The Medical School Application Process: An Overview | Purely Positivitea

The Medical School Application Process: An Overview


You've spent the past few years of your undergraduate career drawing cyclohexanes in organic chemistry, right hand ruling those EM fields in physics, and overall studying your head off as a premed. You've also probably shadowed a few doctors and if you haven't already taken your MCAT, you're planning to. In the moment, it feels like all of the preparation for medical school applications is never ending and then all of a sudden, it's go time!

Since the official start of the 2016-2017 application cycle is tomorrow, I thought I'd give an overview of this long, trying, expensive, yet rewarding process! Although this will is not will not cover everything you need to know, I hope that it will give you a good idea of what it's like to go through it. This guide is specific to the MD application process, but the DO process is similar and there are tons of resources out there for it too!



Step 1: Prepare
Deciding to apply to medical school is definitely not one you make overnight. Not only does the pre-requisite coursework take a good chunk of time, you also need time to prepare for and take the MCAT, get letters of recommendation,  and write a personal statement. It can seem like a lot, but if you start each of these things early, it is so much more manageable! 

Personal Statement
I cannot even begin to stress how important your personal statement is to your application. It is your first impression, your "why" for pursuing a career as a physician, your opportunity to showcase your personal qualities, and the place you make an admissions committee want to meet you. You want to write a statement that is clean, focused, unique, and convincing. To achieve this, you will need to edit it, edit it again, and then edit it some more. 

It can be extremely difficult to even figure out where you want to begin and how you're going to tell your story in 5300 characters, but it's possible! I would suggest coming up with a rough draft that you're satisfied with, then having as many people provide you with feedback as possible. It's a bonus if these people are from different backgrounds because they will provide you with different perspectives. This can include professors, friends, parents, advisors, medical students, and whoever else is willing.  Page 68 of the AMCAS Instruction Manual has great suggestions and guidance on how you can approach your personal statement. 

Letters of Recommendation
Let's hope you've been getting to know your professors because you're going to need them to put in a good word for you! Each school has similar letter requirements which usually  entails a committee evaluation from your college or a compilation of 3 letters individual letters. If you're not familiar with what a committee is or how it works, you can find more information on your school's website or here

You should have at least one letter from the professor of a pre-med science class, but others can come from advisors, professors of other subjects, research, job, or volunteer supervisors, and physicians you have shadowed. The LOR is another amazing opportunity for the medical school to see a more personal side of you, so choose your writers wisely (when you ask, don't just ask if they can write you a letter, ask if they can write you a strong recommendation) and give them PLENTY of time before any deadlines.

MCAT
The MCAT, or the Medical College Admissions Test is a standardized test required by most MD programs. In 2015, the AAMC launched a new MCAT exam that placed a new emphasis on biochemistry, sociology, and psychology in an effort to recruit a more well rounded cohort of future doctors. Start early, make a study plan, and most importantly, STICK TO IT! You should aim to have your scores ready by the time you are starting the cycle so that the committee can review your complete application at their earliest convenience. However, if you choose to take it in the beginning of the summer, it is definitely not the end of the world! It is a strenuous and challenging exam, so you should only take it when you feel confident and ready to kill it!

Sidenote
I just want to take a moment to point out that people will always try to tell you the be-all and end-all rules in this process about this process ("If you don't submit your secondaries within two weeks, they won't look at it!" "If you're not complete by July you don't stand a chance!" "If you don't have an interview invite by Thanksgiving, begin thinking about your reapplication." blah blah blah) Don't. Get. Caught. In. The. Hype. Whether it be a "late" MCAT or submitting a secondary 25 days after you receive it, putting your best foot forward will always trump these "rules" (honestly, i don't even know where they come from *rolls eyes* pre-meds can be a little much sometimes lol) and you can/will be successful!


Step 2: Primary Application
Applications to MD programs are primarily handled by the American Medical College Application Service (AMCAS). This is a centralized system where you will enter everything from your demographic information to your extracurricular activities, your grades, and more. You can begin editing it on May 1st of your application year and the first day you can submit it is June 1st (June 7th this year). Currently the primary application costs $160 for the first school, then $38 for each additional school. You should check each individual school's requirements before you apply to make sure you have everything you need.

 As you can imagine, the application is very detailed and involved, so it will take some time to fill out thoroughly. There are some quirks (eg: ranking your top 3 most meaningful experiences in your work and activities section, classifying and entering the grade for each class you took), so it is worth your time to familiarize yourself with it before you actually have to do it. The AMCAS Instruction Manual has detailed information on each of the 9 sections of the application, and is a great resource to refer to as you do it! Like everything in this process, the earlier the better, but a good balance of quality and timeliness will bring you a long way.

Step 3: Secondary Applications
The Basics
After you submit your primary application, it will be reviewed by an AMCAS verifier. The verifier will ensure that the grades you input match your official transcript, that your classes are correctly categorized, and generate both a science GPA and an overall GPA. This can take several weeks (~4-6 during high volume periods of the cycle). 

Once your application is verified, you will begin to receive secondary applications from the programs you applied to. They will cost ~$50-$150 each and some schools send a secondary to everyone that applied, while others pre-screen applicants and make cuts from the beginning. 

Writing
Secondaries will vary from school to school, but most will ask you for some basic information and a few essay prompts on a variety of topics. Common prompt themes include describing a challenge you've overcome, a time you've been a leader, or how you would contribute to the diversity of the student body. At first, it might feel a little awkward to keep writing about yourself over and over again, but you will get used to it and you will get good at it. The secondary application is yet another place where you can convey how you would be a good fit and why you should be interviewed.

Although schools will ask you similar questions, it is important that you put in the time and the effort to write a unique and genuine response for each school. This is not to say that you can't use pieces or sections of essays you've written before. You just want to avoid the trap of submitting a response that doesn't quite answer the school is asking, or contains information specific to another school's prompt. 

Timing
Although it is not a hard and fast rule like I mentioned before, getting your secondaries in within two weeks of receiving them will help you to stay on track. Once they start to come in, they pile up quickly and since many schools have rolling admissions, you'll want to get them out as soon as you can! Again, quality is MAJOR, so don't rush through them either!

Step 4: Interview
The Basics
Once you've submitted your secondary application and the admissions office has everything else they need in hand, the waiting game begins. In the weeks (or months) following the completion of your application, you will typically hear back with either an interview invite, hold (they want to have another look at your app at a later date), or rejection. If you receive an interview invite, get excited! This means that the admission committee sees you as a potential student in their program and they want to meet you to learn more about you. 

Be Prepared
Prepare, prepare, prepare. You're always going to hear "just be yourself" when it comes to interviewing and that's important, but you also need to do some behind the scenes work to make the best possible impression. 

Firstly, you should be well acquainted with the school's mission and interview format (e.g. traditional or MMI),. You also want to be prepared for the typical questions that will come your way (e.g. "Why do you want to be a doctor?" or "Why school x?") See the University Of Colorado's website for 100 Medical School Practice Questions. If your college has a mock interview service, use it! You definitely don't want your answers to sound rehearsed or robotic, but the preparation will help you to give succinct, convincing answers when the time comes. 

You'll feel most confident and actually be able to be yourself if you are prepared. Even after putting in the work, it's completely natural if you still feel a little nervous. Just breathe, you have an interview invite for a reason! Dress professionally, arrive early, and smile, you've go this :)

I plan to write a more thorough post on medical school interviews at a later date. For now, this page on "Interview Preparation and Sample Questions" from Harvard University should get you off of the ground!

Step 5: Decision
Like most of the other things with this process, the timeframe varies by school. I had one that took only a week and another that took over two months. The waiting can be super nerve wracking, but remember that you've done all you can and patience is key! 

The decision you hear will be either an acceptance, a wait list, or a rejection. If you've been accepted, congratulations! You're officially going to be a doctor and it's time to celebrate! Wait lists and rejections can be disappointing, but it's all part of the process and you can use them as learning tools.  I won't sugar coat it, rejections can sting badly, but the process is competitive and I would venture to say that most candidates who are ultimately accepted receive at least one rejection somewhere along the line. Evaluate your experience, identify what your weaknesses were for that program, and use that to make yourself stronger for the rest of the cycle. In the case of a wait list, the school still sees you as a qualified candidate and you should do your part by updating them on any recent employment/activities/publications and continuing to express your interest.


This was a long post, but I hope that it gave you a good idea of how the medical school application process works. If you have any questions at all, comment below! I'd love to hear from you!



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