Applying to medical school is a long, complicated, and competitive process. There are many pitfalls along the way that can chip away at your already slim chances of attaining admission to your dream medical school(s). You can put your best foot forward in this important process by making sure to avoid these ten common mistakes when applying to medical school.
1 | Submitting Your Primary Application Late
Medical school admissions are on a rolling basis, meaning that the early bird is more likely to get the worm. It is a smart idea to apply early because more spots are available. You should plan on submitting your application within the first week after the AMCAS (American Medical College Application Service) opens in late May/early June. This can be accomplished by making sure that you draft your list of medical schools, write your personal statement, and ask for letters of recommendation at least three months in advance. Submitting your primary AMCAS late will decrease your chances of getting into medical school.
2 | Crafting an Unrealistic Medical School List
Making your list of medical schools is a search for the Goldilocks zone: you have to get it just right. If you apply to too many schools (>30), you risk burning out and needlessly burning thousands of dollars. If you apply to too few schools (<10), you risk having few or no acceptances from which to choose. If you apply to only top programs, you run the risk of obtaining no acceptances. If you apply to only safety schools, you run the risk of selling yourself short. You can avoid these pitfalls by thoroughly researching medical schools and applying to a healthy number of wide-ranging programs. I recommend applying to a minimum of 15 medical schools, with ~50% of those schools being target schools, ~25% safety schools, and ~25% dream schools.
3 | Assembling an Incomplete Portfolio of Letters of Recommendations
Each school has different policies for how many letters of recommendation they will accept and what types of letters are permissible and/or helpful. In general, you will need at least three letters of recommendation (two from a science professor and one from a non-science professor). It is also a good idea to get letters from mentors or coaches that supervised your extracurricular activities in sports, research, clinical shadowing, and/or volunteering. Your aim should be to obtain strong letters of recommendation from people who know you well.
4 | Writing an Unmemorable Personal Statement
Your personal statement is your single biggest chance to leave a lasting impression on the admissions committee; conversely, a bland personal statement is an extreme detriment to your application. Thus, you should work hard to produce a well-written personal statement that concisely details your motivations for pursuing medicine and vividly describes any life events that exemplify your best qualities. A good place to start is to read past personal statements written by successful matriculants at top programs. Plan on writing multiple drafts and going through many stages of independent editing before formally sending it to other people for their opinions and edits. I recommend selecting 2-3 people who are close to you (e.g., parents, siblings, close friends) and 1-2 acquaintances to provide comments on your personal statement. The readers who are close to you can provide comments on the authenticity of your personal statement and help brainstorm experiences from your life to include in your personal statement. The readers who do not know you as well will more closely mirror the admissions committee (who know nothing about you beyond what is included in your application) and will, therefore, give you a more objective opinion of your personal statement. At least two of the people who read your personal statement should possess writing skills that are comparable, or preferably superior, to your own.
5 | Submitting Your Secondaries Late
As stated above, medical school admissions are rolling and submitting your applications early will increase your likelihood of admission. For dream schools, aim to submit your secondaries within 2-3 days after you receive the prompts. For target schools, aim to submit secondaries within a week. For safety schools, aim to submit secondaries within 2-3 weeks.
6 | Writing Cookie-Cutter Answers to Secondary Prompts
When writing secondaries, it is highly recommended to recycle secondary essays from other schools. This is because many medical schools provide similar prompts or prompts with broad scopes; thus, it is efficient and simple to recycle essays for multiple schools. However, this does not mean you should submit the exact same essay. Each essay can have the same basic body but should be adorned in details customized to a particular school.
7 | Naming the Wrong Medical School on a Secondary
You will torpedo your chances of admissions to a school if you accidentally write you would love to attend school X when the secondary in question is for school Y. Forgetting to switch a program name or erroneously writing the wrong name could happen if you are recycling an essay and/or writing essays to multiple schools at the same time. Avoid this error by double-checking the pronouns on your essay. Pro tip: use the Ctrl+F function and click Replace to find and replace all phrases in your essay.
8 | Failing to Curate Your Social Media Presence
Many people have a vibrant social media presence spread across Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and beyond. Nowadays, it is common practice for medical school admissions committees to scan through applicant’s social media to look for concerning red flags. Some of these include inflammatory statuses or tweets, concerning photos, or problematic affiliations. Physicians are highly respected individuals in society and it is important for aspiring medical students to be held to that high standard. It is a good idea to make your social media profiles private or change your online handle when applying to medical school, especially if you have potentially unprofessional content associated with your name or image.
9 | Thinking the “Optional” Section is Actually Optional
If you see a section that is marked “optional,” do not view it as such. Instead, optional sections should be viewed as extra space to help committees get to know more about you. This section could be used to expand on qualities that make you stand out from the pack or to introduce a new aspect of yourself that had previously not come through in the rest of the application. Any optional sections should be filled in with something that complements the mandatory sections of your application.
10 | Spelling or Grammar Mistakes
Triple check every inch of your application for spelling or grammar mistakes. If noticed, these mistakes will be a significant stain on your application. Attention to detail is a vital attribute for any health professional, and admissions committees will not look kindly on careless applicants.
There are many opportunities for errors in the lengthy process of applying to medical school. Avoiding these ten common mistakes will ensure that you give it your best shot and finish feeling proud of your hard work. If you would like more advice, check out my post on ten best practices for applying to medical school. Good luck!