An Interview with a Dean Medical schools have many methods for reviewing applications, though we found that most schools use a similar procedure to reduce the number of applicants to a reasonable pool from which to draw their incoming classes. This is not an easy task, since most schools receive thousands of applications for a first-year class of around 200 or fewer. According to a recent U.S. News & World Report, the average acceptance rate for the twenty top medical schools is about 7 percent, with quite a few of the schools accepting only 3 percent of their applicants. With daunting figures like these, we asked med school deans and advisors about the importance of the essays in this competitive process. Here's our composite version of an interview with a dean: What is the difference between application essays for medical school and the essays we wrote to get into college? The essays for medical school are more limited in scope. The college admission essay can often be about anything in the student's life, and applicants are encouraged to be creative, to have a "hook" that holds the reader. The essay for medical school, however, should be pointedly topical to medical issues. Essays that take the biggest risk are those that use creativity to do something different or unusual. This is usually not wise. Since it can be a turn-on or a turnoff, it's not worth the risk. How are essays evaluated? By whom? At selective medical schools, the process will be something like this: There is a two-tiered system. First, the application materials are screened to determine who will be invited for an interview. Vanderbilt School of Medicine, for example, receives about 3,500 applications for 104 slots. No medical school can offer an interview to every applicant. This primary screening committee, composed of the dean, the director of admissions, and one or two faculty members, utilizes the on-line application AMCAS (American Medical College Application Service), which contains one essay. For those students who have less than stellar numbersi.e., less than a B averagethe essay is moot. But for all candidates whose numbers are competitive for admission, every bit of the application is read. The second tierthose invited for the interviewmust complete the secondary application, which can require up to three more essays. A school may ask for a two-page autobiography, in which the student might say whatever he wants, and two shorter essays concerning any research experience the applicant has had and what it has meant to him, and any special skills that the applicant could bring to the medical school. A committee of three faculty members and perhaps one student will read these essays carefully, along with the rest of your credentials, and then, you hope, become your advocates. At this point, there can be some heated debate if there's a problem with the essay. Do you want a description of a person, anecdotes of real-life experiences, or just a listing of accomplishments? Descriptions and anecdotes, if they are relevant and well done, can have a positive effect on the overall quality of the essay. Since the accomplishments have been listed on the vitae sheet, rehashing them would not be useful, unless you make the right case. A good essay might very well repeat some accomplishments, but the difference will be in the treatment. You are writing a good essay if you are providing further description of exactly what you did, elaborating on what you got out of the experience, and defining what the experience meant to you. Should this essay be about medicine? It is important to link your essay subject to medicine. You may write a fascinating essay about your college baseball career, but it will be useless to your application if you don't makeBaer, Emily Angel is the author of 'Essays That Worked for Medical School 40 Essays That Helped Students Get into the Nation's Top Medical Schools' with ISBN 9780345450449 and ISBN 0345450442.