The Application as a Story

By Eric Rafla-Yuan

All medical schools in the United States are looking for students who display six basic core competencies. The competencies numbered one through four are nearly always required for admission, while competencies five and six are more heavily preferred by schools which place high emphasis on research and leadership. These can be roughly approximated by utilizing the US News & World Report Medical School Research rankings. Continue reading The Application as a Story

Getting into Medical School

By David Steinhardt

Now that my medical school application process has come to an end, I feel a personal responsibility to share some of the knowledge I’ve gained during the process. Throughout this difficult and humbling year, perhaps the most inspiring aspect of applying to medical school was that I began to feel a connection with everyone else who’s completed or is currently completing the same process. I sent countless emails and had numerous conversations about how to gain an acceptance into a school, and am indebted to the doctors and medical students who took the time to help me. Medicine is not the easiest field to be accepted into, it’s also not the highest paying or the best lifestyle – these characteristics bring doctors together, as is the natural human tendency to come together, mentally and emotionally, when marching through trenches.

Continue reading Getting into Medical School

Reflections on the Medical Admissions Process

By Alex Cole

Each year on the SDN forums as the summer rolls around, there is always a flurry of threads asking for advice on the various aspects of the application cycle. For the first-time applicant the application process is at once exciting and nerve-wracking, caused by uncertainty in what to expect and the inherently unguided nature of the process combined with the much-anticipated arrival of this moment.

The application to medical school is perhaps the first time that applicants are given a more or less blank slate on which to express themselves and told to go at it with very few guidelines. I will leave it to the reader to peruse SDN, particularly the forums, and find information on the particulars and mechanics of the application process (check out the 2014-2015 Applicant Sticky for links to relevant threads, some of which are included below). Instead, I want to offer here a few tidbits of general advice to applicants that are embarking on this year’s application cycle.

Last year I had the great fortune to interview at a wide gamut of institutions – from state schools to the world’s most reputable institutions – and I did a lot of reflecting on my experiences as a medical school applicant both while the process was in full swing and after I made my final decision. My goal is to provide insight into the process to quell some of the fears that arise from uncertainty about what to expect and offer some pointers that, I hope, will help you throughout the upcoming year.

Before You Submit Your Application

Reread, reread, and reread your AMCAS application some more

Make sure all of the information is entered correctly and check for spelling and grammar mistakes multiple times. I developed the habit of reading my entire application at the end of every day I worked on it; I read my application in its entirety more than ten times before I submitted it. In addition to minimizing writing mistakes, this will also make you very familiar with what you wrote in your application, which will be important for interviews.  Ideally, you should also have someone who knows you well, and someone who does not, review your application.

Relevant thread: 

Completing the AMCAS application is a thought-intensive process

I’m skeptical of anyone that is able to complete the application in a day or two. Every question is an opportunity to reveal more about yourself, and considering that the AMCAS application and any secondary applications will be all that the admissions committee bases interview decisions on, both (but especially the primary) should be treated extremely seriously. Don’t write your personal statement or complete the activities and experiences sections haphazardly – make sure you take advantage of the opportunities to share your personal motivations and interests and why medicine is the field for you.

Don’t rush any part of the application

Contrary to most SDN advice, you don’t need to submit the application within the first few days of June in order to be “on time.” While the time required for applications to be verified does get much longer quickly, you won’t be receiving any secondaries until mid-to-late July unless AMCAS and schools change how they do things significantly. Don’t compromise the integrity of your application for the sake of submitting on the first day possible. Taking a few days to intensively review your application and make necessary changes will yield many more benefits than submitting the application on the first day possible without reviewing and editing.

Make sure to fully explain activities and experiences on the application

Unless it’s patently obvious what was involved in a particular activity (shadowing experiences probably don’t need to be elaborated, for example), the admissions committee members reading your application may or may not know what you did or what was involved even though it might be obvious to you. Remember that the people reading your application have no idea who you are; you have to make sure you review your application with that mindset. The only things they’re going to know about you are what you disclose in your application. Everything from your personal statement to your activity descriptions should speak to your character and your motivation to become a physician. This is, in my opinion, the most important purpose of the AMCAS application and is a goal you should strive for when answering each question or completing each section.

Be deliberate about the applications you submit

Every year I hear stories about an applicant being forced to matriculate at a school he/she really doesn’t want to because he/she wasn’t accepted to any other institutions. Why even apply to that school to begin with? Worse, many applicants are left without an acceptance because they didn’t create a realistic list of schools based on the quality of their application.

An applicant’s final list of schools should not be a random selection of institutions. Instead, the final list should be carefully chosen to reflect the overall strength of the applicant’s application and his/her personal preferences. An applicant with a 3.3 GPA and 30 MCAT, for example, likely shouldn’t be applying only to the Harvard/Yale/Hopkins tier of schools. On the other hand, an applicant with a 4.0 GPA and 39+ MCAT should feel comfortable going with a few reach schools unless he/she absolutely wouldn’t want to attend them.  I’d recommend that you set up a three-tier classification scheme: schools which you have a good chance of getting into (“safeties”), schools where you have a shot (“competitive”), and “reach” schools where an acceptance is possible but unlikely.

Use the AAMC’s Medical School Admissions Requirements (MSAR) to compose your list. This is the selection process I used and I was left with a list of schools at which I was fairly competitive (as evidenced by being invited to interview at 13 of the 16 schools at which I fully completed applications).

  1. Flag all schools in the MSAR at which your numbers are competitive. I would define “competitive” as being within two standard deviations of the mean or above using the GPA/MCAT ranges provided for each school. This, of course, is assuming that the rest of your application has no glaring weaknesses.
  2. If you feel comfortable doing so, flag a few reach schools. I would define “reach” schools as either schools that are notoriously competitive, which includes most of the top 20 schools in popular rankings schemes, or schools at which your numbers are well below the mean.
  3. Eliminate any schools that aren’t out-of-state friendly if you’re classified as an out-of-state applicant for that school.
  4. Eliminate any schools in locations that you absolutely wouldn’t want to be.
  5. If you need to cut your list down further, do research on the schools using their websites. I would recommend looking at information on dual-degree programs (if that is a route you might be interested in pursuing), the curriculum, the grading system, and any unique programs/opportunities they might have for their students.

While the final number of schools an applicant chooses to apply to should be based on a variety of factors, including the overall strength of their application, I would aim to apply to no more than twenty schools if possible. Even with that many schools the application process begins to become prohibitively expensive and time-consuming.

Relevant forum: What are my chances?

Get ready for a long year with lots and lots of waiting

I submitted my application on June 2nd, 2010 and didn’t finalize my school decision until April 18th, 2011. I started working on my application in May, so it took almost a complete year from when I started the cycle to when it was finally done. There is no other way to describe this process other than to say that it can be miserable. That said, it can also be an exciting and fun time of your life. When else will you be able to travel the country and meet some of the best students, clinicians, and scientists in the world? Though I know that it’s much more easily said than done, try and be patient and enjoy the experience. To use a cliché, “stop and smell the roses.”

Be humble

The most important piece of advice I can give is to be humble.  Don’t go into this process with any expectations. Again, there are a myriad of people who come to the SDN forums and are angry because they didn’t get into their first choice school and they don’t know why, they didn’t get into any school and they don’t know why, they didn’t get a scholarship and they don’t know why, and so on.

One glance at the number of applicants, number of interviews granted, and ultimate number of acceptances awarded should provide a reality check. Most schools accept less than 10% of their applicants each year; the most competitive institutions have acceptance rates less than 5%. Even the interviewing numbers are daunting: most schools only interview about 20% of their applicants and then only accept 10-50% of that group!

The unfortunate truth is that you aren’t guaranteed a medical school acceptance, even for those applicants that have particularly strong applications. Overall, about half of all applicants are accepted somewhere, but if you go into this process expecting to get into a top institution with a full tuition scholarship, you’re more than likely going to be in for a rude awakening and will be very disappointed. This process will humble you like no other. Once you get that initial acceptance, anything else is just icing to make the cake sweeter. Midway through the process your ego will be beat up, you will feel unaccomplished and subpar, and you will feel unworthy of getting into medical school. I think this is a feeling most people have, so don’t worry if you feel that way. It’s better to feel like that than like you’re unstoppable and will get into every school you apply to. The latter will certainly leave you disappointed; the former will leave you excited and grateful for what you accomplish.

Completing Secondary Applications

Secondary applications that contain essays must be treated seriously

I’ve met many applicants that discount the importance of secondaries, and while that might be fine at some schools that simply require a rehash of your AMCAS information, be particularly careful about applications that ask some form of the question, “why us?” This question is extremely important, and a well-crafted answer might very well be the difference between getting and not getting an interview. It’s fine to reuse essays in applications, but make sure the essay you’re reusing directly answers the question being asked. Don’t try and shortcut the essay by using an answer that tangentially addresses the question. I was never able to recycle essays without any sort of editing, and if nothing else different length requirements will cause you to cut parts of your essays.

Once secondaries start arriving, you can find the secondary prompts for many schools on the forums, which will enable you to prepare to complete your secondaries.

Be prompt but don’t rush

Be prompt with your secondaries, but as was said with the AMCAS application, quality should not be sacrificed for a quick turnaround.  As an example, it took me a month to turn in my Pritzker secondary – significantly longer than what I took for any other school and breaking the “two-week” rule – and I was still accepted and will ultimately be attending school in Chicago. While some schools might gauge interest by how quickly you return the secondary, a poorly completed but quickly returned secondary will get the applicant nowhere. Secondaries that simply require a payment or confirmation of demographic information, however, should be completed immediately if possible.

Be particularly kind to the admissions staff when calling about the status of your application

In fact, as a courtesy I wouldn’t even call about the status of your application before being invited to interview. If every applicant to a school called the office and spent 30 seconds asking what the status of his/her application was, the office would literally spend full days in the aggregate responding to those inane calls. Call if you have something legitimate to ask about, but calling and asking about your application in an attempt to express interest is just silly. Also keep in mind that admissions offices are sorely understaffed for the amount of work they do. If they don’t get back to you right away or are terse with you on the phone, be gracious and thankful and try not to be bothered by it. If you dealt with thousands of neurotic pre-meds year after year, I’m sure you would be a bit frayed, too.

Attending Interviews

First, CELEBRATE!

I remember getting my first interview invite, and though it was to a school that ended up being my last choice, I was still extremely excited. Your first interview invite serves as validation that your work has paid off and that your application was successfully completed and well done.

Book Your Interview

After you’re done celebrating, make sure you book your interview date (if the school allows you to choose dates) as soon as possible, especially at rolling schools. Those dates will fill up quickly early on in the cycle. If you’re still in school, you’re going to have to miss class. Class, in my opinion, isn’t an excuse for choosing a later interview date over an earlier one, especially if the difference in interview dates is several weeks. As long as you’re accepted by the end of the cycle and don’t fail any courses, you’re going to be the only person that cares about your senior grades. This is obviously professor-dependent, but I found that all of my professors were more than willing to reschedule exams, assignments, etc. for my interviews. As long as you keep the lines of communication open you shouldn’t have any problems.

I highly recommend taking advantage of student hosting programs if they’re available at the institutions you’re interviewing at. Staying with students significantly reduces the cost of attending an interview and gives you the opportunity to talk with a student about the institution, which will give you plenty of ammunition for questions and a unique “in the field” view of the school. If a school doesn’t provide you with any information about a hosting program in the interview invitation or on its admissions website, send the admissions office an e-mail asking for information on student hosts. For whatever reason, some schools don’t provide information about student hosts unless asked. Don’t expect your host to show you around the school or the surrounding area; like you, they are students and are likely very busy.

Relevant thread: Etiquette when staying with student hosts

Get Prepped

Check out the SDN Interview Feedback database for the institution, particularly paying attention to questions that previous students were asked and what the interview day is like.

Men, make sure you have a decent suit. Buy one if you need to – it’s worth the investment to have a quality suit that fits well. Take the time to get measured and make sure you get a suit that you feel comfortable in. While a suit alone won’t get you accepted or rejected, you absolutely must look professional. Your personal appearance comprises a significant portion of what an interviewer will think about you when he/she first sees you.

Relevant thread: Men’s Interview Clothing #2

Women, the key word for you is “professional.” Before I started attending interviews I thought this would go without saying, but try and keep the cleavage and extremely short skirts at home. You would be surprised at what some people consider to be “professional.” I’d also recommend bringing a pair of flats for the walking tours; most schools are fine with you leaving the professional façade for the sake of comfort, but if you’re concerned about whether or not this would be acceptable I would call or e-mail the admissions office prior to your interview.

Relevant thread: Women’s Interview Clothing #2

Re-read your application the night before

One thing that I didn’t do but wish that I did was reread my application, especially secondaries, the night before each interview. Your overall application – of which your interview is a part – should tell a story, and rereading what you wrote in your applications can help keep that story cohesive. In a majority of my interviews, I – rather than the interviewer – directed the conversation, so you are usually able to tell your “story” throughout the interview. Answer all questions directly and honestly, but highlight your strong points while minimizing or not mentioning your weak points (unless, of course, you’re directly asked about them). If an interviewer doesn’t ask about something and you don’t mention something, no one will know unless you have otherwise listed it on your application. Offering up negative or dubious aspects about yourself is an definite no-no. Keep things positive and try to keep the interview under your control without being too assertive.

Be positive and excited

Be positive and excited about an institution you are truly interested in attending.  Be engaging in your interview and make it clear that you’re happy and want to be there. Making an effort to express this disposition will make you memorable and can make the interviewer more positive and excited to talk to you. Remember, interviews are exchanges: the demeanor you portray will be returned to you by the interviewer.

Relevant thread: Pre-Allo FAQ Series: Interview Survival

Your interviewer is out of your control

You can’t predict what kind of interviewer you’re going to get. If you get a combative, weird, quiet, etc. interviewer, you can’t do anything but try and adapt and make the experience as positive as possible. Stay calm, answer their questions, and be upbeat.

Don’t memorize your answers

While you should be prepared for the most common questions (why this school, why do you want to be a physician, etc.), I wouldn’t rehearse an exact wording of your answers under any circumstances. You’ll risk coming across as stiff, boring, and uncomfortable if you simply recite a memorized answer. Try and remember key ideas but improvise how you’re exactly going to express them – if you’re a decent speaker, your response will sound fresh and unrehearsed.  A great way to do this is by participating in mock interviews.

The end of cycle interview

What does it mean to have an end of cycle interview?  At some institutions, nothing, as they hold slots to accomodate end-of-cycle interviewees.  However, at schools that offer rolling admissions, the later your interview, the fewer the number of available slots.

When I was interviewing, my experience was that an end of the cycle interview didn’t bode well for my chances at that school.  Think about it: if your file was complete in August but you don’t interview until January or February, what does that say? I wouldn’t say that you’re interviewing for the waitlist per se, but if the school really wanted you, you would get that interview invitation quicker than four to six months after you apply.  I’m not sure what else that can possibly say but “we’re interested in you, but not that interested.”

Have questions ready

Make sure you have a question or two ready to ask your interviewer when you get to the “so, do you have any questions for me?” phase of the interview. I used the exact same two or three questions with every interviewer, so if you struggle to come up with specific questions for each school, simply reuse general questions. I’d recommend taking a look at the school’s website the night before your interview to try and come up with some topics for questions. If the tour and/or meet-and-greet is before the interview, pay attention and try and get some questions from those parts of the day. This approach will make you seem very interested and knowledgeable about the school, which can be a big plus.

Be flexible and be yourself

My best piece of advice for interviews is to be flexible and yourself.  Unfortunately there’s not an easy way to change who you are, which will more than anything dictate how you do in interviews. If you’re quiet, nervous, and not personable, you’ll more than likely portray that to some degree, though some people can mask their personalities better than others. That’s who you are, and there’s not much you can do about it. Be as excited as you can about the school, vary your intonation when talking, be enthusiastic (but not overly so) when you speak, and be genuine. You need to be able to handle anything and everything smoothly and turn your interviews into positive experiences no matter what you’re presented with. This isn’t something that can be taught, really – at least not immediately. It’s more reflective of how you interact with people in social situations. Understand that if you’re entirely honest about your interests, motivations, and career goals, you’re most likely not going to get accepted to a few schools. Each school has a particular goal when building a class and it’s highly improbable that you will fit the criteria of every school you apply to. Try not to be disheartened by a few rejections.

Accepted, Waitlisted, or Rejected

If you’re accepted – CONGRATULATIONS! You’re going to be a physician!

If you’re waitlisted, stay in the game – you were granted an interview for a reason and you weren’t rejected outright for a reason. The school is genuinely interested in you, but they can’t accept everyone. If this is a school you really want to go to, send updates, tell the admissions staff/dean that you want to go there, and hope for the best. I have very minimal experience with being on a waitlist because I chose not to play the waitlist game, but I have been following the school-specific threads on the SDN forums I was waitlisted at to see what people are doing once waitlisted and how things are going.

At the Ivies, it seems that sending the admissions office multiple letters of intent and updates is the best way to go. I don’t understand how people can send in 3-4 update letters with meaningful updates over the course of a cycle, but they do, and it seems that those are the people who get in. If you’re waitlisted at one of these schools, get your pen and paper (or computer) ready and start drafting those letters. It’s a game, and if you want to win you have to play it. Other schools don’t subscribe to this philosophy and would prefer not to receive updates or letters of intent. If you’re unsure whether or not the office will accept additions to your file, simply call and ask.

If you’re accepted/waitlisted, make sure you know what financial aid forms are required for your file to be complete and get them in on time. If you’re accepted earlier in the cycle (any time before January), you probably won’t be able to do much other than get all of your information together and come up with a system to keep track of what you have and haven’t turned in. Make sure you know exactly what you need to turn in and when. I missed out on financial aid deadlines at a couple of schools I was interested in because I was careless; had those been my only acceptances, I would’ve been in a very bad situation. While most schools will usually send out an e-mail reminding you to complete the financial aid process, they likely won’t hound you to make sure you turn everything in. That’s your responsibility.

If you know you’re not going to attend a school, do both the admissions staff and other applicants a favor and withdraw as soon as possible. This is a courtesy more than anything else.

If you’re rejected, don’t take it personally. As I said, there are simply too many qualified applicants to admit to any one class. I used to think that sort of phrasing in rejection letters was disingenuous, but when you look at how many people are applying for admission to a class, it’s certainly possible. How many people with 4.0/40+ numbers and outstanding extracurriculars apply to Harvard, Yale, Penn, or Hopkins each year? That cohort alone is probably enough to fill their classes. At every school the situation is similar: unless you’re applying with an extremely extraordinary application, you’re not going to get into every school you apply to because there are simply too many people that would be excellent additions to a class to admit each year. Keep your chin up and move on to the next school.

Making the Decision

If you’re fortunate enough to hold multiple acceptances, you’re going to ultimately have a decision to make. Unfortunately I can’t tell you what factors are most important in choosing a school; that’s going to be an extremely individualized set of criteria, and what’s most important is going to vary from one person to the next. My general piece of advice is to go to Second Look weekends/revisits at every school that you’re seriously considering. You’ll have plenty of opportunities to meet potential future classmates, talk with current students about questions/concerns you may have about your education, and get another fresh look at the institution. The final decision will probably be, more than anything, a gut feeling. Every program will have its strengths and weaknesses, and it’s up to you to determine whether you can live with those things or not.

If you’re considering a school that is well known to provide scholarship money and/or merit-based financial aid but you’re concerned about costs, I would strongly recommend letting the admissions office know and asking to speak with either the admissions dean or the director of financial aid. Schools generally want to hold on to their accepted students, and you would be surprised at what they’re willing to do to try and convince you to come to their institution. Don’t expect anything, but asking for an increase in scholarship/financial aid awards isn’t inappropriate as long as it’s done tactfully and humbly.

These are some of the questions that I asked (both to students and myself) when ultimately trying to choose a school. As you attend interviews and start to realize what exactly you want in a medical school you’ll come up with your own questions.

  • How much is it going to cost?
  • During the first two years, do the classes generally foster a collaborative atmosphere?
  • Is the grading true pass/fail or a traditional letter system?
  • How many exams are taken during each course? How many courses do students take at a time?
  • What kinds of research opportunities are available to medical students? Is it possible to take a year off for research?
  • What is the role of the medical student on the team during the clinical years?
  • Did I like the current students, faculty, and administrators that I met? Could I see myself as a member of this institution?
  • Do I like the city/community/area the institution is in?

Again, you will need to define the factors that are most important to you and base your decision on your own preferences. Once you’re accepted, schools will usually bend backwards to get you information or get you in touch with students to address any of your questions or concerns. Take advantage of this resource: in almost every case, students are the best people to get information from since they experience the school from the same perspective you will and can speak to the educational as it currently is, not as it was in the past or how the administration would like it to be.

While there are certainly a lot of factors outside of the applicant’s control throughout the application process, make no mistake: the ultimate results are not “random” or a “crapshoot” as seems to be popularly said. You can put yourself in the best position possible by completing a quality primary application, thoughtfully answering any questions on secondary applications and returning them promptly, and making an enthusiastic, confident, and memorable impression on your interviewers.

If you’re able to do those things – and do them well – your chances at success will be much greater and you will more than likely achieve your goals. The upcoming year will be stressful and induce some serious anxiety, but, at the end of it all, hopefully it will also be filled with unique memories and looked back upon as a time of possibility and excitement.

Best of luck, applicants!

This article was originally published on StudentDoctor.net on June 29, 2011. Edited February 3, 2015.

Evidence, Subjectivity, and Medical School Admissions

By Jessica Freedman, MD

To better understand how medical school admissions committees make decisions, think about how you make choices; it is likely that you seek out evidence and data, but subjectivity often plays a role in the process. When you considered which college to attend, for example, you researched curriculums and academic departments, visited campuses and evaluated facilities, considered average SAT scores, and sought out information about what students went on to do after graduation. You also probably tried to remain objective without letting subjective factors influence your choice – such as current students’ opinions, the weather, and your mood and disposition on the day you visited campus — or any other factors that were out of your control. In all likelihood, the more concrete evidence you had that the college was the right fit for you, the less likely that subjective factors influenced your decisions.

In the same way, medical school admissions officers (and admissions officers from other disciplines) are seeking concrete evidence and data that you are an excellent applicant through every step of the admissions process. The more tangible evidence you offer to illustrate the strength of your candidacy, the more likely you are to overcome subjective influences on those officers and the more comfortable admissions committee members will be in deciding to interview or accept you.

Consider Ronald*, a medical school applicant: Ronald offers a Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT) cumulative score of 29, an undergraduate grade point average (UGPA) of 3.4 with an upward trend, one year of basic science research experience (no publications), extensive physician shadowing experience, two years of tutoring underserved middle school students, and one full summer spent in India working in rural villages with a group of US physicians. As you can see, Ronald is, by many medical schools’ standards, a “borderline” applicant; he seems to have great experiences but less than stellar academics. Ronald must therefore provide as much evidence as possible that he has the qualities and characteristics that medical school admissions committees are seeking. He must prove that his MCAT and UGPA numbers are not a reflection of his excellence and that he is worthy of an interview and acceptance. But how can he do this?

Ronald must compose effective and thoughtful written documents. To enable admissions committees to consider more than his MCAT scores, UGPA, and letters of reference, Ronald’s written documents must distinguish his candidacy. More medical schools are evaluating applicants holistically, trying to look “beyond the numbers” when considering which applicants to interview and accept. This is why, in the personal statement and application entries, it is essential to write about the evolution of your interest in medicine, the significance of each experience to you, and what insights and lessons resulted from your experiences. Assuming your UGPA and MCAT scores make it past any initial “screens,” your documents must convince application readers that they would want to meet you! If you don’t provide that evidence, a reviewer’s bad mood the day he or she reviews your materials might determine your fate.

If Ronald, for example, wrote about his experiences and path to medical school in a compelling, compassionate, and insightful way, he would provide strong evidence that he was motivated to be a physician and that he was compassionate and empathetic, which are the personal characteristics medical school admissions committees value most highly. By providing evidence beyond the standard “numbers” that he was an excellent candidate, Ronald made his eventual acceptance more likely. In contrast, if Ronald, wrote matter-of-fact documents that didn’t showcase his maturity, insight, compassion, and understanding of what a medical career entails, he would offer less convincing evidence that he was a great candidate and would be more likely to be put “on hold” or “rejected” rather than “interviewed.”

Assuming Ronald reached the interview stage, he would, once again, need to offer evidence for his interest in and understanding of medicine, his empathy, compassion, maturity, and communication skills, all of which are, among other qualities and characteristics, considered essential in medical school applicants. To do this, Ronald would need to have insightful dialogue with his interviewers that shows the depth of what he learned from each experience and illustrates that his personal characteristics match those that medical school admissions committees seek. If, instead, Ronald’s descriptions of his experiences and reasons for wanting to become a doctor are superficial or if his answers to the reviewer’s questions lack reflection the interviewer would more likely think that his MCAT and UGPA are clear reflections of his abilities and that he simply “went through the motions” during his experiences rather than gaining any valuable insights.

Regardless of all your preparations, you cannot control every factor that will influence your interviewer. For example, there is research that shows that the weather can impact how your interviewer reviews your application. Since you cannot control Mother Nature or other subjective influences on admissions outcomes, be sure to provide convincing evidence throughout the process that you are an exceptional applicant by distinguishing your candidacy in whatever way you can. It may help to assume that your application reviewer or interviewer is tired because she was called in to the hospital for an emergency the night before or stepped in a puddle on her way to work and that she is in a really bad mood. So you need to provide her with compelling and interesting documents and fascinating conversations, ideas, and insights, which will make her forget all about the water in her shoe.

Jessica Freedman, M.D., is president of MedEdits Medical Admissions (www.MedEdits.com) and author of the MedEdits Guide to Medical Admissions and The Medical School Interview.

Follow Dr. Freedman and MedEdits on Facebook and Twitter.

*Note: Ronald is a fictitious applicant but his biography is based on many of the applicants with whom I have worked who gained admission to medical school!

References:
AAMC Analysis in Brief, Volume 11, Number 7, September, 2011
New York Times, Think the Answer’s Clear? Look Again, August 30th, 2010, by Katie Hafner.

This article was originally published on StudentDoctor.net on November 30, 2011.

Getting Into Medical School: Help For Parents

By Jessica Freedman, MD

Your son or daughter wants to get into medical school. Of course, you want to help, but how? Many parents, including those who are physicians themselves, are overwhelmed by the medical school application process. They want to guide their young adult children but also want to allow their “kids” to work independently and don’t want to do too much hand holding.

So, what do you, as parents, need to know about the medical school admissions process to help your premedical student to succeed? This article reviews some basic material to help parents and their children make wise choices that will help them to gain acceptance to medical school.

Know the facts, but try not to add more pressure to the cooker

It is important for parents to know what is required of their children to gain admission to medical school. This means knowing the premedical prerequisites and the activities in which students should be involved. But it also means understanding how to help without adding more stress.

Achieving this balance often depends on the relationship between parent and child. It is essential, however, that parents understand that their children are young adults who will someday soon be required to make independent (and very important) decisions. Since a career in medicine requires maturity and independent thought and decision making, parents should encourage these qualities while remaining involved in their children’s lives.

Consider carefully what college to attend

Many premedical parents ask me where their child should attend college. The most common question is: “Should my child attend a prestigious college where ‘As’ are more difficult to earn or go to a college or university that is considered less prestigious but where high grades may be easier to earn?” The answer to this question is not easy.

What is most important with regard to medical school admissions is academics. A high GPA (3.9) and a strong MCAT score (above 30 with a good distribution) are the most important factors for an application to be considered for review by an admissions committee. I have seen people who went to outstanding colleges but earned 3.3s or so who had difficulty gaining admission to medical school. Thus, students with similar MCAT scores but with higher GPAs from less prestigious undergraduate colleges may receive more interviews (and thus more acceptances) than the student who went to a top ranked college but had a lower GPA.

Help your child choose best major and courses for them

The emphasis in medical school admissions now is diversity. So, beyond the basic premedical prerequisites, students should major in what interests them most. Majoring in something other than biology or chemistry would be looked upon favorably by admissions committee members. It is always wise, however, to take upper level science classes regardless of the student’s major to demonstrate academic excellence in the sciences. I also suggest that all premedical students take biochemistry and, if possible, statistics; Medical schools like to see these courses on transcripts.

Think about the activities in which your premedical student should participate

Just as with their courses, students should become involved in activities that motivate and interest them. While everyone knows that medical schools “like to see” research, community service, and teaching, first and foremost, all applicants must have clinical and shadowing experiences. Also important is that students do not become involved in extracurricular activities at the expense of their academic success and that they do not accumulate a list of activities just for the sake of doing so. In-depth involvement is preferred over a long list of superficial activities and will likely lead to stronger letters of reference.

Put together a good “team” to help your son/daughter gain admission to medical school

This team should consist of professors, mentors, extracurricular leaders and premedical advisors. Remember that you cannot be everything to your child and that having other people to provide support and guidance throughout this process is helpful. I find that many “kids” like to have other objective authority figures to help advise them.

Think seriously about some time away from formal academics

Many applicants now take a year away from formal academics before going to medical school and apply during the spring of the senior year rather than the spring of junior year.  Some parents are uncomfortable with this idea, but it can be difficult for students to get “all of their ducks in a row” in time to submit a successful application at the end of their junior year of college. Applying in the senior year also allows applicants to have an extra year of grades on their transcript, which can be important for many applicants whose grade point average (GPA) tends to trend upward from the freshman to senior year. I find that some applicants who are not successful the first time they apply often fail because they and their parents did not understand how much work and organization is required for a successful medical school application.

Understand that the medical school application process is long!

As parents, it is important to understand that the process of applying to medical school requires a tremendous amount of endurance and perseverance. Many parents of my clients who are physicians lament: “It wasn’t this complicated when I applied!” Indeed, as medical school admissions have become more competitive, the process has become more laborious and expensive.

The application season officially begins when the student starts thinking about composing and submitting his or her primary application in June. But, students must also take all required courses and the MCAT and request letters of reference and transcripts in addition to composing an excellent application. Then, after the primary application is submitted, students must fill out secondary application essays for many schools and go on interviews. Some applicants may not know what school they will attend until they “get off a waitlist” in August. Thus, the application season may last for more than a full year.

Medical school applicants tend to be a highly motivated group who hold themselves to high standards. Sometimes, in an effort to make sure their kids stay on track, parents ask questions constantly, do GPA calculations, plan curriculums and seek out summer activities that will bolster their child’s application. There is a fine line between helping and hovering, and I find that this added pressure can sometimes backfire.  The premedical race requires agility and careful judgment, and parents play an important role in helping premedical students to reach the finish line.

Jessica Freedman, MD, a former medical admissions officer, is president of MedEdits (www.MedEdits.com), a medical school, residency and fellowship admissions consulting firm. She is also the author of the MedEdits blog, a useful resource for applicants: (www.MedEdits.blogspot.com).

This article was originally published on StudentDoctor.net on October 4, 2009.

Your Medical School Application: More than just a personal statement

By Jessica Freedman MD

MedEdits

When I initially start speaking with applicants applying to medical school, their primary concern is what they will write in their personal statement. While the personal statement is an extremely important part of how you will be evaluated, you also have the opportunity to express what is important to you and why in your activities entries. The key word here is “opportunities.” When I used to review applications, I viewed the candidate who didn’t use this activity description space wisely as misguided or unwise. Regardless of how many objective measures are instituted to screen applications, a tremendous degree of subjectivity influences a reviewer’s decision making during every part of the application process. Thus, it works in your favor to use every opportunity to illustrate why you are a great candidate; you never know what one of the several individuals reviewing your application might find interesting.

If you are applying through the Texas Medical and Dental Schools Application Service, the limit for each activity description is a mere 300 characters, which forces applicants to write about only the “nuts and bolts” of their experience. However, the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine and the American Medical College Application Service have more generous activity description limits, and you should take advantage of them.

“But wait, I read on a forum on SDN that I should keep these descriptions as brief as possible.” I hear this every year. Long ago, the limits on character counts for activity descriptions were more stringent, but this advice is now antiquated. I can tell you from experience that applicants who write fully about their experiences do extremely well in the process. Consider the person reviewing your application; do you think they would rather read bullet points or a descriptive and interesting narrative about your experiences? Indeed, you may have a reviewer who is rushed and might simply skim your application, but let him make the choice if he wants to read less. More often, reviewers are looking for compelling evidence that you are worthy of an interview invitation, and activities descriptions, especially for an applicant who doesn’t have “over the top stats,” can make or break this decision. In fact, a few schools openly state that they now place greater emphasis on the activities than on the personal statement.

What titles do I write? What if I don’t have a contact name? What do I put down for the hours? Don’t become overly focused on these decisions. Give the activity a descriptive title and a logical category. You won’t necessarily have a contact for every activity. Your hours worked may have varied over the course of your involvement in any given activity. As with everything in your application, be as honest and accurate as possible. If you participated in one activity every other week for five hours over the course of two years, then state that. Only in extreme cases does anyone actually call a contact or verify your involvement. This is medicine, and to some degree, it is assumed that you are honest and professional. That said, never lie or write something that isn’t true and don’t over-embellish. If you worked in a lab, for example, and only spent your summer pipetting and entering data in a computer, then state that. But, to enhance the entry, you could also write that this experience provided the foundation for a laboratory experience you had later on in which you did have greater responsibility.

As you write your activities, think not only about what you did during that activity but what it meant to you, what you learned and how it influenced your path and choices. As I always tell clients, the best applications demonstrate passion, enthusiasm, insight and introspection. Admissions committee members want to see your commitment to and understanding of the practice of medicine, but they also want to know that you are passionate about what you do. They don’t want your participation to be superficial, which gives the impression that you take on activities just for the sake of doing so. Demonstrate that your involvement is deep and that you actually learn something from everything in which you participate.

You cannot influence the order in which your activities are listed; the system automatically lists them in chronological order. The most recent activities are listed first and the more distant last. Consider this as you write your activities since this is the order in which the vast majority of reviewers will read your experience descriptions. For example, let’s say that your last shadowing or clinically relevant experience was two years ago, and you have seven other more recent experiences that the system will place ahead of that clinical experience.  In this situation, it would behoove you to “get some experience” that involves clinical exposure or revisit the doctor you shadowed two years ago so the dates for this experience can be entered as 20XX – present and be at the head of the list. In the description narrative, you would explain that you have shadowed this doctor off and on for two years.

You should devote as much time to composing your activity descriptions as you do to writing your personal statement. And, keep in mind that reviewers typically read your activities descriptions before your personal statement since this is the predetermined order of the application. You want them to read your statement with a “good impression” of who you are based on what they have already read in your activity descriptions. This “halo effect” will then influence the way they interpret your personal statement and will more likely lead to an interview invitation.

Jessica Freedman, MD, a former medical admissions officer, is president of MedEdits, a medical school, residency and fellowship admissions consulting firm. She is also the author of the MedEdits blog, and The Medical School Interview: From preparation to thank you notes