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Today’s post will be dedicated to some pitfalls of applying to medical school.
This won’t be some long rant about how difficult or unfair the medical school applications process is, I’m likely biased as an accepted student, but I think it’s a decent system considering the amount of applicants they have to filter through. There are a lot of reasons for you to get rejected from medical school, you’ll really have to get used to this — getting into the placid lakes of acceptance(s) usually equates to paddling through the roaring rapids of rejections. Unfortunately, some people are tossed off the raft prematurely by some schools whether it’s your fault or not. Sure, there’s hiccups in the medschool application process, but be realistic and dare I say pragmatic about how things work. The process is flawed admittedly, but people are flawed so these was inherit in the process. However, there are things you can do from your end to give yourself the best shot at NOT being rejected:
Self Select Out
Let me be the first to say this, “Deciding not to go to medical school is in no way a failure“, there are perfectly sane reasons to decide against going. For example, I had one friend who was dead set on being doctor due to a cancer death in her family. She went to an ivy league, had the brains and the grades, and ambition. In fact, she’s probably one of the most ambitious people I’ve ever met — seeing her actually motivated me. But, as the decision grew closer, she decided to go get a PhD. She decided to devote her career on pure, unadulterated, bench research to find a cure for the disease that struck her mother down. You don’t have to go win a Nobel Peace Prize instead of applying to medical school to compensate, it’s just that you should realize there are comparable ways to be happy. It’s very important that you are cognizant about your decision, to deliberately give up a lot of your life to become a physician. I’m proud of the people who were brave enough to leave the pre-set rails and find their own answer to happiness, I left mine to become a medical student — I self selected out of graduate school. Of course I’m not trying to talk you out of applying, be realistically most people who are premeds never in fact go onto apply to medical school at all. If you don’t mash the eject button, and you’re a statistically good applicant, then you do have a little worse than a coin toss of a chance of being accepted into a program at all (though each school has a much lower acceptance rate); that might sound terrible, but if I said you have “a little worse than a coin toss of a chance of being hit by a car if you cross the street” I bet you wouldn’t think the odds so slim. So, if you did stuck with it have some solace there, if anything.
Money, it’s just not in your budget this year
I actually hate saying this part, but money is the “rate limiting step” of applying to medical school. So, you really have to sit down and make a plan about both how you’ll be applying and will be affording to apply. There are financial assistance programs, if you qualify then I believe that’ll cover your primary and secondary application costs (limited to about 15 schools). This will not cover your plane tickets, but some schools have host programs, so you can pare you costs here and there. The caveat here is that the program considers your parents income, regardless of your independence or age. And, in the shrinking middle class there’s a good chance your family, on paper, is well above the poverty line but in reality your family is just a job loss or a check away from utter financial collapse. In other words, there’s a chance you won’t qualify for assistance, even if you need, so don’t hedge your bets — you should make adequate financial plans to ensure you have enough money to survive the costly process. Unless you have a “guaranteed in”, and are doing the “early selection” process to one school applying to 3-schools because that’s all you could afford would most likely make you a re-applicant the next cycle. If the money didn’t happen for you this year, there’s no shame in being broke, you can use that gap year to make money and improve your AMCAS application. If it’s any consolation, when you become a doctor everyone will think you probably never had a poor day in your life — wait that’s not a consolation…
Apply to schools that don’t think fit you
What ever algorithm you decide to go with while applying to medical school, make sure it’s pragmatic. You should invest the $25 into the MSAR, get full access, and see if you having a seat at a particular school seems reasonable. In the MSAR each school will show their ACTUAL (all the way from the top to bottom 10%-tile) GPA and MCAT scores of the previous admitted class, somehow this is usually different from the numbers presented at the school’s actual website (depending if they decide to list the mean or the median, and if they decide to tell you that on the website). So, if you apply half blind your risk either applying to more “reach” schools then you expected, on the other hand you may miss applying to good programs. There’s a lot of gossip about what scores actually want, avoid that stuff, instead go straight to the source and see how well you line up. For example, are you applying to a program where 90% of the accepted students had research experience? Yet, you focused entirely on clinic hours and your primary and personal statement you let out a nuanced defensive sentiment of how much more important you felt clinic experience was in comparison to that “silly lab nonsense”. Well, your admissions officer might be one of those silly research people. While, if you did the same thing (without being politically incorrect) at a school that allocated about zero funding to research then it wouldn’t be so bad. Though, as a pro-tip: never insult another profession or pursuit of happiness in your AMCAS or interview.
You might want to go to all of your dream schools, but maybe you should diversify your stock portfolio.
Apply to too many/too few schools
Think of it this way, let’s imagine the bell curve only correlates to the number of schools and the process of applying and nothing else (pretending all else is equal). Most people apply to 15-20 schools, these people normally have success — so, then conceptually they are the center of the bell curve. Of course the qualification here is that perhaps they were going to get in anyways, and they happend to just pick the typical amount of schools. The left side of the bell curve represent the people who didn’t apply to enough schools, for example I’ve met people who’ve applied to less than 7 schools. They applied to a few schools because they were a strong applicant statistically, they didn’t account for some schools just outright rejecting you. Assuming the had a great interview season they would of been interviewed by 1/3 to 1/2 of those schools they applied to. They received interviews, and were rejected. Once you are actually interviewed your chances of getting in go up a lot, so if they had rolled more dice they might of had a different fate. On the other hand, on the right side of the curve, I’ve been told an anecdote where a person applied to around 50 schools, barely pulled a few interviews, and get into none of them — despite having decent stats. There are perfectly valid ways to approach 50 schools and not be off your rocker, if you started very early and applied to both MD and DO programs. But, this person likely just fired from the hip and hoped some medical school would notice them. That works okay in the primary, but the secondary is brutal, and they’re screening out for people who “really don’t want to be there”, remember it’s not like they can’t find someone who actually cares about the program.
Apply when your not ready
As I already stated, in this article, there’s a lot to prep for when applying to medical school. But, few people really consider if they’re personally ready to apply to medical school. This is different from finances, stats, and CV talking points. Are you emotionally/mentally ready for the process? if your not ready, you risk putting in a half-heart application. And as weird as this sounds, if you get rejected from medical school you at least want to know that you put your best foot forward. Maybe the support you thought would be there during your applications (emotional) won’t be there. I have one friend who’s family treats her as a failure during her graduate school application process because she doesn’t have a baby, not interested in getting married, and *gasp* is past her mid-twenties. I have another friend who feels like they’re pushed off a cliff into applying because both their parents invested so much in them. You may have a lot on your plate to deal with besides the typical application stuff. Personally, I had a friend in my research cohort (also a premed) commit suicide, and my grandmother die (in an unethical medical manner) a month apart, I needed time off. I took a gap, and just spent more time doing community service (tutoring children for free, tutoring at prisons and academic advising, teaching science at children’s hospital) and got a job as an IRB/ACUC ethics officer. I think if I had just applied when people were coaxing me to apply then I would of been rejected anyways because I wasn’t in the right mind set. Sadly, I learned this lesson only after I could advice friends against it, because I’ve seen many friends put in a weak application (perhaps subconsciously) because they’re overwhelmed with life/responsibilities. The caveat here is that you want to be able to document some type of progress or commitment if you have to take a gap year. In medical school and in practice you’ll have less time to recover, so if you have a bone to pick deal with it now if you have to take a gap year.
You apply too late
Applying too late in the cycle (September and on) for most MD schools is a good way to ensure you have to re-apply the next cycle. I can’t emphasize enough: you can be a great candidate and still be rejected. There are a limited number of seats, for every person that gets admitted before you is one more seat you can not have — it’s the biggest game of musical chairs you’ve ever played. If you join the game late then you’re playing by a different set of rules, it’s a less friendly game towards the end of the song. Whatever year you decide to apply, sit down and make a schedule to ensure you’ll be ready to put an application in within the first two weeks of the opening of the AMCAS primary application. Its takes a few weeks for the AMCAS to send your applications to schools, this year perhaps around June 28th (though it’s been known to get pushed back I wouldn’t bet on it), they are all released at the same time if your application is both verified and ready to be sent to schools. So while you should apply early, don’t be a fool and put in a low quality application trying to beat the rush. Once you’ve submitted you can’t change most things, the only thing you can change really is adding more schools to your selection list — so apply early but don’t put in a poor product, the key to this is working on your applications early.
You put in a bad or inconsistent application (including interview day)
If you seem like three different people during your 1) primary, 2) secondary and 3) if you get interviews don’t be surprised if schools don’t curry for your favor. It’s important to be congruent throughout the process of applying. Your primary might shine, but your secondary might have so many grammatical flaws or rhetoric flaws that admissions committee wonder how it’s possible you’re the same person. Interview day starts when you get off the airplane. When you’re in town, you’re a guest of the medical school as a potential future physician for their community. With that in mind, when your burst in the door to meet the staff your best treat them well, not to kiss up, but because you’re hopefully that respectful and humble person you kept droning on and on about during your applications. When you interview, remember why they summoned you there — key word summoned. They wanted you there, so just be the person on the application. Hopefully, you and that person are the same, or you have a lot of reconciling to do.
Try avoiding running into this pitfalls, and all you have to worry about is the stuff you expected to be worrying about.
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