If you are considering applying to medical school, you may be wondering if you have a shot in this uber-competitive process. Indeed, the national average of applicants accepted to at least one medical school is only 41%. But here at Collegiate Gateway, we are very proud of our success rate of 94%. We help pre-meds realistically evaluate their chances, and help them become the best applicants possible.
We have developed a candidacy evaluation framework that examines two categories of factors: background and application. In Part I of our series, we discussed Background Factors. We will now discuss Application Factors, which include all the components of the application process, such as your medical school list, essays (Personal Statement, activity essays, and secondaries), recommendations, and interviews, as well as the timing of your submission.
Here are the questions we ask about your application:
Med School List
- Is your med school list appropriate to your GPA and MCAT score? We look at relevant in-state and out-of-state scores of accepted applicants, including mid 50th percentile, 75th percentile, and median. Given the overall selectivity of the application process, we feel that to be a competitive candidate, you should typically be near or above the 75th.
- Should you consider DO (osteopathic) or offshore (Caribbean) programs in addition to the more competitive MD (allopathic)? DO programs typically have higher acceptance rates, plus they offer a more holistic, hands-on, and preventive approach to medical care.
- Have you adequately reflected on the “best-fit” features of med schools? Beyond considering your chances of acceptance, take a hard look at the kind of environment that will help you thrive over four intense years. Consider the missions of various med schools and whether they align with your values. Evaluate their curricula: Do the schools you’re considering offer a unique curricular approach that appeals to you, specialized coursework in the form of electives or tracks, and/or research programs that pique your interest? Will you have sufficient clinical exposure and research opportunities in your areas of interest? Do you have location preferences or requirements? If you are particularly interested in working with certain populations, such as rural or underserved, identify schools close to communities where these populations are likely to live.
Timing of Submission
- Are you prepared to submit the first day that applications open? Yes, we even recommend submitting in the first hour! Typically, the AMCAS application for MD programs opens on or about June 1, and the AACOMAS application for DO programs opens in early May.
Med school admissions are rolling, and there is a significant advantage to submitting early. The earlier you apply, the earlier your transcript will be verified, the earlier you will receive secondary applications, and the earlier you will be considered for interviews!
Personal Statement and Activity Essays
- Does your Personal Statement represent you in the strongest, most authentic way possible? This essay should make a compelling case for why you want to become a physician, weaving a narrative of influential past experiences and your goals for the future.
- Did you choose the most important activities to include in your Activity List? Did you aptly identify the Most Meaningful activities to describe in detail? We advise that you vary the activities you select as your Most Meaningful in order to provide a well-rounded portrait. For example, you might include one research, one shadowing, and one volunteer activity to highlight.
- Does your Personal Statement differ significantly from your resume and activity essays, rather than rehashing these items without explaining the relationship between them? The strongest Personal Statements show, via a captivating story, the impact of your most influential experiences on your drive to become an excellent physician. In addition, you should vary the content of your Most Meaningful activities from the experiences you focus on in your Personal Statement in order to provide the fullest and most multi-faceted portrait of yourself possible.
- Did you approach your secondary essays with care and thoughtfulness? Secondary essays are sent to applicants after the primary AMCAS application is received. These essays are unique to each medical school and play a critical part in your evaluation. Many students underestimate the importance of secondary essays and wait to draft them until they begin to receive them (typically from late June through August). But each medical school may have between 1-5 secondary essays, and the protocol is to submit them within two weeks of receiving the secondary application. If you end up applying to at least 25 medical schools (which we recommend), you may receive secondaries from 8-10 med schools in the same week!
Our strategic approach is to work on the primary essays (Personal Statement and activity essays) from January through April, and then work on anticipated secondary essays in May and June so that you can hit the ground running.
- Did you ask the most appropriate people to write your recommendations? Consider all of the professionals with whom you have interacted during college. Try to have recommendations from varied sources, including faculty members, research mentors, supervisors of employment or volunteer work, and physicians you’ve shadowed. For faculty members, the most important category, try to include at least one from a science faculty member and one from your major or minor if either is outside the natural sciences.
- For faculty members, did you choose professors who know you personally? It’s not enough to have received an A in the course. Med schools will know your grades from your transcript so if all the professor writes about is your final grade, the recommendation will not provide additional information. Select faculty who know your intellectual capabilities and your passion for science. Preferably, choose faculty with whom you took at least two courses and interacted outside of class, such as in office hours.
- Did you select recommenders in accordance with the requirements of each med school? For example, some med schools require one or two recommendations from science faculty members; others require a recommendation from your research mentor if you conducted research. Check each med school’s requirements before you request letters!
- Are your recommenders familiar with what med schools expect? Review AAMC’s Guidelines for Writing a Letter of Evaluation for a Medical School Applicant, which discuss relevant practices and relevant content to include, as well as their listing of the 15 “Core, Entry-Level Competencies” that med schools value most. Feel free to send this document to recommenders so that they’re adequately informed.
- Did you prepare adequately for your interviews? You should thoroughly research the unique features of each medical school and review your application prior to your interview. We strongly recommend conducting a mock interview with a professional familiar with the standards of med school interviews who is willing to provide extensive feedback.
At Collegiate Gateway, we provide mock interviews for all three of the current formats requested by various medical schools, including the traditional interview; the MMI (Multiple Mini-Interview); and CASPer (Computer-Based Assessment for Sampling Personal Characteristics), which is a situational judgment interview.
Evaluating your candidacy at the end of each year of college will enable you to be as strong an applicant as possible. This self-reflection will also help you decide on the ideal timetable for applying to med school, and whether you are in a competitive enough position to matriculate immediately after graduating college or would benefit from one or two gap years.
Typically, we begin working with pre-med students early in their college career and guide them on all of the above factors. Occasionally, we work with a re-applicant who was not accepted to any medical schools in the previous cycle when they were working on their own. In these cases, we do a comprehensive retrospective evaluation of their background and application factors to identify shortcomings and develop a plan to address any vulnerabilities.
Once you’ve done all the heavy lifting throughout your college years to become the best possible candidate for med school, you’ll want to make sure that your application is the strongest, most authentic representation of you! If you would like guidance on any aspect of your pre-med preparation or med school application process, contact Collegiate Gateway. As always, we’re happy to help!