Applying to medical school is a stressful, confusing, and difficult process. As an applicant you may be feeling overwhelmed by all the tips and guidelines you have received. With so much varying advice, it is easy to make mistakes when applying. Some of these mistakes can place you at a significant disadvantage. Here we’ve provided some common mistakes that applicants make and our advice on how to avoid them.
While a lot of applicants feel pressured to apply as soon as possible, it is worse to apply before you are ready than to wait another year to apply with a stronger application. Think you need to retake the MCAT? It’s probably better to wait until the next cycle rather than move forward with a lower score. If you have to reapply, it will decrease your chances of acceptance because your application will be marked for any subsequent applications. This presents an additional challenge of explaining why you did not get in previously, what you have been doing since the last application, and why you think you are a stronger applicant now. Additionally, you will have to re-write your personal statement and all of your secondaries, because medical schools look down upon submitting the same exact application.
Another reason to not apply before you are ready is cost. Medical school applications are extremely expensive and you should not spend your money until you are confident that you’re putting your best foot forward. Medical school is hard enough to get into. Make sure that when you do apply, you are in the best position possible.
One of the most important steps you can take in your application cycle is submitting your application early in the cycle. The majority of medical schools conduct rolling admissions–they review applications in the order they are received. This means that if you submit your application later in the cycle, it goes to the bottom of the line to be reviewed. This also means that applicants who apply sooner are granted interview spots sooner. Delaying your application decreases your chances of getting an interview because fewer spots are available later in the cycle.
Once you submit your application, it has to be verified by AMCAS, and this generally takes longer if you do not submit immediately because of the backlog from so many other applicants. We recommend that you apply in the first two weeks, and if you think that you will not be able to apply within the first two months, you should strongly consider applying next cycle.
Medical school applicants boast extremely impressive grades, MCAT scores, activities, and achievements. It is easy to think that you are at the top of the pile; however, do not underestimate the difficulty of gaining acceptance. Even if you are a stellar applicant, you need to apply to an adequate number of schools. The average medical school applicant applies to between 15-20 schools. Of course, the cost of applying is expensive, as is the workload of completing secondaries for 20+ schools. Therefore, you should carefully consider the number of schools to apply to.
It is crucial to send back your secondary applications in a timely manner. We highly recommend that you send in your secondaries within two weeks, ideally within one week, of receiving them. The longer you wait, the longer it takes for schools to consider your application. Many schools send out secondaries automatically to every applicant. Therefore, you are looking at a large number of essays to complete. You will become quickly overwhelmed as secondaries from multiple schools roll in at the same time. This workload can become a huge obstacle because delaying your secondary application puts you at a disadvantage. Therefore, we recommend that you pre-write your secondary essays. Secondary essay prompts for specific schools can easily be found online.
Write out your essays in advance, starting with your top choice schools. Because most schools use similar questions, you can even save a separate document with answers to some of these reusable questions such as what makes you a diverse applicant, examples of challenges you have faced, or why you want to pursue medicine. This will save you valuable time once you receive your secondaries.
Do you need help preparing for your secondary applications? Click here.
Your secondary application is your chance to convince specific schools that they should accept you. It is crucial that you answer these prompts as specifically as possible. We see many students using generic responses to secondary prompts and even the dreaded mistake of copying and pasting responses from other schools’ secondaries.
This is especially true of the “why us” secondary prompt where students are often given the school’s mission statement and asked to explain why it aligns with their goals. It is hard to pick out unique aspects of a school’s mission statement when you are also reading mission statements of 20 other schools. But if you give a generic response you run the risk of being seen as disinterested and you lose an opportunity for an interview. For this reason, spend time researching specific features such as patient population, volunteer opportunities, unique curriculum offerings, research centers, free clinics, and other unique aspects of each school. Use these as clues to the school’s mission and describe them in your response.
Letters of recommendation are an important part of the application, and it can be hard to know who to ask for them. Some applicants make the mistake of asking well-known recommenders who do not have a personal relationship with the applicant, just for the sake of name recognition or prestige. The strongest letters of recommendation come from recommenders who know the applicant well, can speak to their strengths, growth, and suitability for a career in medicine. Regardless of the recommender’s title, someone who knows you well is the best choice.
You should go into your interviews with as many specifics as you can: specific reasons you are interested, specific questions, and specific answers to common interview questions. There are many online resources with common interview questions that you can use to prepare. Write down some of these questions ahead of time and practice answering them. Make a list of the school’s programs, volunteer opportunities, curriculum points, extracurriculars, research opportunities, and other specific points of interest so that you can refer to these when you are asked why you are interested in that school. Many students have very generic answers to common interview questions. Preparing ahead of time allows you to respond uniquely, specifically, and memorably so that you can stand out from the crowd!
Do you need help preparing for medical school interviews? Click here.