5 tips for managing medical school application madness

medical school admissions strategy

As a fourth year medical student at the time of this writing, it simultaneously seems like an age ago and just yesterday that I applied for medical school. Like almost all pre-medical students who decide to apply, there was a lot of uncertainty and challenges at the time in my life. I didn’t know what my MCAT score was when I submitted my primary application. I was in a toxic relationship. I didn’t know how I was going to afford the combined costs of applications and interviews, or if that would even be a concern if interview invitations didn’t come. I was a hot mess of anxiety verging on despair as I questioned whether or not all of the money, time, and emotions were worth it. 

Looking back, I realize now that what I was going through was the first of what would be many arduous times of not knowing whether or not the hard work I have invested for so long would be worth it. I am now facing residency applications in a very competitive specialty. In the midst of all of this uncertainty, we all have a choice of how to respond as people on the path towards becoming a doctor. We can respond in ways that will be helpful to our health, well-being, and career success. 

1. Get organized

Much of the anxiety that you are experiencing cannot be reasoned or planned away. However, you can reduce some of it.  Get rid of any unnecessary anxiety by keeping a physical or digital calendar of all deadlines, interviews, and other significant life events that may take time or mental energy away from this process. If Google Drive folders are as much a thing for you as they are for me, create a Google folder that includes documents with anything from essay drafts to tables of medical schools rank lists to budget spreadsheets for all related costs for applying. 

2. Nourish your body and mind

This isn’t the time for you to throw aside your health! After all, you are someday going to be a health professional telling patients what to do to take care of their bodies. There will always be busyness in your life - as premed, as a medical student, as a resident, as a full-fledged attending physician. The more that I go through medical school and see how this career and pursuit of it can take toll on one’s health, the more convinced I become that taking care of your health starts now. I am talking about health in the broadest sense, but physical and mental health shortcuts are the most common when the going gets rough. Make sure you are eating a variety of nutritious foods with thoughtful inclusion of treats (ice cream for me!). Engage in mindful movement. If you need medication and/or therapy to help keep you in a good place mentally, do those things without shame. I wish someone had said that to me.

3. Find a reliably effective stress relief method

In addition to making sure your body is being nourished and is moving, find something that helps provide some outlet for stress relief without setting you back. Risky activities or substances like alcohol can provide you momentary relief, but over reliance on it can lead to problems with clear thinking and feeling your best on interview day. What that more effective method will be depends on who you are: for me, it was properly-fueled running. For you, it may be playing a musical instrument, playing a moderate amount of video games, cooking, or something completely different. Find one or two things and go all in.

4. Stick to the support system and root out the negativity

Now is not the time to allow toxic relationships to weigh you down and lessen your chances of acceptance to medical school. Your future and the good you will do as a physician is more important in the long run. This realization led me to end a relationship during medical school interviews. (Medical school will bring a lot of bright, attractive, and good people into your life!) If not cutting people out of your life all-together, spend a bit less time with the friends and people who are more of an emotional investment and more time with the people who will “fill up your cup.” You need your cup to be fill to bring your best and fullest self to medical school applications and interviews.

5. Remember your “why”

Thankfully, the medical school admissions process will give you ample opportunity to reflect upon why you want to become a physician. While much of the grueling process feels superfluous, reflecting on this your why is not. It will not only make you come off as more genuine and authentic during interviews: it will also give your mind and spirit peace and sanity as you power through the many secondary applications, work more hours to pay for them, and wait for interview invitations and admissions decisions. 

This path towards becoming a physician is a marathon. Treat each part as training for being the best physician you can be. Run the race well, friends. 


Bethany is currently pursuing an MD at Harvard Medical School. Previously, she completed a bioethics research fellowship at The Hastings Center and graduated summa cum laude from the University of North Dakota.


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