Applying to Med School
June 27, 2011

Secondary Applications in Medical School Admissions

“Please list five personal hobbies/interests.” I looked at the question on my medical school application and thought, “Do I really write ‘collecting comic books’ here?” It turns out that because I did answer honestly and uniquely (actual response: “Collecting comic books; specifically Batman), I made a positive impression on the admissions committee and was ultimately accepted by my first choice medical school. Sharing the following understanding of the secondary application process will help you on your way to doing the same thing.   As you probably know, the medical school application process is a marathon. It requires patience, determination, perseverance, and lots of endurance. The MCAT is only one stretch of that marathon; after taking the exam and receiving their score, applicants have to login to AMCAS and start the long process of submitting information about undergraduate coursework, extracurricular responsibilities, the personal statement, and the schools to which they want to apply. After this sometimes grueling process is completed and paid for, the primary application gets sent out to every school selected and you can sit back and relax, right? At this point, it’s tempting to want to take a break. You might want to forget all about computers, test prep books, and anything scholastic and just flee to a tropical island. The problem is that soon your inbox and mailbox are going to get flooded with secondary applications, and it’s extremely important to be prepared for them. The best strategy, actually, is to already have them completed or at least have time built into your schedule for completing them.   There’s a big difference between the primary and secondary applications. The primary application is general – it’s submitted through the AMCAS system, and it goes out to every school you select. The secondary application is specific, differing between each institution, and it can be sent and submitted either digitally or the old-fashioned way (Remember that thing called an envelope? They still make those!). While there may be overlap in the types of questions you’re asked, the best applicant will cater the response to each school, mentioning important things that are unique to that program. Many premeds think of medical school as a 4-year period where they earn their degree and they do not really care, at first, about where they go - they just want to get the degree. You never want to come off looking that way.   The best way to prepare for secondary applications is to do your research. When admissions committees go through secondary applications, they are looking for specific experiences and characteristics that would be a great fit with the culture at the school. When answering the questions on these applications, you want to personalize your responses and be as specific as possible. Visit the school’s website, read about their profile in the Medical Student Admission Requirements (MSAR) guide, take a tour of the campus, and reach out to anyone whom you know that either goes to that school or has ties to that school. If you can network with a current or recently graduated student, make sure you do so! Anything that will give you insight into the campus and the program will give you an edge. Doing so will definitely give you a head start and improve your chances of acceptance, and might even open up your schedule enough to fit in a trip to someplace tropical! ...read more
Applying to Med School
June 6, 2011

Choosing the Medical School that’s Right for You

by Sam Asgarian, Kaplan Elite MCAT Instructor

When it comes to the medical school application process, there are generally two types of techniques: the “machine gunner,” and the “sniper”. The former is an applicant who just starts applying to as many schools as possible, hoping to get at least one “hit”; the latter is a student who selects the right schools based on fit and targets them specifically. Although both techniques have their own merits, the sniper is usually more successful - and most often happier - than the machine gunner, because they find the programs that mesh with their personality and goals without a lot of wasted effort.

If you ask your premed friends where they want to go to med school, a common response is “Wherever I can get in!” Between the undergraduate degree, clinical and research obligations, and the MCAT, it’s an unfortunate truth that many premeds don’t spend enough time on the school selection process. This typically sends them down the machine gunner path or, at best, turns them into an ill-informed sniper. There are several ways to avoid this and still not become overwhelmed, however; one key resource is the Medical School Admissions Requirements (MSAR) guidebook. Re-published every year, this book incorporates information directly from the admissions committees of every allopathic medical school in the U.S. and Canada and is often referred to as “the Bible of premed admissions.”

So let’s say that you have a copy of the MSAR. What specifically are you going to look for when choosing the schools you should apply to? Not surprisingly, a great place to start is the “How to choose the right school for you” section; you can then take a closer look at profiles on each school, which include average MCAT scores of accepted students, number of students interviewed, percentage of applicants receiving offers, information on the medical school’s setting and curriculum, and much more. This information will give you an initial idea of whether or not the school is a good fit for you.

Next, you will want to do some old-fashioned networking. Do you know anyone, past or present, who has attended the schools you’re interested in? This can cover many areas: current med students, medical school graduates, current undergrads, friends or family who have interviewed there, and even people who simply live in the area. While it’s great idea to get an insider’s view of the school, you’ll also want some basic information like “what are the winters like?” and “do you have to have a car?” to further narrow down your list. All of this research will give you the information necessary to apply without looking like a machine gunner, which is important; the more specific you can be in an application and interview, the better your chances will be of gaining acceptance.

Next, you need to consider your strengths and weaknesses regarding each school you’ll be applying to. Did you know that some schools won’t even consider out-of-state applicants? You wouldn’t believe the number of students who waste time and money applying to schools that they are not even eligible to attend! Now, let’s say you do your homework and only apply to schools you’re eligible for; you also have to think about your chances of getting in. Do you have any ties to the area like family, friends, or being a former resident? If you do, make sure you make this clear somewhere in your application. Some schools also look for students with backgrounds different from that of a typical premed, so you will want to make sure you mention musical talents, writing skills, and other things that make you unique.

Finally, it is extremely important to remember that medical school is a four-year endeavor. You may not realize it now, but that is a significantly long time. You do not want to be locked-in to living in a city and attending a school that doesn’t suit your personality; if you are not a “cold-weather” person, you will be miserable living in a place where it snows for half the year, while if you need to be in or close to a big city, you will have a hard time going somewhere isolated. The more you think about these things ahead of time, the less you’ll have to worry about mistakes that could come back to haunt you in the future. You spend thousands of hours studying to get your undergraduate degree, and several hundred more hours dedicated to MCAT prep, it would be a shame not to take the time necessary to make sure you are applying to medical schools that are right for you. With the right resources, you will find that it is not too daunting a task, and you’ll snipe your way right into the best school for you.

...read more
Applying to Med School
April 5, 2010

New Medical Schools

By Carleen Eaton, M.D. After two decades of virtually no increase in the number of allopathic medical schools, recent years have brought an expansion in the number of schools. With rising demand for healthcare services in the U.S. as the population ages and more people are covered by health insurance under the reforms, the need for physicians, especially primary care physicians, will also increase. This is good news for you as a med school applicant. Existing schools will be expanding their class sizes and new schools will continue to be added.  The result: you now have more schools to which to apply and your chances of admission may be better. Within the past couple of years, four new allopathic medical schools have opened in the U.S.: The Commonwealth Medical College (Pennsylvania), Florida International University College of Medicine, Texas Tech El Paso Foster School of Medicine and University of Central Florida College of Medicine. Two more schools have received preliminary LCME accreditation and will be accepting applications for the entering class of 2011: Oakland University William Beaumont School of Medicine (Michigan) and Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine. When a school has been around for many years, you have statistics, rankings and the word on the street to help you determine your chances of admission and the strengths, weaknesses and personality of the school. However, do not discount a school just because it is new.  All U.S. medical schools are very competitive in terms of admission and you will get an excellent education at any LCME accredited school. As you decide whether to apply to these schools or not, some of the factors you use to evaluate them will be the same as with more established schools: Are they public or private? Affiliated with a university? What is the size of the school? What is its location?  Does the mission statement indicate that the school is focused on training primary care physicians, rural physicians, researchers or any other particular group? In addition, for new schools, there are some additional factors to consider. If you are a member of the first class at a school, you will not have upperclassman to look to for advice. Does the school assign an advisor or mentor early on to compensate for this? What grading system will the school be using? Everything from clubs to curriculum will have to be worked out, so is there a mechanism for student input along the way? To balance out the drawback of facing some unknowns as a med student at a new school, there is the advantage of being part of the development of the school. Will this school end up being known for a successful student-run clinic? Or for having a cooperative, congenial atmosphere rather than cutthroat one?  As a member of one of the first classes, you will help to determine these, and many other traits, that the school will become known for.  So, check out the MSAR and the school websites to gather information about the schools and decide if they might be a good fit for you. After all, one of these schools might just end up being the one you spend the next four years at. ...read more
Applying to Med School
February 8, 2010

Making Your List of Schools

By Carleen Eaton, M.D. Choosing schools is one of the more enjoyable aspects of applying to medical school. It gives you a chance to imagine yourself beyond the admissions process, at last delving into the finer nuances of stethoscope use. Yet, with over 120 allopathic schools in the U.S., how do you choose? And how many should you apply to? On one end of the spectrum are the applicants who apply only to only a few schools - a risky strategy for sure. And then there are those who take the opposite approach, applying to literally every med school in the U.S.  So what number is optimum? At a minimum, you should include 10-12 schools on your list, while 20-25 is still reasonable, especially if you live in a state that has highly competitive state schools, which don’t count as “safety” schools. Consider how many applications you can handle while still maintaining the quality and timeliness of the applications. Applying to too many schools means that you will be inundated with secondary applications, thus delaying the turnaround time, and perhaps your chances of admission. As you put you formulate your list, categorize the schools as follows: 1. Your state school(s) – For many applicants, their state school provides the best chance of admission. Since state schools are, in part, taxpayer funded, they are mandated to provide an education primarily for state residents. Therefore, these schools give preference to in state applicants. 2.  Public schools in other states - While some state schools admit half or more of the class from out of state, many admit very few from out of state and the out of state applicants who are admitted are highly qualified. Making your list of schools longer by adding a bunch of state schools is unlikely to yield better results. 3. Private schools – Even private schools sometimes give preference to applicants who are from the area. Therefore, especially consider private schools in your geographic region, as well as those in states to which you have a tie, such as having previously resided there, or if you have family living there. Applying to a broad range of schools is important. Give your application package an honest assessment, and apply mostly to schools that you are likely to be competitive for. Then, add on a few “reach” schools and at least four or five “safety” schools in order to give yourself the best chances of admission, while still allowing for the opportunity to get into your dream school. Whether a school is more research or clinically oriented, tuition, size and a myriad of other factors will also play into your choices and an excellent resource to use as you consider these elements is the Medical School Admission Requirements (MSAR). This book is published by the AAMC and available online at aamc.org. The MSAR contains statistics such as the median GPA and MCAT score for accepted applicants, as well as selection factors and the schools’ mission statements. So when you need a break from studying organic chemistry equations or brainstorming about the personal statement, take a look at the MSAR, the school websites and your own application to put together a well-rounded list that optimizes your chance of getting accepted without leaving you scrambling to fill out 37 secondaries in a month’s time. ...read more

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