Watch the video below for an overview of the medical school application process. In the coming months I’ll be posting more blog entries with videos, and you can also check out and subscribe to my YouTube channel.
With so much focus on simply getting in somewhere, it is easy for applicants to forget that they may end up with a choice of schools. Some schools began offering acceptances as early as October 15, and with each week that passes, more positions have been offered. (If you don’t have a spot yet, remember that interview season is far from over). If you are in the fortunate situation of choosing among multiple acceptances, you will need to shift your thinking. Instead of convincing schools why they should choose you, you get to consider why you should choose them.
Among the factors to consider as you select a school are:
- Your goals and interests. If you are envision a career that includes research, then a school with an emphasis on investigation may be the best fit for you. Some schools have a particular focus on primary care, health policy, serving disadvantaged communities or other areas of emphasis. Choose a school that aligns with the areas within medicine that you wish to pursue further.
- The curriculum. What is the mix of lectures versus problem-based learning? Are the days highly structured, or are time periods set aside for independent study. When does clinical instruction and patient contact
- Location. On a recent trip to Virginia and Washington D.C., I visited Georgetown University School of Medicine and the University of Virginia School of Medicine. Both are excellent schools, but the environment of each is very different. University of Virginia is located on a historic campus in Charlottesville, a medium-size college town surrounded by rural areas. Georgetown is in a busy, vibrant area of Washington D.C. For some, a quieter area where the college is a major presence is ideal, while for others, an urban setting is preferred. You will be living in the place you choose for medical school for four years; it needs to somewhere you are comfortable. The school’s location also affects the demographics of the patient population, so if you want to work with urban underserved patients, rural populations or any other group in particular, you should seek out a school in a location that serves these patients.
- Cost. Determining cost is not as easy as looking only at tuition. A school in Boston or New York with lower tuition may end up being more expensive than one in the Midwest once housing and other expenses are factored in.
Public schools are often the most affordable option for in-state residents, but again, make sure you consider all of the costs. The financial aid package is also critical; a grant, scholarship or other funding will affect the out-of-pocket cost to the applicant.
Applicants to U.S. allopathic schools may hold multiple acceptances until May 15. Therefore, there is still plenty of time to make a decision. If you are unsure, arrange to take a second look at the schools you are considering in the spring. Some offer scheduled second look weekends. For others, you can arrange a visit on your own, but call the school and say that you are interested in visiting again and see what they offer in terms of opportunities to meet more students or sit in on a
Any U.S. medical school will offer the education and training you need to enter a residency, so you need only to make the decision that is best for you.
Need the help of an experienced medical school admissions advisor? Contact Dr. Eaton at (626) 768-2154 or email@example.com for a free 20- minute phone
The medical school application process takes nearly a full year to complete. Therefore, excellent planning and organization are essential, especially since most medical schools have rolling admissions. Rolling admissions means that the school does not wait until all of the applications are submitted to begin evaluating applications, so applying later in the cycle could place you at a disadvantage. Many schools begin interviewing in September, and some offer acceptances as early as mid-October. As spots in the class fill up, it may be more difficult to gain admission.
To start, you need to know some basic information about how the medical school application process works. There are three separate centralized application services for U.S. medical schools:
(American Medical College Application Service) – Used by most allopathic (M.D.) schools.
(Texas Medical and Dental Schools Application Service) – For public medical
schools in Texas. http://www.utsystem.edu/tmdsas/
(American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine Application Service) – Used by most osteopathic (D.O.) schools.
In addition to a primary application submitted through one of these services, most medical schools require a supplemental or “secondary” application. The final step in the application process is an interview.
To help you plan for the coming year, here is a general timeline for the 2012-2013 application cycle:
- Become familiar with the application process. Good sources of information are the application service websites above and your prehealth advisor.
- Find out if your school offers a committee letter for recommendations and the process for obtaining one. If you do not have a committee letter, you will need to submit individual letters from faculty and other references. Since the requirements for letters of recommendation differ by school, check with the schools you plan to apply to about their requirements.
- Gather information about medical schools. The Medical School Admissions Requirements (MSAR), available for purchase through the AAMC site is an excellent resource. The Osteopathic College Information Book can be downloaded online at the AACOM site.
- Continue to gain clinical, research and community service experience throughout the next year.
- Request letters of recommendation from faculty, physicians and other references individually or obtain a committee letter per your undergraduate institution’s protocol.
- Begin studying for the MCAT several months before you plan to take the test.
- Request copies of your transcripts to ensure that there are no errors on them.
- Register for the MCAT. Information regarding the MCAT can be found at https://www.aamc.org/students/applying/46412/mcat/
- Prepare for and take the MCAT. Take the MCAT in the spring if possible, but no later than early summer in order to have scores submitted to the schools early in the cycle.
- Finalize your list of medical schools.
- Begin working on primary applications.
- AACOMAS opens in May.
- AMCAS applications may be submitted beginning June 5.
- The TMDSAS application becomes available in early May.
- Retake the MCAT if needed.
- Complete supplemental (secondary) applications. Some will arrive within days of your submission of the primary application, while others may take months. Return these to the schools as soon as possible.
- Interviews begin in late August at some medical schools.
September 2012 – spring 2013
- Continue submitting secondaries.
- Interview at medical schools. Interview season continues through late winter or early spring.
- Some schools notify applicants of acceptances beginning October 15. Notifications continue until the class is full. By May 15, applicants to AMCAS schools should only be holding a spot at one school. They may remain on waitlists for other schools.
- Update schools you are waitlisted at about new activities and accomplishments.
Begin medical school!
Need the help of an experienced medical school admissions advisor? Contact Dr. Eaton at (626) 768-2154 or firstname.lastname@example.org for a free 20- minute phone
Last week I was a guest on KPCC, Los Angeles’ NPR station, discussing MMIs. You can listen to the broadcast of the segment “You can diagnose, sure, but how’s your bedside manner?” here.
As discussed in the recent New York Times Article “New for Aspiring Doctors, the People Skills Test” Multiple Mini Interviews (MMIs), developed in Canada, are being adopted by some U.S. medical schools in lieu of the traditional interview. MMIs consist of a series of 6 to 10 timed stations through which applicants rotate. At each station, the applicant is presented with a question, completes a task, or interacts with an actor based on a scenario. You can read more about MMIs in my article published by the Student Doctor Network “The Multiple Mini-Interview for Medical School Admissions.”
Many science-focused premedical students don’t relish the thought of writing, especially about themselves. However, the personal statement is your chance to let the committee get to know you beyond your G.P.A., test scores and list of activities. In this entry, I focus on the basics of the personal statement for allopathic (M.D.) schools. Look out for a post in the near future with advice about writing a statement for osteopathic (D.O.) schools.
The personal comments section of the AMCAS application has a length limit of 5300 characters, including spaces. Use this section to discuss your motivations for choosing a career in medicine and the qualities, experiences and history that aren’t found elsewhere on the application but contribute to your ability to become an outstanding physician. The personal statement should not be an extended resume or reiteration of your work/activities section.
As you consider what to write, think about why the committee should choose you over another applicant with similar statistics. What sets you apart? Are there obstacles that you have overcome to get to the place you are at? What experiences motivated you to become a physician? These factors will give the statement depth and help you to stand out from other applicants.
Good writing does not tell the reader, it shows the reader. Use anecdotes and examples to guide the reader to the conclusion you would like him or her to make, rather than always stating the message outright. Start by generating a list of ideas, experiences and details that you can use to give your essay substance and add interest. Determine the main ideas of your essay and use these, along with your list of supporting details, to generate a rough draft.
An outstanding personal statement is written over a period of weeks or even months. Put something down on paper and step away from it for a few days. Come back to it and then write and rewrite until you have a focused, compelling and well-written document that will help to convince the committee to offer you an interview. Along the way, show your work in progress to an advisor or mentor knowledgeable about the admissions process. Use their feedback to hone your essay and ensure that you are presenting a clear, cohesive and compelling statement to the committee.
Once you are done, proofread the statement carefully and then have it proofread by someone with excellent writing skills in order to eliminate errors in spelling, grammar and word usage. The impact of the essay will be diminished if it contains careless mistakes.
Finally, begin work on your statement early. Start generating ideas for the statement in March or April and aim to have a rough draft completed at least a month before you plan to submit the essay. A plan to write the essay in a week is not a good one and will likely result in either a subpar product or a delayed application.
For experienced advising on your application to application to medical school, contact Dr. Eaton at (626) 768-2154 or email@example.com for a free 20 minute phone consultation.
Strong letters of recommendation can be a significant asset to an application, yet this is an aspect of the admissions process that too frequently gets treated as an afterthought by applicants who are in the midst of writing the personal statement and taking practice tests. In order to put together a set of letters that will help to convince the committee that you will be an asset to the program, you first need to familiarize yourself with the requirements for letters and determine whom you will ask to write them.
Start by finding out if your undergraduate institution offers a committee letter. If your school offers a committee letter, make sure that you know the process and time table for obtaining one. As part of the letter process, you may be asked to fill out a questionnaire, submit a draft of your personal statement and/or to attend an interview with the committee or your advisor.
If your school does not offer a committee option, do not worry, many schools do not and submitting individual letters is very acceptable. If you are obtaining individual letters, you will need to determine the requirements for letters set forth by the schools you are applying to. These vary from school to school, so make sure that you obtain letters that will meet the requirements for all of the schools you plan to apply to.
Although schools usually specify the minimum number of letters that they require, they frequently accept additional letters. For example, if a school asks for two letters from science faculty and one from a non-science faculty member, you may also be able to submit a letter or two from health professionals, researchers or others with whom you have worked. If the school sets a ceiling on the number of letters that you may submit, do not exceed it.
Once you have decided on your letter writers, keep the following in mind as you prepare to obtain the letters:
- Ask early. Professors, researchers and clinicians are extremely busy and delaying until the last minute could mean that you are awaiting a letter in order for your application packet to be considered complete by the schools.
- Arrange to meet with potential letter writers to ask if they would be willing to write a strong letter on your behalf. If the writer indicates any hesitation about writing you a letter, look elsewhere. A less than enthusiastic letter can be detrimental to your application.
- Provide your recommenders with information to help them write a strong letter. A CV or list of activities, rough draft of your personal statement and list of achievements in the class, lab or clinical setting in which you worked with the recommender will help him or her to craft an effective letter.
- Give the writer clear, written instructions about when and how to submit the letters.
Although obtaining letters may take some time and persistence, having a complete, strong set of letters submitted early in the cycle is worth the work since it will help to give you the best chance of admission to medical, dental or veterinary school.
Once January comes, med school applicants who do not yet have an interview often start to worry that it is “too late.” If you are in this position, here are the answers to some questions that you may have as you await an interview offer:
Is it really too late to be offered an interview?
Although much of the scheduling and actual interviewing take place in the fall, things are not over yet. Many interviews occur in January, February and even through early spring at some schools. The second half of December tends to be quiet as things slow down for the holidays and then the pace picks back up in January. However, if you sent in your application early and have not heard anything from the schools yet, your application may be on “pre-interview hold.” This usually means that the school has evaluated your application and did not find it competitive enough to offer you an interview immediately, but may do so later in the cycle.
Should I make a back-up plan?
While you certainly could still get an interview and acceptance at this point, it is a good idea to think about your options for next year early on, just in case. If you don’t end up utilizing these plans since you are safely ensconced in med school next fall, fine. If you do end up having to reapply though, you will not be left scrambling to figure out what to do next. The first step you should take is to determine any weaknesses in your application and to plan to address them in time for the next application cycle if you plan to reapply right away. That way, you can gain the additional clinical experiences you need, retake the MCAT or take other steps in time to have that new information be a part of your application by next summer. See my post here for ideas about how to spend a gap year. If your academic record needs significant work, consider a enrolling in a post-baccalaureate program. More information about these programs can be found here.
Is there anything I can do except wait?
Yes, you can send the schools an update letter and copies of your transcripts with your fall semester grades. This additional information may help the school to render a decision about your application. In your update letter, include any new volunteer work, awards, jobs, research or other activities that you have not already listed in your primary or secondary application. Also, briefly reiterate your reasons for applying to the school.
Hopefully, the coming weeks will bring you the interview invitation you have been waiting for. In the meantime, work on your update letters, start investigating the possibilities for next year and keep working to strengthen your application.
For experienced advising on your medical school application, contact Dr. Eaton at (626) 768-2154 or firstname.lastname@example.org for a free 20 minute phone consultation.
Balancing school, clinical and community service work and research is difficult enough. Throw in the MCAT, med school applications and interviews and the task can be truly overwhelming. A year spent working, volunteering or doing community service prior to applying to medical school, known as a “gap year,” can be a good option for some applicants caught in a time crunch. If you decide that taking a year off before med school is the best route for you, then spend that time addressing areas relevant to your application that you did not have a chance to explore during your undergraduate years. In addition, you can also earn money to finance your medical education and further develop outside interests.
My focus in this entry is on taking a year or more prior to medical school to spend on activities other than a post-bac program. For applicants who don’t have the necessary pre-requisites for medical school or who need to strengthen their academic credentials, a post-bac or special master’s program is a good route. You can read about these here.
Here are some of the major ways in which to spend a gap year:
- Research – Working in a lab or volunteering in one on a part- or full- time basis is an excellent way to explore another facet of medicine and to enhance your application. Research jobs can be hard to come by for one year only, but a volunteer position can turn into a paid one. If basic research does not interest you, consider a position helping with a clinical study.
- Clinical employment or volunteer work – Time spent in a clinical setting will give you more insight into the field of medicine. You will also have the chance to meet physicians; let them know that you are a pre-medical student and are interested in job shadowing them once or on an ongoing basis. If you end up working in a research lab or other non-clinical environment, then you should still volunteer in a clinical setting regularly. A year or more away from clinical experience could weaken your application.
- Classes – Even if you have a strong academic record, consider taking a class or two to stay in the study mode for med school. Take a course that you did not have a chance to fit in during college but that will help you succeed in medical school, such as anatomy or physiology.
- MPH or other degree program –If your plan is to get both an MD and an MPH at some point, you may choose to do the MPH first. Other options are a master’s in public policy or even a hard science degree. In general, an MPH won’t help your application as much as science course work will, so the reason to pursue such as degree should be career and personal interest, not just to improve your application.
- Travel and other interests – Part of the point of taking time off is to enjoy yourself and do a few things that take you beyond the world of academics and medicine. Get deeper into a hobby or develop a new one or spend some time traveling.
Secondary applications often ask applicants to describe how an applicant has spent time while not a full-time student. You don’t need to have a nine to five job; however, you should be able to account for your time. A combination of part time employment, volunteering and classes works well. What committees generally don’t like to see is that an applicant spent a year doing little more than working on med school applications.
On a personal note, I took a year after college to spend working in a research lab prior to starting medical school. That year was a welcome breather from tests and studying and it was nice to get a glimpse of the “real world” before delving back into academia. This path is not for everyone, but if you choose to take it, plan ahead so that you can make the most of your time.
Need the help of an M.D. experienced with medical school applications? Contact Dr. Eaton at (626) 768-2154 or email@example.com for a free 20 minute phone consultation.
Applicants who have been waitlisted for medical school have two main questions:
- What are my chances of acceptance from the waitlist?
- What should I do now?
The answer to the first varies widely depending upon the school. Some schools fill much of their class with applicants from the waitlist, while for other schools, the chances of admission are slimmer. Complicating the situation is the fact that a school that dug deep into its waitlist one year may have another year during which there is little movement on the waitlist. In addition, some waitlists are ranked, with applicants assigned a number and receiving an offer in order as spots open up. Other lists however, are unranked, meaning that the committee has a list of alternates that they can choose from when a position opens up, but there is no pre-assigned ranking, or they may use a looser system consisting of groupings with more competitive applicants together in a “high hold” category. While some schools give specific information about an applicant’s position on the list, many do not reveal specific details regarding waitlists. You can inquire with the admissions office, but be prepared for the possibility that the school will not release information about the list.
While the very word “waitlist” implies that your role is limited to checking your e-mail and voicemail obsessively for word from the school, there are steps you can take in the coming weeks and months that may help your case. Specifically, keep the school apprised of your latest activities and achievements by sending an update letter and use that letter as an opportunity to reiterate your reasons for wanting to attend the school. A new shadowing experience, award, publication or research project are examples of information to give the school. You do not have to wait until you have a major achievement; you can focus on new developments that are part of existing activities, such as rotating through a different department in a volunteer position. The letter, in addition to apprising the school of your accomplishments, will help to demonstrate that you are actively interested in the school. While most schools accept such letters and may even encourage them, occasionally a school will state that they do not want to receive additional information. In that case, respect the school’s wishes and do not send a letter.
Since admissions offices are extremely busy, using written communication is often the most effective strategy and also helps ensure that the new information will end up in your file. However, there are times when a phone call to the office of admissions is appropriate, such as when you have a question that requires the type of immediate back and forth discussion that can be most easily achieved verbally. Try to limit your calls to no more than about once a month if you are calling only to check on your status.
If you are waitlisted early in the cycle, it can get discouraging as the months go by. However, keep in mind that there is often not much movement of the waitlist until May 15, at which time applicants are only supposed to be holding one acceptance. By that date, applicants with multiple acceptances need to relinquish additional spots they are holding, which frees up places in the class. Schools usually fill those spots from the waitlist and some waitlists continue to move until the day class begins. Not getting in immediately does not necessarily equate with not getting in at all. That call could come at anytime, so while you might need to make some plans for “just in case” don’t give up hope – after the seemingly endless waiting the good news may finally arrive.
For help with your medical school application from an M.D. and experienced admissions advisor contact Dr. Eaton at (626) 768-2154 or firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule a free 20 minute phone consultation.