In this series of articles, I will be sharing excerpts of case studies on several of my former students (with their permission, of course). Names and other identifying information have been changed, but the material facts — MCAT score, GPA, etc. — are unchanged. The full case studies are published in my book, Pre-Med Success Stories.
I’ll present each case study in three parts — an introduction of the student, followed by an in-depth assessment of the student’s profile and chances for admission to medical school, and then finally I’ll explain what happened to the student once s/he applied.
In this article, I continue with part two on a client of mine who I shall call Aziz.
Part Two — Aziz’s Core Themes
It is crucial that, as a medical school candidate, you have a core theme so that you can tie everything together nicely. What exactly is a core theme, however? In short, it’s an area of focus in your application. A core theme is what drives you — it is what connects all the parts of your application into an idea(s) that you want the committee to understand when reading your credentials. It is perfectly fine to have more than one core theme. They just need to be clear and concise.
For Aziz, he had a few core themes that tied his application together. Firstly was his problem with undergraduate academics; he let himself go as an undergraduate due to financial pressures, mounting schoolwork, and was at a loss as to how he could fix it. Aziz incorporated this into his story and was able to turn this initially bad situation into a “success story” by contrasting it to how he had improved during graduate school. This brings me to Aziz’s second core theme — digging himself out of a hole. Through self-exploration, research, focusing on psychology, thesis work, and mentorships, he was able to excel and get himself out of the rut he was in. A few other, more minor core themes in Aziz’s application is his ability to teach effectively, his long efforts to fight mental health stigmas, his multilingual and diverse background, and his empathy with helping others. All of these values and themes tie his application together and present Aziz as a well-rounded candidate.
The Personal Statement
Aziz’s first draft was personable, but he didn’t connect any of his stories. He wrote of his experiences at the Healthy Livelihoods Assistance Program, his volunteer work at the Critical Care Unit at UCSD Medical Center, and his medical mission trip to Costa Rica. All of these were great, but they lacked something. I told Aziz that he needed to focus on his “success story” more because it was his comeback tale that would win medical schools over. I also started noticing a trend in his first draft — all of it was about him working with patients who had hit rock bottom, because they felt stigmatized and overwhelmed. There were definitely some parallels here to his own life and after telling him this, Aziz was very excited.
After a few edits, Aziz’s thought he had it finished. We decided to cut out the Critical Care Unit story since it seemed too bland. Aziz was fine with that. He really liked my parallels and realized that it was a theme running throughout all of his work. He wanted to help people that were in a similar state that he was in and this, I felt, definitely made him a more understandable, whole candidate. After we finished the last draft, Aziz was very thrilled with the final outcome. The narrative that we finalized was one he had always been searching for, but only now did he put it to words.
(Author’s note: You can read Aziz’s final personal statement in Pre-Med Success Stories.)
In part three of Aziz’s case study, I discuss what happened to Aziz and how everything turned out for him.