THE BRIDGE TO COLLEGE
What You Need to Know About Applying to Medical School
You already know that getting into medical school is hard. But perhaps you are unaware of the application process, which is also … hard!
Let’s start with understanding the three “must do” items. Medical schools want to see great grades, a great Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) score, and a strong resume of health-related activity. Let’s take these so you can see what lies beneath those necessities.
Grades? You know that you need top grades. But often, college students get lost, living in a world without supervision, and academic challenges can become overwhelming. No longer living with parents, students lose connection with those important support people. Please, if academic issues become a problem, quickly contact mom or dad and ask for help ... quickly! Tutors can make a big difference.
As for the MCAT, this is a test that you cannot avoid. While many undergraduate schools make the Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT) and American College Testing (ACT) optional, few medical schools will admit you without a strong MCAT score. The MCAT is so critical that some students choose to wait a year to apply so they can study conscientiously, without the distractions of college. With that in mind, one important decision is when to apply to medical school – at your first opportunity, or a year later.
What can be tricky is resume building. Because medical school applications open earlier than those for other kinds of schools, there is very little time to collect relevant health experience such as research, internships, shadowing, and whatever else you can find. Plus, in the first year or so of college, you have no seniority and it’s very, very hard to get the experience you will want for a powerful application. Here is where networking – and perhaps the help of a consultant – can make a significant difference.
But what about the application process itself? It usually happens in three stages:
First, students apply to medical schools through a universal format known as AMCAS. For this, you will need your MCAT score, a personal statement essay, a list of your relevant experience with some explanation, your college grades, and just a bit more info. What surprises many is how early the American Medical College Application Service (AMCAS) site opens: in May of junior year, around Memorial Day. Because medical schools tend almost to be “first come, first served,” there’s a rush to get things done. For this reason, our company recommends that students seeking medical schools ideally start their consulting in January or February.
Second, once your chosen medical schools decide if they want to know more about you, they will ask for additional essays known as “secondaries.” This can happen as early as the beginning of July. Unfortunately, medical school applicants must write a lot of essays. We have had students write over 100 essays in just a few weeks! Obviously, since essays are subjective, not objective, quality writing can make a big difference. Be ready for a very challenging month or two of writing.
Third, if a medical school is still interested in you after reading your secondary essays, they will ask for an interview. Unlike in undergraduate admissions, the interview is an extremely important, independent part of the selection process. Those who interview well usually get multiple options. Those who do not interview well … don’t get admitted very often. Interview preparation is not something you want to do at the last minute. Our method is to prepare students for interviews between submitting the AMCAS and starting the secondary essays (in other words, prepare for the interview in June). For this, we recommend a multi-stage interview process, not just looking up some possible questions and practicing answers. That usually does not work.
Two pet peeves to avoid. In our experience, medical school applicants prefer to use the word “clinical” when describing actual patient interaction (as opposed to research). Seeing this word over and over and over just feels … dehumanizing. Second, talking about “patients” over and over and over also feels dehumanizing. Use a name, call them a person, or people. Please, avoid sounding robotic in a profession meant to address human suffering. Good bedside manner starts now.Yes, admission to medical school is hard. However, knowing what to do should help you succeed. At University Consultants of America, our students have done exceptionally well in the process. Whether in a hospital, clinic or admissions effort, all it takes is a little knowledge and a great team.
Robert LeVine is the founder and CEO of University Consultants of America, an independent educational consultancy assisting students around the world with applications to colleges, universities and graduate schools. For more information, call University Consultants of America, Inc. at 1-800-465-5890 or visit www.universitycoa.com