Recently, I finished my term on our Admissions Committee as a full voting member. It was an honor to have been an integral part in helping people achieve their dreams through finding the perfect medical school (for some people) – a place I love calling home. After interviewing dozens of candidates, scoring four-fold more, advocating for underdogs, and working to leave a lasting footprint in our institution, I’ve come to notice a few trends about admitting (or not admitting) future doctors as a whole. The most logical way for me to walk through my realizations is to analyze each step in the process of an application – I am skipping original screening and secondaries because those are generally associated with your residency status and scores, and my job was interviewing and scoring complete candidates.
Let’s say I am an Admissions Committee member at the prestigious Ivory Tower Medical School. You have passed our screening criteria with average MCAT and GPA (which, as an aside, varies greatly, so don’t believe you need those killer scores and GPA that everyone touts; and please, stay off of Student Doctor Network where everyone lies about their scores – it will only stress you out), secondary essays have been written, and I am to decide whether or not we should interview you. A very rough breakdown of percentages you may anticipate up to this point are approximately 25-40% of our applicants will receive a secondary; of those secondaries, we will likely interview ~50%; of those interviews, we will likely accept under 50% including those taken off the wait-list. For easy numbers: 2,000 applications —> ~500 secondaries —> ~250 interviews —> ~125 accepted for a class of 75 (remember, we pull from the wait list). These numbers are a very rough average for schools across the country. To be clear, I was not involved in screening applications, so will move to the most important components, being the interview and subsequent scoring.
So, why should I accept you?…
We’ve reviewed your application (which has already passed our screening numbers, and a secondary application has been written and evaluated); an interview has been offered as we feel you may be a great fit for us. My evaluation of you during this process is multi-faceted:
1. Ensure you meet our mission statement. In the schools you apply to, meeting the mission statement is essential. Say you have never been exposed to anything rural or Primary Care, yet my university’s mission is to serve those in a rural setting through Primary Care (Family Medicine, Pediatrics, general Internal Medicine, and in some states, OB/Gyn). You may have the scores and compelling writing skills, but how likely am I to place a bet you will meet our mission? Probably less likely. Know and research the schools you’re applying to in order to avoid excess expenses where you may get a secondary because of scores, but realistically are less likely to interview, let alone be accepted. Be smart with your dollars. It’s not often, but I’ve interviewed several candidates I thought were wonderful people and I reviewed them highly after interviews, but they truly failed to show a connection to our mission, and ultimately were not accepted.
2. You have clear, distinct reasoning and logic for wanting to become a physician. This, truthfully, is one of the most important factors in assessing someone for medical school acceptance. I’ve seen time and time again an applicant who has killer scores, a decently written application, but has failed to articulate, specifically, why they want to become a physician aside from an intrinsic desire. Refer to my article on what I look for when I interview a candidate for medical school for more information.
3. Are you truly ready for this undertaking? This is a difficult question to assess, but I often found myself evaluating candidates as less than competitive when I reached a feeling in my gut that said, “this person simply isn’t ready or doesn’t contain the emotional intelligence and wherewithal at this stage in life to begin the journey of becoming a physician.” Medical school is hard. There are no two ways around this fact. It will drain you emotionally, mentally, and physically. Assessing the resilience in order to not only pass, but succeed is important. The last thing I desire is to set an individual up for failure. I want to enable you to thrive, not simply survive. A simple question to assess this variable would be “what experiences in your life have helped you build resilience? On the same note, how do you decompress in a constructive manner?”
Now, we have both interviewed each other (I hope you liked us!), and I will offer my input as to how our interview went. My hope is to provide insight to the committee so they might make a full-circle decision with your primary and secondary applications, and interview comments in-tow. Let’s move to your completed application (MCAT, GPA, experiences, personal statement, secondary essays, and interview comments), where you will be scored and ranked. Here are some trends I’ve noticed across the nation in medical school admissions regarding those who get accepted more often:
1. The elusive complete package. When someone is well-rounded, a term often used in both medical school and residency application processes, I’ve found it really is what it sounds like – there’s no secret meaning. A strong MCAT, good grades without major slip-ups in academic performance, longitudinal volunteering or work and shadowing, unique life experiences, diversity (however it is you define this), and an individual who meets our mission as a university will not struggle to be accepted. Hard to attain, but makes this process a heck of a lot easier!
2. Life experience. The caveat with life experience and “miles traveled” is that in order to truly gain these attributes, time is exchanged for life-changing experience X. By giving up time to pursue experience X, you may consider yourself off-cycle or taking a “gap year.” Do it. Please. You’ll thank me later. The average age of the entering medical student is increasing every year (currently around 25) because we have no shortage of applications, so the competition is inherently increased as a result. With more applications in the pool, all with competitive GPA and MCATs, I’ve found Admissions Committees being drawn to those with unique life experiences, previous careers, acquired and honed skill-sets, and generally more miles traveled in life than those lower on the rank lists. The thing to remember is with medicine, you’ve committed to a lifelong career, and all of the training will span just shy of a decade (or more) before gaining a real job again. What’s another year or two in order to pursue something you’re passionate about and may regret not having pursued in the future?
3. APPLY EARLY. I can’t stress this enough. Most medical schools in the US operate on rolling admissions, meaning that as we interview and evaluate candidates, we accept them. Come February-ish, nearly every medical school in the country has filled their class and begins adding to the wait-list. Remember that it takes several weeks for your AMCAS application to even process before we can see it in order to screen and assess whether you should be offered a secondary application. Then, add at least another month for you to write the secondary, us to evaluate what you’ve written, and potentially schedule an interview. That interview may be another several weeks later, and Admissions Committees typically only meet once a month! Just in waiting, screening, and evaluating, we’ve accumulated a great deal of time! Apply early!!! If you can’t get your application in until September or October without some strong reasons for the delay, how likely am I to believe you’re responsible and prepared enough for medical school?
The things I’ve learned as a medical student on an Admissions Committee are that being passionate, genuine, humble, prepared, dedicated, hard-working, diverse, and tenacious are attributes which will take you to the top. Failure to reach out for help in editing and perfecting an application will sink you. I once counted 36 grammatical and punctuation errors in an application – please don’t be that person. One of our mentors always said, “failure to prepare is preparing to fail.” Lack of life experience and reasoning for wanting to be a physician that I can follow will make you less likely to be accepted. Repeatedly mispronouncing my school’s name in an interview makes it hard to fight for you at a meeting. I was known as a Sherlock Holmes on my Admissions Committee – if you lie or there are inconsistencies anywhere, we will find them. Just because you have killer scores does not mean you will be accepted – I have watched more than enough 90th+ percentile MCATs and/or 4.0s be denied for the reasons already stated. Applying early increases your chances of getting in, truly and honestly. Don’t tell me your backup plan is to apply to PA or DO school, because it shows me you don’t want it as bad as the person next to you. I want the seats in our school to go to the people who want it, and are willing to work for it, not settle for something when their real dream didn’t work out. If you really want my institution, I want to hear how you’re going to come back next year with more experience and bang on our door until you get an acceptance. Be diligent. Pursue things with vigor. Learn from your failures and move on. Most importantly, remember why you started this journey, and know that helping people through medicine is one of the most rewarding things I’ve done with my life – I would trade it for nothing in this world.
Cheers and good luck,
Joshua A. Wienczkowski
MD Candidate, ETSU Quillen College of Medicine 2017
AAFP Emerging Leader Institute Scholar
Journeys with Joshua: Joshua Wienczkowski walks us through med school at East Tennessee’s College of Medicine with his blog updates. Get an inside look into med school down South and life as a student adcom member through the eyes of a former professional songwriter with a whole lot of clinical experience — thanks Joshua for sharing this journey with us!