We’d like to introduce you to Joshua Elliot, a future doctor who has already been accepted into some of his top choice medical schools and is still waiting to hear back from others. Read our interview below for some amazing med school application advice… from someone who clearly knows what he’s talking about! Thanks Joshua, and best of luck to you!
Accepted: We’d like to get to know you! Where are you from? Where and what did you study as an undergrad? What’s your favorite non-school book?
Joshua: I am from Long Island, and I was a physical education major at a local community college before transferring to Cornell University, where I studied physiology. I would have to say that my favorite ‘non-school’ book is “The Internet is a Playground” by David Thorne. To be fair, it is not really a book as much as it is an anthology of an Australian graphic designer’s tyrannical email exchanges with bill collectors, building superintendents, co-workers. Here’s my favorite piece from the book: http://www.27bslash6.com/overdue.html.
Accepted: What would you say were your top three challenges while applying to med school? How did you approach and overcome those challenges?
Joshua: I would say that the greatest challenges I faced were having completed the majority of my medical school pre-requisite coursework at community college. Regrettably, when I graduated high school the money simply was not there to attend a 4 year university, and I migrated from physical education to biology over the course of two years; in order to transfer into a bachelor’s program in biology, I had to complete these kinds of courses.
Another major challenge was a downward trend in my GPA – Cornell University is a very competitive institution, but thankfully I was able to stay afloat. Collectively, the community college coursework and a downward trend in grades did not bode well for my medical school application, but after working for a few years in a neuroscience laboratory, I returned to school to earn a M.S. in Physiology. I currently have a 3.85 GPA in my graduate program, and I am entering my final semester in a few weeks. I think the jump from ~3.3 GPA in college to a 3.85 GPA in graduate school is really what salvaged my application. However, this was a traditional (2 year) M.S. program and not a so-called “special masters program” or S.M.P., so I would only encourage people to enter this kind of program if grades weren’t the only outstanding part of their application; the extra time I had by doing this over two years allowed me to get more research and clinical experience, as well as more involvement with student government and on-campus extracurriculars. The SMP programs are more like a first year of medical school, so there is little if any time for this in such programs.
Another thing I did that I feel was a smart move, was keeping in touch with my undergraduate professors over the years. I graduated college in 2010, and I knew it would be some time before I submitted my medical school applications. So, I kept in touch with my professors to “maintain my network,” so that they were up-to-date on my research experiences and how I was preparing for medical school. I feel a lot of people are not mindful to maintain their correspondence, and I don’t think it is reasonable to expect someone to provide you a recommendation after not touching base with them for 3 years. So for anyone reading this that plans to take some time “off” before applying to medical school – keep in touch with your professors!
Accepted: How many schools did you apply to?
Joshua: With my GPA and MCAT, I was encouraged to “apply broadly.” I submitted my AMCAS application to about 50 schools, and I completed the secondary application for 38 of those schools. Hindsight is always 20-20, and I still haven’t heard from about 20 schools I have applied to, but I received 2 acceptances in the month of October, so perhaps I applied too broadly. Still, better safe than sorry.
My advice to someone applying this broadly: begin preparing your application in January-February of the year you will be applying – begin asking professors and physicians for recommendation letters, have people look at your personal statement, start writing your descriptions for extracurricular activities – get your application in on the very first day AMCAS opens, as early as possible. Not only will this get your application in early for processing, but you’ll begin receiving your secondary applications in the early summer, and you can get all of the applications submitted before school begins for the Fall. I was really happy I was able to devote my time entirely to essay writing, instead of having to balance it with studying during the semester.
Accepted: Where and when will you be starting medical school? What attracted you to your chosen program? What are you most looking forward to?
Joshua: At this point in the year, the frontrunner school (best medical school to which I have been accepted) is University of Miami (one of my top 10 personal choices!). I have not yet committed to any one medical school, and I am waiting to hear back from a few schools regarding either an interview invitation or acceptance.
I spent a considerable amount of money applying to medical school, and I feel the most responsible approach is to first learn what all of my options are before deciding.
That being said, however, I fell in love with University of Miami, and with the exception of some family/location biases (Chicago and New York) I am very much leaning towards moving to Miami in June :).
For now though, I am happy to share “Why Miami?”: The clinical education at Miami is seemingly unparalleled, and this is reflected immensely in their match list – I am particularly interested in internal medicine, and UMiami graduates match to many of the country’s very best I.M. residency programs ever year, such as Johns Hopkins Hospital and Massachusetts General Hospital. Additionally, UMiami has incredible opportunities for service-learning, such as weekly Free Clinic involvement and monthly health fairs in underserved communities in Miami, so I’d be excited to be able to not only hone my developing clinical skills in real world settings, but also to be able to use my talents to reach out and help others before I’ve earned my M.D.!
Finally, there are tremendous programs in regenerative medicine at University of Miami Medical Center, from the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis to the Interdisciplinary Stem Cell Institute. My graduate research is in the area of novel stem cell populations for use in cardiac regeneration, and I would love to be able to continue this work in medical school – University of Miami offers a unique vantage point for me to do this.
Accepted: Can you share some interview tips with us?
Joshua: Gentlemen: comb your hair! I was blown away at how unkept some of the people at my interviews looked. You should not wear brown shoes with a blue suit, and you should wear DRESS SOCKS, not white athletic socks with dress shoes. You are not necessarily being judged by your sense of style, but at the same time, you don’t want to give your interviewer anything that will leave a “funny taste” of you, so-to-speak. Also, no fragrances.
As for the actual interview, depending on if your interview is close file or open file, 20 minutes long or an hour long, I would have some prepared comments to the big questions like “Why medicine?” or “Why our school?”; specifically, have a brief comment prepared in case you are pressed for time, but if the interview is more lax, just go into it with a sense of some key points you’d like to address for these kinds of questions, and let the conversation unfold organically. Be aware of your posture and what you are doing with your hands – body language is key. Make direct eye contact!
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