Almost every day during the medical school application process, I thought to myself ‘I wish I had considered X earlier’ or ‘It would have been nice if someone had told me to do Y beforehand’. The process can be long, exhausting, and can seem like a daunting prospect to future applicants. Below, I have listed 5 things that I believe can enhance and destress an application experience if executed possibly. Some things may seem obvious and others unconventional, but I think this (non-exhaustive) list will help you assemble an application the most fully represents your merits as a future physician.
1. Know where you stand
One of the hardest things to do during the application process, but incredibly helpful if addressed early, is trying to determine where you stand as an applicant. The difficulty in understanding your desirability comes from the fact the medical school admissions process is a ‘black box’ in many ways – many applicants have the grades, scores, volunteer experiences, research hours, etc. that medical schools want to see, but the ‘x-factor’ that draws an admissions committee to your application is often hard to pinpoint and can vary from school-to-school. As I was going through the application process, I thought the best way to gauge my candidacy was to ask friends who had been accepted to medical schools from the previous years if I could look at their applications – I would then try to correlate their accomplishments with the selectivity of and number of the schools they were accepted into. If you do not know anyone who has been accepted, try to ask pre-medical advising committees at your current/ former universities and consult the many resources on the internet, like Reddit and StudentDoctorNetwork (be careful when scouring websites, because, often times, I have found that the average applicant on these forums is well above the average applicant overall, giving a false sense of inferiority). These resources helped me better place myself on the ‘desirability’ map and have more realistic expectations when I was waiting to hear back for interviews and acceptances. Of course, medical school applications can often be a private and sentimental document, so be courteous when you ask your friends and do not push them if they are not comfortable!
2. Cast a wide-net and don’t gauge all of your success on admittance to one school
Everybody has a dream school – the school you always respond with when you’re asked, ‘what school is your top choice?’ over and over again. The best way to think about it, however, is to make every medical school your dream school. The application process is extremely demanding and competitive, and much of the good news you receive can come down to some good fortune. Chances are, you will be a qualified candidate for many more schools than the ones that send you interview invites, but your aforementioned ‘x-factor’ may not resonate deeply with every committee. My recommendation is to apply to as many schools as financially viable; however, this advice comes with a caveat: do not apply to any medical schools that, whether it be because of location, cost, or any other factor, you cannot see yourself at, because if that is the only school you are accepted to – that will be your only path for becoming a doctor.
3. Have others read every part of your application – even secondaries
The application process can involve a lot of writing. From listing your activities and crafting your personal statement for the primary application to writing multiple responses for each secondary, the amount of words you write will add up quickly. Through all of this constant writing, an applicant can begin to lose their creativity and perhaps come off as uninterested or even arrogant in their responses – qualities that can be quickly spotted by a third party. If possible, find a friend who is also applying the same cycle as you, and simply swap essays throughout. Of course, for your personal statement and autobiography-type essays required by some schools, asking academic advisors and professors to read over them would be greatly beneficial – the more the merrier!
4. Contact medical schools as early as possible
Every time I submitted a secondary, I would immediately contact the admissions office and tell them of dates where I would be unavailable (in my case, I was out of the country for extended periods of time). Most admissions committees are appreciative of the proactivity and will take your schedule into consideration when giving you potential interview dates. As soon as something changes in your schedule, contact them immediately. It is important to be constantly cognizant of your availability to avoid a dreaded scenario where you have to choose between attending an interview or another important obligation.
5. Give yourself free time - mental fatigue no joke!
The application process will take a toll on you – this is almost unavoidable. The best way to minimize the burden and stress is to plan ahead, be organized, and make sure you give yourself some relaxation time. I would recommend creating a spreadsheet with all of your schools, having all relevant dates and the amount you have to write for each school listed. Then, assign a specific date for each secondary, helping you know the load ahead of time. It is not unheard of to write multiple secondaries in a day but try to minimize that as best possible. This organization will allow you to have more free time – an incredibly underrated part of the process that allows for more quality applications. Take a day off or, heck, take the weekend off. The application process can, at times, feel like a full-time job, and everyone can always use a vacation.
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Want to learn more about the process of applying to medical school? Read on, dear reader, read on!