14 Medical School Application Mistakes to Avoid
Between standardized test scores, undergraduate grades and extracurricular activities, there are many opportunities to strengthen – or weaken – medical school applications. Here are 14 mistakes to avoid when seeking admission to an M.D. or D.O. program.
Choosing a college major that doesn’t suit you
Although biology-related college majors are common among premeds, having such majors does not result in an admissions advantage, according to medical school officials. They advise premeds to major in an academic discipline that they both enjoy and excel at, since their academic performance will matter more than their college major. No matter a premed’s major, it is essential that he or she completes all of the prerequisite courses for targeted medical schools.
Getting insufficient clinical experience
Medical schools expect applicants to have devoted a significant amount of time to shadowing physicians, since this type of experiential learning is essential to making an informed decision about whether medicine is their professional calling. Med school admissions officers say clinical experience is essential for every aspiring doctor.
Pushing off research opportunities
Applicants can join a variety of extracurricular activities when pursuing medical school, but those who participate in scientific research opportunities may have a leg up on other premeds. Aspiring doctors should try to spend one or more summers in a research program, and, if possible, get some of their work published, one expert says.
Neglecting volunteer opportunities
Volunteering is one way applicants can demonstrate their interest in health care and community service. Applicants should be careful not to spend too little time doing an activity, such as one day helping at a nursing home, or assume an overseas opportunity is better than volunteering locally. Sticking with the same activity for a few months is best, experts say.
Slacking on MCAT preparation
An applicant’s score on the Medical College Admission Test, known as the MCAT, is one of the most important parts of an admissions package. Allotting just a few days for studying likely won’t cut it, experts say. Instead, applicants should plan to study for several months, ideally for about six months.
Discounting postbaccalaureate programs
While it’s common for students to go straight from college to medical school, a postbaccalaureate program may be a better option for students whose science grades don’t stack up to their passion for medicine. Premeds looking to improve their understanding of chemistry or physics, or simply boost their MCAT score, can consider a postbac program, which often helps candidates get into med school. Because such a program tends to be costly and time-consuming, it’s important to gauge whether it would be personally worthwhile.
Writing a lackluster personal statement
In between studying for premed classes, applicants should also devote a few days or weeks to crafting a personal statement. A poorly written essay may show a lack of self-reflection or focus too much on a candidate’s past achievements. A well-written statement will tell a story that details an applicant’s specific goals and accomplishments, and it will convey the author’s personality in a charming way.
Choosing the wrong letter-writers
Every applicant needs letters of recommendation, and it’s easy to choose the wrong people to write them. A well-known professor or school administrator who doesn’t know an applicant personally is probably a poor choice, experts say. Applicants should choose recommenders whom they know well and who can speak to their potential to become exceptional med students.
Overestimating your competitiveness
Some premeds are too confident about their competitiveness and apply to schools that are out of reach. Reviewing the average MCAT scores and GPAs for students accepted at the institutions on an applicant’s radar is one way for applicants to lessen their chances of rejection, experts say.
Not applying to the right number of medical schools
Because med schools are extraordinarily selective, it is important to apply to an adequate number of schools to maximize your admissions chances. Determining how many to target depends on multiple factors, including the competitiveness of your credentials and how much money you’re willing to spend on applications. It’s also prudent to consider your legal place of residence, since applying to a local public medical school as an in-state applicant can give you an edge. International applicants to med schools should understand that they are at a competitive disadvantage and consider that when deciding how many applications to file.
Applying to the wrong schools
Applicants should consider both research-based and primary-care-focused medical schools, and think about which types of schools align best with their career goals, experts say. Med school hopefuls should also research the difference between M.D. and D.O. programs to determine which type of medical school is best for them, and they may also want to compare international medical schools.
Not knowing how many applications are required
Unlike most graduate school programs, medical school admissions includes two sets of applications. Primary applications usually ask for personal statements, test scores, undergraduate grades, extracurricular activities and recommendation letters. Secondary applications tend to request supplemental, school-specific essays. If their primary applications pass muster, med school hopefuls must be ready to submit a secondary application to continue in the admissions process. Completing both applications is typically necessary to gain entry to med school.
Applying too soon or too late
Submitting medical school applications following junior year of college may be a mistake for some premeds, especially if waiting would give them more time to improve an MCAT score or undergraduate grades. Applying after the fourth year of undergrad may be a better option for some. However, med school hopefuls should know that once they are ready to apply, they should submit their primary applications as soon as possible during the admissions cycle, ideally during early summer.
Stumbling through an interview
The interview is usually the last step of the admissions process, and an ill-prepared candidate can botch it by having a weak response to a question like “Why do you want to be a physician?” Applicants should be prepared to discuss unique qualities that will help them contribute to the med school community and the medical field, and they should be ready to explain their motivation for pursuing a career in medicine. They should also have a few questions they’d like to ask and arrive with stories they’d like to share.
Mistakes medical school hopefuls should avoid
- Choosing a college major that doesn’t suit you
- Getting insufficient clinical experience
- Pushing off research opportunities
- Neglecting volunteer opportunities
- Slacking on MCAT preparation
- Discounting postbaccalaureate programs
- Writing a lackluster personal statement
- Choosing the wrong letter-writers
- Overestimating your competitiveness
- Not applying to the right number of medical schools
- Applying to the wrong schools
- Not knowing how many applications are required
- Applying too soon or too late
- Stumbling through an interview