How to Answer the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA Secondary Essays (With Example Responses) - Part 1

Medical School
April 29, 2020

Making Your UCLA Secondary Application Stand Out

UCLA Medical School, aka the David Geffen School of Medicine, gets nearly 10,000 applications each year and has an acceptance rate around 2 percent. This means that UCLA is a selective program and will look closely at all parts of your application when they decide which applicants to invite to their medical school interview days. A part of whether you get selected for an interview is based on your responses to the UCLA secondary essays. 

Below are some of the current (2019–2020 cycle) UCLA Medical School secondary essay prompts, examples of how to answer it, and a commentary on the quality of the answer.

I break this article down to two parts: with part 1 showing examples of what good answers would look like and part 2 showing examples of what bad answers would look like and the reason why. This is part 1, where I will show you some good examples of how to answer these UCLA secondary essay prompts. This is meant to give you inspiration and guidance on how to write your response in a short, but compelling and effective way. 

UCLA Secondary #1: Describe your involvement in the one most important non-academic activity in your life. (800 characters)

Example: I remember in kindergarten kicking and screaming when my mom pulled me away from my video games to go to piano practice. When I was younger, I avoided playing piano like the plague. I even froze during my piano recital because I didn’t spend enough time practicing and forgot the song midway. I learned my lesson to practice daily after that! In grade school, every day before dinner, I practiced the piano. It took time, but once I mastered the basics, I was able to create my own compositions and add my own style to my music. Piano taught me that discipline and consistency are the keys to developing a skill and this is something I apply to other aspects of my life. Now, I use piano as a stress reliever, and a way for me to switch off my academic brain and let my creative brain work.

Comments: This is 790 characters and it says a lot about the applicant. All the sentences weave together to tell the admissions committee a story about the applicant. It does not contain a lot of generic sentences with a lot of fluff or vague descriptions like “piano has helped me solidify my love of music.” All the sentences serve a purpose to the overall message (i.e. piano helped me develop my discipline and consistency, traits I’ve learned through piano, and I want to highlight these traits in my story). This applicant doesn’t just TELL you that he is disciplined. He paints that picture for the reader (i.e. every day before dinner, I played the piano). The applicant doesn’t try to list out all his piano abilities (i.e. I know music theory, I know how to compose a song, I know how to play piano better than anyone else). He tries to connect with his reader by focusing on ONE story, ONE outcome, ONE emotion (i.e. I was embarrassed at a piano recital, learned my lesson from that, and I learned that discipline is important to master a craft). The reader can relate to the emotions in the story (resistance, embarrassment) and has a sense of who the applicant is as a person in just 1 paragraph.

UCLA Secondary #2: What has been the one most unique leadership, entrepreneurial or creative activity in which you participated? (800 characters)

Example: While I was in college, my favorite course was an advanced music production course. I was classically trained in piano but I wanted to learn how to produce my own tracks. Our cornerstone project was to create a 5 song album. I was paired up with Dan and Jon. We all shared a love for hip-hop and jazz. We called ourselves Chord Concepts and started creating tracks that fused both music genres. Each of us had a special skill (like song writing, voice, mixing tracks) and used our strengths to create unique blends of sound. We would spend our weekends together in the studio figuring out creative remixes out of popular songs. Being part of Chord Concepts showed me the power of teamwork and drove home the saying that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Comments: This essay is 767 characters. The applicant chose to write about a creative activity that he could tie to a character trait. His creative activity is music production and the trait he is highlighting is that he works well in collaborative, team based projects. Medicine relies a lot on collaboration and teamwork, so this is a great trait to highlight in this answer. Be strategic when you answer these questions. Answer the secondaries to highlight personality traits that admission committees think are important traits physicians should have (i.e. in this case teamwork and collaboration).

Focus on one story and share specific details within the story that will stick with the reader. Admission committees read thousands of these secondaries so make your secondary stand out by adding small details they can remember. In this example, the applicant shared he created hip hop and jazz fusion remixes and got along so well with his classmates that they formed a group called Chord Concepts. These small details are likely to stick with a reader rather than a more generic sentence (i.e. I learned music production which helped me amplify my creativity in such a great way). Adding details helps the reader tie a story to an applicant name. This story is more likely to stick with someone reading your application (vs. generic statements) and this story might help jog their memory when they make their decision about your application. 

UCLA Secondary #3: What has been the one most important volunteer work you have done and why was it meaningful? (800 characters)

Example: Last year I volunteered with my church’s medical missions trip to the Philippines. I  helped refill medications at the pharmacy, take vitals for the triage nurses, and transport patients from the ER to the inpatient service. One day, as I was helping the triage nurse take vitals, and our patient fell to the floor. Within minutes, the doctors, technicians, and other nurses came by to help out. It looked like controlled chaos and everyone was doing their part to care for the patient as quickly and diligently as possible. I was told to hand over the IV supplies and it felt good to be able to contribute to the patient’s care in a small way. This experience showed me that even small contributions to a team can lead to a big difference in care. 

Comments: This essay is 746 characters. This prompt may be difficult for some applicants because they overthink it and feel pressure to write about a complex meaning and lesson behind their volunteer experience. Before you answer this question, break your answer down: describe the volunteer experience in 1 sentence, describe 1 lesson you learned, and describe 1 story that really highlights that lesson. This will act as your core 3 sentences, and all you have to do is add a few more sentences to fill in the gaps to make a cohesive paragraph. 

UCLA Secondary #4: What is the one most important honor you have received? Why do you view this as important? (300 characters)

Example: I received the Best Sister award from my sorority. It was meaningful because it is awarded to the sister who best exemplified our pillars, which are: Advancement of Women through Higher Education, Community Service, Increasing Multicultural Awareness, Sisterhood, and Friendship.

Comments: This is 279 characters. Sometimes it is the essays with less character limits (300 instead of 800) that are the most difficult to write. My advice would be to choose an award or honor that you think highlight your positive attributes and that can translate over to the practice of medicine. For instance, in this example diversity, service, and community are all positive attributes that patients would want to see in their physicians. You may have been awarded and were recognized for a lot of different things throughout college but be smart in choosing what honor you want to highlight for this answer and tie it into something you want admissions committees to know about you. What you choose doesn’t matter, but how you explain it is important. If you want to highlight that you received the fastest runner award in your running club, that is perfectly fine, as long as you can write why it was meaningful (i.e. maybe that award showed that you practiced diligently and trained every day to get that award). 

UCLA Secondary #5: What has been your most scholarly project (thesis, research or field of study in basic or clinical science or in the humanities)? Describe one and give the number of hours, dates and advisor. (300 characters)

Example: Last summer, I was part of the Biostatistics for Minorities Program. The program taught me how to use statistical principles to determine which proteins are the best biomarkers for early detection of arsenic exposure. The program was 4 weeks. The principle investigator in the lab was Dr. Kim Li. 

Comments: This is 284 characters. A scholarly project doesn’t have to be a long-term, complex project. It can be as simple as a project you did as part of your class or a presentation that you did for a summer program. Think about a project that is significant enough that you can talk about it in more detail if it comes up in the interview. 

Key Take-Aways regarding the UCLA Secondary Essays

  1. Answer the question, and don’t overthink it
  2. You only have a 300-800 character limit, so make each sentence count 
  3. Share specific stories and details (vs. vague blanket statements) to make your answers more memorable
  4. Remember the golden rule of one example, one lesson, one emotion when you are writing your answers and don’t over-complicate it

Go to UCLA SECONDARY ESSAY pt. 2, and Iwill show you some examples of what bad answers look like and comments on why I think these answers are written poorly. I will also comment on why you should avoid writing this way.

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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