October 21, 2013

Med School Admissions Statistics, Part I: How Many People Get into Medical School?

The first day of autumn is coming this Saturday, and that means it’s admissions season!   If you’ve already gotten in your AMCAS application, you may be spending a decent amount of this time out of the crisp air and – instead – focusing on finishing up secondary applications, preparing for interviews, and charming admissions committees with your excellent credentials.  Considering how much time and energy we’re putting into this, let’s make sure we understand some of the numbers (after all, we’re science people, right?).  This post is the first in a series focusing on medical school admissions statistics.  Today, we tackle one of the most important questions:  How many people get into medical school?  And – as a follow-up – what can I do to increase my chances? The AAMC releases a wealth of valuable information each year about the admissions process.  If you haven’t found it yet, take a look at the AAMC FACTS tables.  Here, we’ll look at two in particular:  the number of applicants and the number of matriculants (individuals who were accepted to at least one medical school and officially enrolled).  We’ve generated a graph of this information to the right.  What’s striking here?  Well, while the number of applicants has increased quite a bit (from about 33,600 a decade ago to almost 45,000 last year!), the number of available seats in medical school hasn’t increased proportionately.  As a consequence, the percentage of accepted applicants has fallen over the last ten years, from a high of 49.0% in 2002 to 43.8% last year.  This information is NOT meant to scare you; rather, it points out how imperative it is to do everything you can to be a part of that group.  So what can we do to get there? Of course, the significance of a strong MCAT score and GPA, extracurricular activities, experience within medicine, and stellar recommendations cannot be overstated.  But when it comes maximizing that acceptance rate, consider the following:
  • Apply broadly – The national average of schools a pre-med student applies to is 13.  This accounts for individuals who were accepted by early decision (applying to only one school), however, so the average for the rest is a bit higher.  While you certainly shouldn’t send an application to every medical school in the country, don’t limit your options by applying to fewer than ten.  Not only do you want to get in, but it’s always great to have options!
  • Geography – Many state medical schools have higher acceptance rates for in-state applicants than out-of-state applicants; in fact, some schools will only accept in-state applicants for their medical programs.  If geography is working in your favor, use that to your advantage!  Not only do you benefit from your residency, but you may also get a whopping reduction in tuition.  No state school?  Check for partnerships with other schools – if you live in the Pacific Northwest, for example, you may be eligible for the WWAMI program.
  • New medical schools – There are certainly new medical schools emerging (even since I entered medical school in 2009, eleven new schools have been accredited).  These new schools are eager to teach the next generation of physicians.  Make sure you’re using up-to-date resources when searching for schools so you don’t overlook a great opportunity.
If you’re in the midst of applying, what strategies have you used to maximize your opportunities to go to medical school?  If applications are still a bit of time away, what do you think you could do to help prepare for them – even as a freshman in college? This article is Part I in a three-part series on Medical School Admissions Statistics.  For more information, check out: ...read more
Applying to Med School
April 20, 2013

9 Days Until Med School Insider 2013!

Kaplan Test Prep will host our fourth annual Medical School Insider on Monday, April 29th at 8pm ET.  This is our biggest event of the year for pre-meds and you absolutely don't want to miss it! The insights revealed at #medInsider are incredible, they'll really change the way you look at the admissions process!  Be sure to mark your calendar now for this year's live streaming event. Save your spot by clicking here now! A sneak peak from one of the questions last year:

What is holistic review in medical school admissions?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GLOvfD8zzxc&list=UUwZ7x4y5NY7tz-yEyz9gr4g&index=9 ...read more
March 4, 2013

The Pre-Medical Experience: A Critical Review

June 1st will be here before we know it.  Every year the opening day for submission of the AMCAS application comes and pre-meds apply to medical schools across the country in hopes of a coveted spot to continue the journey in their medical education. This past month the International Journal of Medical Education released a an article The undergraduate premedical experience in the United States: a critical review that raises some interesting points for pre-meds to consider as they begin to gear up for application season. Some important points to highlight from the journal shows empirical evidence insists that there is a strong correlation between pre-medical academic performance and pre-clinical academic performance. This just highlights how important your grades are.  Others argue that students enter medical school with values and ethical points that may be difficult to influence or alter with the current ethical curricula in medical schools. Recent studies on physician depression and burnout indicate that physician well-being is diminishing by the stress of pre-medical and medical education.  It is important to be well-rounded and find that ability to have life-work balance, to maintain happiness. Another interesting study cited in the article notes that the “pre-medical syndrome” perception of being cut-throat and competitive is actually just a stereotype and many pre-meds go above and beyond to diversify their courses and make it a point to work together in cooperative studying. The main conclusion from the article notes that while some more research is going to be needed to further expand the insight into what pre-medical education “is” and “what it needs”.  It might be interesting to conclude that while being “pre-med” correlates to formal curriculum requirements and strong social norms that influences the identity of the “ideal” and “successful” premed student, pre-meds as a whole are a unique and diverse set of individuals. This article provides a unique opportunity for you as a student to ask yourself a couple questions…
  • Why medicine? What draws you to it?
  • What are you doing to further your understanding of the medical community and things taking place in it?
  • How are classes going? Do you need to seek out help to improve grades in a particular area of study?
  • Have you established close relationships with professors that can attest to your character and provide a meaningful Letter of Recommendation?
  • What experiences help you standout that you could write about in your personal statement?
The important point I would like to convey to everyone is that there are certain requirements of the pre-medical track i.e. the MCAT, volunteering, coursework, etc. However, each of you has unique experiences that are forming your character and skill set that will be integral to your medical education and practice. Don’t lose sight of the big goal, the privilege and opportunity to be a physician. Find confidence in what makes you, and bring that into the upcoming applications! So I leave this post not only with thoughts of #MCATdomination, but more importantly a check to find that confidence that you can bring great things to medicine.  The stress and the long days can be hard, but the hard work pays off. ...read more
January 3, 2013

Application Essentials V: Non-Medical Extracurriculars and Experience

There are many things to consider on your path to becoming an excellent physician: preparing for the MCAT (the current or the new MCAT 2015), nailing a 4.0 GPA both semesters, or writing a killer personal statement for that AMCAS application. And then there's the consideration of maintaining a personal and pre-med life balance: I'm planning on playing the piano more in this coming year.  Given the daily grind of medical school, it's gone on the wayside for some time, but it's always important to keep up with your life outside of medicine.  Which brings us to today's topic:  non-medical extracurriculars, and how they fit into your application. But aren't medical extracurriculars far more important? While medical schools do expect you to demonstrate your enthusiasm for medicine through research, shadowing and volunteerism, these are not the only activities that matter.  Non-medical extracurriculars help show who you are as a person outside the classroom, what kind of citizen you are within society, and what passions simply make you more human (and, thus, more relatable to patients).  They show your ability to balance myriad responsibilities, manage time, and hone multiple skills.  They allow schools to increase diversity of the candidates entering the medical school.  And, in the end, they often make you... you! What characteristics are schools looking for in these activities? There's no clear-cut answer, since every extracurricular is slightly different, but here are some themes you'd want to emphasize about these activities:
  • Leadership - taking an important position in the group (executive board, President of a Greek-letter organization, captain of a team, drum major of the band) demonstrates your ability to assume responsibility, be charismatic, and delegate activities efficiently.  A sustained leadership position significantly increases the relevance of an activity for the admissions committee.
  • Commitment - this may be in terms of time (the intense schedules of a college athletics team, hours upon hours of rehearsal for a theater show, diligent preparation for debate teams), duration (sticking with a particular activity during your college career), or even helping to found a group (granted, this also shows leadership).  In any case, the practice of medicine (and just practicing to practice!) requires commitment to your patients and to the delayed gratification of receiving that MD.
  • Well-roundedness - as mentioned before, these activities allow a school to create a more diverse class.  Which means that unique, unusual, or rare interests and skills are actually a great inclusion in your application.  Even if you feel that your extracurriculars are somewhat conventional, highlight something unusual about your experience in them; this is one of the few chances you have in your application to really stand out as a different personality from the other applicants.
What if I'm not in undergrad anymore? No worries!  If you're currently employed, your job acts as a non-medical extracurricular, and clearly a very strong one.  Strong personal interests can also act as non-medical extracurricular activities, whether it's yoga, running marathons, crafting, or anything else. There may be less that can be written about these non-medical activities, but that's simply because there's less of a clear-cut path than with medical extracurriculars.  Don't neglect them! As we move into 2013, what else are you focusing on to get you to medical school?  And how can we help you accomplish those goals? This article is Part V in a seven-part series on Holistic Admissions.  For more information, check out: ...read more
Applying to Med School
December 12, 2011

The Med School Personal Statement: Where To Start

There’s a great line in the 2000 British stop-motion animation film Chicken Run. After surviving a brush with death, Babs, the sweet, daft chicken deadpans, “All me whole life flashed before me eyes . . . It was really borin’.”

Some of you may be feeling a little bit like poor ol’ Babs as you stare at an empty Word document – or blank sheet of paper for you old-fashioned types – wondering how you’ll ever manage to craft a personal statement for your medical school primary application that is interesting, meaningful, and no longer than 5300-characters-including-spaces. You might be thinking, Well, I haven’t cured any major diseases. I haven’t performed solo at Carnegie Hall. So I don’t really know what will be interesting or unique to write about. But if this is what you’re thinking, you’re missing the point of the personal statement.

First, let’s be clear about what the personal statement is not. It’s not an autobiography. You should never, ever start your personal statement with, “I was born in a one-room log cabin on a farm in Kentucky.” First of all, that wasn’t you – that was Abraham Lincoln. And even if you were born in a one-room log cabin on a farm, that information is most likely not relevant to your passion for medicine today.

At the same time, the personal statement is also not a “greatest hits” album of your academic and extracurricular achievements. You’ll come across as a self-important jerk if your essay is just “First I did this. Then I did that. Then I got this award. Then I was honored for . . .” You get the point. Besides, you’ve already provided your greatest hits in the Coursework and the Work/Activities sections of the AMCAS application, so there’s no point in taking up valuable space repeating yourself.

Lastly, your essay is not a confessional. Nobody is all that interested in reading an extended apology for all your various shortcomings (such as that C- in first semester Orgo), failures, or character defaults. It’s also not a position paper. This is not the time or the place to offer your astute analysis and critique of health care reform efforts under the Obama administration, regardless of how well you know the issue.

So what is the personal statement? It’s personal, which means that it must be sincere, thoughtful, and open, and honest. These are your qualities, by the way; you reveal these hard-to-quantify attributes through your writing. It’s a statement of your motivation – or more accurately, a demonstration of your commitment to the mission of medicine.  You must show rather than tell. The personal statement is a focused narrative of your developing identification with and embodiment of the humanist commitments of the medical profession. It doesn’t promise the kind of doctor you’re going to be – and by kind, I don’t mean specialty. It demonstrates, it shows, the kind of care-taker you’ve already come to be. Medical school admissions committees want to see the record of your compassion, your humanism, your dedication to supporting the health and wellness of individuals and communities. They want to see your empathy in action; they want to know how you’ve embodied the qualities of an excellent physician.

If this sounds a bit grandiose, remember that no one expects you to have performed miracles. In fact, your narrative may tell a small, quiet story of gently applying a cool washcloth to a febrile toddler’s forehead, calming him down by clasping his small hand in yours. Or your narrative might describe how – as a premed art history major – you slowly, but powerfully, began to understand your love for interpreting art in order to understand the artist as a metaphor for your role as a care-taker in the building of relationships through the physicality of the body. The power of a well-written personal statement is not found in the drama of the events you describe, but in the depth of your reflection on the meaning of those events for your development as one who is already dedicating his or her life to supporting the wellness of individual people and communities.

Editor’s note: Students interested in learning more about writing the personal statement are invited to join one of Kaplan’s free Personal Statement Workshops. Simply visit KaplanMCAT.com and search for free events to find one that matches your schedule. 

...read more
Applying to Med School
November 7, 2011

The Hardest Med School Interview Question

“So tell me about yourself.”

It’s not even a question.  It’s a request, and in the opening moments of your medical school interview, it may sound more like a hostile command.   But it is perhaps one of the most common ways in which your med school interviewers may invite you to join in conversation with them.  How would you respond to this non-question question?  It doesn’t seem easy, as I’m sure you’re well aware.  Because it’s so open-ended, we tend to hem-and-haw and sputter out the first thing that comes to mind, and our response usually starts with, “Well, I was born in…”  Ugh!  No!  You’re missing the point of the interviewers’ request.  They don’t care where, when, or how you were born; or where you lived until you were seven; or that you currently own a hamster.   (On the other hand, if you and your hamster have achieved world fame as a banjo duo, then you might want to mention that.)

What is the point, then, of this non-question question that so often gets us out of sorts? Well, that’s actually sort of the point:  they want to see how you respond to an unstructured situation.  Rambling on, creating one big messy non sequitur, or – worst of all – asking of your interviewers, “What do you want to know?” all point to the same problem:  a lack of both forethought and reflection.  Both are essential for being prepared to effectively manage unstructured or ambiguous situations.   You mistake their intention if you believe that they really only want to get to know you personally.  Sure, this is an opportunity to share personal information (more in a moment on what that means); but what you opt to share in response to the invitation reveals as much – if not more – about you as the actual details of your response.  Let me provide an example, but one that is so extreme, I’m guaranteeing you’ll get my point.  Saying, “Well, I love to get raging drunk every night.” reveals something about you.  And actually deciding that it would be appropriate to say, “Well, I love to get raging drunk every night.” as your opening line in a med school interview also says something – far worse – about you.

Med school interviewers rely on “So tell me about yourself.” because it is unstructured and open ended, and they know that how you respond will reveal not just some of your life details (no matter how banal or interesting) but also some of your character and values.   So give some forethought to your response by reflecting on the personal qualities you possess that are most appropriate to share with your med school interviewers.  Keep the following in mind:

1.  Your med school interview is a job interview; it’s not a first date.  Make sure the information you share is relevant to the primary goal of the interview:  to determine whether you and that medical school are a good fit.

2.  This is only the opening moment of the interview.  Keep your response short and to the point.  It should only take a minute or so to answer this question.  Like a good movie preview or a well written prologue, your response should capture your interviewers’ attention, draw them in, and get them excited to hear more from you.

3.  You can take control of the interview conversation by sharing information relevant to topics that your interviewers will be compelled to return to later (because you’ve given them a hint of something interesting about you that they just can’t wait to know more about).

4.  Remember that the interview is a continuation of a conversation that began months earlier with the AMCAS primary application, the personal statement, the secondary application essays, and the letters of recommendation.  Of course depending on whether your interview is based on an “open” or “closed” file, your interviewers will already know a lot , very little, or nothing at all about you.  Regardless, highlight a few accomplishments or qualities and illustrate them with a couple of short memorable stories.  People love stories, but only if they’re told well, so practice telling your stories before your interviews.

You’re going to be faced with this question.  Don’t fear it!  Look forward to it, and be prepared.

So, now that you know more about this question, tell me about yourself.

...read more

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