5 Strategies to Optimize Your Mount Sinai Secondary Application

Medical School
August 13, 2020

The Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai receives approximately 6,000 applications per year for the 140 positions in each entering class, yielding an acceptance rate of 2.3%. According to the most recent U.S. News World report rankings of medical schools in the United States, Mount Sinai is ranked amongst the top 20 medical schools in the nation for research, making it one of the most competitive and prestigious institutions to gain acceptance to. The admissions committee is keen on selecting students who exhibit exceptional qualities and a strong commitment to clinical care.

While the medical school utilizes a holistic application review process to consider a variety of academic and experiential factors, one powerful way of securing an interview at Mount Sinai is by nailing the secondary application. The essay prompts for 2018-2019 are included below for reference.

  1. The Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai strives to ensure that its students become respectful physicians who embrace all dimensions of caring for the whole person. Please describe how your personal characteristics or life experiences will contribute to the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai community and bring educational benefits to our student body. (1000 character limit)
  2. Please tell us about a situation in which working collaboratively on a team was challenging. What did you do? What did you learn? (200 word limit)
  3. If there is an important aspect of your personal background or identity or a commitment to a particular community, not addressed elsewhere in the application, that you would like to share with the Committee, we invite you to do so here. Aspects might include, but are not limited to significant challenges in or circumstances associated with access to education, living with a disability, socioeconomic factors, immigration status, or identification with a culture, religion, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation or gender identity. Briefly explain how such factors have influenced your motivation for a career in medicine. Completing this section is optional. (100 word limit)
  4. If you are currently not a full time student, please briefly describe the activities you are participating in this academic year. (100 word limit)

Strategy #1: Infuse your response with personal traits that an ideal physician should have in ONE powerful story

For the first essay prompt, it is important to reflect on the ideals or character traits that you think would make an effective and caring physician and then demonstrate those ideals in ONE poignant personal story. If you think a physician should be intellectually humble, demonstrate that in your story. Use specific details in your story to make your essay response stand out. Remember, the admissions committee members read thousands of applications every day, and so it’s very important for you to use colorful imagery and details to bring your story to life. The secondary essays are opportunities to highlight personal qualities or traits that admissions committees deem necessary for physicians to have. If you are the kind of person who loves to learn and apply themselves, discuss HOW you have applied yourself in a non-academic setting. Love glassblowing? Great! Talk about how the skills needed for glassblowing have helped you embody core character traits of a physician. This will not only demonstrate that you have interests outside of the classroom, but it will also shed light on who you are as an individual with varied, intriguing interests. 

Strategy #2: Research Mount Sinai's niches

In crafting your secondary responses, it would also be extremely helpful to research the medical school in question to learn about their specific niches, or areas of interest. Mount Sinai, for example, is an institution based in New York City that is strongly dedicated to public health, physician advocacy, health care disparities, and global health. Mount Sinai also has enrichment programs dedicated to addressing issues as important as diversity in medicine, narrative medicine, and health policy. Therefore, in your secondary essays, it would be optimal to speak about ways in which you may have been an advocate for other people or engaged in global health/public health work during your college years or gap year. Advocacy can range from political activism to serving on humanitarian mission trips to advocating for a relative’s health care; ensure that you interpret the prompt in a way that speaks to you personally and reflects your best attributes to the admissions committee. 

Strategy #3: Tie in collaboration and teamwork into a relevant essay prompt

Medicine relies heavily on collaboration and teamwork. Patient care in the United States is highly fragmented and divided amongst numerous medical teams. In order to demonstrate that you are capable of learning to be a good team player, it is essential to highlight a story where you have collaborated on a highly complex project. If you have been involved in global health projects abroad, for example, it could be useful to illustrate how you exemplified team player attributes during this project and how you were able to make yourself most useful to the team in a moment of crisis. In terms of what you learned from the project, try to illustrate how the project opened your eyes to important lessons that you can concretely apply in medical school and beyond, such as the importance of communication when working with others.   

Strategy #4: Highlight your commitment to diversity 

Mount Sinai is deeply committed to training future physicians who are capable of serving a diverse patient population. Therefore, use your secondary applications to highlight any commitments you may have to any one community. If you belong to an ethnic, religious, or racial group, essay prompt #3 is the perfect place to explain your motivation for entering the field of medicine as it relates to your personal identity. This is also an opportune time to discuss any understanding you may have of the “social determinants of health.” 

Strategy #5: Demonstrate your ability to be adaptive and flexible if you are applying for medical school during a gap year

Essay prompt #5 is a great place to discuss any activities or jobs you are working while applying for medical school. Discuss how these activities tie in to your long-term goals and how they have helped you grow as a person. For example, I worked as a research assistant during my gap year and was able to travel to several different countries for research conferences. In this instance, I discussed the responsibilities associated with my position and then discussed how travelling helped me expand my mind beyond the city I grew up in. Travelling has become a lifelong passion of mine now, since my gap years and I’ve been able to travel to several different international conferences in Rome and Madrid since starting medical school.  

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