7 Tips for Applying to the University of Toronto

Writing UofT’s brief personal essays (BPEs) and autobiographical sketches (ABS) can be a stressful time. Hopefully the following tips compiled from personal experiences and advice from mentors are helpful for you.  

1. Take time to think. While it is easy to give a face value answer, it pays off to really think about any underlying themes the question may be trying to address. This means starting early, if you can! For ABS essays, take the time to reflect on your experiences. What did you enjoy about the experience? What were some challenges you faced and how were they resolved? What did you learn from it? What motivated you to do the activity in the first place? With only 250 words to talk about an activity you’ve probably spent countless hours on – what messages do you want the reader to takeaway?

For BPEs asking you to take a stance, begin by reflecting on where you stand on the topic. Also talk to other people about their opinions to gain different perspectives and research the topic on the internet to educate yourself. In addition, if you have time after you’ve written a draft, it could be useful to put it away for a few days before revisiting it with a clear head. 

2. Make it personal. While ABSs are all about your personal experiences, try to add personal anecdotes to BPEs as well. By adding personal touches, it not only captivates the reader with a unique experience, but also allows the reader to get to know you as a person. 

BPEs often ask you to take a stance and one of the best ways to back up your opinion is with a professional or personal life experience. The trick to minimizing the word count is to keep the “storytelling” portion short (i.e. the part where you’re explaining what happened) and instead, emphasize the “reflection” portion (i.e. why you chose to bring this up in the first place and how it relates). Keeping the storytelling portion less than 80-100 words (or 2-3 sentences) should give you enough room to reflect and explain the value of your story.

3. Make sure you answer the question. Part of the stress of writing BPEs is having the pressure to make your answer stand out within the tight word limit. While being unique and insightful is important, it is just as important to make sure you answer the question being asked! A good way to ensure you do so is to answer the question outright in the introduction sentence or paragraph. You can also use a conclusion sentence to summarize your main points, especially in an argumentative essay.

4. Draw a general conclusion (if appropriate). In ABS essays and certain BPE essays, it could be helpful to draw a general conclusion on the insight you gained or how you can apply it going forward. How can whatever you learned help you as a healthcare professional? This gives a well-rounded conclusion to your essay while showing that you’ve thought about the future.

5. Make every word count. One of the trickiest parts of writing the essays is being confided to the word limit. Part of why the word limit is imposed is to ensure the essays are clear and concise (a phrase repeatedly mentioned in the admission blog posts!) 

Begin by ignoring the word limit and getting down all your ideas – it’s okay if you’re even double the word limit at this point. As you proofread and distill your writing, ask yourself what messages you’re trying to convey and then do it in as few words as possible. Taking out filler words and condensing sentences will help you get straight to the main idea. 

Another exercise to try is skipping sentences as you read through. If you find that you can skip a sentence and your main message is still being completely conveyed, you probably either don’t need that sentence because it doesn’t add value or can merge that sentence into another one. This method helps to get rid of filler sentences/phrases. 

Lastly, if you’re really running low on word count, you can try removing every time you used the word “the” from your essay, and only adding back the ones that are essential for comprehension. Through doing this, you may realize that the word “the” is not always necessary for comprehension and just adds to the word count.

6. Ask people for feedback. Have a few people read it over and ask them for their opinion and/or to edit for grammar mistakes. Try to pick people from different walks of life, or who you feel have different opinions from you. Having another pair of eyes to read over your work can help correct any tunnel-vision, while possibly giving you a new perspective to work with. But if you find you’re receiving too many conflicting opinions, remember that at the end of the day, it is your essay, so go with your gut feeling on what you think is best!

7. Have a look at how UofT assesses BPEs. When in doubt, look here:  https://md.utoronto.ca/news/admissions-blog-brief-personal-essays-and-how-they-are-assessed

The competency clusters (i.e. CanMEDS Framework) are the key takeaway. While covering the clusters is pretty much a must for ABS essays, try to do so in BPEs as well. This will mean choosing ABS activities that cover more than one cluster and elaborating on how it exemplifies the specified characteristics. 

Please keep in mind that these tips are in no way comprehensive and should not stop you from adding your own personal touch to your essays. Best of luck with your essays!

Check out more blogs on the medical school application process:
Start Preparing your CV and ABS for Med School
5 Tips for Applying to Med School
Perfecting your OMSAS ABS
Write a Solid Personal Statement

Book an appointment with our University of Toronto consultants today and get an early start on your applications!