Medical School Application Preparation
The application and admissions process isn’t terribly difficult to navigate—as long as you’re prepared. Like organizing your coursework priorities, it’s really about managing logistics. If you’ve come this far in your education, you know enough about time management and goal setting to successfully complete an application checklist.
Essentially, there are three phases: preparation, application, and decision. During the preparation phase, you review medical school admission requirements and particular program websites. You also ask professors, colleagues, and mentors for letters of recommendation. Next, during the application process, you request that your transcripts be sent to the processing center, and you take the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT). Finally, during the decision phase, the schools make decisions to interview you (or not) and you decide whether you wish to attend (or not).
One of the first things you should do every fall semester is to visit our library and review the Medical School Admission Requirements, published by the AAMC. It is republished every year, but we have the latest copy on reserve; find it shelved under R 745 .A8. With a focus on data and statistics of applicants, it is a useful tool that will acquaint you with the application and admission process.
According to the AAMC, “American medical schools receive, on average, 31 applications for each place in the entering class, with a range of 2.5 applications for each place among public medical schools to 76 applications among private medical schools.” Realistically, this means that more than half of those applying do not find a place. We see this evidenced with the 2008 application data, courtesy of the AAMC:
No MCAT score or GPA will guarantee acceptance, only probability, because some with high scores and high GPAs do not get in. In this way, the acceptance data on scores and GPA only speaks to likelihood and not definitiveness.
Source: AAMC Data Warehouse: Applicant Matriculant File
Source: AAMC Data Warehouse: Applicant Matriculant File
Source: AAMC Data Warehouse: Applicant Matriculant File
Applying to medical schools is a two-step process. You first apply to schools generally, via one application. Interested schools will then send you a supplemental application.
Medical school applications are managed by The American Medical College Application Service. For the 2010/2011 academic year, their rate is $160 for the general application and application to your first school, with a supplemental $32 fee for each additional school. The AMCAS assembles your transcripts, test scores, personal statements, and letters of recommendation.
Students interested in applying to Texas schools should note that they will have to apply using a different system.
One of the last preparatory hurdles in your journey is the Medical College Admission Test, also known as the MCAT, which is typically taken by prospective premed students during their junior year. However, you should not consider taking the MCAT until you are fully comfortable with the subject matters at hand. The test is broken into four sections: Physical Sciences, Verbal Reasoning, Biological Sciences, and a writing sample. Since the MCAT tests your aptitude in these subjects, you should consider completing your coursework in them prior to the test.
As with all tests, cramming isn’t the most effective way to pass. We cannot stress enough how important it is for you to start your preparation for this test early. You should begin to set aside time to study for it during your freshman year, increasing your emphasis on specialized topics as the semesters pass, and taking practice tests along the way. Is there a certain time of the week that works best for you? Schedule it into your planner. Even if it’s just a half hour, it’s better than nothing.
Did you know that usually the highest scores on the MCATs are achieved by philosophy majors? The discipline emphasizes reading comprehension, higher-order thinking, and logic—traits all tested by the MCAT. In addition to philosophy, our advisors recommend students to gain familiarity with Greek and Latin prefixes and roots.
It is a good idea to take the MCAT early in the year to know if you should take it again—and, if so, what to brush up on. Many students ask if they should take a preparatory course from a third party. (We are unable to say whether these courses are or are not effective, because their data does not differentiate between people who take the test a second time without versus with their assistance.) You might find it useful, and it is worthwhile to investigate these options on your own so that you might decide appropriately.
Source: AAMC 2009 MCAT Data File
Each university sets its own application deadline. (Interesting etymology, deadline. You know what etymology is, right?) Accordingly, it is imperative that you consult medical program websites in the spring of your junior year for the most up-to-date information.
The AMCAS deadline is August 1 for your application and transcripts. As a result, you will need to request that transcripts be sent to them prior to making your application. Secondary applications are typically required during October through December of your senior year. It is, again, your responsibility to check the websites of the particular programs for accurate deadlines.
Generally, it is best that you take the MCAT between your junior and senior year, typically in the springtime. Please make an appointment to see a faculty or academic advisor the semester prior to registering for the MCAT; we would like to evaluate your academic preparation so that we might make recommendations for the next semester—before you take the test.
In the winter of your junior year, request letters of recommendation from your professors, advisors, and mentors. You won’t need them right away, but having them already written and available for later next year will help tremendously. Additionally, it alleviates the pressure from your recommenders to write under a quick turnaround time, which allows for them to write better letters.
Another option to consider is early applications. Early decision programs afford you the opportunity to get into your top choice by October of your senior year. (Generally, early applications are requested by August 1st.) With these programs, which are offered by schools, if you do not get accepted into the one you wish, you still have plenty of time to apply to other medical schools. You might consider an early decision application beneficial because: (a) you know you want to go there, and (b) it saves you application fees and hassles up front. The only “hassle” is that once accepted, you are required to go to your top choice. It should be noted that being denied admission through the early decision program does not necessarily mean you won't get in during their regular cycle; please consult individual school websites for additional information.
You’re not a score. You’re not a GPA, either. So much of who you are has nothing to do with what you achieved, but why you did what you did—and this is your chance to talk about it. When medical school admission committees review your application, they want to get to know who you are beyond academic pursuits. This is why there is an emphasis on extracurricular activities and volunteer work: It gives you a chance to humanize your application.
Also keep in mind that medical schools also want to fill vacancies in the medical field that are most likely to benefit humanity—such as underserved communities and geriatrics, or even epidemics—with candidates who most wish to serve humanity. Why do you want to become a doctor?
When you write your essay, you can address what your goals are in becoming a physician. You can also discuss courses that particularly resonated with you and your aspirations. Highlight courses and experiences that changed your view on healthcare or your life and why, or ones that inspired you or solidified your interest in medicine.
Don’t forget to market yourself. What makes you different from every application the committee has read today? But a word of caution: Don’t go over the top to impress them. You should be interesting, but not pompous and lofty. Be yourself.
Again, this can be intimidating. Where do you start? Like all writing endeavors, start with notes, then arrange your notes into an outline and form a first draft. Let it sit for a few days—even a week—then come back to it and refine. Next, take it to the Marian E. Wright Writing Center in French Hall. In addition to helping you resolve grammar issues, the staff there will help you revise your draft and spot style inconsistencies and voice issues. When you have a second draft, take it to an academic advisor and a professor whom you know well for their review. Leveraging the resources available to you at UM-Flint will help you create a polished personal statement.
In addition to your personal statement and test scores, medical school admissions committees have a significant interest in understanding how the community evaluates you.
You should select your reference writers on how well they can objectively speak to your scholastic aptitude, personal drive, and character. There is a particular etiquette involved in reference letters, such as asking with grace and following-up with thank you cards. It is advisable to familiarize yourself with these—even if it’s not your style, it might be theirs.
It’s a good idea to give your recommenders information they would find useful, such as a copy of your proposed personal statement. If your chosen letter-writer is a professor, give send him or her a refresher e-mail listing of the courses you took with him or her and the grades you earned.
As discussed earlier: Get to know your professors! These are the academic peers of your admissions committee. Their objective evaluation and recommendation is pivotal to the admissions process.
Medical School Interviews
Admissions committees are building an entire matriculate class. They want to know who you are, what your goals and ambitions are. We know, you did write a statement of purpose detailing such, after all—but having a conversation allows a committee to gauge your personality and aptitude in a similar way to how a resume can’t capture the spirit of an interview.
However, it’s not a one-way interview—think of it more as a conversation. They aren’t set up to intimidate you or scare you away. If you’re being asked to visit their campus, it means they’re interested in you already—they just want to be sure. That said, there are rare occurrences where they test how you handle yourself in particular situations, like delayed interviews or with inappropriate questions. If this happens, stay in control and disarm them with confidence. It is important to note here that if an interview goes horribly wrong, they can be usually be rescheduled with another panel.
This is an opportunity for you to interview them, too. It’s your chance to learn more about their school, in person, but you should have a clear idea of it before the interview. Take an interest in the history of the medical school of your choice. Learn more about program specifics before coming and have questions prepared, yet naturally integrated into the conversation.
You might find it useful to take a portfolio with you, so that you can demonstrate accomplishments while talking about them. You can amplify your research interests and community experience with artifacts and photo evidence.
Career Connection, a service of the Academic Advising and Career Center, has additional resources available to you to enhance your interviewing skills.
Where to Apply
Where do you want to go? It is a good idea to familiarize yourself with each school you anticipate applying to. You should take a look at their websites every year during your undergrad studies; as well, take a look at the AAMC’s Medical School Admission Requirements publication, which is on reference in the library. You will gain more targeted insight into their particular programs and requirements for admission than this generalized overview affords.
For in-state options, Michigan has four medical schools: University of Michigan, Michigan State University, Oakland University, and Wayne State University.
If you are considering applying to an out-of-state school, it’s important to note their policies: Do they accept out of state applications? Will you pay twice as much? What is their acceptance ratio for out-of-state students?
Medical education, like any educational experience, is greatly impacted by the diversity of experiences students bring to the classroom. Many schools recognize this benefit and actively seek candidates best suited to enrich their programs. To that end, the AAMC has three programs that you should consider.
Before you apply for medical school, it is worthwhile to review specific information for minority applicants and their opportunities, which you can find at Minority Student Opportunities in United States Medical Schools.
After you apply, the Medical Minority Applicant Registry will distribute your application and MCAT score to medical schools with minority recruitment programs.
Additionally, the AAMC has launched a program, www.aspiringdocs.org Aspiring Docs, to increase interest in medical careers among minority applications.
The Early Assurance Program between UM-Flint and MSU is interested in students who are likely to return to the Flint community to practice medicine. This program seeks candidates interested in high-need medical specialty areas, as well as students who graduated from a low-income high school from a rural or urban area, or receive a PELL grant, or who are first-generation college students. If any of these describe you, please consider reviewing more about the program here.
The application process for international students is more involved than for residents, but only with respect to finances and education. Since international applicants are not eligible for financial aid, they must document their financial resources to prove that they are able to afford the program. Additionally, medical schools expect all applicants to have completed their required and recommended courses at accredited American universities. As with all premedical students, it is best to familiarize yourself with the admission requirements for particular schools so you might adequately prepare and evaluate your options.
Medical School Decisions
Medical school applications are reviewed by admissions committees comprised of faculty who set the admissions criteria, as well as community members, practicing physicians, and faculty from other colleges within the university.
After you have applied, the school(s) will notify you that you should submit supplemental applications. Sometimes this request is made after you have met their initial criteria, but sometimes information is requested from all applicants.
Upon review of your supplemental application, the next step is an on-campus interview. During these interviews—they're really conversations—you meet with several committee members and discuss their program and your readiness. The interview evaluations are submitted along with your application materials to the entire committee, which makes a final decision.
Decisions are based on the entirety of your application in competition with other candidates. Decisions are also based on your character, as evidenced by your interview, personal statement, letters of recommendation, your academic record, and your MCAT scores.
Since decisions have an immediate impact on your future, it is important that you prepare for favorable and unfavorable outcomes. In terms of favorable outcomes, getting accepted is a major accomplishment—but it’s not wholly complete until you apply for financial aid and accept their offer. If you are not offered admission, our academic advisors and career counselors can help you navigate contingency plans for graduate school or entering the workforce, both with an emphasis on preparing for the next application cycle. That said, it would be best to address within the university any academic deficiencies before you graduate. Because of our perspective and experience, it’s best that you talk with us before making any decision.