College Essays Demystified

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This is another in a series of posts about some memorable applicants, their essays, and how we found them together.

Alisha was a BA/BS-MD applicant from last year. Bright, funny, and very motivated to enter medicine, she was also quiet and introspective. Together, we tried for nearly a month to find her personal statement essay idea, to no avail. Alisha wanted to write about the yearly summer college programs she attended and the impact they had on her. These essays can be interesting, and I have done them before. But I kept saying, “let’s come back to it,” hoping we would find something better.

Alisha is Indian, comes from a very close family  Рmaybe too close. She told me that the nature of an Indian family is to do everything together, as a group. He also said that Indian parents (like hers) can be somewhat smothering. She had never shopped to cooked for herself, never made her own doctors appointments, in short: she craved independence. This made me wonder why she loved her summer college program experiences so much. Was it what she learned? Was it being in classes with other college-bound/future doctors? Or was it time away from her family, and with the freedom to be independent? Bingo! That was it.

Alisha ended up writing a beautiful essay about how much she loved her three weeks on a college campus every summer – eating when she wanted, shopping for food she could prepare herself in the dorm kitchen, keeping her own schedule, being independent. My concern was that her essay would come off unappreciative of her parents, or resentful of how much they fawned over her. But we got that right in subsequent drafts. The essay celebrated how much Alisha wanted to be responsible for her own life, and how those summer sessions helped her to appreciate the independent life that was ahead of her.

Alisha, University of Chicago, Class of 2025!