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We Dissect Kathryn's College Essay!

We Dissect Kathryn's College Essay!

Kathryn is the latest brave soul to allow a complete stranger to review her college essay publicly. Can we give her a warm round of applause for that alone? I can only write in dark corners of libraries and coffee shops with my laptop situated so that no one can see the screen, not even a little bit from the side. Then, for good measure, I shoot people looks that say, “mind your beeswax!” and “STOP SEEING ME.”

Kathryn, however, is made of stronger stuff, and she’s agreed to share her essay, in which she recounts the coolest game of Operation ever. Here goes:

Essay prompt:

Evaluate a significant experience, achievement, risk you have taken, or ethical dilemma you have faced and its impact on you.

Kathryn’s response:

“Ok, now that you’ve gone through all of the basics of using the laparoscope, think you’re ready for the real deal?”

The summer of my junior year, I had been accepted into the University of Cincinnati’s Health Careers Exploration (HCARE) program at their College of Medicine. During the program, we were able to shadow doctors in various fields, to receive biology lectures from teaching assistants, and to visit medical institutions. Today, we were visiting Ethicon Endosurgury, a company that makes surgical equipment.

Our most exciting moment was when we were given the opportunity to demo some of the laparoscopic surgery simulations that the medical students used at the medical college. To me, this was a dream come true. Medicine has always interested me and to be able to use it in a first-hand experience would let me be able to display my “medical prowess” to my peers, not to mention the other doctors that would be helping us with the simulation. The numerous biology lectures we had had during the duration of the HCARE program related to a comment my orchestra director had made: about the increased finger dexterity musicians possessed gave me an inflated sense of my abilities (quote this). However, I didn’t know this yet. All I knew at this point was that I was I was confident that in my ability to remove a digital gallbladder and would be successful with this medical procedure.

Now fast forward to the present time. Our group of kids, dressed in surgical gowns, hair caps, and foot covers for added effect, are standing in a stark-white surgical room surrounded by beeping machines and computer screens. The whole scene exuded professionalism and further boosted my confidence. As I stepped up to the simulator, I was convinced that I would do the best surgical procedure that the doctors had ever seen.

As I was handed the simulation controls and the program popped up on the screen. The gallbladder, a greenish clemantine-sized ball, was nestled against the large rust-colored liver bed. The objective in my mind was simple: remove the connective tissue around the common bile duct and then clamp and clip the vessel. My partner would perform the actual removal, carefully cutting around the gallbladder until it could be bagged and removed.

By the time the all-clear signal was given, I was like a horse chomping at the bit. I eagerly plunged my left-hand probe into the computer – and promptly stabbed the instrument into the liver.

At that moment, my inflated sense of confidence disappeared entirely. I stared at the screen, trying to comprehend what had just happened and how I could cauterize the gushing wound before it was “game over” for me.

The remainder of the simulation was a blur of shaking hands, haphazard stitching, and prayers that my nightmare would be over.

Yes, the surgery, in my inexperienced mind, was challenging, but then I realized that surgeons performed countless procedures like this day in and day out. They chose to spend countless years in school learning, testing, and training to be able to perform multiple surgeries.  As a result of their dedication and perseverance, they acquired the ability to physically heal others in an intimate way that no other profession could ever hope of achieving. Thinking back on my experience at Ethicon, I was able to see past the mind-gripping terror I had experienced and reflected on the miracle I had performed that day. Using modern technology, I was able to go inside a body and remove a diseased organ. With the click of a button and the twist of a probe, I was able to save someone’s “life”. I had the power to make a change for the better.

From that day forward, I became dedicated to following this new passion of becoming a physician. No matter how many years it will take, how many tests I will have to write, and how much practice I will have to accomplish, I know that the happiness of curing my patients will be worth it. I can help save lives, one at a time, and, more importantly, learn not to not be mastered by fear.

My feedback:

Nice work! You did a great job of establishing yourself as smart and motivated, yet humble and self-aware. Self-deprecating humor, when done well and not overused, endears you to your reader. It takes maturity to make fun of yourself and I think that will appeal to the admissions folks, who are looking for someone who’s confident and put-together, but also eager to have new and uncomfortable experiences—and to learn from them.

For the most part your writing is strong and clear and gets to the point. You successfully build tension, then release it, and you seem to have a good sense of rhythm.

I do think there’s room for improvement. There always is! Let’s start with the nitty-gritty.

1. Spelling and general proofreading

“Endosurgury” should be “Endo-Surgery” and “clemantine” should be “clementine.” In the last sentence of the third paragraph you have an extra “I was,” and a “that” after confident, which doesn’t belong, and in the very last sentence of the essay you have an extra “not.” (If you were trying to decide where the “not” should go, remember to avoid splitting infinitives. So it should be “learn not to be mastered by fear.”)

A great way to catch spelling errors and extra words is to read your essay backward. Or have a friend (or a SparkLife writer!) read it, or take a break and look at it again with fresh eyes.

2. Setting the scene and building tension: show, don’t tell

I love your creative opening quote, but the sentence that follows could be stronger. What about “It was the summer after my junior year, and I had been accepted…”? That has more of a “painting a picture” feel to it. Or, “At the end of my junior year [or whenever it was], I was accepted into University of Cincinnati College of Medicine’s Health Careers Exploration (HCARE) program. Over the course of [however long it was] during the summer, we shadowed doctors…” (Note that I moved and removed a couple words to condense things; I’ll get into this more in the next point.)

As you conclude the third paragraph, I think you can build the tension in a more understated way. All you really need to say is: “At this point, however, I was absolutely confident in my ability to remove a digital gallbladder.” (Side note: I love “digital gallbladder.”) If you tell the story clearly, the humor in your hubris will come across without you calling it out so explicitly.

Similarly, in the next paragraph, I would take out “for added effect.” The description of their medical getups adds effect on its own.

3. Excess verbiage, overuse of “be,” and passive voice

In my recollection, high school English teachers were always telling us to avoid passive voice and forms of the verb “to be,” in order to tighten and strengthen our writing. I don’t think you should follow this rule to a fault; that approach can end up making your writing stiff and overly formal, and in an essay you want some rhythm and flow. That said, there are a couple instances, in addition to the revisions I’ve already suggested, where I think your essay could use a little condensing.

For one: “Medicine has always interested me and to be able to use it in a first-hand experience would let me be able to display my ‘medical prowess’ to my peers, not to mention the other doctors that would be helping us with the simulation.” I understand why you’re using the be-ables—you’re conveying the idea that you were given a rare opportunity—but I think they clutter the sentence a bit and there are ways to avoid them. Also, let’s take out “other” since there’s no mention of a first group of doctors. What about something like this? “Medicine has always interested me, and my eyes widened at the opportunity to not only gain first-hand surgical experience, but also to show off my ‘medical prowess’ to my peers and the doctors leading the simulation.” Eh?

You might also simplify/clarify the end of this sentence: “The remainder of the simulation was a blur of shaking hands, haphazard stitching, and prayers that my nightmare would be over.” How about changing the end to “and prayers that my nightmare would soon end”? (I inserted “soon” because even if you were enjoying the simulation, you’d want it to end eventually.)

4. Tense and chronology

“The numerous biology lectures we had had during the duration of the HCARE program related to a comment my orchestra director had made: about the increased finger dexterity musicians possessed gave me an inflated sense of my abilities (quote this).”  It seems like this part needs some polishing and you’re aware of this. As you revise/replace this section, just remember to be clear about tense and order of events.

“Now fast forward to the present time.” To me, the end of the previous paragraph sounds like we are already in the “present,” or the moment when the action of your story takes place. If you’re going to say this, then firmly establish the previous paragraph in the past. Otherwise, remove it.

5. The moral of the story

Now, only you know what you learned from your own experience, so take this with a grain of salt, but I feel like you might tweak the take-home message you present in your conclusion. You describe the experience as empowering, inspiring, and motivational—but it seems like it was humbling as well. It burst your bubble of confidence and showed you just how much you have to learn in the next decade of your life. And because you love to learn and look forward to all the education and hard work in your future, this experience was thrilling, not demoralizing. If it had been easy, it wouldn’t have been worthwhile.

I’m not so sure the moral is about mastering fear, since it sounds like you weren’t afraid (initially, anyway). Maybe it’s more about how the surgical simulation, in that it demanded immediate action, brought you out of yourself—an experience it seems like you would value as someone whose life goal is to help others.

All in all, I think you’re well on your way. What’s really great about this essay is that your passion for your chosen field comes across so clearly. You geek out on the thing you love. And that’s great—because as you probably know, you can’t just be infatuated with the idea of being a doctor; you need to be in love with the process of being a doctor. This experience allowed you to get a taste of that process, and you loved it! That’s a great sign.

So kudos, Kathryn. In 15 years you can totally remove my gallbladder. Then put it back where you found it.

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Topics: Life, College Advisor
Tags: college, writing, essays, writing help, college essays, admissions essays, college admissions essays

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