Pre-Med Prep: The Application Process and Why You Should Apply Early

By Christian Becker

The application process for medical school is long and intense. It actually begins much earlier than the point where you fill out the application to send to schools. It includes completion of many premed requirements, meetings with your premedical advisor, taking the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT), and participating in a variety of extracurricular activities.

Understanding What Happens Is Important
Most medical schools will review applications on a rolling basis, as they are submitted. They extend interview invitations to selected applicants and ultimately offer places in their classes in a similar manner. This means that the majority of schools fill their classes on a first-come, first-served basis. For example, a given school may start the application season with 150 seats to fill. With each passing week of interviews, the admissions committee meets and extends offers to fewer and fewer students. At the same time, the school is still receiving additional applications, driving the competition for the remaining seats up even further. In these situations, all things being equal, the applications submitted early stand the best chance of receiving an offer of admission.

Major Phases of the Application Process

  1. Meet with your premedical advisor.
    Do this first during your Freshman year (or as soon as you decide to pursue medicine. Meet often and keep them apprised of your progress.
  2. Complete prerequisite courses.
    Most schools require two semesters of college biology, chemistry, physics, and organic chemistry. Some schools may require biochemistry or calculus, so be sure to research schools in which you are interested. Plan to complete the bulk of these courses prior to sitting for the MCAT.
  3. Participate in extracurricular activities.
    You want to be able to list these on the application, so you should have participated in them for at least one semester prior to applying.
  4. Take the MCAT.
    Sit for this exam before May, if possible.
  5. Interview with your school’s premed committee.
    Not all schools have these, but the premed committee will often review your application and write a letter of recommendation on your behalf.
  6. Fill out applications and write your personal statement.
    It may take several weeks or months to perfect your personal statement, so start early – right after the MCAT. Have people you trust proofread it and make suggestions; be sure to include your premedical advisor in this process.
  7. Return secondary applications as you receive them.
    Try and turn these around within 7 days from the date of receipt. If possible, return them 2-3 days after you receive them.
  8. Interview!
    Remember that earlier interviews are better, so try and accept the earliest interview date you can.
  9. Acceptance.
    Many schools will notify you within 2-3 weeks, some even within a few days. Others take several months after your interview to tell you your status: accept, reject, or waitlist.

Apply Early, Early, EARLY!
One of the most important aspects of your application relates to timing. You can talk with many applicants who applied late because they took the MCAT late (August) or they just procrastinated on their applications. You will hear loud and clear that they would recommend applying as early as possible. I strongly agree. Applying as early as possible, interviewing on the first day possible, etc. gives you a huge advantage.

As already mentioned, as time passes with a rolling admissions process, your chance of gaining admission decreases due to spots being filled with students and more applicants still arriving to be considered. Besides this factor of increasing competition, there is also peace of mind when you have received an offer early. Let’s consider each step of the application process in detail now, in light of timing.

Early MCAT
You should take the MCAT by May 1st so you can get your scores back by June 1st at the latest, which is about the first day you can submit your AMCAS application. The exact date may vary each year, but should be sometime in the first week of June. Taking the MCAT later during the summer will put you behind in the application process. Many applicants have already received interview invitations and some have already been extended offers as the admission cycle progresses. Most medical schools will not consider your application and do not offer interview invitations until your MCAT scores are received, so timing your MCAT is essential for timing your application.

Early Applications
Make sure you start working on your AMCAS (MD) and/or AACOMAS (DO) applications right after the MCAT is out of the way if you didn’t have time for this before you took the MCAT. It takes a few months to get the applications put together, so you should ideally start about two months before June 1st to fill out the applications or at least gather the required information and start working on your personal statement. The online applications are made available online sometime around May 1st each year, although they cannot be submitted until June 1st at the earliest. It is recommended that you submit your completed applications (AMCAS and AACOMAS) within a week of receipt of your MCAT scores. It is critical to submit your applications as early as possible.

Early Secondaries
Fill out all secondary applications received from medical schools immediately and try to return them in less than seven days, ideally within two days along with the money and other information they require you to submit. Turn these around as fast as possible. Some secondaries are more involved than others and all cost money. Do not procrastinate. To obtain early interviews, turning these around quickly is a must!

Early Interviews
If you have completed the previous three steps promptly (early MCAT, early application, rapid secondary turnaround), you will see early interview invitations and will have the opportunity to interview during the first few weeks of the cycle.  Try to pick the earliest day for interviewing the school offers. Ideally, you want the first day available on their schedule to interview, but realistically the first few weeks of interviewing are all excellent.

Early Offers
Most medical schools extend offers within two to three weeks. However, the notification time varies greatly from school to school.   Some take only a few days (literally) and others take up to six months.

Why the Hurry?
You should know the answer to this question by now. If not, re-read this post again from the beginning! Do yourself a favor and do things early. It’’s the one factor of your application you have complete control over— – and it really pays off!

Early Decision Program (EDP)
Don’’t confuse the Early Decision Program (EDP) with applying early – this is a separate admissions program and not really part of the regular admission process. Not all medical schools offer the Early Admissions Decision Program.

This is how it works: You can only apply to one medical school’s early Early decision Decision Program. The medical school has to make a decision by October 1st and must notify you of acceptance or rejection. If you are accepted to the school, you are obligated to attend that particular medical school and cannot participate in the regular application cycle at any other medical schools that year. So, you have to be sure the medical school you apply EDP to is really the school you want to attend since there is no changing your mind later.

There are also some huge drawbacks to the early Early Decision Program, as you might have already guessed, since you can only apply to one medical school. If you are not accepted, you have wasted valuable time to get your application submitted to the other medical schools.

You cannot start applying to other medical schools until you have received a rejection letter from your EDP school. That’s two to three months late in the application cycle! You are essentially in the same spot as if you had taken the MCAT late.

Note that if you were rejected during the Early Decision Program, you can still apply to the same medical school through the regular admissions process again – and you will be considered for regular admission independently from the EDP decision. You may be offered a spot in the class even if you were rejected for EDP admission.

The Early Decision Program can be useful for very strong (exceptional) applicants or for candidates who have specifically been encouraged by the school to compete for early admission. Generally speaking, if you are a strong enough applicant for a spot through the Early Decision Program, you will also get a spot in the class through the regular process.

EDP drawbacks in summary:

Personally, I think the Early Decision Program only limits your choices and is not very useful. Especially if you apply early (not through the Early Decision Program), you can also get offers by the middle of October. Also, the timing issue is a huge disadvantage, – putting you way behind in the admission process if you are rejected. I would therefore strongly discourage going through the EDP at any school.

This article was originally published on studentdoctor.net June 18, 2008.

Conquering the MCAT: A Student Perspective

By Andrew Nguyen, Quinn Le, and David Nguyen

The MCAT is a major hurdle for many medical school applicants. The exam can be one of the most trying experiences for pre-med students and can make or break an application. For many students, their dreams of a medical career end with an unexpectedly low score on the MCAT. Jordan, a former pre-med student at California State University (Long Beach), abandoned his medical school ambitions after scoring a 24Q on his exam; a score that many students believe is a “virtual cut-off.” Despite committing more than the average amount of time to studying, Jordan could not crack the exam.

“I came out of the testing center with confidence, but when I got the score, I was completely discouraged; I never expected it to be THAT low!”

Unfortunately, Jordan’s experience is not uncommon. Many students anticipate higher scores than they actually receive. This doesn’t mean that students like Jordan aren’t intelligent or don’t prepare enough for medical school; in fact, Jordan graduated with a perfect 4.0 GPA in both the sciences and non-sciences coursework. What sets high scorers and low scorers apart may not be content knowledge, but differences in test taking ability, test taking mentality, and confidence in their knowledge and ability.

There are numerous self-directed programs available free for students online. In fact, a popular one is available right here on SDN: The three-month study schedule. But, many students find themselves unable to follow a self-directed schedule. If you are one of those students who find available programs restrictive or not sufficient for your preparation, don’t fret! Many students who have scored well on the MCAT did not follow any pre-determined path. Instead, they made their own study schedule by using a blend of the techniques and programs available while adding in their own preferences.

In this article, we share how three high-scoring students (35 and up) prepared for their big day. We hope to demonstrate how important it is to take all the tools at your disposal and personalize them for yourself. We feel that this aspect of test preparation is particularly important as the MCAT is scheduled to undergo a major reconstruction by 2015. With this change, some current study techniques may become obsolete. It will be critical for you to figure out which study techniques will no longer work in your favor should you have to take the new version.

Student Interviews:

Name: Peter
Major: General Biology
Strengths: Sciences
Weaknesses: Verbal
Prep Course: No

Authors: How did you prepare for the MCAT?
Peter: I started looking at the verbal section first, since it was my weak point. I read newspaper articles and articles from well-written sources such as The Economist. I’m a slow reader, so I worked to pick up the pace and learned to skim better, leaving behind unnecessary information. Being a science major, I developed a tendency to read everything thoroughly for understanding, but there is just no time for this on the MCAT. I supplemented everything by doing verbal passages regularly from practice books to apply my skills under timed conditions. I’m a terrible test taker and often blank out on test day. The practice I did also helped with using techniques such as process of elimination, which needs to be ingrained or you’ll forget to use it.

For Biological Science and Physical Sciences, I bought review books, but the most important piece of advice would be to do practice passages and questions, lots of them. If you’re a science major, chances are you’re already acquainted with the material. I felt that I just needed to be quicker and more efficient since 70 minutes is not a lot of time. In my opinion, practice is the only way to become faster at the science sections. At the end, I became so fast that I practically did each section twice.

Authors: Did you consult any of the available free programs online?
Peter: I found several free practice exams from test preparation companies and some practice problems, but other than those, I relied mainly on the practice books and exams I bought. The older versions of the actual MCAT that are available for purchase online were especially helpful. I become familiar with the actual testing system and it help got me in the test-taking mentality.

Authors: In all, how many hours and how many months did you invest in this exam?
Peter: I spent 2 hours a day on the weekdays and 6 hours a day on the weekends for 6 months. I wanted to do it in 3 months, but I had work and classroom exams to study for. Also, I didn’t want to take the MCAT in the fall since that’s when everything gets hectic. I spent January through June preparing for a July exam. Studying for a major test during undergraduate is difficult, but if you give yourself that large of a time frame, you’ll feel less overwhelmed. To me, this particularly was important. If I feel overwhelmed, my grades start to suffer along with everything else.

Authors: Is there any other advice you want to leave with us?
Peter: Sure. The MCAT is a serious exam, so don’t procrastinate and don’t waste time. Several of my friends set aside 3 months to study, but they weren’t serious about it until one month before their test date. During the first two months, they studied with the TV on or while chatting with people online. Needless to say, all of those guys had to re-take the MCAT.

Name: Lauren
Major: Psychology
Strength: Verbal
Weaknesses: Physical Sciences
Prep Course: No

Authors: How did you approach preparing for the MCAT?
Lauren: I am very comfortable with reading passages, so I knew I would be okay with the time limit for practically every section. What I focused on was reviewing my physics. I knew that if I’d get a low score for PS, it’d be because of physics. When I started reviewing, I found out I didn’t remember anything! I was tempted to re-read chapters from my textbook, but a friend told me this was a terrible idea. I ended up buying review books which summarized the subject much more succinctly. A note to this: I recommend buying single-subject review books since my experience has told me that they cover material more comprehensively.

My main focus was to understand where the MCAT could trick me. For example, I would go over a standard physics problem. After doing it myself, I would look at the solution. While looking at each step, I’d try to anticipate how a trick could be placed in. Regularly, I’d do practice passages and problem sets to see if I can solve these problems in a timely manner and if I was able to catch these tricks if any. The scores on practice material are very telling of how well you’d do on the real thing. For my verbal strategy, I look at the questions first. I don’t try to memorize the question, but I do look for keywords that I should search for in the passage.

Authors: Did you take advantage of any free material online?
Lauren: Oh yeah, of course! I’m college student after all. Like most people, I took advantage of the free practice exams offered by prep companies on campus and online. Additionally, I used the three-month study schedule on SDN. I had graduated already when I started preparing for the MCAT, so I had a lot more free time. Even though I followed the schedule pretty well, I did place more emphasis on physics and general chemistry than I did on other topics. It’s my way of tweaking things around a bit.

Authors: In all, how much time did you spend preparing for this exam?
Lauren: Well, I followed the 3-month schedule, so I’d say around 600 hours for the 3 months, which I must say is pretty darn standard and I was very happy with my score (35S). I must also add that I did the entire thing over the summer (some post-graduate friends did the same thing over a different 3-month section). One summer with very little fun was a small price to pay.

Authors: Do you have any additional advice for future test-takers?
Lauren: Yes, don’t let people tell you how to prepare for a certain section. It’s good to have people’s opinions, but in the end, you are the best person to evaluate your own weaknesses and strengths.

Name: Andrew Nguyen
Major: Physiology
Strengths: Writing
Weaknesses: N/A
Prep Course: No

Authors: How did I prepare for the MCAT?
Andrew: My preparation was slightly lengthier since I did not have a real particular strength or weakness in the major sections. My first practice exam score was dead even for all sections. For me, this meant that I had to focus on all three sections equally (excluding the writing). My approach was to review my science materials. When you start out, it’s a good idea to review materials that you enjoy first. I find that this builds momentum that you can use throughout the rest of your preparation, especially through sections you don’t like. Biological sciences required that I review the contents of each topic and know the intricate relationships of the many biological systems (biology) and of chemical groups and how to interconvert compounds via the various major reactions (Organic Chemistry).

For physical sciences, I had to review basic principles and perform calculations. If you’re like me, you’ll make small errors that lead you to the wrong answer. The MCAT can anticipate common errors and will put that wrong answer as a choice on the exam! Be wary of this and practice your calculations. For verbal, I spent a lot of time reading passages from books, novels and articles from The Economist. Try to pick selections which are similar in length and practice your highlighting skills on these passages too. It’s generally a good idea to take an exam interactively; it helps you stay focus. Use process of elimination when you can. Look for extreme wording and eliminate answer choices with words like “never” or “always.” A more advanced technique involves using tone; if the tone of the passage does not match the tone of an answer choice, you should suspect that the answer may be wrong. However, this technique is often taught to humanities majors; if you’re a science major, this one may not be in your repertoire. In which case, leave it out unless you have time to develop it.

Authors: Did I take advantage of free material?
Andrew: Of course! I used many free practice exams. Your health professions adviser may also have copies of test prep books in their offices as reference material. If you cannot afford one, look for ones there. I have found that local libraries often carry outdated books. However, you could still borrow those for a source of extra practice problems. Just be on the look-out of any glaring differences; for instance, old books will say that cell respiration produces 36-38 ATPs per glucose. However, newly updated books will report a value of 30-32 ATPs per glucose.

Authors: How much time did I spend?
Andrew: I spent around 1,000 hours over a span of one year. I have a very unforgiving schedule, with on-campus activities, extracurricular activities, research and work. If you’re in my situation, make good use of your summers and winters. You’ll find the most free time during these breaks. Plus, my preparation had a rocky beginning and didn’t smooth out until after the first month or so.

Authors: Final piece of advice?
Andrew: Don’t get frustrated if you have to change your strategy, your approach or your overall schedule. Most likely, you won’t get it right the first time. I had to change my schedule around 5 times before I finally found what works. In this regard, give yourself plenty of time to prepare. Many students end up delaying their test date back at least a month so that they can have more time. There’s no shame in this at all; it’s much better to delay instead of explaining why you didn’t do well the first time. Finally, do what works for you. I have had plenty of people ask me to write down step-by-step what they should do to score well. It doesn’t quite work that way. There is no cook-book recipe for a high score, at least for a fair amount of people. For instance, some people like reading the questions of a verbal passage before they read the passage. While others, like me, don’t prefer this because we end forgetting what we just read in the questions anyway. Even if you take a course to prepare for the exam, you’ll find yourself tweaking “proven” techniques around. Find what’s good for you and work with it. “Proven” doesn’t mean a thing if you don’t get a good score.

In Closing
What should you take from all this? Well, we hope that we’ve cleared up some issues for you and gave you more options. Taking the MCAT and applying to medical school are two big (and scary, but exciting) moments in your life. It is very tempting to try and emulate a successful person in hopes of obtaining his or her results. While you will benefit from some of his or her advice, there’s still too much that relies on you specifically.

Furthermore, if you are taking the new MCAT in 2015, we encourage you to pay special attention to your strengths and weaknesses. Certain test-taking skills are almost always valuable, such as process of elimination and interactive test-taking. You’ll need to identify what your preferences are and develop skills which help you exploit your strengths and bolster your weaknesses. We hope future MCAT takers (and other test takers) find this information useful. Good luck and happy trails.

Get more advice from high scoring students in the SDN MCAT Forum. Check out: 30+ MCAT Study Habits and MCAT Study Question Q & A

This article was originally published by the Student Doctor Network on February 22, 2012.

Premed.Me Partners with the Student Doctor Network

Premed.Me is pleased to announce that we are partnering with the Student Doctor Network.main_green_160x40

The Student Doctor Network is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization of thousands of pre-health, health professional students and practicing doctors from across the United States and Canada. Membership is free.

The educational mission of SDN is to assist and encourage all students through the challenging and complicated healthcare education process and into practice.

Users can create a custom login for Premed.Me or use their SDN forums login for the site. As part of the partnership agreement, personal information stored on the Premed.Me site is covered by the SDN privacy policy, which is certified by TRUSTe.

 

4 Medical School Interview Topics You Must Know About

It’s obvious that prior to your medical school interview, you should be comfortable talking about yourself. Often overlooked, however, is the importance of being articulate on other topics. Increasingly, medical schools are assessing applicants’ true interest in medicine by asking about topics that aren’t on your application – your answers will reveal whether your pursuit of medicine is out of a true interest in health care or if it is more self-involved. Here are 4 topics that you should be ready to discuss in medical school interviews; you don’t need to be an expert, just show your interviewers that you know and care about these issues that will shape the future of medicine:

1. Health care costs and resource allocation

Health care spending in the US is enormous, and is projected to continue growing, putting significant strain on the economy. This means that cost-cutting must occur in medicine, and tough decisions will be made.

Which drugs should insurance cover? Which procedures should patients have to pay for? What will happen to elderly people who can’t afford their medications? You don’t have to know details, but having something to say about the issue will make you stand out.

Relevant reading: http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMp1203365

2. Social media in medicine

10 years ago Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr didn’t even exist. Today, a medical school applicant who isn’t active on at least one of these platforms is an exception. In a field that places confidentiality and professionalism above almost everything else, this is an obvious concern.

How much of your personal opinion is acceptable to post online? Is it wrong to have pictures of yourself having fun online? Should doctors use their real names online, and should they be allowed to write stories about patients? What are the benefits and risks of using social media to ask colleagues for help in managing your patients?

Relevant reading: http://mashable.com/2012/12/18/social-media-mobile-healthcare/

3. Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM)

Homeopathy, naturopathy, acupuncture, iridology, Reiki, manipulation, the list goes on. By definition these fields are outside traditional medicine, but CAM is often brought up in medical school interviews. More and more patients are using CAM methods, and medical schools want to know how you would balance patients’ safety and wishes with your medical management.

Should patients be dissuaded from looking elsewhere? What do you say to the patient who wants to try a few months of homeopathic medication for their cancer that you feel needs treatment immediately? Should these fields be forced to use evidence based practice? What do you say to a patient who swears by a therapy that you feel is ineffective? Is it ethical to offer CAM therapies in your own office, despite lacking evidence?

Relevant reading: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/14/health/14patient.html?_r=0

4. Auxilliary health practitioners

In response to the rising costs and wait times for physicians, more people are asking whether other health care professionals should expand their role to relieve some of the burden. Pharmacists, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, physiotherapists, and other health care professionals are increasingly doing more work that was previously reserved for doctors.

Should pharmacists be able to renew prescriptions despite not being trained to examine patients? Should nurse practitioners be allowed to manage complex patients? Should anesthesiologists be able to hire nurse anesthetists that work without supervision? Should naturopathic doctors be allowed to prescribe?

Relevant reading: http://www.forbes.com/sites/robertglatter/2012/05/11/should-pharmacists-prescribe-prescription-medications/

MCAT STUDY SCHEDULE: Your go-to resource for the big exam

Drag resources to the calendar to create your study schedule. (Click to enlarge)

Determining how you will study for the MCAT is almost as daunting as studying for the exam itself! There are plenty of resources out there and depending on your background, you may need to focus more attention on certain areas. Creating a study schedule that is specifically customized to your needs can maximize your chances of success on the big exam.

Here at PREMED.me, we decided to make this process as easy as possible. We’ve taken the most commonly used MCAT study materials and broken them down by chapter and section. Using our calendar tool, you can click and drag resources by chapter to create a personalized schedule. This will allow you to plan your studying over a variable time frame and most importantly keep track of your study progress. Can’t finish the Examkrackers Biology Lecture 3 today? No problem, drag it to the next available timeslot. Decide you need to add another resource to your repertoire? Go ahead! It’s as easy as a click and a drag.

 

For those looking for a little more guidance, we’ve spent the time and analyzed some of the most popular study schedules on the Internet to come up with our suggested 3-month study plan. We’ve had a few premeds test this schedule out over the past summer and it seems to work very well! If you’ve made a study schedule using a different time frame or a different set of resources, share it with us via [email protected] and we’ll make it available to all PREMED.me users!

Just click the Calendar link on the Dashboard and you’re ready to get started. Give it a try and let us know what you think.

If you have any suggestions for other resources you’d like to see listed, send an email to [email protected], and we’ll have them up as soon as possible.

 

FIND YOUR STORY: The key to memorable applications and interviews

Too often, medical school applicants sell themselves short by not recognizing the value in their experiences. It often takes a couple application cycles to realize that to get in, you must tell a compelling story about yourself.

Jorge Chien, a medical school admission committee member, told us that “I’ve conducted so many interviews where applicants couldn’t explain the significance of their extracurriculars, and left valuable experiences off their application entirely. We want people who are self-aware and can tell an interesting story about themselves. These are the ones we remember.”

Everyone has a story, and making sure your personal statement, essays, and interviews are memorable can be the difference between medical student and reapplicant. PREMED.me employs a unique system that helps you realize and relay the significance of your experiences. Here’s how:

Tag the info you enter on your profile

View Your Story Sorted by Tags

Export your story for personal use, or to give to reference writers