Youth Canada

Making Sense

12-09-2008 by Joshua Liu

Making Sense

The following article is cross-posted from - a blog with entertainment and advice for budding physicians.

Imagine you are a scholarship judge or admission committees, and you are analyzing an application. It could be a scholarship essay, medical school essay, or something similar. Despite the specific qualities you are looking for, there is always one underlying question whose answer will consciously or unconsciously sway your opinion:

“Does it make sense?”

And I don’t mean grammatically (i.e. the sentences can be understood). For example, the medical school admissions committee might ask itself:

“Does it make sense for the applicant to become a doctor?”

For example, take Candidate A who says he wants to be a doctor because he is smart, likes science, and enjoys helping people. The problem with this argument is that it’s not convincing. I mean, is Candidate A saying that science teachers don’t help people? Or that medical researchers do not contribute to society in a meaningful way? From the admissions committee point of view, Candidate A has shown no real reason why it makes sense for him to be a physician. He has given no reason why he couldn’t be just as happy and successful doing something else.
Or take Candidate B whose family has a history of heart disease, which made her interested in human health and medicine. That is much more convincing, because she has an actual connection to the field. Candidate B has a genuine motivation to make strides in the field of heart disease. And because of this family tie, medical schools know she will be a better investment in that field, because she has a reason to be driven.
For all we know, Candidate A and B could be the same person who, in different realities, decided to talk about different things in their medical school application essay. But version B is much stronger.

What I’m saying is that you need to think deeply about your motivations, and how they affect how you present yourself as an applicant.


Being convincing and making sense is all about your motivations. Whenever you write an application essay, the most important thing is to reflect on your overall motivation and your smaller motivations. The overall motivation is why you are applying in the first place. The smaller motivations are why you did the things you are writing about (e.g. your volunteer work, accomplishments, etc.)
This is important because if you’re honest with yourself, and you write from the heart, your essay will be convincing no matter what.
A problem I see people have is that they think the only way to be successful with applications is to fit the mold of accomplishment and qualification. And this ends up being what a lot of students write about in their essays. They write as if they are entitled to be a physician because of their hundreds of hours of volunteering at the local hospital, for example. They write as if they need to prove they are qualified.
I think this is a mistake. It’s a mistake because when you write like this, you’re leaving out something much more important: your drive and your motivation. You are forgetting to answer the questions of how and why you got involved in these activities/accomplishments in the first place. While your accomplishments will hang there on your essay, it won’t necessarily jive with the rest of your writing.

Explaining your motivations will improve your essay ten-fold

If you’re going to talk about your hospital volunteering, also mention that story where you saw that Sick Kids Hospital commercial on television that touched your heart and made you want to get involved.
Because if you don’t, the admissions committee might think: this guy probably did it to just pad his resume.
If you’re going to talk about how you created a tutoring program for first year science students at your university, first talk about your positive experience as a tutor in high school.

Because if you don’t, the admissions committee might think: wait, so when did this person start liking to tutor?
If you’re going to talk about your summer research about genetic diseases, you might want to share your family history of genetic diseases.

Because if you don’t, the admissions committee might think: oh, this student is another one of those typical premeds who thinks he needs to do research to get into medical school, but doesn’t necessarily care about research in the first place.
The idea is that leaving out your motivation and background creates holes in your argument. It makes you sound less convincing. Because really, that’s what your application essay is: an argument of why you should be selected. Furthermore, explaining your motivation for all aspects of your essay makes your story complete.

Your argument needs to make sense. And it won’t make sense without your motivation.

JOSHUA LIU is currently a Biomedical Sciences student at York University. He is the founder of SMARTS: the Youth Science Foundation Canada's national youth science network, which connects over 300 young people and 200 schools today. He also currently sits on Shad International's Board of Directors. Joshua has spoken as a presenter, panelist, and keynote at numerous student conferences. He was named as one of Canada's "Top 20 Under 20" in 2005, and is a recipient of the TD Canada Trust Scholarship for Community Leadership.

For more articles like this one, check out Joshua's blog at

Image courtesy of user "joaobambu" at via Creative Commons License.