10 things we wish we had known before applying

Now that we’re almost done applying, we thought we should share what unexpected things we’ve learned in the process that would have been helpful to know earlier.

  1. Sell a story. You will “need to organize the chaos of your life into a clear trajectory pointing toward medicine” (quotation and idea contributed by C & T’s close friend). You might be asked, “tell me about yourself” or “what brought you to medicine?” Your answers need to be mini-biographies. T had to talk about her childhood many times and spin a tale from her earliest memories to her current passion for medicine. C typically started from his high school days, how his science education and initial exposure to research sparked an interest in medicine. You will learn to do this, and the better you come upon the story that you’ll be selling, the stronger and more coherent your application and your interviews might become.
  2. Know your details. Be prepared to talk about EVERYTHING that you’ve put on your AMCAS. Any of your smallest awards, all your most insignificant activities — come up with an eloquent way of explaining their significance! Everything. Your second language, a flowery sentence in your personal statement, your father’s job, a course you took sophomore year, the one week service trip you did. Most of all, know ANECDOTES that can support your clinical experiences.
  3. Early is better than perfect. Don’t be overly stressed about writing the perfect secondaries – all applicants write under a lot of pressure and these essays don’t need to be perfect, get them done, reasonably polished and sent out and move onto the next stack. Your primary on the other hand, should have been perfected to a much greater extent given that you could have been working on this essay for months before submitting AMCAS. T sent back an average of 3-4 secondaries a week at her fastest during the summer.
  4. Don’t read much into timing. Don’t be nervous about hearing back from schools out of order, or more slowly than you’d expect. Admissions is a black box, so be patient. Every school operates differently. You might be sorted into a group with a reader who randomly gets to yours late, or an interviewer submits a report late or doesn’t show up for a committee meeting. Some schools are really slow at reading applications (Hopkins – it took C three months to be complete).
    Only one known exception: at Mt Sinai, your application is quickly sorted into bins (immediate, early, late, do not) for when you receive an interview. t was in the ‘immediate’ pool and got an invite a few days after completion. c was in the ‘early’ pool and got an invite six weeks after completion but still early in the season (late Sept).
  5. Roll early. Try to schedule your interviews for rolling schools before your interviews for non-rolling ones – you want that advantage of having more seats available in the classes at rolling schools, AND you can hear back from them sooner. At non-rolling schools, in general, there is no disadvantage to interviewing later.
  6. Prep for MMIs. Plenty of people will tell you that you can’t prepare for Multiple Mini Interviews. You can. Talk to someone who has done MMI’s – (or read about it online somewhere from SDN) to try and prepare for it the best you can. Try working out scenarios, and try developing a strategy for tackling certain types of questions. For example, if given an ethical question, what aspects or levels of the situation should you remember to address (patient’s rights, patient’s family’s concerns, physician’s concerns and rights, hospital’s/medical community’s concerns, social impact of policy, etc.). The book “Doing Right” lists four concerns in ethical dilemmas: beneficence, autonomy, justice, and context. Read the book to find out what that means!
  7. Dress sharp and professional. Interview clothing:
    1. Storing suits – Suits don’t get wrinkled in your suitcase if you roll them around other items like a blanket, or a thick change of clothes. Also, there are suits that are very wrinkle resistant – T’s suit jacket from Banana Republic never needed to be ironed! This beats carrying around a suit bag in addition to your other luggage. Alternatively, there are 2-in-1 garment duffel bags you can buy online, but these get heavy to carry everywhere.
    2. Everyone wears a dark (navy or black) suit. It’s boring. Gray suits stand out in a good way, and can come in a number of shades. Pick one that is flattering for you. Color and pattern coordination is in general pretty key in any case (we saw some pretty heinous combinations of clashing stripes on mens’ dress shirts and ties).
    3. Bring comfortable shoes!!! (Advice from T, who fortunately had some prepared for a school [Emory] that gave a 2.5 hour walking tour.) Gel insoles are worth it.
  8. Take care in choosing schools to apply to. In June, you probably know very little about the schools you think you want to apply to. Spending a little time on SDN’s school specific threads or talking to your advisor, however, can save you time and money later when you have to do the secondaries or fly to the interview. Don’t apply indiscriminately. A few schools are notorious for rejecting people who they think have a low chance of actually matriculating. BU comes to mind. Schools do this to protect their yield against applicants that either 1) are likely to get into and go to a better school, or 2) have no interest in that geographical area. Some schools yield protect in sneaky ways. Pitt, for instance, accepts fewer people outright (on its rolling schedule, a month after your interview) than would fill the class, and waitlists the vast majority of its interviewees. The waitlist moves in early spring and most of the entering class is admitted off the waitlist. UChicago/Pritzker, for another instance, puts all non-accepted interviewees on “continued” status, which constitutes an “invitation” for still-interested applicants to send them love letters, updates, and so forth to further demonstrate the applicant’s “fit” for the school. If you have no patience for such gimmicks, reconsider your list.
    A few more considerations: 1) Out-of-state applicants at some state schools have much lower chance (you need to be Jesus or MSTP to get into UCSF with no connections to the state). Investigate policies fully. 2) Corollary: Your state schools are your best safety. Our condolences if yours are not that good, but it’s probably too late to move to California. 3) Mayo, despite its low average MCAT, can be pretty selective and has the lowest acceptance rate of any school.
  9. Hunt for flight deals. Southwest is not indexed on Kayak or other flight tickets search engines – C and T wasted a good deal of money before they remembered this. Get frequent flyer miles, but oftentimes, if you chose based on the lowest cost flight rather than airline loyalty (the right choice if you want to save money), you might not accrue that many miles on any one airline.
  10. We’re going to cheat and include something that we had known before applying and found very useful:
    APPLY EARLY – We’re talking primaries in early June, and secondaries ASAP as they get back to you – a one-two week turnaround should be something you aim for with most schools, especially with those that do not have multiple, long essays. You can be done with all your secondaries by the start of September, your interviews will get back to you earlier than other people’s, and your rolling schools will come back with decisions often before the winter holiday break, making the holidays all the more enjoyable.
    Also, C points out that our scholarships from WashU may have been made possible by our early applications, and acceptances. WashU mysteriously started giving them out super early – before they have even finished interviewing students for this cycle.
    Everyone says how important applying early is, yet so many people don’t do it. Consider the numbers at some schools like UChicago/Pritzker and UMichigan that are aggressively rolling. For them, by the time it’s Thanksgiving, they have maybe a dozen more interview slots to hand out and a thousand applicants still to be read. You don’t want to be in that pile.



3 thoughts on “10 things we wish we had known before applying

  1. Pingback: One more thing we wished we knew before applying « Anastomosed

  2. Excellent post, I’ll probably be linking this to friends that will be applying in the future. One thing to add to the “hunt for flight deals” bit: if possible, collect frequent flyer miles as soon as you start flying (parents, set up accounts for your kids). That way they will be there for you to use when you need them. I was able to get a $300 roundtrip ticket on short notice for miles because I had collected them on a vacation to China the summer before. I didn’t foresee using them at the time, but I’m really glad they were there.

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