17 applications => 17 secondaries => 16 interviews => 15 interviews attended => 12 acceptances
Decision came down to Harvard NP (small merit scholarship) and Duke (full scholarship); after two months of back and forth deliberation, matriculating at HMS!
SS = secondary sent
SC = application marked as complete
II = interview invite received
IA = interview attended
R = rejected
WL = waitlisted
A = accepted
WD = withdrew
-Researcher at the Cancer Institute with 2 papers, 4 abstracts, 3 presentations
-Several research fellowships and grants
-Various academic accolades and awards
-300+ hours of work experience with a startup biomedical engineering firm
-1000+ hours of volunteering with an international non-profit organization
-200+ hundred hours of volunteering in hospice care
-500+ hours of volunteering in EMS
-100+ of volunteering in domestic hospital/clinic settings
-300+ hours of volunteering in clinic settings abroad
-Paid and volunteer tutor (sciences, MCAT)
-President of campus service organization
-Committee leader in another campus service organization
-Undergraduate research ambassador
-Campus magazine and hobby photographer
***General Application Tips***
There's not a whole lot to be said here, but I'll give you my two cents. Getting good grades in class isn't particularly based off of how intelligent you are, it's more about testing how motivated you are. Anyone reading this right now is capable of getting As in pre-med requirement classes. You just have to want it enough. Moreover, you should be honest with yourself about what your ultimate goals are. If you know you want to be competitive at so-called top-tier schools, you should aim for a >3.8 GPA or you'll be disappointed. Otherwise, you can be competitive for many medical schools around the country with >3.6 or 3.7 GPA. Your institution does count, but probably not as much as you think. Your major really doesn't matter; what matters is that you're successful in whatever field of study you choose to undertake. Know that you may be asked certain questions in interviews that ask how your major has affected your understanding of or passion for medicine. Ultimately, medical schools want to accept students that are going to be successful in a rigorous medical school curriculum - and your GPA is what most accurately represents that capability, not your MCAT, your extracurriculars, or your LORs. Actions speak louder than words - do well in your classes!!!
I used the full Examkrackers review set in addition to the Princeton Review Hyperlearning review books. Either of these alone would have been insufficient in my opinion. EK is a great overview and a good way to refresh your memory, but it doesn't explicitly connect the dots and definitely leaves a lot of useful information out. The PR set is basically the same distance on the other side of the spectrum; you'll get more information than you need. I used EK and PR practice exams as well, but quickly found that these were only helpful insofar as they forced you to sit there for five hours and simulate a testing experience - the questions and material were not representative of the actual MCAT at all. I relied heavily on the AMCAS practice exams. I purchased all of them, and averaged a 40 across them, just one point off of my actual score.
I carried around EK books with me and browsed through them whenever I got some free time. When I got back, I would sit down and make a more concerted effort and read through the PR books. On weekends, I would fit in a practice exam. I followed this schedule for about 3 months and then went in and took the test. I think that self-confidence in the material is huge on actual test day. I didn't take a prep course and I really dislike the whole idea of a prep course. You're taught by someone who's only real credentials are that he or she scored on the 90th percentile or above on the MCAT. It might be a terrible teacher, someone who really doesn't know the material well, someone who doesn't care, and more. Don't take a prep course. It's essentially willingly submitting yourself to a mugging. And not a nice one either.
Some people are innately more suited to standardized testing situations, and that accounts for a lot more discrepancy in scores than most people are likely willing to admit - and perhaps intelligence plays less of a role than most people are willing to admit as well. Thus, my final suggestion is to recommend that you be absolutely confident in your grasp of material and especially concepts going into the test. If you don't feel this way, postpone the test. If you're not confident outside the test, you might have a nervous breakdown inside the test. Don't risk it!
For most people, the PS doesn't matter as much as some people say it does. If you have a really unique story or some very interesting life experiences that have brought you to medicine, a PS can probably make a big difference. Otherwise, for us traditional college students that are pretty run of the mill, a PS most likely will not make or break your application. Still, you want to spend a lot of time writing, editing, and revising your PS. I revised mine about ten times and each time I looked back at my previous PS I thought to myself, wow, what a piece of s***. Get a lot of different people to read your PS, but take everything they have to say with a grain of salt. Ultimately, you know what you want to say about yourself the best, and other people can help you articulate that. Try to tell a story with very specific examples and imagery rather than vague generalizations. Stories are always more memorable and interesting to admissions committees than anything else. For example, don't say "I gained a lot of exposure to patients," but rather "I remember an encounter with a patient who held my hand after receiving his medication and graciously thanked me, tears in his eyes. Moments like these made me realize that medicine was right for me." That was a sappy example, but in context it might be appropriate, and you get the idea :).
Letters of Recommendation:
This is a difficult part of the application for people who attend large public institutions. Classes are huge and it's hard to get to know professors on any sort of personal level. It's easier for those at private schools and really easy for those at small liberal arts colleges. It's a very important part of the application though, and you can't get a strong recommendation overnight, so really put some time into going to your professor's office hours, staying after class to chat about whatever, and please actually attend class, maybe sit in the front row, and pay attention. Getting a good letter of recommendation doesn't take a lot of time, it just takes some concerted effort. Also, try to target people who really seem to care about students because even if you're the most dedicated student in the world, you probably won't get a very strong letter from someone who just doesn't care. Start thinking about this early and develop your relationship over the course of semesters and years so you won't struggle when the application cycle comes around and have to resort to getting generic, subpar letters of recommendations. An average letter of recommendation isn't going to hurt you, but it sure isn't going to help. You need at least some strong ones. I had one letter from a math professor (average), one from a chemistry professor (above average), one from an anthropology professor (strong), one from my research principle investigator (very strong), and two from charitable organizations that I worked with (strong/very strong). That's pretty much the spread you should be going for: 2 science, 1 non-science, 1 research, 2 extracurricular (or more research). If you didn't do research, just omit those and consider them general extracurricular slots. You should have a general idea of how good the letters of recommendation each person is going to write for you will be, although to be honest it was a relief when I got my first interview invite which dispelled my concern about how good my LORs were. Make sure to provide your LOR writers with a packet that includes: PS, transcript, medical school LOR writing tips/guidelines, resume, and a deadline. My writers really appreciated this. And don't be shy in explicitly asking if they'd be willing to write a *strong* letter of recommendation for you.
These are without a doubt the most important aspect of your application after MCAT/GPA. In fact, without good extracurriculars, your strong MCAT/GPA won't get you that far. This is the part of your application that sets you apart. Sure, you can talk about yourself in your PS and your secondary applications but again, actions speak louder than words - do your activities back up your convictions? You ideally want a mix of leadership, clinical experience, volunteering, research, and hobbies in your application. This doesn't mean you have to check off all of these, but you should at least dabble in most of them. I personally found it best to ease into these activities through my college career - my freshman year, I did minimal ECs to make sure that I could handle the courseload. My sophomore year I added more, and my junior year was the busiest. Medical schools like to see activities that you have worked with over a long period of time more than something you simply hit and quit. Admissions committees will actively weed out filler activities and those that show very little commitment, so be wary in putting those sorts of things (like pre-med clubs, honor societies, volunteering for a single event, etc.) on your application.
I'll add a list of possible ECs that you can do later on just to give you guys an idea of some possibilities. It sounds cliche, but try to do the things that you enjoy. It makes it that much easier, and the people you work with will be able to feel it too; you'll probably get a better LOR from your EC advisor or whoever if you're enjoying what you're doing.
These things suck and are a general waste of time and a money drain. I wish they would do away with these! Half of what is asked you're regurgitating from your primary application and the other half you're probably copying/pasting and adapting from the first secondary that you fill out (this was pretty much the case for me). /end rant. Secondaries aren't very important, but if you don't sound interesting or interested or if the essays are poorly written that could be a reason for a rejection. The bottom line is to try to get these in as soon as possible (within 1 week is ideal at rolling admissions, and 2-3 weeks at non-rolling is fine as a general rule of thumb), but to do at least a decent job on them. Getting secondaries in early is more important at rolling admissions schools than non-rolling admissions schools, and different schools have different philosophies on how they view late submissions. For example, if you don't submit your secondary to Stanford within like 3 weeks or so, they send you an email telling you to hurry up and submit. Not a good sign. On the other hand, my friend got in to Duke submitting his secondary 2 months after he received it. Oh yeah, and if you're going to adapt a template from school to school, DO IT WELL! Proofread, proofread, proofread, and make sure what you're saying really does fit the new school!
Some people on SDN think that after you get an interview, you're on an equal playing field with everyone else who's interviewing. Yeah, that's not true. It's more like a system of ladder rungs where each rung represents an interviewee who is placed higher or lower based on the strength of his/her application up to that point. After the interview, an interviewee can move up or down the ladder significantly based on his/her performance in the interview. Then the top X rungs are offered an acceptance. That's a simplified model, but it's a lot more accurate than the "equal playing ground" one. As I write this I'm still trying to figure out how to interview well and I have no idea how well I performed in the interviews I've had so far. I'll update this more when I'm finished with the cycle and can see the actual results, because in the end, that's what represents your performance better than anything.
Update: Well, the cycle is over and I'm incredibly lucky to have gotten as far as I have. I don't consider myself to be a superb interviewer, but I really took the saying "just be yourself" to heart - it wasn't hard for me, because I'm a terrible actor so I didn't particularly have a choice in the matter. More than that, you should go into each and every interview with energy, conviction, and excitement! Before each interview, I would review a few different things: my AMCAS application (especially my activities!), my personal statement, my secondary essays, and notes about the school. The most important parts by far are being able to talk about 1) what led you to want to pursue a career in medicine and 2) what you did in each of the activities you listed on your application and what you learned or took away from them. Besides that, you should also be prepared to talk about current health issues (think huge issues like rising healthcare costs, Obamacare, etc.). I would also recommend going over a list of the most common professional school interview questions, which are easily found through a quick Google search (what are your strengths, what are your weaknesses, tell me about a time when _____).
Don't take the interviews "too seriously". Yes, they're extremely important, but if you relax a little bit I promise you'll perform better. Interviewers are people, and they are going to give better reviews to people that they like, in a social way, more - if you're relaxed and able to smile, be pleasant, and hold a conversation with some small talk you are already going a long way to getting a positive review from that interviewer. Also, *most* medical school interviews are going to be centered around completely random topics - besides the major predictable questions such as "tell me about yourself" or "why medicine?" - so over preparing really isn't efficient or desirable. In the end, you want to portray yourself to the medical school as someone that they would want - an interview is your chance to show the medical school any side or qualities of yourself that you choose. Confident, enthusiastic, sociable, intelligent, respectful, humble, compassionate, empathetic, humorous - these are all qualities that you should stride to exude in the way that you carry yourself, the way that you converse, and the way that you describe yourself.
***School Impressions and Notes***
University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine, Late August-
Chicago is a great city, you get the thrills of a world-class city while still feeling pretty relaxed and at home while walking around. People here are quite friendly and there is a feeling that you belong to a Chicago community. The University itself is situated in "southside" which is a more suburban, historical part of Chicago that is also viewed as one of the poorer regions of the city. Still, Hyde Park itself, which contains the University, is beautiful. The University has lots of gothic-style architecture with vines growing on the walls - sort of similar to Duke. It's a very small campus compared to other schools I've visited, but it feels open and bright. Unfortunately it was raining when I visited. Also, classes hadn't started yet, so I wasn't able to get a complete feel for the place but I really appreciated the medical school campus's proximity to the rest of the University; the medical school is about a 5-minute walk from the main quad. Awesome!
The Bottom Line:
Terrible faculty interviewer experience probably fated me to be continued here. That's ok, in retrospect something about the school's atmosphere was off for me and I never really felt like it was a school I would attend. I don't think I did a very good job communicating why I wanted to attend UChicago. This school also placed more emphasis on that question than any of the other interviews I attended did. Couldn't think of an answer. The school has a good reputation and I'm sure many people could be happy here. Will remember it as my first interview!
Baylor College of Medicine, Early September-
I was a little bit apprehensive of how Texas would be, having never spent time there. Houston turned out to be quite progressive and culturally/ethnically diverse. It, however, has a reputation of being hot and humid - neither of which I like. The city itself isn't bad, but I wasn't blown away by it either. It has a huge population that is very spread out but with poor urban regulation and planning that still needs improvement. I visited downtown Houston at night and found... nothing, which was also a bit disappointing. On the other hand, the Texas Medical Center was very, very impressive - it is, after all, the largest medical center in the world (it's true, EVERYTHING is indeed bigger in Texas, and people don't shy away from talking about it). I really enjoyed my interview day at Baylor; the students were all extremely sociable, and everyone was super helpful. It seemed like the students really do matter at Baylor, with the administration being responsive to student voices and the faculty being there to work with students towards their goals rather than to rigidly teach down to them. The atmosphere here was definitely laid back and collegial, and the students and faculty had good senses of humor. My two 30-minute interviews were relatively conversational, and I loved both of my interviewers. They were both prepared to go out of their way to help me learn more about Baylor! All in all, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked Baylor, and I truly believe they're an underrated institution outside of their region. Will keep this place in mind as I continue on the trail!
The Bottom Line:
Was very pleased to get the acceptance call from Baylor in late November! For future applicants, apparently Baylor doesn't release the majority of its acceptances until March, so although it is classified as a "rolling admissions" school, in practice it might be closer to that of a non-rolling school. Furthermore, all qualitative measures in their admissions process are somehow translated to a quantitative, numerical score by which all interviewed applicants are ranked. The top X number of candidates on this list are then ultimately offered a place in the entering class - they take into account numbers of course, but also ECs, LORs, interview performance, etc. but to what degree nobody is sure, they keep the formula on lockdown. Anyways, I will probably not be attending because I really don't think I could spend four years in Texas after visiting, nor in Houston, but the students I met during my short stay were some of my favorites. Like I said, the school is relatively unknown outside of the Southwestern region of the US, but it is undoubtedly excellent.
Mayo Medical School, Early September-
My flight into Minneapolis was delayed, and I ended up missing my connection to Rochester. So I took a shuttle instead, and I was kind of glad I did. Driving past field after field of corn was awesome, as weird as it sounds. The landscape was beautiful and it felt like the great outdoor was just beckoning me towards it. Of course, this is September. Come December or January, I don't think anyone will be outside. Moreover, I was impressed by Rochester's downtown area. It felt sort of like a college town without college students or a campus. My student host and his MS1 friends were really laid back, accommodating, and fun. I was openly skeptical about how much fun there was to be had in Rochester, but they definitely did a good job of dispelling some of my concerns - they talked about lots of unique ways they have learned to have fun with the tight knit group students that comprises Mayo. I still wish there was a campus attached to the School, but I can't complain too much. I was awed by the Mayo and Gonda buildings upon my arrival and couldn't stop staring up. The actual medical school facilities were a little bit old, but that never hurt anyone's learning. I felt like I fit in here and I could potentially see myself here. We'll see what happens!
The Bottom Line:
Had a "first-time interviewer" as one of my interviewers, who rushed me to finish answering his list of 15 rigid, non-insightful questions in the allotted 30-minute time frame. And this was supposed to be my advocate...? I really liked the students here, but I don't think it's somewhere I'd be satisfied for four years. I don't think I could deal with the lack of an actual University campus/institution affiliation or living in a place where I'd feel so isolated. Students receive a ton of attention and have access to a proportionately huge amount of resources, but Mayo is for some people and not for others.
University of Michigan Medical School, Early September-
I was very impressed by UM and by Ann Arbor. I immediately felt at home arriving in Ann Arbor's large college town atmosphere that boasts a lively downtown with tons of bars, food, shops, cinemas, and more. Housing is a walk, bike ride, or bus ride away from the medical campus, which is separate from the North and Central undergraduate campuses. I really really appreciated the transparency, philosophy, and relaxed demeanor of the admissions staff. As little of a detail as it may in the grand scheme, having a staff that's willing to be very candid about the admissions process, and who are extremely sociable, tangible people just makes the medical school feel that much more like a natural fit to me. The interview day was as relaxed, normal, and conversational as they claimed it would be. A ton of medical students came out to greet us and talk to us and hung around for a long time rather than just making an appearance and running away. And on top of the great medical school, they have some of the best graduate programs in pretty much anything you can imagine - Public Health, Business, Law, etc... I felt great about the interview day, UM really has their s*** together! Also, everyone kept emphasizing the team and how everyone here was part of a bigger picture. They're building the 167th entering class, talk about big picture! That takes the focus away from the individual and I think I would really thrive in that sort of environment. Oh yeah, and did someone mention football? Feeling hopeful for this one.
The Bottom Line:
My very first acceptance! I was at another interview when I got the email and the video, and I was on Skype with my girlfriend. I flipped out when I found out, couldn't believe that all my hard work had paid off and I was indeed going to medical school the next year!! Certainly one of my favorite schools, and a place that I would be very comfortable at. I've heard nothing but rave reviews from alumni of the institution, and it is one of the finest across-the-board schools in the country. I think that at this point with a scholarship offer from WashU and acceptances at JHU and Stanford, however, I will most likely not be attending.
Weill Cornell Medical College, Late September-
It was a trek through New York City to get to the medical college, which is situated in the Upper East Side, a great part of NYC. I absolutely love their student housing options - you live dorm-style right across the street from the medical center for your 1st year and then have the option to move to apartment-style living also just down the road from the center afterwards. The rate is highly subsidized and costs $800 a month. This is a great opportunity to live affordably in NYC for 4 years, which is something I think many people would love to do! There's pretty good accessibility to the rest of the city, although the nearest metro station is half a mile away. The facilities are very new and beautiful. The curriculum is PBL and from what I learned from the medical students it's flexible, relaxed, and "low-maintenance." Lectures are recorded and attendance is not required, although attendance at PBLs is mandatory. True P/F, amazing medical center, new facilities, happy students, generous financial aid (according to the adcom, supported by low graduate indebtedness), NYC at your fingertips - not a whole lot of downsides here. On a side note, the interview day was a little bit disorganized and some of the students and faculty were underprepared for their presentations and tours. Still, the admissions office was extremely friendly and helpful; just don't expect the most structured day here. Will be interesting to compare Cornell to Columbia, where I'll be visiting soon.
The Bottom Line:
The best thing about this school to me was the location, but after rethinking it a bit I don't think NYC is the place for me. Furthermore, I don't think I'm prepared to shell out sticker price to attend WCMC.
Columbia College of Physicians & Surgeons, Late September-
There was a pretty clear-cut difference between the affluence of Washington Heights (where Columbia P&S is located) and the Upper East Side (where Weill Cornell is located). Washington Heights is definitely a less affluent part of the city, and it didn't help that I arrived there late at night. I was a bit sketched out, but the next morning when I stepped out I realized it's actually a decent place although it still doesn't feel like the popularized notion of what Manhattan should be. At first, the students seemed kind of preoccupied with themselves and not too eager to be social or friendly, but I think I just came in at a bad time - shortly thereafter tons of students started flowing in and chatting with us and were super cool and down to earth. The match list here is pretty incredible and it seems like the key selling point here is the quality of clinical clerkships and faculty and the eagerness of faculty to teach students. The average Step 1 score for the past graduating class was 241 (!) - a very, very high average (240 is competitive for the most competitive specialties, to put it in perspective...) and it turns out the curriculum is extremely flexible. Completely P/F (one student told me it's more like P/P because if you fail a test, you just retake it without it going on any sort of record) and lectures are not mandatory, only small group sessions which happen once or twice a week. The first years mainly live in Bard Hall, which is a very old and quite shitty place in all honesty, dorm-style with 10x12 ft. rooms and communal bathrooms/showers for the entire floor, one kitchen for 11 floors on the 11th floor, the plus is that there's an awesome rooftop where parties and such are held, $800 a month. But if you live there you have the option to move to the nearby University Towers which are supposedly huge apartments also right next to the medical center. All in all I was underwhelmed at first but Columbia did stand up to its reputation. My interviewer was awesome, we just discussed healthcare problems and possible solutions in-depth for about 45 minutes. Could definitely see myself here, hoping for an acceptance!
The Bottom Line:
The clinical training here is superb, I like the curriculum, and it is one of the historic medical schools of the country. As I talked about above, however, I don't think NYC is the place for me for 4 years nor would I pay the price to attend Columbia.
University of North Carolina School of Medicine, Late September-
I was the first to arrive in the morning and I was alone for about 15 minutes so it was a little bit awkward but soon thereafter the other interviewees showed up. This was surprisingly my smallest interview group, with 5 people total including myself. There wasn't really a presentation, but the Dean of admissions did swing by and gave us a short spiel about UNC and what it had to offer. We had lunch with a couple medical students, who were coming by all day to pick up cookies from the office and to answer any questions that we had. This was my second public school interview (first being Michigan, where the class ends up being about half OOS anyways) and it definitely was a different atmosphere from the other schools. The people seemed more relaxed all-around. This of course has its pros and cons as students are likely a little bit less active, engaged, and academically talented. But I'd say they're every bit as interesting and social people. Now the part that you guys probably actually want to know about, the interviews. Each applicant has two interviewers, and interviews last anywhere from 30-45 minutes. They are open file, but both of my interviewers ended up telling me that they had chosen not to look at my file because it would make them formulate preconceived notions of me, which I definitely agree is this case (but probably not to my advantage). Both of them were very nice though, but I did have to repeat the whole "Why medicine?" story as well as many of my activities since they hadn't read my application. After that we just had casual conversations about different non-medical related things. The entering class of 2012 had 180 people, making this the largest (I think?) school that I'll be interviewing at; in addition, there are plans to expand the class to approximately 200 people because they are sending more people to clinical rotations in other cities around the State such as Charlotte, Asheville, Wilmington, etc. so know that although you can state your preference for rotations in 3rd and 4th years you will be moving around save extenuating circumstances. Generally this is a plus as you get to see different hospital settings and get exposed to regional differences and more patient populations but some people probably don't like moving around. There's a fantastic (#1 or #2 in the country) school of public health across the street, as well as numerous other highly regarded graduate programs so interdisciplinary opportunities are definitely available here. Being a public institution, there is an emphasis on primary care specialties which is a downside for me as I plan to specialize, but it seems that if you work hard you can still get where you want to go. 1st year is true P/F, 2nd year is H/P/F which I very much dislike, and small-group are also H/P/F for 1st and 2nd years, which they just implemented beginning this year. The students say there isn't much if any competition here, but I guess it could potentially be an issue 2nd year. Chapel Hill is a great place to be with Southern hospitality and sweet tea, and the medical school is one of the best public institutions in the country. Would be thrilled to get some love from Carolina.
The Bottom Line:
Ahhh accepted! Feels good; close to home, close to the heart.
I would like a change in scenery and I see some limitations with attending a public school with primary care motives that underperforms on the boards and doesn't have the most impressive match list.
Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, Late September-
Coming into this interview I had heard some negative things about Hopkins, particularly that the student culture was edgy and competitive there, but the students here really blew that theory out of the water. It's true P/F for both preclinical years and everyone here was really, really friendly and awesome - the faculty, the students, the administration and all. This was the only school I've visited where several faculty members came and ate lunch with us. These are giants in their field, and they're taking time out of their day just to talk to interviewees! Another thing I noticed is that students here DO a lot. Many of the schools I've visited talk about all the opportunities that they have available, but talking to the students you get the sense that it's one thing to have opportunities available and completely another to have a student body that is really taking advantage of them and utilizing them for whatever reason. I'm the kind of person that does what he needs to in terms of class and tries not to focus all too much on that, so I found the Hopkins student mentality refreshing as other students in comparison seemed to weigh their courses too much for my liking. The facilities here are gorgeous as other people have mentioned, they have a new learning center where all the 1st and 2nd year classes are held, a new research facility where the admissions office is also located, and a new hospital. They obviously have the resources to give students the highest quality of medical training and in addition to that they have an amazing, rich history of medicine. This is the hospital that revolutionized medicine and really made modern medicine into what it is today. For example, the concept of a "residency" started here, they were the first school to require certain undergraduate coursework, Willie Halsted was an original physician here and wrote the classical surgical text used for over a century - I could go on. It's true that Baltimore is not a great place, and it's funny that some of the interviewees here constantly tried to make it sound like they were super excited about the possibility of living in Baltimore... please... but despite the bad rap that it gets, I think that if you know where to look you can make the best out of your time there. The fact that Hopkins is situated "in the middle of the projects" is actually a plus - you get to treat an underserved patient population with lots of problems representative of that type of community (which is important to me for my future career goals) while also treating high-profile diseases that are being flown in for specialized care at Hopkins. Gosh, this place was pretty darn amazing. It's going to be a long wait until December, but I'm not going to get my hopes up too much.
The Bottom Line:
Hopkins really impressed me - I liked it much more than I anticipated I would have. This was definitely one of my top choices going into final decisionmaking but I knew that between Harvard and Hopkins, I would attend Harvard because of more interdisciplinary opportunities and more desirable location. Harvard financial aid was also significantly better (can't say if it's this particular year or that's the case in general). Residency, perhaps?
Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, Late September-
I got in pretty late at night so I didn't have a chance to explore much of the undergraduate campus or the Nashville area. The medical campus was very nice though and reminded me a bit of UNC's medical campus because of their copious use of bricks combined with some newer metal-glass based buildings. It seemed like the two main attractions of Vanderbilt are 1) their focus on student wellbeing and happiness through the college system (students are divided into 4 "houses" like in Harry Potter, many other schools are starting to do this but I suppose Vanderbilt's is the original and is the program being emulated by other schools) that is conducive to many social outings and activities and 2) the new 1-year preclinical curriculum. I'll focus on the new curriculum here since that was what most interested me about Vanderbilt. From what I gathered, in the 1st year you learn some of the basics of medicine without some of the more in-depth anatomical explorations (the gross anatomy course is integrated into the curriculum throughout the year). So you're not learning what you would normally learn in 2 years in 1 year, you're learning less than what you would learn in a traditional preclinical curriculum in the 1 year. This is graded P/F. Afterwards, you do your core clerkships. This is graded H/HP/P/F. As a 2nd year at Vanderbilt, you're like a 3rd year at other institutions. Then after that you have these "immersion experiences" that are sort of like electives except they also incorporate the basic science behind the clinical experiences in a sort of longitudinal, hybrid course. The idea is that you learn the basic science at the same time that you work in the clinic. This idea makes sense to me, but what worries me is the execution - lots of things can make sense in theory, but then be a bust in practice. When my interviewer talked about it though, he made it sound pretty appealing. It's definitely going to be a very dynamic and exciting time at Vanderbilt for the entering class of 2013 because they'll be sort of "guinea pigs" for curriculum 2.0, and their voices and opinions will be taken very closely into consideration in crafting the curriculum to its final form. Moreover, everyone seemed super happy here, being very gracious and kind because of that whole flavor of southern hospitality. If I get in, I'd love to come back to get a better feel for Nashville and the campus as a whole, and maybe learn a little bit more about the potential as well as problems associated with curriculum 2.0. All in all, a great place to do your medical training.
The Bottom Line:
I enjoyed Vanderbilt but it didn't wow me. Nashville I could do with or without and if possible I would prefer to attend a school with a tried and true curriculum. Student wellness is great, but I didn't really see how it was all that different from comparable schools with better clinical training and more extensive research opportunities.
University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine, Early October-
It's been a while since I wrote one of these descriptions, and now I'm writing this one two months after attending the interview so some of the details are hazy in my mind. What I do remember is that Penn has a wonderful integrated campus with the undergraduate and professional/graduate schools connected to each other in a beautiful historic setting. Penn was the only interview day that actually gave us about 30 minutes to observe and take part in an anatomy lab session with some current medical students - pretty cool! When we walked through the lobby, our student tour guide pointed out a physician who walked right past us who just so happened to be the pioneer of the lung transplant. Penn is the kind of place where you can walk through the halls and, chances are, you'll walk by some giants of medicine. My interviewers were both quite friendly. I enjoyed the school a lot, and Penn offers 34 full tuition scholarships to each entering class, which is incredible and as you would expect recruits some of the very top students to attend.
The Bottom Line:
Harvard Medical School, Early October-
Wow. The white marble medical complex here is breathtaking. I sat outside in the quad in the cool, crisp Boston air for half an hour just taking it all in. The sheer amount of faculty, research, and interdisciplinary leadership going on here is unparalleled by any other institution in the country, and probably the world. The students here are top-notch and many are probably going to be pioneering innovative solutions in addition to being physicians. Students can choose to live dorm-style in Vanderbilt hall, right across from the medical quad. Room sizes vary greatly, but prices are very affordable. The interview day was unstructured, yes, but they don't do it to be pretentious "because they're Harvard", it's because their faculty are so spread out in hospitals across the city that it's hard to make the interview day "pretty" like other institutions do. They've identified this as an issue, and are trying to work something out to better accomodate interviewees in the future. I had one of my best interviews here in my opinion - my interviewer was clearly very well trained and super friendly. I felt like I was able to put my best foot forward in this interview (FYI, if you do great in an interview, chances are it's not because you're the most fantastic person to ever grace the earth with your sacred presence, it's because your interviewer knows how to make you feel comfortable and how to guide you well). My other interview was average at best. The interviews really aren't different from those at other schools, so don't prepare for them or treat them differently. Boston is such a nice, convenient city and Harvard has been my dream school for a while. I would be ecstatic to join this student body and this faculty.
The Bottom Line:
It still hasn't sunk in that I've been accepted here. My top choice pre-interview and my top choice afterwards as well. Will I shell out 320k to attend? That's a whole other story...
Generous financial aid grants and a small scholarship made HMS more affordable for my family and I. Taking the plunge.
Stanford University School of Medicine, Early October-
It took me 12 hours to travel here from the East Coast and I was exhausted by the time I arrived. Funny enough, it rained both days I was here which was disappointing and everyone kept apologizing for the bad weather since it's pretty much always gorgeous here. Stanford probably had the most structural development going on of any medical school I visited. The majority of their medical campus has been built in the past few years. Everything is super, super nice. The Li Ka Shing Center for Learning has a top floor devoted to only medical students, featuring a gym, showers, and great study and recreation areas. I was very skeptical of the MMIs coming in and.... I was very skeptical of them coming out. Honestly, I didn't think they went well, but I was thrilled to end up getting accepted here anyways. I really wasn't expecting it. But I think that speaks to what the MMI does. It takes emphasis away from the interview because if your traditional interviewer gives a lukewarm evaluation or says something negative, 99% it's game over for you. On the other hand, if you have an average MMI experience, you still have a great chance of getting in on the merits of the rest of your application. Now, I don't know how I actually performed on the MMI and I never will so I do not know if that's how I got in. I've dreamed of going to school on the West coast, but now that it's a reality it just seems so far away. I will definitely keep this place in mind and may be attending next Fall, but I still have a lot of soul-searching to do. Anyways, the research opportunities here compete with those of any of the other top medical institutions in the country, although I get the impression that clinical training is still a *little* bit lacking here - they just recently implemented graded evaluations for clinical rotations. Before that, residency directors didn't have a whole lot to choose students from, and I heard that some "bad apples" slipped through the system and hurt Stanford's reputation with some residencies, but I think the new policy will fix any of that in the future.
The Bottom Line:
I felt guilt-ridden after withdrawing from this school. Stanford is definitely on the rise in terms of research, infrastructure, and endowment, although people still voice concerns about the true quality of the clinical education at the School of Medicine. I guess the Cali life won't be my life this life. If that made sense. It's late.
Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Early October-
St. Louis is an interesting city with some historical districts but nevertheless it remains "fly-over" territory for the East and West coasts. If you go here for school, you'll probably be visiting your friends/family... not the other way around. There doesn't seem to be a whole lot (if any) city life going on here, but there are some shopping/eating/nightlife districts near WashU. In addition, there's a huge, beautiful park directly adjacent to WashU and separating the medical campus from the undergraduate campus which is great for people who like to enjoy the outdoors and go on runs. The students here are very smart individuals but I do get the impression that they are more academic than other comparable schools which definitely isn't a bad thing, but I don't really consider myself to fall under that category. Nonetheless, I met some very nice people that I could see myself being great friends with. I had one faculty interview that was probably my longest interview, lasting about one and a half hours which was a very interesting interview because he started out by asking me if I had any questions, and I seriously felt like I was interviewing him for the first 30 minutes. He was a great guy, and I guess he really liked me since I got in on the first possible date. The faculty here seem very dedicated to and fond of students. In addition, WashU is generous with lots of full-tuition and half-tuition scholarships of sorts, so getting one of those would make my acceptance that much sweeter. I will keep this place in mind and would love to see what my fellow classmates might be like at second look weekend.
The Bottom Line:
I was blown away by the full scholarship offer. WashU is an incredible institution and I was honored to be wanted by them - however, with a full scholarship now on the table from Duke I think that WashU is on the backburner since Duke would allow me to stay close to my SO and family.
Yale School of Medicine, Late October-
This was my last interview that I needed to travel to, and to be honest I was getting a little bit burnt out at this point. Not to the extent that it affected my performance and such, but schools were beginning to meld together in my mind. Nothing really stood out that much about Yale, except for the unique "Yale System" that we talked a lot about during the interview day. I have mixed feelings about the System - I'm a very independent and self-motivated learner, but I've never been put in such an unstructured environment before so I don't know if the added freedom would help me or hurt me in the long run. I still really like the idea though, and how much Yale emphasizes students as the core of the medical school. New Haven is pretty far up north, but I liked what I saw. It feels like a nice college town, even though it is surrounded by less affluent areas. Definitely didn't bother me. Writing this now, I don't actually remember much of the two interviews that I had. I think they were pretty run-of-the-mill. Yale's hospitals receive patients from a pretty large radius of New England, so students can get top-notch clinical and research training here. Certainly looking forward to hearing from Yale in March, but as of now it's not at the very top of my list - if I get in, I'll probably look over the possibility of attending with a finer comb.
The Bottom Line:
Happy to be accepted here! I also think I would be happy to attend, but New Haven is a little bit too out of the way for me. In addition, I think I would appreciate a little bit more structure to the curriculum.
Duke University School of Medicine, Late November-
My VERY last interview! It came a month after the previous one, and after my Thanksgiving holiday and after acceptances from Stanford and WashU so I can say that my heart wasn't completely in this one. I had to muster up considerable effort to even go, but I was very, very happy that I had gone afterwards. I was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked the school and the atmosphere, and how touched I was by the administration. I had heard lots of negative things about the school which I thought was a bad sign since I rarely heard anything bad about most medical schools I applied to. The one year preclinical curriculum has a reputation of being very stressful, and I still think it's probably more rigorous than the first two preclinical years at other schools but not to the extent that it had been portrayed in my mind. For someone like me who doesn't know what specialty he wants to pursue yet, this is a great place because you do your core clinical clerkships your 2nd year instead of your 3rd year, which gives you lots of time to make up your mind and make sure it's the right choice for you. You also get to take the boards after doing a year of clinical rotations, and with the board being an increasingly clinical scenario based exam, that is likely to correlate with higher Step 1 scores. This place would be convenient to home which offsets my relative dislike of Durham, and they are offering 10-15 full tuition scholarships a year, which could really seal the deal for me. Still, even getting in, I would possibly consider this as my home for the next four years.
The Bottom Line:
Got the full scholarship offer yesterday!!!! Cannot believe this was a school that I barely finished the essay for (only after 2 months of nagging by my parental units, yours truly) and that I halfheartedly attended the interview for as well. Now it's at the top of my short list of medical schools to attend. I loved the school's culture, am warming up to the 1-year preclinical curriculum, and hey, did someone say something about a brand spanking new medical education center? I would be a Dookie, but hey, at least I can infiltrate their basketball games!
Hardest decision of my life, but withdrew from Duke.