In this final part of your assessment, we will look at all the other ways you communicated with the admissions committee. With the multi-staged admissions process, and an increasingly longer application season, applicants have multiple opportunities to make an impact – or be weeded out. Therefore, it’s important to evaluate whether or not your interactions helped you over each hurdle.
Your secondary essays have multiple purposes. For the admissions committee, your answers will help them see beyond your introduction in your primary and flesh out the image of who you are. For you, the questions that each school chooses to ask will indicate what the program values most. As you review your previous answers, you need to determine how well the information you provided demonstrates your fit with the values and offerings at that particular program.
- Did my secondary essays offer a new or deeper look at my activities, or did they regurgitate my personal statement? Viewed alongside my initial application, do they create a consistent but broader profile? Is there a significant divergence from what was presented before? If so, did I explain it?
- Did I research each school to see what made it unique? Did I bring this information into my answers, even when it was not specifically asked, by integrating their particular strengths and offerings with my skill set and interests?
- Did I answer the specific question that was asked? If I recycled secondary essays from another program, did I tailor it to fit the new program? And did I make sure to use the right school name? (This seems obvious, but you’d be surprised by how many essays miss the point!)
- Did I return the secondaries in a timely manner (within two weeks of receipt)?
- Were my 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 – and if you were not invited to interview – it may indicate that your secondary essays need more punch.
Additionally, as you reevaluate your secondary applications, think carefully about how you want to incorporate your newer activities. Some programs come right out and ask how reapplicants have strengthened their candidacy. Even those that don’t will still want to see why evidence of improvement – and a reason to reconsider their previous decision. It’s not a simple matter of showing an upward trend in your GPA or a better MCAT score. Rejection is an adversity and overcoming it requires a great degree of reflection, resilience and personal growth. Hopefully, the steps that you’ve taken throughout this assessment have helped you identify and address your weaknesses.
Sharing what you’ve learned along the way will help the admissions committee see your continued commitment to becoming a doctor. For instance, if your focus was on improving your GPA, how did your approach to study change? Did you benefit from having a clearer idea of your goal or from establishing a more productive routine? What did this teach you about yourself? Self-awareness is an important part of showing admissions committees the “New, Improved You.”
One last note about secondaries. As mentioned in the last installment, timing is a critical part of a successful application strategy. The generally accepted rule is that the turnaround for secondaries should be two weeks. To keep up with this grueling schedule, start early and pre-write as many secondaries as you can. Even if the questions change (which they rarely do), your writing is unlikely to be wasted. And repurposing essays from your previous application and from other schools’ secondaries is perfectly acceptable. Just take the time to rework them.
Be sure you’re addressing the specific question asked, tailor your answer with specifics of the relevant program, and make sure you proofread carefully so you don’t submit with the wrong school’s name. (It has happened.)
If you were invited to interview 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):
- Did I practice enough, alone and with others? Was I comfortable talking about myself? Was I prepared for most of the questions asked, and had I prepared anecdotes in advance to support my claims? Were there any questions that stumped me?
- Was I exceptionally nervous at the interview or did I feel at ease? Was there anything in particular that triggered my nervousness? Was I aware of any personal quirks – changes in tone, hand gestures, etc. – that were exacerbated by my nervous state? Did my comfort level increase in subsequent interviews?
- Before the interview, did I extensively research the medical school? Could I speak credibly about each one and know what made each one unique? Was I able to explain why I wanted to attend each program? Did I show my fit?
- If I had a Multiple Mini-Interview, was I prepared for the format? Were there any scenarios that threw me?
It’s so frustrating to get past the interview hurdle and still not gain acceptance. The good news is that it can now help you focus your reapplication efforts. Preparation and lots of practice will help you feel comfortable telling your stories in a conversational, engaging, and unrehearsed way. The good news is that you can start practicing anytime – in fact, the earlier, the better. The more accustomed you are to sharing your stories, the more comfortable you’ll be in the interview.
As an admissions cycle drags on, applicants have many other chances to communicate with medical schools. These may include phone calls to administrative offices, updates of new activities, additional transcripts and letters of recommendation, and letters of interest and intent. In looking at your past interactions, it’s important to ask yourself:
- If allowed, did I maintain a regular communication with each medical school throughout the season, keeping them informed about new developments and confirming my continued interest in their program?
- Did each communication provide new information rather than regurgitating prior information? Before writing, did I anticipate my weaknesses and show my personal and professional growth in these areas?
- Was I polite and professional at all times? When speaking with office staff, was I always respectful and courteous?
Remember that you are being evaluated in every interaction, whether it is with the Dean of the medical school or the front desk receptionist. It’s natural to want to vent your frustrations about the admissions process, but do it with your friends, not with anyone at the medical school itself. Make sure that each of your communications is positive and productive, and gives the admissions committee new reasons to accept you.
One remaining issue can significantly affect your application success: the schools that you’ve chosen to apply to. 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 I select? Was there a spread of schools, including programs both above and below where I believe I’m competitive?
- Was my state medical school(s) included on my list? Was my list heavy on medical schools in other states that accept fewer out-of-state applicants?
- Above all, did I consider my fit at each program? Did I do my research and can I identify what is special or unique about each one?
The average allopathic 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.
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 3.3 GPA with a strong MCAT score could be competitive. I also like to review the MSAR closely to make sure that my clients are at or above the lowest numbers the program accepted. While it’s fine to deviate with a few “reach” schools, these should not dominate your choices.
Also look at the percentage of applications accepted. Saint Louis University accepts close to 10% of its applicants; George Washington University accepts around 2%. 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 important to look at their admission preferences. Did you choose a lot of public medical schools in other states? Many state schools accept only a handful of out-of-state applicants; some, such as the University of Washington, have agreements to consider certain states’ applicants. (And if your state’s medical schools aren’t on your list, this is a serious omission.)
Click here to check out the In-State vs. Out-of-State Acceptance Rate Chart >>
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? Will they get you where you want to go, whether that be in medical research or clinical service? 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.
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, take time to reassess your application, address any deficiencies in your record, and 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.
“Reapplying to Medical Schools: Secondaries, Interviews and School Selection” is the sixth and final post in our series: Medical School Reapplicant Advice: 6 Tips for Success.
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A former fellowship admissions committee member and administrator at the University of Washington School of Medicine, Cydney Foote has successfully advised healthcare applicants, including those applying to medical school, dental school, nursing and PA programs, veterinary school, public health and hospital administration programs, post-baccalaureate medical programs, residencies and fellowships. Since 2001, she has brought her marketing and writing expertise to help science-focused students communicate their strengths. Want Cyd to help you get Accepted? Click here to get in touch!