The time from AMCAS submission to my first acceptance spanned just under 10 months. These times, combined with the culmination of my senior year of undergrad, included some of the stressful moments of my life along with some of its most exciting triumphs. Now that I’ve been accepted an am now wrapping up the final moments of this process, I find it rather poetic that something as emotionally-charged and zany as medicine could have an equally crazy application process. First, however, I should say that this isn’t necessarily typical and doesn’t have to be your application experience. I made my fair share of mistakes along the way that potentially prolonged my wait. I have some friends who were accepted to fabulous, pretentious schools right off the bat and others whose experiences were more like mine. Second, I imagine that most of you reading are future applicants, and that few of you care as much about my story as what you could learn from it. I am writing this in hopes of passing on some advice that might help you possibly mitigate stress and heartbreak during your admissions experience. And for those of you who will still be waiting a year from now, stay strong—you’re not in this alone!
I’m limiting my advice to what happens after you submit AMCAS. I think there is plenty of great MCAT and PS advice out there, and I know my advice wouldn’t be as good as what has already been written. My advice is probably also more applicable to those with high but not amazing genius level MCATS (e.g. 34-39) who want to attend research universities. Sorry, it’s just the limit to my experience.
1) I had a mentor once tell me that in medical school admissions “there is no such thing as a safety school.” And to some extent, this is true: no school is a cakewalk to get into (unless you have a state school that is easy to gain acceptance from). However, this does not mean to only apply to schools in your perceived stratum or that there are not any schools were you’d have a higher chance of acceptance. If you look at my application, this is pretty much what I did for 12 schools. I also added a risky state-biased middle-tier (IUSM) and a low-tier school whose profile I did not match at all. So definitely be careful not to apply to schools that might automatically discount your application on account of too-high stats or research experience or something. However, be sure to apply to schools at the level just below what you (and your mentors) believe you are competitive for. In my case, I considered myself competitive for almost anywhere outside of the top 10 or so, but I probably should’ve applied to some places that were maybe a touch below my target profile of school, such as a Jefferson, etc.
2) Apply to schools that you’re actually really excited for. Of the 14 schools that I applied to, I was only really ecstatic about 10 of them. This seems like common sense, but I honestly didn’t do it. Unsurprisingly the schools that I ranked pre-application as my favorites (with the exception of a couple amazing top-tiers that were reaches anyway, Columbia and UMich) were schools at which I scored interviews. Some of the others that are great schools but places I was more lukewarm about (Yale, Sinai, Emory) were not surprisingly places where I was rejected. Looking back at my secondary essays, it’s fairly apparent which schools I liked more. Applying to medical school is tough enough; make sure to send secondaries to places that you would truly want to attend.
3) Again, this sounds obvious, but I didn’t do it: prepare for your interviews. I have plenty of great reasons for going into medicine and doing the things that I did. However, I hadn’t composed a coherent, organized, concise answer to even something as simple as “why medicine?” I think this in part stems from the fact that I didn’t do any mock interviews (make sure to do at least one if you can). I just sort of assumed that because I was a well-qualified applicant with high stats, an amiable personality, interesting enough background, and other good personal qualities, I would be fine waltzing into an interview and performing wonderfully. I was wrong. The thing is, especially at “~top 20” schools (however you define that) and probably everywhere else, is that everybody is well-qualified with good stats, an amiable personality, and nice personal qualities. It is a nice coping mechanism to assume that other people with high stats must have some deficiencies (usually assumed to be horrible personality), but I think this is simply untrue. In my experience I found that some people were just plain amazing and few of my co-interviewees were actually true social cavemen/cavewomen. Remember that you’re being interviewed for a reason, but you still have to perform. Make sure to prepare for interviews with similar intensity to how you approach the MCAT or your personal statement. It’ll make a huge difference for your application’s chances.
4) Finally, stay with student hosts. I really enjoyed meeting some fabulous people while saving money (I enjoyed that too). Some of the most candid advice/opinions about schools I received from my hosts. Your host will likely give you honest answers to your questions and help you prepare for the interview.
Good luck to those of you who are applying! And a big thanks to the SDN/MDapps community, for being a constant reminder that I was never in this alone.