting, compelling essay that shows the real you, the most true version of yourself. Once you have these seeds, you can expand on them, shape them, and edit them into a full-on essay (or have one of our experienced editors help you out). At the very least, you’ll have overcome your writer’s block—you’ll have found the key to that treasure chest of amazingness inside you. And once it’s open, there’s no going back.

So go ahead! Give it a try. It can’t hurt, and it could crack open something in you that will lead to a truly memorable, amazing essay. You’ll come up with ideas you never knew you had, describe experiences you might never have remembered otherwise, and access the parts of you that really matter. And that’s what makes for truly excellent, believable writing—the kind of writing that will take you where you want to go.

Applying to college, medical school and/or residency programs, MBA programs, or other avenues of graduate study? Select our Premiere Editing Services and we’ll take you through a freewheeling brainstorming and writing process that will help set your application materials apart.

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How a Freewrite Will Set Your Application Essay Free: Part I

Writer’s block. It happens to all of us, especially when the stakes are high. Writing an application essay—whether it’s for business school, medical school, graduate school, college, or anywhere else—can be intense, and it’s a lot of pressure to feel that the words you put down are going to help determine the next several years (or more) of your future. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sat down to write something—a paper, a letter, a poem, an application essay—and nothing comes out. Nothing. It’s like I have a vast treasure trove inside me jam-packed with experiences, ideas, opinions, visions, and dreams, but the door is locked and I’ve lost the key. Sometimes it even feels like there’s nothing there at all—that my river of inspiration has completely dried up, that I have nothing to say, that no matter how hard I think or how long I stare at the computer screen, I’ll never be able to write anything again, ever.

Sound familiar?

Fret not, dear readers. There is a way! There’s a way to find those keys to the underground rooms of riches, a way to get the river of words flowing again. There is, indeed, a way to open those doors so wide that the words come pouring out like a flash flood in the desert. After it’s over, you’ll be astounded you had that much brilliance inside you—and you’ll have the makings of an incredible, memorable application essay.

The secret? It’s called the freewrite. It’s the best way I know of to tap directly into the subconscious, completely bypassing the critical inner voice that keeps us from writing at all. When we freewrite, we tap into parts of our creative self we never would have by simply “thinking.” Rather than writing what you think people want to hear, the freewrite allows you to write from a true place, to say what you really mean. And that’s what will truly wow your readers—that sense that they’re reading the real you, the you that’s full of passion, inspiration, and the wisdom that comes from raw experience.

Best of all? Freewriting is fun—and easy, and can help elevate your application essays for college, graduate school, medical school and any type of program you may be applying to. In our next post, we’ll tell you how to do it.

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Medical Applicants – Apply Discount Code IVYMED on CVs and Essays

For those of you gearing up for medical school applications in 2015 (medical school, residency/fellowship, dentistry, nursing, PA programs and more), we’d like to extend a discount code on your first order: IVYMED.

Apply this discount code on all CVs, letters of recommendation, personal statements and secondary essays. Remember that essays can be submitted together (price/word decreases with the more words you have edited), but that CVs are priced separately.

We look forward to working with you as this season winds down, and the 2015 medical school admissions season begins! Please reach out to us at with any questions.

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How To Become a Better Writer

Last week I wondered what’s the one thing I’d say to someone who asked me how to be a better writer?

The answer came almost immediately. Read.

Reading makes us better writers. It’s just how it works, like how we pick up a language faster when we travel to a country where it’s spoken. As we read, we effortlessly absorb nuances of grammar, syntax, rhythm, and style along with information and inspiration. And whether you’re writing a paper, an email, a poem, or a statement of purpose, I promise: reading makes it easier (industry secret: it might also make it more fun).

Writing is useful in any career or course of study—from neuroscience to business, pharmacy to architecture. Writing lets us express our unique voices and exchange ideas with others. It helps us to share what’s inside, to participate and collaborate. Reading, then, helps us learn from others and discover ideas. Bonus: reading helps us relax, which makes it easier to write later on (it’s also hard to multitask when we’re reading, which can be a good thing).

Reading is like exercise for the imagination, and imagination makes writing interesting. To exercise this muscle as you read, allow yourself to develop a picture of what you’re reading in your mind’s eye. Pay attention to what grabs you—notice those moments where the writing excites you, draws you in, makes you feel and think. What about the writing do you especially enjoy? What works for you? Notice, too, what turns you off; notice when what you’re reading gets boring or where you stop paying attention. As a writer, what would you have done differently?

Of course, one of the best things about reading good writing is that you don’t have to think about it. The worlds that unfold as you read, the process of learning something new, the emotions that come up—they just happen. Writing can be the same way. Writing can be as enjoyable as reading. Writing can—dare I say—feel good.

If you want to become a better—and possibly happier—writer, then read. Read as much as you can. Read books. Read mysteries, adventure stories, history books, biographies. Re-read the books you loved growing up (this one is especially fun). Read science fiction, read metaphysical books, read poetry. Read online columns, essays, and blogs. Read what you like. Read what compels you. Read in your own language; read in other languages. Read the books your professors assign (as much as you can, at least). Let yourself read something else too. Read random books you see in the library. Read magazines, read music reviews, read the paper. Read whatever you want.

Listen, too. Listen to people talk. Listen to podcasts while you make dinner. On road trips or plane flights, listen to audiobooks. Listen to song lyrics. Listening is like reading, just as speaking is like writing.

Important: let yourself read slowly sometimes. Remember that time spent reading equals better writing. Reading good writing is an investment in yourself as a writer and expressive human being. Reading is like fuel for the gas tank, like food and water for the body. Then, when we sit down to write, the time we spend reading comes back to us amplified. Somehow, almost magically, it becomes easier to write.

By exercising the muscle of the imagination through reading, we get in shape to write. And then it just happens. You sit down at your notebook or computer, ask yourself a few questions, let your mind go empty for a bit—and the words just start flowing. Try it out—for a few days, for a month, for longer. Let yourself read. Let yourself enjoy it. Allow yourself to take that time, at least a little bit, every day. Then see what happens when you sit down to write.

It might, quite possibly, change everything.

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Length Limitations in MBA Essays

Recently an MBA client asked us about word limits in MBA essays – what was the minimum number of words required of a 1000-word essay? Would a 2500 character essay work with a 4000 character max?

Other clients have come to us with length standards they’d heard about among the admissions community, e.g. no essay should leave >5% of the given word limit unutilized.

The truth is variable, and hinges on a variety of factors: How many essays have you submitted? Have you covered every facet of your application? Are your essays ‘tight’ or anemic? Have you fully addressed all aspects of a given prompt?

There is no hard-and-fast rule to length limitations in admissions essays unless stated by a particular admissions committee. We help our clients to present balanced, compelling applications in which every word has value and serves your candidacy. If you can do just that in 350 words, given a 500 word limitation, then there is no admissions committee that would fault you for expediting their decision-making process.

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More Assertive Admissions Writing: Your Vision vs. Your Dreams

Whether we are working with college, MBA, law school or medical applicants, we frequently see people resort to language which is too passive for the admissions space. You are selling yourself and your ability to achieve your goals in admissions writing. Assertiveness is key. Take this sentence for example:

As a physician, I hope to bring the same discipline and determination I have cultivated as an Olympic athlete to the treatment of my future patients.

“I hope” is the key offender here. Instead of phrases that express the slightest possibility of uncertainty, try “I plan” or “I will” instead. Rather than relax into passive, lazy articulations, show how you were the master of your own fate:

I was provided the opportunity to study abroad during my junior year in college, which allowed me to explore my passion for Latin American literature.


Driven by my passion for Latin American literature, I seized the chance to study abroad during my junior year.

This bold sense of clarity really distinguishes a ‘hope’ from a visionary plan. And this is precisely what successful admits will execute on once they are accepted to the program of their choice. Another byproduct of more assertive writing is language that is more crisp. Top programs are looking for visionary, confident self-starters, and the most discreet language choices can better market your candidacy.

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What Makes A Great CommonApp Essay (In The Year 2014)

Applying to college today is nothing like what it was 20, even 10 years ago. Today’s college applicants are more tapped in than ever before. Within a few mouse clicks, an infinite number of sample college essays are available, many of which purportedly gained past applicants admission into schools like Yale, Harvard and Princeton. Additionally, because of social media and mobile devices (a vestigial organ for most of us!), today’s high school students are also more intimately connected to their peers than ever before. This presents challenges – and huge potential benefits – to those of you writing your college essays.

Today’s college applicants are constantly developing their voices as writers whether they realize it or not. What we urge our clients to do is to make the most of that voice in their essays. More than ever, we are noticing that the best essays contain the best writing, not the best content per se. So, what makes a CommonApp essay great?

-Economic writing. Take a page from your juiciest Facebook thread and the voices that inspire you. Keep your thoughts focused and crisp; verbosity will not help your CommonApp essay.

-Personality. Stop trying to be the quintessential applicant robot; you’re not an octogenerian yet. Your essay can be heavy and contemplative, it can be dry and hysterical, it can even be all of those things…but it must be you!

-Honesty. Disingenuous prose is easy to spot, particularly in college admissions writing. Remember your readers have been where you are before, they are (most likely) wiser: your honest point-of-view is the main thing you have to truly ‘teach’ your reader.

Looking for help on your college admissions materials? Let one of your Yale-educated editors help steer you in the right direction, and help get your admissions materials ready for the 2014-2015 admissions cycle. Visit our college admissions page for more details.

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2014-2015 Application Season is Here!

Hi everyone!

Application season is officially here. If you are applying to college or university, MBA, graduate school, law school or medical programs, please check out our updated suite of services:

Essay editing
Interview preparation
Resume/CV and cover letter editing

Our Yale-educated staff is here to support you through your applications, from start to finish. As an added bonus, with our new rewards and affiliate program you can save and earn money on each transaction.

We are looking forward to another highly productive admissions season!

All best,
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Common Application Rundown for 2014-15

Sure, it’s still the season for inner tube river floats, sunset bike rides and cramming your Instagram feed full of magical moments designed to give everyone else FOMO. Whether you’re living it up outside or cramming in a few more volunteer hours, however, that very special time of year is rolling around again. It’s time to fill out the Common Application!

Here are the prompts for the 650-word statement from the Common App site:

• Some students have a background or story that is so central to their identity that they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.
• Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what lessons did you learn?
• Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea. What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again?
• Describe a place or environment where you are perfectly content. What do you do or experience there, and why is it meaningful to you?
• Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal, that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family.

If one of these topics doesn’t immediately jump out at you, you might be primed for a Premiere Service consultation to glean one of our editor’s insights about which direction to take and how to get there. If you already know which question sparks your fancy, get started on a free write and send it our way for an Advanced Service revision!

Make sure to give yourself plenty of time to navigate potential glitches like website timeouts and payment snafus- this means submitting well BEFORE the 11:59pm deadline of whatever date is listed in the app:!PublicPages/ApplicationRequirements

More details:

Rest easy – no matter what you’ve been up to, you still have plenty of time to write a stellar essay that expresses the idiosyncratic gems of your candidacy. Get a head start with us, and you won’t be scrambling to synthesize the unfathomable wisdom of your life so far in the last moments before the deadline!

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