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Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Clear. Concise. Logical.

I guess my previous blog post comment in reference to the onsite essay ("we are seeing a LOT of people that need to work on their onsite essay skills") raised some eyebrows. I received three emails (since that was posted) specifically asking about the onsite essay.

I thought I'd take this opportunity to respond here on the blog so I can simply link to this post when/if I receive future questions about this particular aspect of the interview day.

While the actual interview itself is certainly a critical aspect of your visit to UCSF, the writing component is just as important. Your onsite essay should reflect your true writing abilities and preparedness to enter a University of California doctoral-level program. Since our biggest cut in the application process is based on the written/prepared application, you must have demonstrated strong written communication skills on your PharmCAS and Supplemental Application in order to be advanced to the interview stage. Your onsite writing skills shouldn’t deviate too much from what we observed in your prepared materials. Granted the circumstances are different (with prepared materials you have unlimited time to edit/proof versus the timed onsite writing assignment), both your prepared and onsite written essays should reflect strong written communication skills. As stated on the essay form itself, "The purpose is to test your ability to organize and coherently express your thoughts."  Rarely do we discuss the position an applicant takes on an essay topic (unless it's so fantastical that one can't help taking it into consideration.) Instead, we tend to focus on the applicant's ability to write clearly, concisely, and logically with a convincing flow of ideas -- with few grammar/syntax and spelling errors. In addition, the ability to compose an essay that clearly articulates a response to the question with adequate supporting details is key. 

Do we realize you are under pressure? Absolutely! Of course! However, this exercise is not a term paper or multi-page report. It is a fairly simple essay less than one-page in length. If an applicant cannot successfully complete this task, it makes it very difficult to advocate for their candidacy -- not just at UCSF but any doctoral program. 

I'd be curious to hear your feedback so please feel free to leave your comments. But remember, make sure they are clear, concise, and logical.

And because I hate text-only blog posts, here's a picture....


P.S. I used the word "fantastical". How crazy is that?

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

I personally think the topics themselves were what threw me off. They were topics that I would normally have no opinion/stance on and with not much prior knowledge of the topic, it was hard to clearly express the little thoughts I had on the prompt especially with the time restraint...

Anonymous said...

I understand that in order to evaluate an essay, it needs to be read. In addition, I understand that the admissions committee knows we are nervous and our writing abilities can be affected. however, is legibility taken into consideration? For me, I usually type my written work as I know that I have weak penmanship. While brain storming, I tried very hard to write slowly and neatly. While the beginning of my essay looks fine, I see a big transformation towards the middle and end of my essay as I reviewed my work. Would UCSF consider onsite essays to completed on computers in the future? thanks

Joel W. Gonzales said...

The essay must be legible in order to be "evaluate-able". It would be terrific if we could give everyone a laptop to complete the essay. However, as I mentioned in the post, this is an essay that is less than 2/3 of one page. We know people are nervous but that can't be an excuse for successfully completing the exercise. If applicants have adequately prepared for this portion of the day, it should be no problem. (Part of preparation includes being able to control your nerves and stay calm and focused in stressful situations.) How someone handles this task can be quite revealing as to how they might approach other high-pressure situations, like direct patient-care. Not always, but perhaps....

Anonymous said...

I felt that the essay topics were completely reasonable and really enjoyed writing about the topic I chose. Compared to other on site essays I had written at other interviews, I felt like the one at UCSF didn't draw from any specific background knowledge and really gave us a better shot at writing a good essay. At other interviews you're only given one essay prompt and have to write about that one, which in my opinion was a lot harder.

LisAAR said...

I personally felt that the prompts were very fair. There was a mix of prompts that required some background knowledge on interesting topics. If you didn't know anything about that prompt, no problem! There was another prompt that was very subjective and the answer was free ended. I had a lot of fun during this portion!

David said...

This thread has given me a lot of peace, so thank you Joel. In fact, I was under the impression that an adequate completion of the task resulted in a simple "check off" on the admissions requirements before the AdComm. Knowing your school takes it seriously, makes all the work I put into the essay practice worth it. This is only fair, given that ALL schools heavily weigh the onsite essays. I want to enter a doctoral program that is academic and research oriented, so if I am accepted or rejected because of my onsite written performance, I welcome the challenge!

Joel W. Gonzales said...

David: Thanks for your feedback. Your comments hit the nail on the head (in terms of how important the writing exercise is.) Kudos to you! Also, since you mentioned it -- I can't think of any section (in the evaluation of an applicant) that comes down to a simple "check-off". Everything we do (or ask for) is intentional -- which is why every aspect is so important.

Anonymous said...

I choose a topic that I thought would impress the AdCom. I justified a biased outline and forced an essay that was poorly supported and unfocused. I realized this when I re-read my essay before writing my conclusion, but there was little time to make changes. In retrospect, I shoulda-woulda-coulda picked a topic that was more appropriate to me. I now see an opportunity to improve my writing skills. Maybe I will start a blog ;)

 
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