With the multi-staged admissions process, applicants can make an impact at each step – or be weeded out. Your assessment continues by looking at other ways you communicated with the admissions committee, and whether or not they helped you past the next hurdle.
Your secondary essays go beyond the initial introduction and flesh out your application. The questions asked will generally give you a good indication of what the program values. In your review, you need to determine how well the information you provided demonstrates your fit with the values and offerings at that particular program.
- Did you answer the particular questions asked? (This seems obvious, but you’d be surprised by how many essays miss the point.)
- Did your secondary essays offer a new or deeper look at your activities or did they regurgitate your personal statement? Viewed alongside your initial application, do they create a consistent but broader profile or is there a significant divergence from what was presented before?
- Did you research each school to see what made it unique? Did you bring this information into your answers, even if it was not specifically asked?
- If you recycled secondary essays from another program, did you tailor it to fit the new program? And did you make sure to use the right school name?
- Did you integrate their particular strengths and offerings into your skill set and interests?
- Did you return the secondaries in a timely manner?
- Were your secondaries free of typos and grammatical errors?
If you can answer “yes” to these questions, your secondary essays are probably not the source of your rejection. But if you aren’t confident of your answers, this is an area that you should note for your reapplication. Another sign of a problem is being invited to fill out a secondary essay, but not being invited to interview. This is a natural “weeding out” process that happens throughout the season, but it indicates that your secondary essays need more punch to move to the next stage.
If you were invited to interview at a number of schools, but didn’t receive any acceptances, it’s a pretty good signal that your interview skills need a polish. Let’s jump into our next batch of questions (and remember – you want to be able to answer “yes” to each of these the next time around):
- Do you think you practiced enough? Were you comfortable talking about yourself?
- Were you exceptionally nervous at the interview or did you feel at ease? If you were nervous, was it your first interview? If not, was there anything in particular that triggered your nervousness?
- Could you speak credibly about each program and did you know what made each one unique? Were you able to explain why you wanted to attend each program?
- If you had a multiple mini-interview, were you prepared for the format?
- Were there any questions that stumped you? Did you address these either in your thank you notes or in later communications with the program?
If you didn’t get any interviews, you should examine the issues in the sections above – you’re likely to find clues that explain your rejection there.
Finally, there are two remaining issues that can significantly affect your application success:
Applying late might not be the only concern in your application, but your chance of admission declines as the season goes on. Those who start the process early tend to have much better results. Some questions to ask yourself include:
- Did you register with the AAMC and/or the AACOM in May and submit your application in June?
- Did you line up your recommenders early? Did you follow up to make sure they sent their recommendations in a timely manner?
- Did you take the MCAT early? Were your scores available when you submitted?
- Did you return your secondary essays in a timely manner?
- After an interview, did you promptly send thank you notes expressing your interest?
Answering “no” to any of these questions could signal a serious problem. Although some extremely competitive applicants do manage to secure acceptances late in the season, many more are put on “hold,” wait-listed, or just rejected. Those who do apply later face a larger applicant pool competing for fewer interview slots and, in many cases, fewer seats in medical school.
It should go without saying that you need to make sure you meet each program’s admission requirements. But there are other issues to examine, such as:
- How many medical schools did you select?
- Did you choose a spread of schools, including programs both above and below where you think you might be competitive?
- Were your state’s medical schools included in your list?
- Above all, did you consider your fit at these programs or did you just choose schools out of the blue?
The average med school applicant submits applications to 15 programs. Some submit fewer applications – if, for instance, they will only consider a particular geographic area – while some submit 30+. Highly competitive applicants can target fewer schools, but if your profile is less competitive, the number of schools should be higher.
Determining where you are competitive
How do you know where you’re competitive? Your basic stats are a good indication. Being close to a program’s mean indicates that you are a strong contender for that program – in other words, if a school’s mean GPA is 3.5, a 3.2 GPA with a strong MCAT score can be competitive. I like to make sure that you’re at or above the lowest numbers the program accepted. While it’s fine to deviate with a few “reach” schools, these should not make up the majority of your choices.
Also take a look at the percentage of applications accepted. Arkansas COM accepts one in every 4 applications; Mayo accepts one in 50. If all your chosen schools have a low acceptance rate, your profile will have to be much better than average.
Beyond your chosen program’s requirements, it’s also important to look at their admission preferences. Did you choose a lot of public programs in other states? Many state schools accept only a handful of out-of-state applicants. (And if your state’s medical schools aren’t on your list, this is a serious omission.)
Finally, take a good, hard look at your list of schools. Do you know something about each of them? Are these places you’d really like to attend? If you’ve completed the secondaries for each school and still can’t answer “yes” to these questions, that is a problem – one you can rectify when you reapply.
One more point on application timing
By now, you should have a pretty good idea of any missteps in your application. Unfortunately, addressing them is rarely a fast process. Often it takes years. Many people, fearing the time is ticking away, get impatient and reapply before they’re ready. Nine out of ten times, this backfires.
Instead, reapply when you are at your strongest. This will take time, but now that you have a good idea of where you went wrong, you’ll be able to focus your energies, enhance your profile, and ultimately submit a successful application.
“Presenting Yourself to Medical Schools: Secondaries, Interviews, School Selection & Application Timing” is the third post in our series: Medical School Reapplicant Advice: 6 Tips for Success.
In the next post, I’ll show you how to enhance your profile.
If you want to improve your chances even more, take advantage of Accepted’s application review service to get a tailored assessment of your strengths and weaknesses.
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