August 20, 2014

The 3 Phases of Applying to Medical School

[caption id="attachment_1526" align="alignright" width="300"] Most students will prep between October and April of their junior year. Click image to download.[/caption]

Intimidated by applying to medical school?

We get it; the medical school admissions process can be daunting. After all, the end result of becoming a doctor is something you’ve wanted for a long time—something that’s going to help you pursue your vision of the “good life.” So it’s only natural to want everything to be perfect when you submit your application. Today, we will break down and simplify the application process to take the edge off.  

3-phase process

Applying to medical school is both a three-phase process and a rolling one, meaning decisions at each stage are made on an ongoing basis—not at any one or two predetermined points in the year. In fact, while schools have a final submission deadline, it is often ill-advised to wait for that date to roll around, as classes are sometimes full by that point. Let's look at the phases of the medical school application process.  

1) The primary application

The primary application—as its name suggests—is the first portion you will submit, and generally the earliest it can be sent is the first week of June of the application year—the year immediately before your first year of attendance. So, if you wanted to start medical school in the fall of 2016, you would submit your primary application in June of 2015. Most U.S. medical schools use the American Medical College Application Service® (AMCAS®), which is the Association of American Medical Colleges' (AAMC) centralized medical school application processing service. The great thing about AMCAS participating schools is that, no matter how many med schools you apply to, you submit just one online application to AMCAS. If you apply to non-AMCAS schools, however, you will have to fill out primary applications specific for each one. Prior to submitting, start gathering all the materials that will go into your primary application. It’s best to begin this process in April and May. You will need to: For the month of May, you can input responses, grades, and a personal statement into the system so that it’s ready to send in early June when submissions open. Try to submit your primary application as soon as possible in June. However, don’t rush it, because once you submit the primary application, you can't go back and change anything!  

2) The secondary application

There are two possible outcomes at this phase in the application process:
  • the medical school will reject your application, and the process ends there for that school, or
  • the medical school will send you its secondary application
The secondary application is specific to each school you are applying to—this is where schools ask the specific questions they want answered. Many schools will just want an application fee and no additional info to continue the process, but some will want to know a great deal. The key here is a fast turnaround. In an ideal world, you will spend much of July and August submitting secondary applications. Once schools have your secondary application, they will review it along with the primary application and start dividing students into three groups: those they will invite for an interview at the school, those they will not, and the “unsures.”  

3) The medical school interview

If you do not get an interview from a particular medical school, they will notify you right away, and the process will end for that school. If a school wants an interview, they will also notify you, and you should schedule your interview at the earliest convenient time. Candidates in the third category, however, will not hear anything until that school moves them into one of the other two categories. As schools are interviewing applicants, they are making decisions. Usually, you will hear one way or another within a month of interviewing, but sometimes this phase takes longer: it all depends on the school’s individual process. Some candidates will not be rejected, but placed on a waiting list that will be reviewed as candidates accept and decline offers. It’s long process, but completely manageable with the right planning. In future posts, we will take a look at how to achieve the best outcome at different points in the application process. Stay tuned!   We want to hear from you! Tell us what the good life means to you and how you plan to get there in the comments below, on Facebook, and on Twitter using #kaplangoodlife. We may share your story in an upcoming post. Then stay tuned for more articles to get you inspired!. Visit to unlock the good life. more
Applying to Med School
April 23, 2013

6 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 activities and extracurriculars should premed students get involved in? more
Applying to Med School
April 22, 2013

7 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:

Do medical schools have a cutoff for GPA and MCAT scores? 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. more
Your Future
August 29, 2011

Modern Technology in Medical School

Modern technology has changed the way that we live our lives; you can now order almost anything you want online, pay your bills and invest money easily without visiting the bank, and essentially live your life without ever having to leave your home. These changes have spread to the healthcare industry as well, and medical students are now starting to see the benefits of some of those changes firsthand. iPads, online materials, and lectures that resemble game-shows are only a few of the changes that make medical school much different today than it was when your parents and grandparents were younger.

Tablet computers are one of the most prominent ways that technology has changed medical school. Stanford University and the University of California, Irvine (UCI), as well as many other schools, now give each incoming medical student an iPad. The tablet is meant to take the place of heavy textbooks, and the apps are meant to re-enforce lecture material. Physicians are mobile people, going from clinic to clinic, and training medical students with mobile technology that they can carry anywhere is a very bright idea. The applications are helpful as well; UCI students no longer have to climb out of bed in the early morning hours and try to rush to the anatomy lab to study the cadavers before everyone else, because virtual anatomy lab apps are realistic enough to portray the intricate structure of veins, arteries, and nerves.

More and more schools are now going online as well. Instead of handing out 500 page packets of reading material at the beginning of each lecture block, students can log on to the course website, watch a podcast of the lectures, review the slides, and practice using the quizzes and workshops. Some of the online materials even have digital recordings of heart and breathing sounds as well as thousands of pictures of histology slides for students to review.

At Tulane University School of Medicine, the pharmacology classes use the Just-In-Time Teaching (JITT) method to create “on-demand” lectures. Before classes, students are assigned readings and then take a brief online quiz based on those readings. Faculty can then view these results, and the topics that the students have the hardest time with are reviewed the most during the next day’s lecture. This streamlines the learning process and allows the instructors to spend more time going over the areas of greatest need, which benefits the students.

The JITT method also gauges students’ understanding in real-time. Many medical schools and even undergraduate programs have begun using “clicker” technology in the classroom; throughout lectures, multiple choice questions will pop up and students will use hand-held devices they are given at the beginning of the semester to buzz in with their answer. The results are quickly tabulated, and if the majority of students responded correctly, the lecturer moves on. If the students had a tough time with the question(s), however, the instructor can stop and go over the material again so that any confusion can be cleared up. This innovative structure allows the students to take more ownership of lectures and dictate the pacing and emphasis.

Of course, the applications of technology extend beyond the classroom, and even beyond medical school. Your third and fourth years of medical school require long hours in the hospital, and while playing Angry Birds might make the time go by faster, having applications that help diagnose illnesses, determine a pregnant woman’s due date, and look up pharmacological effects of prescription medicines can be an absolute life-saver (pun-intended) on the wards. In addition, the continued push for electronic medical records will help ensure that physicians have the most up-to-date information about their patients as they make their rounds.

Clearly technology is rapidly changing the way that medicine is practiced in the U.S. We may not have to walk to school uphill through the snow like our grandparents keep telling us they did, but we can learn efficiently, recall information quickly, and do it all without carrying a stack of books and notes everywhere we go! more
Applying to Med School
August 15, 2011

Casting a Network: How to gain exposure during the application cycle

When it comes to the medical school selection process, schools sometimes receive as many as 100 applications for every spot that is available. The majority of applications are extremely similar: high GPAs, top MCAT scores, and ample community service and clinical involvement. The difference between an accepted applicant and one that is not can be quite thin. In times like these, schools deeply appreciate knowing more about applicants than just the details found in their med school application. That means being more than just a name with some numbers attached to it. To achieve this, you need to harness the power of networking; taking the initiative to reach out and increase your knowledge beyond the information on the school’s website can go a long way. There are steps you can take before, during, and after the interview process to increase your chances of getting noticed and ultimately being accepted at your top-choice school.

In business, they say “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” This can be very true in medicine as well. With all of the modern ways to communicate today, it is crucial that applicants use these mediums for their benefit. A call to the admissions office to make sure that an application was received should end with, “Are there any tours of the campus I can attend or any particular students, faculty, or staff I can reach out to with questions?” Make sure that you do not stop there. If you have friends that go to these schools, reach out to them and ask them to put you in touch with other people as well. If you have any free time to visit the actual campus, be sure to do so. The beauty of networking is how exponential it can be. One phone call or email can lead to a conversation with someone who will reach out to someone else on your behalf and continue to keep the wheels rolling until you arrive for your interview. At that point, you are not a strange face but rather someone that they have heard about and are eager to meet.

In addition, when you are on campus for a med school interview, it works out more to your advantage to be familiar with the buildings, the classrooms, and the surrounding city as well. You will be asked questions like “How long are you in town?” or “Have you been able to do any sight-seeing?” Having answers to these questions is important. Saying, “I’m just here for the interview and then I’m flying back” without a mention of returning is not nearly as reassuring an answer as “I flew in yesterday and I’m staying for the weekend” or “I’m excited to do that this evening, do you have any suggestions?” Getting insight into the people, the places, and the general culture of the school leaves a lasting impression. Seeing other students there and introducing yourself and getting their feedback goes a long way. These are things that cannot be taken too lightly.

After an interview, maintaining contact is just as important as initiating it was earlier in the application process. Many people will say that ‘Thank you’ cards are important, but today a quick follow up email sent directly to the interviewer will suffice. Be sure to do so within 24 hours of the interview, and always leave room for continued contact by writing something like, “If you know of any students I could reach out to with questions, please let me know” or “As we discussed, I’m really interested in research opportunities, do you know anyone in that area that I could reach out to?” These steps are vital and if you do not take them, there are many applicants who will so keep that in mind as you progress through this lengthy and intricate process. Above all, remember that networking shouldn’t be a chore; these people are your future colleagues, so getting to know more about them and their work now should be an exciting prospect for you. more
Pre-Med Life
July 25, 2011

Professionalism for Pre-Med Students

By Patrick Boyle, Kaplan Elite MCAT Instructor

Summer is in the air and hopefully you are finding some time to take a well deserved break from the rigors of the pre-health lifestyle.Whether you are in the middle of applying to medical school or are gearing up for the next school year, this is a great time to re-evaluate an important but often overlooked aspect of being a “professional” pre-health student.Professionalism is a word that means different things depending upon what environment you are in, however, there are some things that remain true no matter the situation.So what does professionalism mean?

Webster’s dictionary defines professionalism as “the conduct, aims, or qualities that characterize or mark a profession or a professional person.”As a young doctor to be, you want to start practicing professionalism in all respects since it’s an important factor that medical schools consider on your application. What are the conducts, aims, and qualities you should be practicing?


“You’ve got mail!” Email has become a part of everyday life. Whether it is a quick email to a professor to ask when his office hours are or more importantly a question to a potential medical school you hope to attend, it is imperative to remember that anything in the email is expected to be professional.Everything written in an email is saved and will available to read again.You want to remember to keep your messages short, concise, and to the point, while avoiding any major grammar or spelling mistakes.Remember to save terms like “LOL” and “OMG” for texting with friends, and it probably goes without saying, but above all never use slang terms or profanity! It also pays to remember that the same rules should apply to your use of sites like Facebook and Twitter. While you may not be actively sharing these accounts with professors or medical schools, they are a part of your “public presence” so use caution. For more tips on using social media as a pre-med, check out this archived blog.


While I like to wear my favorite Hawaiian shirt or my brand new “Jersey Shore inspired” deep V-neck, there are certain types of dress you are going to want to avoid in professional situations.Remember,first impressions are crucial.This is important not only in your medical school interviews but when you meet a new professor during office hours.You probably don’t need to wear a suit to class every day, but you never know who you might need to ask to write you a letter of recommendation.


“Shut the front door!” Occasional expletives here and there are okay for the evening out with friends but do not hold a place in the world of professionalism.There is a time and place for crude language; however, it is important to remember that if you get in the habit of frequently using crude language it may be used at the wrong time.Slang terms and expletives should be avoided at all costs, not only does this make you look tacky; it could completely ruin your professional image.


“Hey, can I just look at the homework real quick?”We have all heard it. Hopefully we are the ones that are avoiding this situation.Accountability is of vital importance in the medical field.Being accountable for your actions now will ensure that you will continue to be an accountable doctor.Accountable people are ones that put forth their honest effort in their own work.On top of giving your best effort you want to make sure you show up and are on time for the things you say you will be.Just remember, patients do not like tardiness!

Hopefully these tips will help put you on the path to a career as a physician. Remember, as a pre-med you’ve already taken the first steps towards joining a respected group of professionals, and society will expect your behavior to reflect that. more
Your Future
July 19, 2011

Paying for Medical School: Will give physicals for food!

“Your bill will be $200,000. How would you like to pay for that? We take cash or check.”

These are words that no one ever wants to hear. Due to increasing costs, however, that is the average cost of tuition and expenses (rent, food, clothing, that shiny stethoscope) for a medical education. With so many different things to consider as a pre-med, one of the most overlooked is the actual cost involved. However, that doesn’t mean that it’s something you can ignore. Armed with the following advice, you will be one step ahead of most pre-meds and on the right path to managing the cost of getting your degree.

At some point in your medical education you’ll hear someone say, “Don’t worry, you’re going to be a physician - you’ll be able to pay it off.” The good news is that this is mostly true. Physicians’ starting salaries across the United States average around $175,000, so with a budget that limits extravagant expenses (sorry to burst your bubble, but there’s just not room for a yacht purchase with today’s medical school tuition costs) the sum of a medical education is not as extreme as it might sound. Federal student loan limits for medical school students are much higher than those for other graduate students, so you won’t have a problem getting loans to cover the cost. The best thing you can do now to ensure that you qualify for those loans is to confirm that you have a good credit rating. If you’ve been late sending in payments or don’t have established credit, now is the time to make sure you check your credit score and do whatever you can (pay down credit balances, don’t miss payments, and stop paying for things with credit) to raise your credit score.

There are also ways to lessen your financial burden. Many medical schools have lower tuition costs for in-state students, and some people are fortunate enough to have parents or other relatives who will pay for their tuition and/or their expenses (if you know anyone like that who is looking to adopt, please let me know). There are also little known loan-forgiveness programs for medical students who commit to practicing primary care in rural and underserved areas, and of course the armed services have one of the most lucrative scholarship and benefit packages for medical students; actually paying for the entire cost of a medical education as long as you commit to serving (as a physician) for a period of time after you graduate (the term of service varies depending on the course of your education).

You can always work part-time during med school to dampen some of the financial stress. Teaching, tutoring, and doing research are quite common and flexible enough to accommodate all the hours you’ll spend studying and working at the hospital. It also looks good on a medical residency application, which is great since you’ll be making money and boosting your resume at the same time.

A strong piece of advice is to not worry about the cost as long as you are fully aware of it. Know what you are getting into before you wind up at an interview asking for a scholarship (very bad idea). Rest assured that medical schools have dedicated financial aid departments with counselors paid to make sure that you are aware of how to apply for loans, pay your tuition, budget your expenses, and prepare to pay back that sometimes monstrous bill you will owe. As long as you commit to a budget (again, do not go out and purchase that yacht) and work with your school to apply for the right loans and scholarships, you’ll be able to look back on your medical education and realize that it was all money (lots and lots of money) well spent. more
Applying to Med School
May 16, 2011

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

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

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?

Personal Statement

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. more
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