Discovering your thread for medical school applications

medical school admissions strategy
By Kaiz

Applying to medical school can indeed be a daunting and intimidating journey. By this point, you've dedicated countless hours to mastering intricate sciences (TCA cycle, anyone?), delved into research, and immersed yourself in extracurricular or academic interests. You've amassed invaluable experience that will shape your future as a physician. The key question now is: how do you weave all these experiences into a coherent narrative? Identifying this common thread is an essential part of conveying your story effectively, and it should be clearly highlighted throughout your application, spanning your personal statement, AMCAS work/activities section, secondary applications, interviews, and any application updates, if you choose to send them.

Contemplate Your Motivation for Becoming a Physician

My primary piece of advice for uncovering your common thread is to reflect on what fuels your passion to become a physician. Undoubtedly, you've spent countless hours pondering how to articulate this in your personal statements. However, I encourage you to genuinely take the time to think deeply about what being a physician means to you. To help you get started, consider these questions: What kind of physician do you aspire to be? Have you observed previous physicians, those you've shadowed or consulted, and identified practices you admire or dislike? How have your personal experiences with healthcare or the medical system shaped your view of medicine? In my experience, the driving force behind pursuing this path is likely a theme that resonates in all your other endeavors, whether it's your research, volunteer work, athletic team, extracurricular activities, or even the classes you take. Exploring these reasons can set you on the path to elucidating your thread.

Reflect on the Reasons Behind Your Actions

If pondering the "why medicine" question feels overwhelming (and believe me, I understand; I must have spent hours grappling with that question in my personal statement), try examining the activities you're currently engaged in. I don't just mean the things you do outside of your classes – I'll touch on those in a moment. Reflect on the classes you're taking outside of your premedical coursework. What prompted you to choose those electives? These choices can provide vital clues to your thread. Likewise, think about the time you invest beyond your coursework. This encompasses research, extracurricular activities, volunteer work, employment, and athletics. All these experiences have shaped your identity, and you've chosen to pursue them. So, ask yourself why. What draws you to allocate your free time to these pursuits? Try to discern a common element among them – this may be your thread.

Weave It All Together

Once you have a solid grasp of your thread, be sure to review different aspects of your application to ensure it is readily discernible. A complete stranger picking up your application should be able to extract your thread. Emphasize this unifying theme throughout your personal statement, work/activities section, and secondary applications. When the time comes for interviews, you can use your thread to structure your responses and enable your interviewers to see how the various components of your application harmonize. Ultimately, the purpose of the thread is to connect all the diverse pieces of your application, creating a web that allows your reviewers to effortlessly trace your experiences, motivations, and the person you've become.

Remember, You Have a Support System

I understand that uncovering your thread can be a challenging task. The good news is that you don't have to tackle it alone. If you're struggling to come up with ideas, reach out to the people who know you best – your close friends, coaches, supervisors, teachers, or PIs. You can ask them to review different parts of your application and share their insights on what they believe your thread is. Alternatively, you can simply ask them to describe you in a few words. Both of these exercises can be invaluable in elucidating the themes that define you. I encourage you to lean on your network for support during this process – we are all here to support you.

Kaiz graduated from Williams College, where he pursued a dual major in biology and psychology. He is currently pursuing his MD at Harvard Medical School.


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