As a medical student, you know what’s coming at the end of medical school: applying to residency. While residency programs are educational, they’re quite a bit different from medical school, and it’s imperative that your residency application reflects these differences.
Your application must exhibit a greater maturity, growth, and dedication to the medical profession—it must also detail why you are a perfect fit for your chosen specialty and program, what contributions you will make to the program, and what you hope to accomplish with your specialty once you have become a doctor.
We have a detailed ERAS Residency Application Guide that will take you through the ideal application timeline, what you need to include, mistakes to avoid, and FAQs, but in this post, we’ll focus on the most important tips and strategies for success on your residency application.
We’ll discuss the following 9 tips for applying to residency below.
- Don’t Lock in Your Application Prematurely
- Don’t Treat ERAS the Same as Your Medical School Application
- Begin Preparing Early
- Build Strong Connections
- Work Hard on Your Rotations
- Think About Which Programs You Want to Apply to Well Before Applications Open
- Ensure Your Personal Statement Directly Addresses Specialty Fit
- Get Strong Letters of Recommendation
- Put Significant Effort Into Editing and Proofreading
Tips for Applying to Residency
1 | Don’t Lock in Your Application Prematurely
Do not certify your ERAS application until you are absolutely 100% sure it is accurate, complete, and exactly what you want to submit. You are only able to certify your application once. Once you do, your application is locked in, and you can’t make a signal edit to it for the rest of the application season.
2 | Don’t Treat ERAS the Same as Your Medical School Application
Applying to residency is an entirely different beast than applying to medical school. What matters most to medical schools is not necessarily the same as what matters to residency programs. If you’re applying to residency, it means you’re almost there; after nearly a decade of intense schooling, you are almost a full-fledged doctor. The priority for residency programs is determining if you’re a good fit for them as well as the specialty.
Your residency application must demonstrate maturity, growth, a deepened dedication to medicine, as well as an increased focus on what you hope to accomplish with your specialty. You also need to illustrate why you are a good fit for the program and highlight the contributions you believe you will make to that specific program.
3 | Begin Preparing Early
As a medical student, you know where you’re headed. After four years of school comes residency—keep this in the back of your mind throughout your time in medical school. Make smart decisions that will help you apply to residency and gain an advantage over other applicants. Create a personalized residency application schedule to keep you on track.
You’re going to be busy, which means your time will be very valuable. Be mindful and make smart decisions about the opportunity cost of any given activity. Make decisions based on what will move the needle on your residency application, including building the right connections, gaining relevant experience, and making decisions based on your desired specialty.
It’s also important to take notes and keep a journal during your work, volunteer, and research experiences. Taking notes will help you remember the moments and anecdotes that had the most profound effect on you and crystallized your desire to join a certain specialty. When it comes time to detail your experiences, you’ll be happy to have notes that capture exactly how you were feeling and what you were thinking at the time.
4 | Build Strong Connections
It should come as no surprise that students pursuing a competitive specialty have the best odds of matching into their home program. You’ll have a greater degree of direct interaction with faculty and the program director, as well as the chance to rotate there. If you impress them with your performance during clinical rotations and research, they’ll likely take a strong liking to you. If it comes down to you and another candidate, they’ll choose the one they know personally and who has a proven track record.
Faculty advocates are most impactful when they have significant direct contact with you, such as working closely with you on a research project for several months. This way, they can authentically and authoritatively speak about your skills, work ethic, and character.
Considering the amount of time it takes to form this kind of relationship, it’s vital that you begin building strong connections early during medical school. To find a faculty mentor, start by pursuing research projects in your particular specialty, or ask fellow medical students or residents which faculty members are most willing to take students under their wing.
5 | Work Hard on Your Rotations
Work hard on your rotations, as rotations taking place during this time are often called “audition rotations,” which means programs will watch how hard you work and if you fit in to determine whether or not to offer you an interview.
This is also the ideal time to earn any remaining letters of recommendation from attendings in your desired field. If you have already secured enough letters of recommendation and your specialty doesn’t recommend away rotations, this is also a good time to complete other rotations that require a higher workload.
6 | Think About Which Programs You Want to Apply to Well Before Applications Open
Begin compiling your list of residency programs in the months leading up to application season. Give yourself plenty of time so that you can research and contact the programs that interest you most. Be sure to determine the specific program requirements and deadlines so that you don’t miss anything.
The AAMC has a residency preference exercise to help you discern which programs are most of interest to you. It’s a good idea to return to this exercise after you’re through the interview stage, when it comes time to rank residency programs in February. This is not something you want to skimp on. Start this process long before applications open to figure out the program that most excites and interests you.
7 | Ensure Your Personal Statement Directly Addresses Specialty Fit
In keeping with the rest of your residency application, your residency personal statement must reflect a much greater understanding of medicine, a deepened dedication to the profession, and it must directly and clearly address why you will be a good fit for your chosen specialty. Residency programs aren’t looking for a medical student—they’re looking for a young professional who knows the direction they want to take their career.
Focus your personal statement on your professional development and why your experiences have made it clear to you that you belong in a certain specialty. This is your one opportunity outside of interviews to express exactly why you personally believe you will excel in your chosen specialty—so don’t waste it. Speak confidently yet humbly about what you have accomplished already, and passionately explain what you hope to accomplish in the residency program and with your future career.
Just like your original medical school personal statement, you don’t have much room to express all of this. While the residency personal statement technically allows for up to 28,000 characters, we strongly recommend that you keep it to a single typed page, about 700-800 words. Get started early to ensure you have ample time to edit it and have it edited by peers you trust.
A poor personal statement can shut the door on an otherwise top-tier applicant, whereas a stand out essay alone can be enough to get you an interview. View our database of Residency Personal Statement Samples, take careful care editing, ask mentors for feedback, and consider professional personal statement editing.
8 | Get Strong Letters of Recommendation
Residency programs trust the opinions of other doctors. The stronger your letters of recommendation, the more compelling of a candidate you are. ERAS letters of recommendation let programs know what the physicians you worked with think of you and if they hold you in high esteem, and they provide crucial insight into your work ethic, ethical judgment and decision making, and—arguably most importantly—how well they believe you will fit within your chosen specialty.
It’s ideal to secure writers from a range of different specialties who you have worked with closely during your work, research, and volunteering experiences. A strong letter from someone you worked with closely is much more valuable than securing a letter from a well-known and respected physician who doesn’t know much about you and can’t directly speak to your unique strengths or specialty fit. You must also have at least one letter from a mentor, an attending you worked with closely, or a department chair in your chosen specialty so that they can speak to your aptitude and suitability for that specific specialty.
Learn more about How to Get Strong Letters of Recommendation.
9 | Put Significant Effort Into Editing and Proofreading
Sloppy editing and carelessness on your residency application is an automatic red flag for residency programs. You’ve been through four years of premed, four years of medical school, and you’re right on the doorstep of becoming a full-fledged doctor—DO NOT make careless mistakes on your application.
Use editing apps like Grammarly and Hemingway Editor, but don’t rely on these alone to catch your mistakes. A bot’s grasp of context is severely lacking, so ask trusted friends, family members, and mentors to look over your application and scan for mistakes. Application editing services can also play this role, helping you edit, fine-tune, and tailor your application.
Get started on your application as soon as possible, so you have lots of time to edit and rewrite your application until it’s perfect. Remember: you can only certify your residency application once, so do your utmost to ensure it’s flawless when you do.
Get the Help You Need: Residency Application Editing
It is critical to the success of your residency application that you approach it with tact and care—and you don’t need to do it alone. Our team of doctors has years of experience giving medical students the tools and know-how they need to get matched with their ideal program.
Med School Insiders can help you prepare a stand out residency application. We offer a number of Residency Admissions Consulting Services tailored to your needs, including personal statement editing, USMLE tutoring, interview prep and mock interviews, and overall application editing.