McMaster Health Sciences: Supplementary Application Guide

Now that you understand the basics of applying to the McMaster BHSc program, you must be wondering how to maximize your shot at getting in. Although I chose not to attend, I was accepted into the program in 2006.

Keep in mind this is based on my opinion and experience. I recommend that you think critically about my suggestions and see where it may benefit you in your application. Without further adieu, here are MedHopeful’s 10 Tips for a Successful McMaster BHSc Application:

1. Maximize your mid-term marks – final marks don’t matter

This advice goes for any specialized undergraduate program or scholarship you are applying for. Scholarships and undergraduate programs, like BHSc, review applications in the middle of the year, only after seeing mid-term marks.

What does this mean for you? It means don’t fret about getting a super high final average. Work your tail off in your first semester, and get midterm marks as high as possible. In fact, if you go to a semestered school, you might want to take your easier courses in your first semester – that way you have the highest midterm marks possible.

Once those are submitted, feel free to take it a bit easier. McMaster’s BHSc, for example, may accept you when they see your midterm 95 average, and it doesn’t matter whether you end up with a 90 average – you have already gotten in.

2. Start your supplementary application well in advance

It’s easy for students to procrastinate their supplementary application, panic when they start it the night before, and submit a piece of work that is nowhere up to par with what they are capable of. Don’t fall into this trap!

I suggest you start your supplementary application at least a month in advance. You’d be surprised at how difficult and time consuming it can be to brain storm ideas, write drafts, re-write drafts, and then go through revisions. While we have all heard of miracle cases of successful applicants completing their applications the night before – yes it happens, but this is rare. Don’t leave your chance up to luck. It’s just way too much work to do in one night.

Could you “complete” your application in one night? Sure. Would it be your best possible application? Probably not.

3. Always brainstorm and outline first, then write

Never just dive into typing up an answer. The best answers come from strong preparation.

Start by questioning the question: why is the BHsc program asking me this question? How will my answer to this question help them in the selection process? What do I think they are looking for in an answer? Really put yourself in their shoes and try to dissect why they have chosen this question, and subsequently, how you should approach it.

Then brainstorm: what are all of the different ways you could approach this question? The different ideas you could use? The different examples from your life you could draw on? Why pick one over the other? Figure out what all your options are for how you could answer the question, and then figure out which option would provide you with the best essay answer. You’d be surprised how many great alternatives you miss out on just by using the first answer that comes to mind.

Then outline: In 5 to 6 points, outline your introductory idea, closing idea, and 3-4 main ideas/examples in between. Use this as an opportunity to organize your structure for answering the question and building appropriate transitions between ideas. Doing so will save you a lot of time from typing up full, comprehensive sentences and then realizing you didn’t want to use those ideas after all.

Finally, write: Join those ideas together and build your style and eloquence into it and you should have a fantastic answer.  Just make sure you don’t skip those first few steps!

4. Research the BHSc program and prove you are a good match

For whatever essay question you are working on, thinking about whether there is an opportunity to sell yourself as a candidate who fits their program. For example, if the question was “how do you learn best?”, you may want to discuss concepts such as problem-based learning, self-directed learning, etc – the very types of learning used in the BHSc program. That way, you are able to hint that you would be a good fit for their program without explicitly saying so. It would be a mistake to say you would love an education based on sitting through lectures.

So how do you learn what the BHSc program is about? There are a couple of ways. One is to talk to current students or past alumni of the program. Learn the courses, the objectives and the lingo used. The other excellent resources is the BHSc website under “About BHSc”, which has links to a lot of information about the structure of the program itself.

5. Market yourself whenever possible

When you apply for the McMaster BHSc program, there is no resume or place to list your accomplishments and activities. As such, the supplementary application is your only opportunity to describe such things and help yourself stand out.

If you are asked to “describe a time when you were a leader”, for example, be smart about it. Pick an experience that would help you stand out among the applicants. Maybe that means picking the experience where you had the greatest leadership role or the largest impact. If you won some major award for that leadership work, mention it! The questions are your only opportunities to make yourself standout.

Even when the questions are not directly asking to describe yourself, always look for ways to market yourself – just make sure it is relevant. For example, let’s say one of the essay questions were “why is it important for health care workers to be compassionate to patients?”. Sure, you could spend the whole essay speaking theoretically. However, if you were actually a volunteer with hospital patients, you could make your essay even stronger by reflecting on your experiences and what you learned.

Why is this so important? Think about how many students across Canada have similar marks. There is a reason the minimum grade to apply to the BHSc program is 90% – good marks are just too common nowadays among high school students. The supplementary application is really your only way of standing out. Recognize that, and take advantage of it.

6. Always provide evidence to support your ideas

Supplementary application essays are still short essays after all. If you’re trying to make a point or statement, make sure you back it up. If you say you have strong leadership skills – prove it. If you’re making a comment about society, do some research, find real life events currently or in history that support your position. Evidence provides credibility to your ideas and adds flavour to your answers.

7. First person vs third person speech? The answer: it depends

Students always wonder whether it’s okay to talk in the first person, or whether that’s too informal. The truth is that it depends on the question. The short answer is that if you are ever going to talk about yourself, whether it be because the question is directly about you (e.g. “tell me a time when you resolved an ethical dilemma”) or because you used an example from your life to support your answer, then you should talk in the first person. Use “I”, “me”, “myself”, whatever – it’s fine, as long as it’s relevant for that question. There is nothing wrong with writing in the first person for these essays. In fact, when appropriate, I suggest you do.

8. Clear and concise first, style second

Students are always concerned about the “style” of their essay answers. Does it sound cool? Does it have a stylish introduction? While these are nice aspects to have, remember they are not the most important.

Above all, your essay must be easy to understand to the reader. Basically, that means writing clearly and concisely. That means saying what you want to say in as few words, and as easily, as possible.

You only have 1500 characters for each essay answer. That’s about 200-250 words. Or 2 paragraphs. Believe it or not, that’s really not much. If you want a well thought out, comprehensive answer with supporting evidence, you need to focus on being clear and concise, and getting rid of the “fluff”.

9. Get feedback from others and revise

This is one of the main reasons why you should start your supplementary application early – so you have time to get feedback from others, think about it, and make necessary changes. Who do you ask? People you trust can make your essay better – parents, teachers, colleagues who write well.

10. Submit at least 1 day in advance

Most students end up procrastinating their essay on the last day and submitting just before midnight. The worry is that too many students submitting at once might crash the server, or worse, your Internet suddenly stops working at the most inopportune time! We highly doubt the McMaster admissions team will care if your neighbourhood had a blackout at 11:59pm. Keep in mind, they still have 3,499 other applicants to choose from.

So be smart and be safe – submit your application one day early. Or at least a few hours ahead of the last second possible. You put all this hard work in to a great application – don’t let it go to waste because of a bit of bad luck! Better safe than sorry.


Getting into McMaster’s BHSc program is tough. Perhaps the toughest undergraduate program to get into in Canada. But if you follow my 10 tips for success, I think you will have greatly enhanced your shot at admission.

Read the rest of the McMaster Health Sciences series: