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.

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Applying to Med School
March 22, 2011

Making the Personal Statement Personal

By Patrick Boyle, Kaplan Elite MCAT Teacher

The AMCAS application opens in early May and thus begins another excruciating application process for hopeful premeds across the country. Number after number defines them - AMCAS ID, GPA, MCAT - and the application seemingly becomes a very cold process. Students are characterized by years of undergraduate work in their GPA and the one day exam of the MCAT. But are you really the person that your numbers paint you to be? Do you think you can effectively show your personality through statistics alone?

Absolutely not! While many students look at the personal statement as just a formality in the application process, it is a great platform to ensure that you stand out from your peers. The most important part of the personal statement is to utilize it as a way to convey who you are as an individual! Now how do we make the personal statement more personal?

There are three key points you’ll want to remember when writing your personal statement:

1) Don’t make it a rehash of what you have already stated in the application.

Remember the admissions officers that are reading your personal statement have your entire application next to them. There is no reason to tell them again what they already know, and it wastes valuable space that you can put to better use!

2) Talk about things that make you unique.

Pre-medical students are strikingly similar these days. If you consider the average pre-med student, all of them have taken the courses required to apply, taken the MCAT, participated in research, and volunteered in some sort of capacity. What did you do that can set you apart from your peers?

3) Try and find a central theme within the essay.

A theme is a great way to unify your personal statement. By having a theme you can incorporate a number of different aspects of your character and personality, and it is going to help engage the reader. Remember that admissions committees are reading hundreds of these essay - you need to have something to draw in your readers and hold their attention.

A great way to personalize is to simply tell a story. One thing to remember is that your story does not have to relate to medicine! Admissions officers know that you are not fully immersed in medicine yet; hopefully, everyone has a life outside of the MCATs and studying, and you want to convey that idea.

For example, consider a student that was very involved as a lifeguard during undergraduate studies. Lifeguarding, while not exactly related to clinical medicine, can still reflect a number of personal skills that will help show how you will be a successful medical student and physician. Lifeguarding is a great example of showing responsibility in a leadership position and working amongst peers in a team environment. These are two excellent qualities that a hopeful medical school applicant would want to highlight; it shows that they are a real person above and beyond their academic studies and have a skill set that will help them to succeed in a medical career.

So how are you going to convey your personality and explain why you want to be in medicine? Remember that your numbers are your numbers – they’re more or less fixed. The personal statement, on the other hand, is something you can still utilize to help you. You have personality traits that will lead to a successful career in medicine. By remembering the points above and giving your essay the attention it deserves, you’ll be able to make your personal statement personal!

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Applying to Med School
December 14, 2009

Medical School Rolling Admissions -Timing Matters (A Lot)

By Carleen Eaton, M.D. You thrive on deadlines. Fueled by coffee, with just hours remaining until your 20 page paper on “Medieval Jousts as a Foreshadowing Device in Early 17th Century French Literature” is due, you are intensely focused, pounding away full speed at the keyboard. While you can pull this off with a paper in school, this last minute approach is definitely not recommended for med school applications. The reason: rolling admissions. With rolling admissions, the schools do not wait until all of the applications are in to review them; they review them as they come in. Following committee review, competitive applicants are offered interviews. Acceptances are offered as early as October 15. As slots fill up in the class, the process becomes increasingly competitive for the remaining applicants. By spring, some schools are interviewing for the wait list only. Therefore, applying late in the cycle can have a detrimental effect on your chances of admission. So how early is early enough?  AAMCAS begins accepting applications on, or very close to, June 1. Ideally, you will have your primary application submitted by July 1.  Once it gets to late August, or especially September, some schools are already interviewing. Now that you know when to apply, the question is how do you get your application submitted early? With some organization and discipline, you can get this done while still maintaining your grades and an outside life. Just watch out for these pitfalls: 1. Waiting too long to ask for letters of recommendation - LOR are the part of the process over which you have the least amount of control. You can volunteer in five hospitals, study non-stop for the MCAT and achieve a GPA worthy of summa cum laude, all through your own initiative and effort, but you can’t make a very busy professor write a LOR at the last minute. To avoid being stuck waiting for a needed letter, request your letters at least four weeks in advance. 2. Not reviewing copies of your transcripts – Request a copy of your transcript from your each college you have attended and read every word of them. I have encountered situations where applicants found errors on their transcripts that needed to be corrected before they could submit them. This can cause a delay of weeks or longer, depending on the error and the school. 3. Giving yourself too little time to write the personal statement – Writing about oneself is hard. It is even harder when you only have 5300 characters in which to do so, while also trying to explain exactly why you want to be a doctor. Plan to spend a month on this. That way, you can work on it, and then set it aside for a few days between drafts in order to generate ideas. 4. Not realizing that it takes many hours to fill out the application – The fact that the instruction book for the AMCAS application is over 100 pages says it all. So, while getting into the flow state with your espresso and your laptop might work to crank out that history paper, don’t try it with the application. Start early, finish early and leave the adrenaline rush of hitting “submit” one minute before the deadline to someone else. ...read more

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