When you're working on your medical school applications, you want to do everything you can to make them perfect. However, there's a good chance that you are not perfect and that you have some blemishes in your background. Although medical school applications are standardized and don't necessarily allow for a lot of exposition beyond the standard questions, there is one area where you do have the ability to mix in some additional information about your background: the addendum.
Submitting an addendum is entirely optional. Yes, many applicants do submit them, but it is often out of necessity—they submit an addendum because they need to explain something in their background. If there is nothing in your application that calls for additional explanation, then there is no need for an addendum. Definitely don't create one simply to have one!
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Having said that, there are certainly instances in which you will want to submit an addendum. Here are three good reasons to go the extra mile and include an addendum with your application:
1. Poor academic performance in college: If you have ever been placed on academic probation or your transcript shows a severe dip in your grades at one point, then you should explain what happened. Particularly if there's a reasonable explanation, such as a personal tragedy or some other event outside of the classroom that affected your academics, this is the perfect opportunity to set the record straight.
However, even if you don't have a good reason for the dip in your performance, you will still need to acknowledge the weakness. In this case, your mission is to briefly convince the admissions committee that you have the smarts, discipline, and dedication to guarantee that it won't happen again.
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2. A brush with the law: If you have any sort of criminal mark on your record or were dishonorably discharged from the military, you will need to address it here. In the short space that the addendum allows, you should quickly explain what happened and then highlight what you learned and how you have grown since then.
You may be tempted to leave this out of your application, but you can safely assume that the school will conduct a background check and will find any blemishes on your record. It is far better for the school to hear about it from you than from someone else.
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3. Accounting for other gaps in your application: The last reason you may want to include an addendum is if you took time off from college, or if you have been out of college for a couple of years and don't have a tidy story about what you have been doing in the meantime. It is far better to be proactive about this than to hope that the school won't notice a gap in your background. Address it, explain what you did in that time (even if it was not amazing, groundbreaking work), and leave it at that.
Remember that the addendum is short—no more than two to three paragraphs—so you will need to focus on one thing and get right to the point when addressing it. Admissions officers are generally a reasonable lot and are willing to hear you out, so you don't need to devote too many words to begging and pleading.
When in doubt, give them what they need to fill in any holes or answer any questions that they may have. This is a much better strategy than leaving admissions officers to guess about what kind of applicant you are!
Scott Shrum is director of admissions research at Veritas Prep.