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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.
Follow me @doctororbust
There are many “ups” and “downs” during medical school application period (AMCAS). With any luck, the “ups” will outweigh the “downs” — when the dust is settled you’re acceptance into any program. Regardless of your intelligence, cheery disposition, or divine birthright, there’s a large chance you’ll experience a large “down” — a medical school rejection. Each year, a little less than half of applicants experience a net “up”, while a little more than half of applicants unfortunately end in rounds of disappointment. However, what unites both accepted and non accepted students is the fact that at some point we were all most likely rejected.
My first rejection, or mutual rejection, came when I pulled one of my applications during the primary — it was just after I saw that the school had just admitted about 8 out of state students in the previous class via MSAR, so I decided to not hedge my bets. You may think, why not just go through with it? Well, the school wanted over a $100 (US MD school) just to pre-screen my primary. When I decided not to invest the cash, I was promptly sent an auto-generated message with a check list of reasons why they rejected my application [not paying fee]. This was my first rejection, I was okay with it, it felt a little scary seeing my school list dwindle down. But hey, you can add more schools during a certain time, and I did.
I received a plethora of kinds rejections since that time. Actually, I just received the last of my rejections last month in March, though my rejection was pretty obvious seeing as how I wasn’t invited for an interview by now. My latest rejects weren’t that surprising either, they like BU (entering class 2014 BU applicants to matriculate is 1.4%) were on my lists of “keep my fingers crossed” schools. In fact, all of my rejections were from schools I never interviewed at, every time I had an interview I scored a spot at a program (I’m used to interviewing and round table talks). So, I never really took the rejections all that personal.
I see rejection letters a little differently now, and it’s not just because I’m biased as an accepted student. Now, one of my jobs is to write acceptance and rejection letters for research scholars now. I’ve taken a page from our medical school friends, dosing out a slice of one of the best slices of insult sandwiches ever dished up. Know that a rejection truly doesn’t have much bearing on you as an individual, especially if you’re rejected early on, they aren’t rejecting you they’re rejecting your stats. Once you’ve been invited for an interview, and you’re rejected then they wanted to get to know you, to establish why you should be accepted as a fit there, and you couldn’t win them over. This again doesn’t say much about you, it just says you have to work on your effective persuasion and communication skills a little.
In the end of all my journey, nearly going bankrupt (creditors! hide me!), all those nights spent thinking if I’d made a mistake by applying when I’d never get in, I did get in. And I got into my top pick. I regret nothing.
Remember applying to medical school is like most things, nothing risked : nothing gained.
find me on twitter @doctorORbust #doctororbust