Avoid These 5 Mistakes When Writing Your Secondary Essays for the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA

Medical School
April 29, 2020

UCLA Secondary Essays pt. 2 (Avoid these 5 Mistakes)

n part 1 of this UCLA Secondary Essays series, I went through examples of well-written answers to the UCLA secondary essay prompts.

The takeaway points from that article was to:

Answer the question, and don’t overthink it
Make every sentence count
Share stories, not vague blanket statements
Be specific and share one example, one lesson, one emotion (not several)

If you have not checked out part one, read through the article, because this article will reference some of the advice in part 1.

This article will show you some examples of what bad answers look like and comments on why these answers are written poorly (so that you can avoid these mistakes).

UCLA Secondary #6: Has there been or will there be a gap between achieving your last degree (baccalaureate or other degrees post-baccalaureate) and the expected time of medical school matriculation? (300 char to explain if yes)

Bad Example: Yes, I applied to medical school last year and I was not accepted. I had a very low MCAT score and I had to take the MCAT 3 times. This was one of the main reasons why I didn’t think I got in. I was also taking care of my mom at that time, who was diagnosed with cancer and needed someone to take care of her while she was going through treatments. So I didn’t have time to study for the MCAT.

Comments: This answer is long and does not show the applicant in a positive way. This might be a difficult question to answer in 300 characters, especially if you are a non-traditional applicant but my advice would be to be direct and focus on details that show you in a positive way (i.e. don’t overemphasize you had to take the MCAT multiple times, but write a sentence on the positive outcome from retaking the MCAT like a better score). This answer overemphasizes the applicant’s weaknesses and does not end his answer in a way that shows growth or maturity from the experience.

A better way to answer this would be: Yes, I applied to medical school last year and I was not accepted due to a low MCAT. It was difficult to focus during that time because I was the primary caregiver for my mom during her cancer treatments. But with more time, I increased my MCAT score by 7 points the second time around.

The second answer does not overly emphasize the applicant’s weaknesses or personal issues, but instead focuses on his solution and his improvement (i.e. by having more time, I was able to study properly and increase my score). If you have a more complex situation or problem that resulted in a significant gap year (more than 5 years), then you can explain it under the secondary prompt about hardship or secondary prompt about dealing with a problem in your life. This section should be reserved for a short and direct answer to what you did during your gap year (for this example, this applicant was home as a primary caregiver for his mom and at the same time studied and retook the MCAT). The ending sentence should give an overall positive impression of you (for this example, the ending sentence focuses on how he did not give up and he improved his score).

UCLA Secondary #7: Describe a problem in your life. Include how you dealt with it and how it influenced your growth. (500 char)

Bad Example: While I was in high school, my parents got into a really bad divorce. I struggled with their divorce and went into a deep depression. I needed to see a counselor three times a week just to deal with it all. It was a really rough time in my life. But I learned how to deal with really difficult things from that experience. I learned all these coping methods to deal with hard issues in life. I know medical school will be hard, but I’ve learned how to deal with difficult things in the past, and I have the coping methods needed to get me through anything because I went through a deep depression.

Comments: The applicant chose to write about a very personal problem. I would suggest writing about more neutral topics and avoid controversial or deeply personal issues. Writing about deeply personal topics such as this can be a gamble. Five hundred characters is not enough to really write an answer that will do justice to your story and words can be easily misinterpreted. Be strategic about the underlying message behind your answers. The goal should still be the same in that all the answers to these questions should leave the admissions committee with an overall positive impression of you. Even if you are discussing a problem or difficulty, the overall message of your answer should display growth or maturity.

UCLA Secondary #8: Section to enter major work experiences, with 4000 char. to explain each experience.

Bad Example: I’ve worked at Disneyland in the summers from my junior year of high school to my 2nd year of college. I worked in the Tomorrowland and Frontierland restaurants. My responsibilities were mostly front of house type work and waiting tables. Over the summers I worked 40 hours a week.

Comments: The prompt states to list major work experiences, not write out an essay. Writing in a list format will be easier for the reader to go through and pick up the main points of your work history. Avoid industry jargon like” front of house” and describe your work responsibilities in a simple way (i.e. I was a host and I waited tables). You’ve already explained paid work experience in the primary application, but you can use this question to update the admissions committee on new work experiences or highlight important responsibilities you were given.

UCLA Secondary #9: Is there any hardship to which you would like the committee to give special attention in evaluating your application? If yes: Please explain. Include any geographic, language, economic, academic, physical, or mental factors: (500 char)

Bad example:

My brother and I lived with my grandparents in the Philippines until my mom could save up enough money to support us in the U.S. My parents divorced and my mom raised us as a single mom. For years, my mom had to work long hours in the hospital in order to keep her job and green card sponsorship from the hospital. I did odd jobs in high school in order to help my mom handle small expenses. Watching my family struggle with health and financial problems, from all the stress, I realized I wanted to go to medical school to help them and others.

Comment: This is a bad example because it focuses on the applicant’s family for most of the paragraph, with only the last sentence talking about her hardship and how she has grown from that hardship. Here is a version of that answer that is rewritten to focus more on the applicant, what she has she has gained as a result of the hardship, and positive personality traits she has developed from that hardship (diligence, resourcefulness).

Good Example:

My mom moved our family from the Philippines to the U.S. as a single parent. I grew up in a low-income neighborhood and I didn’t see much of my mom because she worked long hours. But I always had enough and I was grateful. Watching her work so hard, I did the same: I learned English quickly, worked a part-time job since I was 16 years old, and took on leadership roles in clubs. I learned to be diligent and resourceful, qualities that have helped me excel in life.

UCLA Secondary #10: Where do you see yourself postgraduate education? What experiences have led you to this goal? (500 char)

Bad Example: I volunteered as an emergency medical technician all throughout college and my postgraduate education goals are to be an emergency medicine physician. I learned so much from helping the paramedics and my strengths are dealing with emergencies where I have to think on my feet. We are the first to respond to a scene and it is a team sport to be able to quickly manage patients and get them to the hospital. Working with this team and handling emergencies is the reason I want to go to medical school.

Comments: This is a bad example because it is too generic. The applicant writes vague sentences (i.e. dealing with emergencies, learned so much from helping paramedics) and nothing about this paragraph is memorable. If you remember the golden rule from part 1 of this article, a good answer has to be specific: discuss one example, one lesson, one emotion. This would have been a more powerful and memorable paragraph if the applicant talked about one emergency call that he helped with and tied that back into Emergency Medicine. For example, this applicant could have written about the time he took a patient with arm weakness and trouble speaking to the emergency room for a stroke rule out. Then he could talk about why that story was so impactful for him and how it led to his interest in Emergency Medicine. The reader will remember details about that applicant’s answer more likely than if he wrote “I went to so many emergencies where I learned a lot.” A story is easier to remember, and it might jog the reader’s memory more when he makes a decision about the application (whether to offer an interview or to offer an acceptance).

Key Take-Aways regarding the UCLA Secondary Essays

Think about what kind of applicant you want to present to the admissions committee. Even if you had some issues in your academic records and went through hardships that caused delays in your application, write about these problems in a way that highlights your positive traits. At the end of reading these 10 prompts, you want the admissions committee to have the best impression of you. You want to convince UCLA that you deserve that interview spot.

Do you want to maximize your chances for an interview invite? Work with our expert medical school admission consultants to put your best foot forward through our secondary application editing services.

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