Hey again guys. This week I’m on the East Coast and will continue the medical school application process to the bitter end. Here’s how it works in a nutshell.
1.) February – June: Prepare and submit AMCAS initial application while deciding what schools to apply to.
I was busy filling out the online American Medical College Application Service’s (AMCAS) generic application. This includes a full list of college courses, all letters of recommendation you wish to send, MCAT scores, GPA, a complete report of all volunteer and work experiences you’ve had, and finally a page and a half personal statement. It took a lot of preparation and time to put this bad boy together. I got my generic AMCAS admitted to all the medical schools I wanted to apply to in early June which is actually when many applicants get theirs’ out as well.
2.) July – September: Submit secondary applications as they come in.
Medical schools then reviewed my file and sent a second application to be filled out in July and August. These differed significantly between schools. Some actually screened applicants based on what was submitted in the initial generic AMCAS application and other schools didn’t. All of my schools asked for secondary applications to be filled out. Some had one or two large essay questions that forced me to elaborate on particular aspects of my initial essay and talk about why I specifically fit for that school. Others just wanted me to fill out extra contact information and answer a few simple questions (Any family members attend our school? Did you serve in the armed forces? Etc.).
3.) September – March: Interview with schools
Finally, if the school likes you after two applications, you are invited for an interview so they can get a feel for what you are like in person. These come in all different shapes and sizes but have a fairly similar format. You meet with other candidates in the morning, are given a talk about the school specialties, get lunch with current students, tour the facilities, talk about how insanely in debt you’re going to be, and of course…INTERVIEW!
The interviews themselves run differently between medical schools. The University of Minnesota Duluth medical school had me interview for two hours straight with two different professors who both had seen my MCAT scores (which were a little low) and GPA. They actually did more of the talking than I did and asked questions that they thought would come up at the admissions committee meeting where a panel of admissions committee members will vote to let me in or not because. When the day my file is drawn to be voted on, the professors who interview me will be my advocates in a room of nay-sayers. The University of Wisconsin Madison medical school was completely different. I interviewed for about 30-45 minutes with a surgeon/professor who had never seen my MCATs or GPA but knew my personal statement and essays. After the surgeon and I finished, I met with two current students and three other candidates. We sat as a panel of candidates and were asked simple questions about why we want to do medical school at Madison and what we were like as people. These student interviewers had no information at all about us (at least they didn’t show it). The current students later will write up a report on all of us and submit it to the admissions team.
Interviewing is strange because you never know what to think about how your interview went. In each case the interviewers were nice and wanted me to relax while asking me questions that I had great answers to. There was nothing to make me think that the interviewers were having misgivings about me. So you leave the room and talk to every other candidate and we all say the same stupid thing, “how did it go?” to which everyone replies, “really well!” Great! Awesome! But what does that mean for all of us. If we all had amazing interviews – or at least think we did – then how will some of us be selected to attend the school and the others dropped? The admissions committee can go about this in two ways: How much a candidate stands out from the others and what they are like on paper.
For any average American, I’m pretty stellar on paper, but for medical school I would say I float somewhere around average to below average (MCAT of 27P, regular GPA of 3.6 and science GPA of 3.5). I look pretty pitiful compared to these burn-out pre-med undergrads whose sole purpose in life is to become a doctor. If we were computers these guys would be the new Macbook Pro and I would be a simple Macbook. We all function well and can do great work but just because you can move your two stupid fingers to the side and the screen moves horizontally on their screen, they seem so much cooler!
On the other hand, the admissions committee can look at how much an applicant stands out from the crowd. Everyone and their mom have a B.A. or B.S. in biology, minors in chemistry, physics, blah blah blah. Sports, shadowing in hospitals, volunteering, published research, and president of any club dealing with medicine or the sciences is nothing new to admissions committees. However, if you were a professional actor, marathon runner, former prostitute, kidnapped in the congo, or hung out with Santa Claus for a while then you have something interesting that sets you apart. In this case, I’m the shit because I live in a mud house on a lonely mountain in Morocco and have been doing self-lead public health for the past year and a half. To all the stupid science kids who spent three years hunched over glowing mold to find some miniscule gene that was published last year, you can suck it! Not only have my past two years been more interesting to me but they are much more fun to talk about.
In the end the admissions committee will weigh both aspects, how much do you stand out and what are you like in cold hard facts and numbers. If I had a better MCAT score and GPA I would be a shoe in to these places, but I don’t so I will pray for Peace Corps to save my ass.
Either way, that is the application process. I have Burlington Vermont left and will sit in a mud house and wait to see what these schools say. I shouldn’t hear anything for another 2-3 months.