Things I Wish Someone Had Told Me
Before I Applied to Medical School
by Heidi Meyer
1. Spend more time and money on the MCAT than you think you should.
2. Do NOT take more than one class—preferably a non-science class—during MCAT preparation. Even if you are not taking a prep class, MCAT is like a full time load of classes—and you want to ace it! Trying to do classes and the MCAT will end up hurting BOTH your score AND your GPA. If you work, cut your hours to 10 per week maximum.
3. Research testing sites in your area. You can do this by logging onto the MCAT website (www.aamc.org then use the link there) and searching your county. I went to the sites on the testing day prior to mine and asked people how the room was—noisy, cold, crowded, ect. If you find a sit you like that is small—say 60 people or less—you know to register for that site the first day possible. You can find out what day this is on the MCAT website.
4. Start your AAMC application early and create a second email address specifically for the application and MCAT score reporting—and DO NOT use a hotmail address. Many schools have problems with hotmail, and its filters will prevent you from getting mail from schools. Most of your application will occur via email forms, and if you use your regular email for AAMC you will lose track of which emails are from schools, plus your account will get clogged with the normal junk mail. I lost two secondaries and an interview request using hotmail as my AAMC email address.
5. Open and complete the AAMC app as soon as possible. You will receive secondaries immediately from schools that automatically generate them to everyone. The secondaries have a fee—anywhere from $30 to $100, so if you apply to tons of schools, be prepared to pay. This is especially true for August MCAT people whose scores will come out in October, leading to a flurry of secondaries. Complete all you can in the summer while you work on MCAT and then the more selective secondaries that come as a result of your stellar MCAT’s won’t get buried or forgotten with all the rest.
6. To do the above, you must write your personal statement. The application will tell you the character cut off. Currently, it is 5300 characters. That’s about one and one half pages single spaced, not much time to explain why you will be a great doctor. Type it on WORD and then PASTE into the application. Use TOOLS to count your characters.
7. Make sure your letters of rec are into your advising office early—no later that early September. Remember, some schools will start requesting them in the summer. Obviously, if you are waiting for a committee letter, you have to wait until the committee meets in the fall and possibly (if you are August MCAT) for MCAT scores as well, so these letters might get sent ahead of a pending committee recommendation. The sooner your letters are in, however, the sooner your file is complete at a school and the better off you are.
8. Make a spreadsheet of your applications. The first column may be something like, “date secondary was received”, then “date secondary sent”, and the last column would be “intent to matriculate form completed and returned”. There should also be a column with contact names and phone numbers and a place to record notes from possible phone conversations. Get in the habit of calling all schools once a month to make sure you haven’t slipped thru the cracks.
9. Use faculty and alumni to “push” a school that isn’t responding well. Sometimes just hearing a name enough will make the difference. If you are really high on a school and think you may need extra “umph”, ask someone who is at the school to talk up their alma mater to the admissions office or just ask how your application is going. They can do these things in good conscience even if they know nothing about you.
10. Save for the deposit. Many schools will ask for money the moment they accept you to reserve your seat. Some may ask or money after May 15th when you must pick you one school. It may be $1000 or more or it may be nothing. Save!
11. You can hold multiple acceptances until May 15. Schools never know where else you have applied, but they know where you have been accepted. You MUST let go of all but one acceptance on this date or you will lose your seat!!
12. Keep schools updated on your progress—if you start a new activity or win an award, let them know! My eventual school got an email from me the morning my file went before the committee informing them of a recent honor. It was another chance to impress them and also mention my goal as a physician and my desire to attend their program. It worked!
13. Have fun your summer before. Med school is donating your body and mind to science for 4 years. After 12 or more months of applying, you deserve a vacation. Sure, you want to make money so you won’t owe so much, but will a few thousand dollars really matter once you are $80,000 in debt? My advice is to travel. As doctors we must be culturally sensitive and aware, and it is near impossible to TRULY be that way until you have ventured far outside of this very geographically isolated country. Working in a lab probably won’t make you a better doctor, but seeing how people live in less fortunate places will.
14. Apply to BOTH osteopathic and allopathic schools. This increases your chances of getting in somewhere plus it make you discover what the heck osteopathy is, which is good because you will be working side by side with osteopaths once you are done, if you are not one yourself. And besides, osteopaths actually learn MORE in med school that allopaths do.
15. Never stop believing in yourself. If you truly want to be a doctor, you will be. Case closed.