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Medical Keck School of Medicine of USC Secondary Application Essay Tips


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“For more than a century, the doctors of the Keck School of Medicine of USC have cared for those of us who are most vulnerable. We accomplish this through excellence in research, clinical care and education.”

The Keck School of Medicine of USC is one of the largest teaching centers in the United States, with 186 spots per year. Students rotate through Los Angeles County + USC Medical Center, Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles, Keck Hospital of USC, and Norris Cancer Center.

The admissions committee evaluates applicants on academics, as well as personal motivation, integrity and ethics, reliability, research experience, extracurriculars, and service commitments. They do not require any specific undergraduate courses, but state that they expect applicants to do well in their chosen major. A hallmark of the first year is the Introduction to Clinical Medicine course, in which students can choose to participate in a Longitudinal Primary Care Community Clinical Experience. Students are required to complete a Scholarly Project in bench or clinical research, by the end of their four years.


Keck SOM of USC Secondary Application Essay Questions:
The questions on the Keck secondary are some of the most unique ones out there, and show Keck’s desire to look behind the numbers and see the individual.

Keck SOM Short Answer Questions
The following questions allow the Admissions Committee to become acquainted with you as an individual. Please answer the questions in 3-5 sentences.

  1. What is the most fun you’ve had lately?
    Think of a time when you felt yourself living in the moment. It does not have to be a medicine-related activity, which might seem too forced. Good examples are being with a favorite person, having a conversation on a topic you care deeply about, or doing an exciting activity for the first time. It’s a chance to reveal your adventurous, fun-loving, or human side. If you write about travel or sports, think of something unique about that moment that made it special to you. I like to approach this essay by having clients write an entire page, and then look back to see which sentences speak most about who they are at their core.

  2. If you had to give yourself a nickname, what would it be?
    Think of this question as an opportunity to highlight a personal strength. Are you a great listener? Name yourself after something with big ears. Are you a fun teacher? Think of a professor from literature or the movies. What trait do you have that would be there regardless of your desire to pursue medicine? Remember, there are many different personalities and qualities of excellent doctors, so there is no one way to answer this. Your answer can be serious, but a touch of humor always helps.

  3. If you had enormous wealth, how would you allocate your charitable donations?
    The hardest part of this question is answering in only 3-5 sentences! There are many ways to donate money, but only a few of them speak to who you are, so avoid reciting a laundry list of worthwhile charities. Think of a person in your life with challenges, and a charity that would benefit them. Or maybe you volunteer for a group that does good work, but needs more funding. The “why” of this question tells us who you are, so choose a cause, briefly describe it, and use the majority of the space to tell us why you selected it. This question is designed to let you share your compassionate side.

  4. Describe a situation in which you didn’t get something you felt you deserved.
    The challenge of this question is to avoid complaining. The key is to show that you have resilience, self-insight and an ability to grow. Think of an unfair thing that happened to you, and then describe how you pushed on (resilience), learned something new about yourself (self-insight), and wound up better off for having had the experience (ability to grow). Most importantly, show that you can recover from setbacks and move forward on a new path.

  5. Are you a member of a group that is under-represented in medicine? What does this mean to you?
    Keck uses the AAMC definition of “underrepresented in medicine” (UIM) which include Hispanics/Latino-Americans and Blacks/African-Americans. Although they also strive to recruit students who are socioeconomically disadvantaged, first generation college graduates, and LGBTQIA, these are not currently included in the definition of under-represented in medicine. One might argue with this, and there is ongoing debate as to whether these need to be included. If you are unsure if you should answer this question, contact Keck’s diversity office. If you have a good case, they will probably be happy to read your essay.
Keck SOM Essay Question #1
If you had the power to change anything, what would it be? Please answer the question in 150 words or less.

This question assesses both your core values and your ability to think of unintended outcomes. Don’t be afraid to get creative, philosophical, or even a little outrageous in your answer. World peace, a cure for cancer, end of child abuse (or poverty or hunger) can all work well, especially if you have a vested interest in one of these areas. If none of these feel right to you, there are other surprising, yet thoughtful ways to answer this question. You could change an aspect of human physiology, such as what we breath or how we process memories. You might imagine new ways to communicate, handle conflict or avoid illness. As you write, consider all the good that will come from your change, but also remember to explore the not-so-good. Are the overall consequences positive enough so that you still want the change?

If you are able to consider multiple impacts of change, you are well on your way to understanding the medical maxim, “Primum non nocere” or, “First, do no harm.” Considered by many to be the most important tenet of bioethics, a failure to consider this principle can lead to disastrous results. Show the admissions committee that you are able to look beyond the obvious benefits of a new medical procedure or policy before making potentially harmful and irreversible decisions. You can still go forward with your change (world peace sounds pretty good right about now), but with a mindset prepared to anticipate and deal with any setbacks or complications.


Keck SOM Essay Question #2 (Optional)
Is there anything else you would like us to know? If yes, please answer the question in 200 words or less.

To answer, or not to answer, that is the question! Many successful applicants leave the optional essay blank, so don’t worry if you think your application is stronger without it. However, if you feel like there is an important issue you did not get to write about, such as achievements in research, leadership, volunteer work, or something else unique about you that was not described in your PS, go for it! They are basically saying, we know we didn’t ask everything, so go ahead and tell us. This is a great place to tell them that Keck is one of your top choices, but only if you can support your claim (you have strong family connections to the area, you speak fluent Spanish, or you hope to work in a specific research lab). You might discuss your desire to take advantage of a unique Keck program (e.g. the Longitudinal Primary Care Community Clinical Experience). Whatever you write about, make sure it is supported by the rest of your application. To make your essay stronger, limit it to one subject. A list of unrelated facts will confuse and bore the reader. You want to leave them with an impression of what makes you interesting and special, so stay on topic and conclude with a message they will remember.

If you would like professional guidance with your Keck School of Medicine application materials, please consider using Accepted’s Medical School Admissions Consulting and Editing Services, which include advising, editing, and interview coaching for your Keck School of Medicine application materials.

Keck School of Medicine Application Timeline:

AMCAS Applications Due November 1, 2018
Secondary Applications Due December 3, 2018
Interview Invitations Sent July 2018 – February 2019

*Strong recommendation: Submit your secondaries within two weeks after receipt.


***Disclaimer: Information is subject to change. Please check with individual programs to verify the essay questions, instructions and deadlines.***


Suzi Schweikert is a former UCSD School of Medicine adcom member who has mentored students in healthcare programs for over 20 years. She has a BA in English Lit from UCLA, an MD from UCSD, and an MPH from SDSU. Want Suzi to help you get Accepted? Click here to get in touch!

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This article was originally posted on blog.accepted.com.
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