Applying to Med School
September 16, 2014

Med School Requirements: Letters of Recommendation, Part I

Identifying Your Recommenders

As an MCAT instructor, I routinely field questions about the med school application process, especially concerning credentials and Letters of Recommendation (LORs). Your med school application’s LORs carry the potential to pull admissions committees over to your side by showing them your many diverse attributes and personal qualities. To highlight these, you’ll want to submit excellent recommendations from professionals who can paint a flattering picture of you by way of vivid descriptions and sincere commendation. [embed][/embed]

Requirements for your Letters of Recommendation

Each medical school has its own set of standards and formats for the LOR, so you’ll want to do some research into the specific schools to which you’ll be applying. If you’re applying to US allopathic (MD) medical schools, visit the AMCAS website and check out the latest Medical School Admissions Requirements (MSAR) guide. If you’re applying to osteopathic (DO) medical programs, you should visit the AACOM website and check out the Osteopathic Medical College Information Book. Regardless, make sure you know the deadlines, number of letters required, and which recommenders you will need to approach for your varying types of recommendation letters.

Types of recommenders for your med school requirements:

  • Science Professors: You’ll want at least one recommender from a pre-med science, like biology or anatomy, to speak to your hard science credentials. The letter should not be written by a teaching assistant, though TAs are welcome to contribute their thoughts to the professor writing your letter. If you don’t have strong relationships with any of your professors, start visiting them during office hours to build a rapport.
  • Non-Science Professors: Reach out to a humanities or social sciences teacher (past or present) as well.
  • Physician: You want to find someone who knows you personally and If you’ve worked with or shadowed a physician during your pre-med extracurriculars, this is the perfect place to start.
  • Pre-Med Committee (only if your school performs this service): This is basically a cover letter that is written by your school’s pre-professional advising committee, pre-med office, or similar body at the institution.
In certain situations, it’s also recommended that you request letters from the following individuals:
  • Research Director or Principal Investigator, if you have research experience
  • Representative from Volunteer Programs, if you have medical-related volunteer experience
  • Graduate Program Director, if you are a graduate student or have completed your master’s degree
  • An Update…: A new letter accounting for your past year’s activities, credentials, and successes (if you are re-applying)

Characteristics too look for in med school recommenders:

When choosing the recommenders to help you meet your med school requirements, it’s important to note that the credentials of your letter writers do not carry more weight than what they write about you! In other words, just because someone is a well-respected authority in a specific field doesn’t necessarily make them the right person to pen one of your letters of recommendation—it’s far more important that they know you as an individual. Along the same lines, you want to avoid the dreaded form letter of recommendation because it says nothing unique about your personal attributes vs. those of any other applicant. Your goal is to identify writers who are knowledgeable about two things:
  1. Your unique characteristics and credentials
  2. The demands of medical school or the medical profession
Ideally, each letter will highlight just one or two of your many admirable qualities and specific experiences, so that when the letters are combined, the med school admissions committees at the schools you’re applying to can get a vivid and complete impression of your character. The AAMC & admissions committees have identified the following qualities as standards for people in the medical profession*:
  • adaptability
  • critical thinking
  • integrity
  • logical reasoning
  • oral communication skills
  • personal maturity
  • reliability
  • self-discipline
  • work habits
  • compassion
  • cultural competence
  • intellectual curiosity
  • motivation for medicine
  • persistence
  • professionalism
  • resilience
  • teamwork
Looking at the list above, which of these qualities do you possess? Who are the people in your life that can attest to this? Answering these questions will go a long way towards helping you identify and choose the people who will write your letters of recommendation. Check back next week for Part II of our discussion on letters of recommendation—requesting your letters!   *”Examples of attributes likely to be important to admissions committees,” 2011-2012 MSAR, p. 41, (c) 2010 by AAMC more
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
April 10, 2014

Meet Our Guests for Kaplan’s The Pulse This Monday

So you chose a few medical schools, and you have your top choice. But how do you make sure that you're accepted into the school of your choice? Well, it' not easy. That's why Kaplan has announced our two hour special programing of The Pulse that will feature a panel discussion and answers from questions that come directly from you. These two hours can help you learn exactly what you need to make it into the medical school of your dreams. But don't trust us, take a look at the great list of guests that will be featured:

 Dr. Nida Degesys

Dr. Nida Degesys is a recent graduate from the Northeast Ohio Medical University (NEOMED). Previously, she graduated summa cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts degree from Ohio University and completed post-baccalaureate work in pre-medical studies at Cleveland State University. She served as an economic development and health volunteer in the U.S. Peace Corps in Panama helping a women’s cooperative gain sustainability and teaching children oral hygiene and nutrition. Prior to her previous position as AMSA National Secretary, Dr. Degesys was AMSA’s Chair of the Medical Education Action Committee and coordinated AMSA Academy’s Teaching Tomorrow’s Teachers Today, a medical education leadership institute in Washington, D.C. In 2009-2010 she was Education Coordinator for the committee on the culture of medicine. She was also the 2009 AMSA medical education research winner with her research on team based learning in the basic sciences and has presented her research on topics ranging from patient safety, students’ attitudes towards disabilities, dental equipment, to educational pedagogy both nationally and internationally. Dr. Degesys is also very active on her campus. She was appointed by the Governor of Ohio to serve as a Trustee on the NEOMED Board of Trustees, she was the president of the Palliative Care Interest Group and Vice-President of the Geriatric Interest Group at NEOUCOM. Between her M1 and M2 year she completed an eight-week research program in geriatric oncology at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Dr. Degesys enjoys spending time with her husband, David (a law professor), her 2 pugs, reading, traveling, and practicing yoga and Zumba.

Paul T. White

Paul White has been affiliated with the Johns Hopkins University since 1994, first as Director of Undergraduate Admissions and then as the Assistant Dean for Admissions at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Mr. White also served as director of the Financial Aid Office from February 2002 until June 2006. From 2006 to February 2012, Mr. White worked at the University of Minnesota Medical School as the Associate Dean for Admissions, before returning to Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in 2012. Mr. White’s professional career began at Yale University in the Office of Undergraduate Admissions, where he was an Assistant Director of Admissions. He later served as an Associate Dean of Admissions at Hamilton College and as the Senior Associate Dean of Admissions at Colgate University. Mr. White received the Bachelor of Arts in American Studies from Yale University and the Juris Doctorate from Georgetown University Law Center. He serves as a member of the Educational Testing Services Scholarship Selection Review Committee and is a former member of the scholarship committees for the National Merit Scholarship and the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation.

Dr. Jeffrey Koetje

Dr. Jeffrey Koetje, graduate of Johns Hopkins University and Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, has devoted his professional life to supporting and enriching the personal and professional development of students entering the health professions. After deciding not to pursue clinical medicine, Jeff continued his journey in a new direction with a focus on education. Prior to joining the American Medical Student Association (AMSA) in June, 2012, he spent 11 years with Kaplan Test Prep, working with pre-health students in various roles: from full-time teacher to director of Kaplan’s MCAT Summer Intensive Program. Starting in 2008, he served as the Assistant Director of Pre- Health Programs at Kaplan's headquarters in New York City. In his national role, Jeff worked closely with pre-health advisors, with medical school deans and directors, and with representatives from the national organizations representing schools of medicine, dentistry, pharmacy, and optometry. Jeff now serves premedical and medical students as the Education and Research Director for AMSA. In his role, he provides day-to-day oversight, leadership, and expertise in the ongoing development, planning, execution, monitoring, and evaluation of educational programs, research activities and projects for AMSA and the AMSA Foundation. He is responsible for evaluating and improving all aspects of programming, fostering innovation and efficiency in all educational endeavors to meet the diverse needs of physicians-in-training. He loves working with pre-med and medical students, in whose faces he sees reflected the same hopes, dreams, anxieties, and neuroticisms that he himself possessed as a doctor-to-be. In his spare time, Jeff is an avid cook. He also enjoys collecting – and wearing – vintage and custom-made bow ties.   With three great guests and the always wonderful moderator, Owen Farcy, you'll be sure to receive the answers you're looking for. Join us this coming Monday for Kaplan's The Pulse and find the path to the medical school of your choice. more
January 3, 2014

Top 10 of the Kaplan Pulse 2013

2013 has come and gone and it has been a super exciting year! One of the things I am most proud of as a Kaplan MCAT Team Member is our Kaplan’s The Pulse Series.  We wanted to ReKAP 2013 with Top 10 of the Kaplan Pulse 2013. With so many engaging topics and positive student feedback we are looking to an even more in depth and successful 2014! If you are looking for more be sure to check out our Kaplan MCAT Youtube Channel! On behalf of Team MCAT and Kaplan Pulse 2013, I wanted to say thank you for tuning in each month and we are excited to bring you even better speakers and topics this year. Our next Kaplan Pulse event is Wednesday, January 2nd at 8pm EST. This month’s topic is on clinical and research experiences.  We will discuss their integral place as part of your applications to medical school. In this hour-long event we'll explore what these activities look like and how to make the most of them! more
Applying to Med School
December 18, 2013

How Significant Is Clinical Experience In Medical School Admissions?

On last month's edition of Kaplan's The Pulse, experts join us to discuss the 2013 Kaplan Medical School Admissions Officer Survey. These are questions you need to know about! When evaluating applications, how important is clinical experience in medical school admissions? In this video, learn what what medical school admissions officers are saying. For More Insider News On The Future Of Medicine, Getting Into Medical School and the MCAT, visit our Pulse Page. [cf]skyword_tracking_tag[/cf] more
November 25, 2013

University of Tennessee Medical: The Traditional Choice in Medicine

University of Tennessee Medical College is the oldest public graduate school in the nation. The school has two locations in Chattanooga and Memphis. The college aims to help students whose primary focus is surgery and internal medicine.
  • University of Tennessee College of Medicine has 190 students enrolled in graduate programs.
  • The college has core clerkships for students interested in obstetrics, gynecology and surgery.
  • The cost for full-time students is $31, 432 for in-state transfers. For out-of-state prospective students, the costs are $62, 292.
  • The average GPA for accepted, enrolled students is 3.68 and the average MCAT graduate test score is 29.
  • Students enrolled in the graduate medical education program are paid through the university during internship, and the school pays for insurance and liability.
Student Culture and Campus Life The University of Tennessee Medical School is a less competitive school than most peer, public schools. The UT Medical School is a part of several associations, so students are introduced to communities such as the AMSA Career Development program, the AAMC Medical Student Resource and MedFools, which helps match students with the right residency program. UT also hosts the Center for Advanced Medical Simulation, which is a state of the art simulation center that mimics a real clinical setting. What's unique about this college is its Erlanger Health System. Finding your way around campus can be difficult for first year students. This system is an interactive, real-time map system that helps students find their way to class quickly and create an itinerary for class schedules. Student's Perspective Even graduate students need some time off, and University of Tennessee is placed next to several good eats, coffee and bars for entertainment. Memphis is known for its music and museums, and students who enjoy music can see Elvis' Graceland and Orpheum Theatre. Students who enjoy sports can watch some baseball at AutoZone Park or basketball at Fedex Forum. Chattanooga also has plenty of hotspots to take the student's mind off of stress and studies. Students can visit the Tennessee Aquarium, Lookout Mountain, Rock City and Ruby Falls. Chattanooga also has scenic areas and parks such as Harrison Bay State Park and Missionary Ridge. Tennessee is known for its good food, especially the BBQ scene. For nightlife, Chattanooga has Hair of the Dog Pub, Big River Grille and Black Inn Café. Memphis students can enjoy Silky O'Sullivans, Interim Restaurant, Huey's Downtown and Celtic Crossing. It does not snow as heavily and as frequently as it does in other states, so students will usually see mild winters. Summers are hot, so expect to spend time next to water to cool off or stay indoors. Career Placement and Advising Every doctor must find the right internship and residency program before he can officially practice. University of Tennessee's career advising offers a way for students to find the right program in its clerkship placement. Clerkship starts in junior year, and students can continue their rotation throughout senior year. Advisors also help place students in fellowship programs which include surgery, hospice medicine, neuro-sciences, vascular surgery and gynecology. [cf]skyword_tracking_tag[/cf] more
November 8, 2013

2013 Kaplan Medical School Admissions Officer Survey: Social Media

Hey guys! I am back this week with a great question that came at the PERFECT time! What do medical school admissions have to say about the use of social media by applicants? In our recent 2013 Kaplan Medical School Admissions Officer Survey we found some interesting results! If you are looking for more answers to questions like below come join us for this month's pulse event!  Thursday November 14th at 8pm EST Admissions Officers Tell All! REGISTER TODAY!       [cf]skyword_tracking_tag[/cf] more
November 7, 2013

Med School Interviews (Part 2- The Dream Interview)

Hello my future interviewees! Two weeks ago I told you about an interview experience which was less than ideal. This week I want to tell you about the best interview experience that I had. The day did not get off to an auspicious start. I actually almost missed my flight due to a malfunctioning security scanner at the airport. Once I arrived at the school, I had the undesirable position of having the last two interview slots of the day. What that means is that everyone else interviewed first and I got to hear about how their interviews went. If you've never had this experience, it can be really disconcerting regardless of whether the other interviewees think it went well or poorly. In this case, several of my fellow interviewees commented on one interviewer who was giving them a hard time. It was an interviewer who, according to their experiences, was driving them to pick a certain answer for an ethical issue. They all expressed that they thought their interviews did not go well. I checked my schedule and of course he was my final interviewer of the day. I tried to not let the negative reviews of my interviewer phase me. I went to my first interview and it went fine, so I mentally geared up for my second interview.  Much as the previous interviewees described, he began by asking me question about medical ethics situations and challenging my reasons. I stuck with my original answer and justified my thoughts. My interviewer looked at me, put down his folder and began debating with me as if it were a conversation. That's when I knew that the interview was going really well. He was questioning my reasoning, but I was adequately defending my points. For some questions I answered that I wasn't sure, since I hadn't actually been in medical practice and hadn't seen this issue firsthand. My interviewer seemed to appreciate that I acknowledged that I wasn't an expert on every topic. It was about forty-five minutes into the conversation when he asked me the single best question that I have ever gotten in an interview. He asked, "With your background in public health where you have the power to impact many people, why would you focus on clinical medicine where you have to power to impact decidedly fewer people?" I forget what I responded, but I knew in that moment, that he respected my as an applicant, had listened to the points I had been making, and really wanted to know what was driving my love of medicine. I was the last person to leave that day. My interview went over twenty minutes longer than it should have, but I knew on the way out that those last twenty minutes had been worth it. I received an acceptance letter within two weeks. What can you take away from my excellent interview experience? 1. Don't worry about the other applicants. Their experiences will be different than yours and that's fine. Feel free to ignore any of their comments, since their worst interviewer could end up being your best. 2. If possible, treat your medical school interview experience as if you already have been accepted. It allows you to relax and really let yourself shine. At the time of this interview, I already had an acceptance letter which helped me to feel more confident during my interview. 3. It is okay to say that you don't know. It's actually one of the things that pre-med students struggle with the most, and your interviewer will be impressed that you're humble enough to admit that you are unsure. That said, don't just stop after saying you don't know. Explain what you do know and why you need more information. 4. Don't be intimidated by your interviewer. They are just trying to get to know you and they all have slightly different ways of achieving that goal. If you're going to a school for an interview, you are intelligent enough to get in. The interview is about making sure that you are a good fit for the school. Good luck on your interviews and happy studying! [cf]skyword_tracking_tag[/cf] more
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: more

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