Archive | August, 2008

How to Write a Winning Scholarship Essay – Part 2: Planning the Essay

Now that you know how to think like a scholarship winner, it’s time to start writing like one. But we can’t just start writing, which is a big mistake I think some students make. Like anything important in life, you shouldn’t just jump head first into it. You need a plan.

As we learned in the previous article, you need to market yourself in a way that is conducive to the scholarship judges. So we need to learn how the judges are thinking, find what they are looking for, and emphasize those relevant qualities and experiences we have into our essays.

So how do we know what the judges are looking for?

Read the Scholarship Criteria Carefully

This should be obvious, but there are still students who don’t study this carefully enough. Most scholarships provide at least a few points or brief summary of the type of students they are looking for, both on the application form and on the website.

For example, the Loran Award states that their overall criteria are leadership, service, and character. In the application form, two of the three essays ask you to talk about a community service and leadership experience. As a result, most students just answer the questions normally, and hand in the application.

But hold on, there is a third criteria: character. In fact, the organization specifies the idea of “moral force of character”. What does this mean? If we do a bit of searching, we find a few character traits that are relevant: “honesty, integrity, courtesy, tolerance, maturity, and compassion”. Knowing this, we can then plan our essay to include specific experiences that emphasize some of these character traits, which is much superior to an essay which neglected them. These three criteria for the Loran Award were here for a reason, and ensuring that all three criteria were met in your essay answers is imperative.

So read the scholarship criteria carefully, and take advantage of all the information available. Make sure you address all of the criteria in your essays.

Read the Profiles of Past Winners

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How to Write a Winning Scholarship Essay – Part 1: Thinking Like a Scholarship Winner

By the time I had graduated from high school in 2006, I had won over $200,000 in scholarships. In the end I decided to accept the TD Canada Trust Scholarship for Community Leadership worth up to $60,000 over four years. In addition to that award, I was offered the Millennium National Scholarship, as well as the most prestigious scholarships from York University, Queen’s University, and the University of Western Ontario. All of these scholarships required applications and essays, and most of them also required interviews.

Before we delve into specifics about writing a great scholarship essay, it’s important that you understand the mindset of a winning scholarship student. The reason I was successful is largely due to my attitude and overall approach to the process.

It’s Not About Luck. It’s About Maximizing Your Chances

Most people would say that you need to be really lucky to win a major scholarship. So I guess you could say that I was extremely lucky to win so many. And it’s true, luck plays a role in winning scholarships – but it’s no different from the role luck plays everywhere else in life.

But it wasn’t just luck that allowed me to win as much as I did. It would be extremely unlikely for me to have been that successful on luck alone. It wasn’t coincidence that I was meeting the same students at a lot of my interviews. And it wasn’t chance that I know several students who won numerous major scholarships like I did.

And if you keep relying on the attitude that you need to be lucky to be successful, then you’re simply giving yourself an excuse from finding ways to improve your chances.

There is a Science to Writing a Winning Scholarship Essay

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What Major Canadian Scholarships are Available?

It’s amazing how much free money is out there for graduating high school students if you just look. Although there are literally hundreds of scholarships out there for Canadian students, I will be focusing this article on the background for some of Canada’s largest scholarships. That is, scholarships with a value of at least ~$5,000 x 4 years (this means $5,000 per year for 4 years = $20,000 in total). The main reason I am doing this is because these are obviously the most difficult to win (because so many students apply) and have the most intensive processes (which would probably require more advice).

The great thing about one of these major scholarships is that often if you just win one (or two), you have your entire undergraduate education paid for. How amazing would that be?

The focus of the article is just to introduce you to Canada’s largest scholarship programs. Knowing what scholarships to apply to is the first step – and unfortunately, many students don’t even get this far. There are many deserving students who do not know about these scholarships, so it’s my hope that you’ll now have the opportunity to give many of them a shot.

Advice on applying for these scholarships will be provided in future articles. This article is simply an introduction to help you learn about the great opportunities out there.

Major Scholarships are Almost Always Application-Based

There is an unfortunate stereotype in a vast number of schools that scholarships are completely mark-based. It’s true that most universities hand out automatic entrance scholarships only based on grades (i.e. all graduating high school students who go to York University with a 95% average will receive a $3,000 x 4 years scholarship automatically). There are also some fairly large scholarships that are completely mark-based (e.g. York University hands out President’s Scholarships worth $5,400 x 4 years to the 18 students with the highest entrance averages).

What most students don’t realize (because they don’t look!), is that York University’s largest entrance scholarships are not mark-based. And this is true for almost every university.

Most Canadian Universities have their Own Major Scholarships

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Man I feel so rusty at writing essays

I started my personal essay for U of T’s medical school late last week. Before this summer, I thought this was actually going to be a breeze for me. I have a ton of application/essay writing experience, but what I didn’t expect was how rusty I was going to be with this. In addition, writing essays for medical school is much different than scholarship/program applications. That being said, my overall approach is very much the same.

Anyways, so I started with a first draft, and I had a general idea of what type of message/theme I wanted to convey. But after two days of writing it, I was pretty frustrated, because I thought it was pretty awful. The ideas did not mesh too well and the flow was not great, in my opinion. And if the flow isn’t good, the essay isn’t good. So I took a break for one day.

After that break, I started thinking a bit more about the essay, and I realized the problem: I strayed away from the overall theme I had decided upon beforehand. I tried to include too many things, and frankly, you just can’t do that. You need to include things that make sense as part of your theme. You’re going to have to sacrifice some things, but the idea is that you’re not trying to tell your life story. You’re trying to tell that small bit of your life that relates to your path to medicine.

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Course Selection Strategy for Med Hopeful’s

There are lots of things to consider when choosing university courses in general. As a student applying to a professional school, however, your strategy for choosing course electives should be much different than say a student who hopes to work right after finishing his undergraduate degree.

Let me preface the article by first saying that there will be students who disagree with my viewpoint on the issue of course selection. I’m going to share with you my opinion on course selection, under the assumption that you are serious about maximize your chances for getting into medical school. If you aren’t, that’s fine, and you may very well disagree with some of my suggestions.

You have to take prerequisite courses for some medical schools

Like with your compulsory courses, some medical schools have prerequisite courses that you must take by the time of your admission to their school. For example, the University of Toronto’s medical school requires: “One of Humanities/Social Sciences/Languages; two Life Sciences”.

It is important that you find out what these prerequisite courses are, and make sure you complete them by the end of your application year.

Fortunately, there aren’t too many prerequisite courses in general. Most of them are usually part of the basic science undergraduate program, and tend to overlap with prerequisites of other medical schools. There are also some schools (e.g. McMaster and Western) that do not have any prerequisite courses.

But assuming you are applying to a reasonable number of medical schools, I advise you to fulfill all of the prerequisites.

Let’s face it, your marks matter

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If you aren’t preparing differently for each course, you’re doing it wrong

Getting high grades is a game

I have done extremely well academically in school my entire life, and I have done pretty well during my past two years of undergraduate biology. I also probably work less and study less than almost anyone, including students whose grades are as high as mine. The reason I have been so successful is because I understand that getting grades in school is essentially a “game”. The students who understand the rules of this “game” the best are the ones who get the highest grades.

Unfortunately, it would be impossible for me to explain all aspects of getting grades as a “game” in just one post. Instead, let’s focus this article on one key concept I always use when approaching my university courses, and one that I feel many students unfortunately neglect.

All professors test differently, therefore you should prepare differently

When I look around, I often see students approaching all of their courses in the same way. They take the same type and amount of notes in all their classes, and provide the classes with the same intensity of attention.

Yet if you saw me in class and watched how I paid attention, took notes, etc., you’d quickly notice that I approach all of my lectures very differently. I probably typed more notes than anybody in my biochemistry course last year, whereas I skipped a ton of my organic chemistry classes or barely even listened while I was there. Yet in the end, I aced both courses.

So why are my in-class habits remarkably varied? My habits are varied because the way the important (i.e. testable) information in my classes are delivered also vary. One of the most important attributes of a strong student is the ability to recognize what’s going to be on the test, and where to find that information.

Lecture-based vs. Text-book-based courses

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When should I take the MCAT?

Last month, a science counselor at my university asked me whether I felt that taking the MCAT after 1st year would be beneficial for some students. For those of you who don’t know, I decided to take the MCAT last summer after my 1st year of undergrad biology. I knew I wanted to do a NSERC summer research placement after 2nd year, but also felt that I did not have the discipline or work ethic to successfully study for the MCAT at the same time. And I also knew I wanted to apply to medicine starting in the fall of my 3rd year. So I gave the MCAT a shot that summer after 1st year, and fortunately ended up with a decently balanced 34 T.

So would I recommend taking the MCAT after 1st year?

The short answer is yes and no, and to be frank, the best time to take the MCAT varies from student to student. In my opinion, taking 1st year physics, chemistry and biology, as well as 2nd year organic chemistry, help tremendously in making studying for the MCAT easier. The MCAT has become a critical thinking test more so than ever, and so any other courses on top of that are just gravy, in my opinion. So assuming no other summer distractions (i.e. no research or other jobs), I honestly believe that taking the MCAT after 2nd year is probably optimal for most science undergrads (in fact, most Canadian premed students do this already anyways). Not only will you have experience with all the essential science knowledge already, but in terms of test-taking skills, you would obviously do better the older you are. Taking your MCAT after 3rd year is also an option, but I think doing so after 2nd year is slightly better since the science courses will be a bit fresher in your mind.

What if I want to do both summer research and the MCAT?

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