Being a Unique Applicant: How to Stand Out From the Crowd
by Patrick Boyle, Kaplan Elite MCAT Instructor
How many of you have been in a lecture hall of over three hundred people? How about in an auditorium with over a thousand people? Now imagine walking into a stadium with 42,880 other people. I would imagine it would be very easy to feel anonymous in a crowd that large. Well, last year 42,880 of your peers applied to medical school. Last week, the new AMCAS application opened and the first applications will be submitted at the beginning of June. Now keeping in mind you are in a “stadium” with roughly 40,000 other applicants, how can you stand out from the crowd?
By the Numbers
Standing out in the application process is much more than the numbers you believe might define you. Every student who applies has a MCAT, a GPA, and all of the required prerequisite classes. If you have a strong MCAT and a strong GPA that is a fantastic start; however, don’t forget that there are many other applicants who have similar numbers – it takes more than that to get noticed.
Clinical experience is a must in medical school admissions. Most, if not all of your fellow applicants will have some form of clinical experience, but how was yours different? Were you able to observe in a distinctive setting? Do you have clinical experience abroad? Are you a nontraditional student that has had employment in a clinical setting? Above all, consider what you learned; even if the experience itself wasn’t unique, what you took from it should be.
Research experience is becoming ever more common in medical school applicants; however, it’s not truly considered required. Even if many other applicants have done research, yours was probably different. Were you published? Was the research you did in a new and upcoming field? Just like with clinical work, the key is to focus on how you set yourself apart – what were you able to take away from your research to help you in the future?
The personal statement is your best chance to make your application memorable and unique. Here, you can really explain what makes you an individual. Each applicant has led a different life; the personal statement is a chance to show how the experiences in your life have shaped you and will continue to help you as a medical student. Don’t forget to check out last month’s blog post on writing the personal statement for additional tips on this subject.
Above and Beyond
Consider the things you were involved in that were unrelated to medicine? Were you on an athletic team? Have you played an instrument your whole life? Do you speak another language? There are plenty of things that make people individuals. Some people had to work their entire undergraduate careers to pay for college. Other applicants might be non-traditional students or members of the armed services. There are plenty of things that each of us does that should be included; the most important thing is to show admissions committees that you are a real, flesh and blood person. Don’t leave something out because it wasn’t academically or clinically related.
Today, diversity is more than the color of your skin or the origin of your ancestors; diversity can mean an experience you had abroad, an inspiration from a particular event while growing up, an experience from shadowing. Everyone has things that make them unique. One of the most important parts of the application process is being memorable to the admissions committee. Everyone follows their own path into medical school, and we will all eventually have our own path after. Remember that medical school is only the beginning – it is part of the journey into your life’s work, and that’s a story that only you can tell.