Accepted admissions consultant Cydney Foote sheds light on the medical school application process [Show Summary]
Are you not quite ready to submit your AMCAS application? Don’t panic. We’ve got the advice you need to polish off your personal statement, MMEs, and activity descriptions. Listen to the podcast for answers to “How many schools should you apply to?” “How should you choose where to apply?” “What’s the difference between the personal statement, the most meaningful experiences, and the activity descriptions.” Plus we’ll give you some tips on how to manage a deluge of secondaries and even your residency personal statement.
Cydney Foote shares her tips for applying successfully to medical school [Show Notes]
Our guest today, Cydney Foote, has been a medical school admissions consultant since she started at Accepted in 2001. Needless to say, she’s helped hundreds of happy clients get accepted to allopathic and osteopathic medical schools as well as residency programs. During this podcast she’ll address some of the most common questions we get and also some of the most common myths out there about med school admissions.
When this show airs it will be June 4. The first day to submit the AMCAS this year was May 31. If applicants haven’t submitted already, are they “late?” Have they missed the boat and is their application already doomed to the reject pile? [2:30]
That is a really good question, and people panic about this every year. To be honest it is one of the biggest myths out there that you need to get your application in on the first day. From recent years I know that even those who submitted on June 7th had their information sent the same time as those who submitted the first day. A week or two later than the first submission date is not late, but if you are getting into July and August that is not the ideal time to apply. I’ll also say, though, that it is really important for you to apply when you are ready. If you are a week away from getting what you need, it is far better to submit a week or two into June than start rushing.
How do you advise applicants to select the schools they are applying to? [3:55]
I look at the stats first – what’s the lowest accepted value of MCAT and cumulative GPA. If it is in the range, then I look at acceptance rates. Are they looking to apply someplace that only accepts a very small percentage of out-of-state applicants, or do they have an overall low acceptance rate? If so, those may not be the top picks. You want to choose a mix of schools where you are competitive, but also a few reach schools. I think a lot of people overweight their reach schools – while they might reach the lowest accepted value, they are not near the mean. Once the quant factors are set, then it is digging into the schools themselves – looking at position statements, or specialties you are interested in. You have to make the connection with what the applicant wants. In-state vs. out-of-state matters, too.
How many schools do you recommend they apply to or does that vary by client? [7:30]
It really varies. Some people just apply to a handful for whatever reason – the fewer you apply to, the more you need the higher stats and connections. I have some who only apply to 3-4 schools because they had done research at the particular schools or have other connections. I think most people who have more average stats apply to 20-25 schools and some to as many as 30 schools. Some apply to a lot of allopathic and osteopathic schools. Keep in mind that you will have secondaries for a lot of those schools and you don’t want to overburden yourself. You can actually stagger your secondaries so they don’t come all at the same time, which is often a good strategy – you only need to select one school for your AMCAS application to be verified. If you apply to the most competitive schools first, you’ll have a much more balanced season. I don’t recommend delaying a Harvard or Stanford, but for state schools you could do that a bit later.
Let’s talk a bit about the primary application, specifically the AMCAS. What should go into the personal statement vs. the most meaningful experiences vs. the activity description? [10:41]
I like to think of the personal statement as the first introduction, getting to know you as a person. It should focus around a theme – service, resilience, or more broad ideas of this person, and whether or not they are mature and committed to medicine. In other words a much broader statement. For the MME you want to show impact on you or impact on others, not just as an important thing to have done. It needs to have been meaningful to you and your personal development. Maybe you mentioned it in your personal statement but you really flesh it out in the MME in terms of why it was so significant. Descriptions are much more basic, with only 700 characters to work with, but you need to share why they are important to you. You don’t want anything there just because you did it. Make the connection of why it was good for you.
Can you give a little more guidance on the most meaningful experiences – applicants can really struggle with that. [12:33]
Don’t repeat anything in the personal statement and the MME. Using the same language is not acceptable, but you can certainly talk about them in both for sure. You obviously dig deeper in the MME. In the personal statement you show how you are developing as a doctor, for instance, whereas with the MME how you are developing as a contributor to your community. I think if an experience is meaningful enough to be in the personal statement and the MME, it should be layered enough that you can pick different things to write about. You can also talk about your effect on specific people. There are different approaches that you take to both, but under no circumstances should the language be the same.
What about gap years? [13:54]
I think they are great if you need or want to take them, however some people aren’t in the position to do so when they apply. I think it depends on what you are doing it for. If it increases your profile that is great. The problem is that some people will lose contact with people they need to support them in med school – losing contact with professors, for example. However, working abroad or as a scribe can be really effective in enhancing your candidacy. Bottom line, don’t feel compelled to take the gap year, but also take advantage of it if you can.
If applicants use their best material for the primary essays, how can they have impressive material for the secondaries? [16:08]
You need to keep working. Once your primary is in, your preparation does not stop – keep volunteering, keep shadowing. One of my most impressive clients was looking for new shadowing opportunities throughout the whole year. Even after completing secondaries she was sending updates to schools on what she had been doing and the nitty gritty about what she had learned and how it had affected her perception of medicine. Creating new material along the way is one of the best things to do, and then taking time to reflect on what you have done and why it is meaningful is very important in this process. It is critical to have authentic experiences. Tell what you’ve done, and be sure to reflect on why it was important to you.
How do you recommend applicants prepare for secondaries, which tend to come in a deluge? [21:07]
Pre-writing secondaries is a wonderful idea. By the time this comes out you will have about a month before secondaries start rolling in. I love spreadsheets, and it is helpful to look at the schools you want to apply to, and which schools have questions that are related. You will have a lot of specific school questions, but you can recycle your greatest challenge questions, questions about travel, or upcoming activities for the year. There are certainly things you can use over and over. So my suggestion is start with the longest essay, as it is much easier to cut material down. Then start trimming down from there with other schools. A lot are directly asking what school you want to go to, so weave that into all aspects of secondaries. If there is a big emphasis on underserved or rural communities, that can be woven into all aspects of your secondaries, which shows the connections.
Do you have advice for non-traditional applicants who are perhaps 4,5 or more years out of college? [23:29]
They have a lot to bring to the table, and my biggest advice would be don’t try and justify why you have “always wanted to be a doctor” but took another path. That doesn’t ring true – if you really wanted to you would have done it immediately. What you need to articulate is what has brought you to medicine NOW. Own your experience. People will often want to dismiss what they have done if not medically-related. Regardless of your profession to this point, you have certain skills that are applicable to medicine. I worked with a lawyer years ago and she didn’t want to talk about her law degree. I told her it was critically important to mention to show how you think and react to things and how it will affect your career in medicine, and ultimately she was really successful. Bottom line, boost yourself up, and own your experience. You can absolutely show transferable skills as they relate to medicine.
Cyd for the last several years, you’ve presented an outstanding webinar on med school interviews and we’ll link to it from the show notes. I’m not going to ask you to repeat the presentation here and now, but if you had one piece of advice that you could share related to med school interviews, what would it be? [26:04]
Practice. Get comfortable with your stories, as that is the thing that can make the biggest difference. You don’t want to have a script, but you want to be able to talk about your stories in a way that is familiar so that when you are nervous and your mind goes out the window you still have things to talk about. I suggest to clients they talk to themselves while doing mundane things like the dishes, to help you show you know what you are talking about when the time comes.
You also have worked with a wide variety of residency applicants over the years on their personal statement and residency applications. While ERAS is not yet open, how will a residency personal statement differ from a med school personal statement? [27:14]
The biggest difference is you are not showing why you want to be a doctor, but why that specialty is the right one for you. It’s important to show interest in the field and how you got there, the technical skills you have related to that specialty, and the qualities you possess that are needed to be a surgeon vs. a PCP, and why that particular specialty fits you.
Any tips for residency applicants? [27:55]
Take notes as you go through rotations. When it comes time to write experiences in your personal statement you will draw a blank, but if you have a notebook about things you’ve done you’ll have a lot of material to work with.
What would you have liked me to ask you? [28:21]
One thing we didn’t talk about is how you know when you are ready to apply. I think far too many people just rush into it. They are on a schedule. If you feel like your application will benefit from taking the MCAT again or taking a year to do more clinical work or research, take it. You are a stronger candidate if you apply when you are ready.
• Get in Touch With Cyd Foote!
• How to Nail Your Medical School Interviews, an on-demand webinar recording
• Get Accepted to Med School with Low Stats, a live webinar scheduled for June 11th
• Activity Descriptions for Med School: 4 Questions That Will Make Yours Awesome
• Accepted’s Medical Admissions Consulting
• Doctor, Mother, SMILE Score Creator
• Writing for Medical School: Personal Statements, Activities, and Secondaries
• Kaiser Medical School: State-of-the-Art, Patient-Focused, and Free
• Apply at Your Best: Advice from a Med School Admissions Expert