Tips for applying to medical school
All the years of studying, prerequisites, and lab practicals have finally paid off.. it’s time to apply to medical school! Where do you begin?!
We will detail more about steps you can take early on in your college career to prepare for applications and the medical school interviews themselves in other posts. Here, we’ll outline the specifics of medical school applications. Disclaimer: we applied primarily via TMDSAS (Texas application service) and only applied to a few programs through AMCAS. However, much of the advice is applicable to both.
The best advice we can give! You can never start too early. Interviews are released on a rolling basis so the earlier you submit, the better. The best thing you can do is get your personal statement, essays, and extracurricular activity statements written well in advance of the application service opening. You can typically find the prompts online and they rarely change from year to year. This way, you can submit within a few weeks (or days if you’re super organized!) of the submission site opening. You can effectively have your application done and ready to input as soon as it opens! Have as many people look over your personal statement and essays as possible.
In this process, it’s extremely helpful to get information from people who have already been through the process or at least know a good amount about the process! Whether it be your college pre-med advisor, a medical student/resident, or an attending physician, you should feel comfortable asking any of these individuals to help you navigate this process because it can be intimidating. Sit down with your pre-med advisor and evaluate your competitiveness as an applicant so that you can know how many schools to apply to. In general, the more the better (to an extent!).
Letters of recommendation
First of all, decide who will write your recommendation letters. This may be challenging at a larger college due to huge class sizes but think hard about any professors that have gotten to know you well over the years, any directors of extracurricular activities you have participated in, research mentors, or any physicians you have worked with while shadowing/working (this is a big one!). You want to choose letter writers who know you well enough that the letters won’t be generic. Having a letter from a physician is not required but we think it is very valuable. Showing the application committee that you are aware of what it takes to become a physician and that you are willing to make sacrifices for your education is very important. Next, when you’re ready to ask letter writers, ask in person if possible! It’s much more professional to ask in person rather than by email. When you set up your meeting, make sure to bring a CV/resume, your personal statement (another reason to get it done early!), and your transcript/scores. The more you provide them with, the better. You will have the option of either submitted individual letters or a Health Professions Committee Packet. We’d recommend talking to your college advisor about this.
Typically, the prompt asks you to explain why you’ve sought a career in medicine. Take your time! This is a very important piece of your application. Think: Why were you drawn to medicine in the first place? Was it because you had a life event that inspired you? Did you have a family member who was a doctor and you were inspired by them? Did you shadow and it opened your eyes to medicine? Be creative! Even though you don’t want to be cliché, you don’t want to be too “out-there” either. If you have any deficiencies on your application (whether it be a low GPA, MCAT score, legal trouble, etc.) this would be the place to discuss these issues. Being honest and upfront is the best way to go in these situations. Take the opportunity to talk about how you are improving these deficiencies, what you have learned from them, and your changes moving forward. Also, make sure you have family, friends, and mentors read over your personal statement and give you critiques and edits! The worst thing you can do is submit a piece with grammatical errors.
For TMDSAS specifically, there are usually 2 required essays (personal statement and personal characteristics) and one optional essay. We’d recommend checking out the TMDSAS and AMCAS websites for the prompts that are usually provided just in case they change since writing this post. We would highly recommend completing the optional essay. Even though it’s extra work, it’s worth it! More opportunity for them to get to know you, right?! When writing these essays, it’s so important to show rather than tell. Giving them powerful examples of your hard work, life experiences, and passion for medicine will speak volumes. Some schools may also require secondary applications (detailed below), which consist of additional essays, so be sure to keep track of the topics you discussed in each essay to avoid being repetitive and maximize what they can learn about you.
Resume & activity descriptions
You will be asked to list all of your extracurricular activities, work experiences, leadership positions, research experiences, volunteering, shadowing, etc. Make sure to include all of the activities you have participated with thoughtful, concise statements to describe them along with your role. Also include the hours you spent, the dates participated, and a contact for each activity. This is a great place to elaborate on activities that you might have mentioned briefly in your personal statement. There is also an area to include future activities that you will participate in after submission of your application, if necessary.
In terms of the photo of yourself that you will upload, please make sure it’s professional. This should go without saying, but you’d be surprised. Have a professional (or friend who’s talented with photography!) take your photo. For women, make sure to wear a dress/skirt/slacks with a blazer, suit, or another professional outfit. For men, just go for a suit and tie. Regarding hair/facial hair, try to have a similar "look" in your photo that you plan to have on interviews so they know exactly who you are! For the MCAT, make sure to release your scores and if you’ve taken it more than once, you have to report all the scores. Don’t forget to send in your transcript!
Once a medical school has reviewed your application, they will decide whether or not to send you a secondary application to fill out, if they have one. Fill out these secondary applications promptly because they can hold up your potential interview invitations! These secondary applications can vary and are formulated by the medical school itself but tend to consist of essays and statements about why you want to attend that institution.
Application wrap up
The rest of the application not mentioned here is mostly just demographic information, inputting your college courses, transcript, etc. That’s the easy part! Make sure to have multiple people proofread your application for errors and edits. Also, make sure NEVER to lie on your application. That should be obvious, but even if you don’t think fibbing on a part of your application is a big deal, it is. Just play it safe and be honest. If you say you can play guitar, be ready to play a song for your interviewers! Also, make sure to know your application backwards and forwards and be prepared to answer any clarifying questions or specifics they may ask you.
We will have another post outlining medical school interviews specifically but we will discuss them briefly here. Respond promptly! Especially when you have college courses to think about, you need to make sure that you don’t have conflicts and have options for scheduling interviews. Usually, the earlier invitations are sent out, the more dates are available so you will have more options for scheduling. Let your professors know about these interview invitations well in advance to make sure you don’t miss important deadlines or exams. For the most part, if you are a pre-med major, professors tend to be pretty understanding, but not always.
Best of luck in your interview endeavors!
Disclaimer: These are the tips that worked for us and there are of course other ways to go about this process. However, we found success by following these guidelines and we hope you will too.