Michelle Chen: medical school graduate, former college essayist

Meet an SN&R College Essay Contest winner 10 years later

Michelle Chen, winner of SN&R’s 2010 College Essay Contest, graduated medical school very recently.

Michelle Chen, winner of SN&R’s 2010 College Essay Contest, graduated medical school very recently.


In 2010, SN&R rolled out its annual College Essay contest. Since then, it has given local high school students the opportunity to share the personal essays required for many college applications. They have shared powerful stories about their struggles and triumphs, about the paths that led them to where they are. That inaugural year, Mira Loma High School senior Michelle Chen won first place with an essay about her grandfather’s passing when she was 8 years old and how her interactions with him led her to pursue a career in medicine. She received her undergraduate degree from UC Berkeley and just graduated from Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City. We checked back in with Chen to see how that journey was working out.

How’s things?

Things are good. I’m just still in New York. I just graduated a couple days ago. Yeah. I mean, things are OK, things have finally calmed down, just kind of getting things settled in my new apartment.

What are you up to these days?

So I just graduated this past Thursday from medical school, and this July 1 I’m starting residency over at Montefiore, which is a hospital in the Bronx. So I’ll be there for internal medicine residency for the next three years. So that’s what I’ll be doing in New York, and for now I’m just sort of trying to relax and enjoy the time off I have before I start my new job and everything.

How is that? Being committed so many years into doing this?

Yeah. Well, I think, for me, that it wasn’t so bad because I knew for a really long time that I wanted to do this—and it’s basically the main topic of the college essay that I wrote to get into, like, the personal statement I wrote to get into colleges. So, I’ve known for a long time that I wanted to do this, so for me it wasn’t so difficult … because this just kind of felt right. … I know for a lot of people this is something they decide a lot later on, like they decide to have a career change after working in something completely different for a few years. But for me, I never really went there, I just sort of straight shot it from high school and yeah. Now I’m here.

Did you have any doubts along the way?

Yeah! One thousand percent, all the time. I think that with each step you kind of worry that you’re not going to make it to the next one, so in high school I was like, what if I don’t get into a good college that sets me up for med school? And like, in college, you worry like, “OK, what if I don’t have good enough grades or good enough test scores to get into med school in the first place?” And when you get into med school, you’re like, OK, now I need to score well on even more exams, and now I’m in a classroom full of people who are basically some of the best students in the country. It’s really easy to feel like you’re very average or below average when you’re around them. And you kind of lose sight of the fact that you’re just around a lot of really smart people who are just as accomplished and just as intelligent and hard-working as you are.

Has any of that gotten easier over time?

I don’t think it gets any easier. I think it’s still the same problem, it just kind of manifests itself differently with each stage of life that you go through. … Each time you run into a hurdle like that, you learn a little bit more about yourself and what you can do to overcome that sort of challenge.