Applying to Medical School, Part One: The Primary Application Anatomy

After a very long hiatus (again), I am back and I am better.

GOOD NEWS: I got into medical school! I am going to be a doctor, you guys! I wanted to wait to write the rest of this series because why would anyone read an advice column for applying to medical school if the writer didn’t even get in?

Thank you to everyone who supported me and continues to support my journey to M.D. It’s not at all an easy climb, but the view at the top is breathtaking.

I graduate next month, and I am super excited! I will be accepting my B.S. Biology and B.S. Healthcare Management along with my Magna Cum Laude Honors.

Without further ado, here is Part One of Applying to Medical School.

Read. Share. Repeat!

PART ONE: The Primary Application Anatomy

Depending on what application service you use to apply, whether it be Texas Medical and Dental School Application Service (TMDSAS) or American Medical College Application Service (AMCAS) or any other application service, a few key things remain consistent.

  1. Select your schools and application history. 
  • It is NOT necessary to apply to 25 medical schools….unless you really want to. Keep in mind that for some application services, such as AMCAS, there will be a base fee plus additional fees with each medical school you add onto your list with where you want to submit your application. With applications, things can get very expensive, very fast.
  • Be realistic with selecting your schools. Do you really see yourself living there for the next four years of your life? Will you be happy there?
  • My advice is to conduct a thorough research on the schools to which you are interested in applying. Find out what their curriculum is like, what their culture is like, and see if it may be right for you.
  • The application service will ask you about your application history – whether or not you are a first-time applicant. Answer accordingly. Destroy the stigma against reapplying! If you didn’t get in the first time, or the second time, do not be ashamed – there is a greater reason for everything.

2. Personal questions. 

  • More likely than not, you will be asked many personal questions, such as your contact information, demographic and socioeconomic information, family, financial standing, military service, and any crimes you have committed/been charged with.
  • Get this section out of the way as soon as possible, and be honest and meticulous with every answer. There are many more sections to come.

3. Education.

  • The questions asked in this section can go all the way back to your high school ranking and SAT/ACT days. Although those days may be long gone for you, it is vital to input accurate information to prevent your application from jeopardy.
  • You will be asked for all the colleges you attended, the classes and letter grades you received from each semester, and future coursework you plan on taking. Be honest about your grades because this will be crosschecked with your transcripts.
  • Any record of disciplinary action will also be asked. A friend of a friend of mine – let’s call him Johnny Appleseed – had his doctor’s license revoked for a year because his application service found out that he had a record of academic dishonesty from his freshman year of college in which he did not include in his application. Don’t be like Johnny Appleseed. Be honest.

4. Employment and Activities. 

  • This section can include any academic and non-academic recognitions, leadership positions, employment, research activities, healthcare activities, community service, extracurricular and leisure activities, and planned activities after you submit the application.
  • This is your time to shine and show off everything you worked for outside of academics. Be honest. Some application services require a point of contact, in the case that they want to verify your activities.
  • Some application services have a maximum amount of activities you can input. Include the activities you were most proud of, activities in which you learned the most from, and activities you spent the most time doing.
  • In the case that you want to include more activities but you’ve run out of space in the Employment and Activities section, be sure to include them appropriately in one of your essays.

5. Proof of Residency.

  • This section serves to verify whether or not you will be classified as an in-state resident or a non-resident.
  • Typically non-resident tuition costs more than in-state resident tuition, and non-residents have significantly less seats reserved compared to the class size of each medical school, depending on which State the medical school resides in.

6. Supporting Documents.

Professional Headshot

  • Make sure your headshot is professionally taken, where you are professionally dressed and groomed, and the background is not too distracting. I have heard many horror stories from admissions officers, who year after year have gotten applications where the applicant uploads a selfie, a picture with friends, a picture with his/her brand new truck, etc. DO NOT BE ONE OF THESE PEOPLE. Chances are you probably won’t get accepted.

Official Transcripts

  • An official transcript is required from each college you attended.
  • Be sure to order them as early as possible, for there can be delays in processing due to the volume of applications that each application service receives.

7. MCAT score(s).

  • If you take the MCAT more than once, you must include all of the times you have taken the MCAT and their respective dates and scores. The application service or the schools you apply to will crosscheck with AAMC records.

8. Letters of evaluation

  • Also known as, recommendation letters. If you have the option to submit a committee letter, which is composed by your pre-medical advisor, do so! It is a more organized way to compile each of your recommendation letters from your sources (professor, employer, manager, doctor, etc.) into a single committee letter. Also, if you choose to do a committee letter, your only responsibility is to ensure your recommendation sources turn in each of their letters into wherever your pre-medical advisor prefers. After that, your pre-medical advisor will be the one to upload your holistic committee letter to the application service(s) in which you will apply.
  • For your sources, I recommend you have at least

– 2 science (Chemistry, Biology, Biochemistry, Physics, etc.) professors

– 2 physicians, each from two different healthcare activities that you were involved in

– *Optional* 1 manager, employer, community leader, etc. that you have worked with

– Total of 4-5 recommendation letters

  • Do yourself a favor, and get this done as early as you can to prevent delays. Your recommendation letter sources are, more often than not, extremely busy as they are probably writing multiple letters of recommendation, in addition to their work and private life.
  • Make sure to give your recommenders ample amount of time to have them write your letters. Give them a guideline of structure and things to think about while they are writing your letter. Let them know you will give them periodic reminders for your letter because you know that they will be busy and that you are very grateful that in spite of their busy schedule, they are helping you build your future.

9. Essays. Oh, the most dreaded part of the application – the essays.

  • You will be required to write your personal statement essay, personal characteristic essay, and it will be optional to write your unique experiences essay, which by the way, is NOT AT ALL OPTIONAL.
  • Revise and edit your essays until it is perfect! You can only submit this application once per cycle. Once it is submitted, there is no going back. Have someone you trust, such as a your advisor or your school’s writing center, peer review your essays to make sure there are no grammatical errors or mistakes.
  • Personal Statement Essay
  • This is not an essay that one simply just “writes.” This is something you think about when it is 3 A.M. and you are studying for your exam to secure your A. This is something you think about when you sacrifice a night of going out with your friends to finish all the homework you have so you can catch up on the sleep you missed because you were studying. This is something you think about when you are volunteering, doing research, observing a doctor, communicating with a patient, brushing your teeth and having an existential crisis, taking a shower and thinking about your purpose….I could go on and on. This is where you write about your motivation to seek a career in MEDICINE. Why medicine? 
    • This is not something you can bullsh– because they (admissions committee) will see right through you. This is where we weed out the pre-meds who made it this far because they are smart but are only doing this because their parents told them to / because all they want is good money and status, apart from those pre-meds who are smart and genuinely have a passion for medicine.
    • Your personal statement is just that. Personal. To each their own is a unique purpose of why one wants to go through the all the pains of medical school, residency, and the career itself to help people through medicine.
    • If all you say is that you like helping people and have a love for science…boy do you have a big storm coming. To write your personal statement, you need to do some deep soul searching. Why? Because your personal statement is the one thing you have to hold onto when things get rough. The admissions committee doesn’t want you to write this essay because they want to see who can write the best or who has the best reason for going into medicine. No; they want to see that you have a legitimate reason to move forward in the depths of defeat that you will experience in this career, time after time again. They want to know that you have a purpose to get up in the morning and do this for a living because it is not easy.
    • This is a test for yourself. Are you going into medicine for the right reasons?
    • I first wrote my personal statement my freshman year of college. I wrote it right after I had just helped a guest that came in complaining of stomach pain, who then I quickly diagnosed with a stroke at a hospital I was volunteering in. The adrenaline rush I felt for knowing that I helped save his life was my initial purpose to stay in medicine. I wrote a second personal statement after my second year in college when I attended the Vascular Annual Conference in San Diego, CA to have my group project presented in front of doctors and professionals from around the world. I wrote my third personal statement in my third year of college, when my great-grandmother died and I was at my lowest. I revised and edited over and over again, until it felt right, and it is perfectly okay to do what I did. It is okay to have multiple motivations to go into medicine. As long as you find a common theme across your multiple essays or ideas, all you need to do is revise and edit until it feels right and completely represents your motivation to go into medicine from start to finish.
    • Keep this to a max of 5000 characters, approximately one page, single-spaced. 5000 characters can sound daunting, but once you start writing, you will wish you had more room! 5000 characters include spaces and punctuation.
  • Personal Characteristics Essay
    • “Learning from others is enhanced in educational settings that include individuals from diverse backgrounds and experiences. Please describe your personal characteristics (background, talents, skills, etc.) or experiences that would add to the educational experience of others.” (TMDSAS, 2018.)
    • This is the essay where you explain characteristics about yourself that anyone can learn from. What do you bring to the table? How can you enhance someone’s experience by just being in your presence? Can your future classmates learn from this characteristic? Can your future patients benefit from this personal trait? If so, how?
    • Shed light on your unique traits that make you, you.
    • This is an essay that assesses two things:
    • What you bring to the table and how well you know yourself.
    • How well you can showcase yourself to the best of your humble ability without sounding arrogant.
    • Pick one or two characteristics, and expand on them. Brainstorm past experiences when these traits benefited you and/or others in a given situation in which you were in.
    • Give examples. Don’t just tell; instead, paint a clear picture and make sure the admissions committee knows exactly what you are talking about, as if they were there.
      Be creative. Use expanded metaphors if you can. Remember that you are trying to get the reader to know the real you, that you have depth in your character and that you are not just a number with a photo.
    • Revise and edit. Repeat. Revise and edit. Repeat.
    • Be yourself, and be honest. Speak your truth, and you will be heard!
  • “Optional” Unique Experiences Essay
  • Choose a unique experience that you have learned from and has helped shape you into who you are today.
    • Perception is reality.
    • What you learn from your experiences and how you perceive them tells a lot about who you are within. This essay allows the admissions committee to see another degree of depth into your life and who you are because you essentially manifest the experiences you involve yourself in. For example, if you choose your unique experience to be the time that you went to the FBI National Academy, this tells the reader that you understand discipline, integrity, law and order, and reason.
    • Revise and edit. Repeat.
    • Again, be creative, be yourself, and be honest!

10. Certification and Payment. I would say this is pretty self-explanatory. Save $$$ for your applications! They can get really expensive.

Maiuseful Tips:

  • Do not procrastinate on this! There are literally thousands of competitive applicants applying to each and every school in the nation. You can get a head start on your applications if you do them early. Remember that the early bird gets the worm!
  • Take this seriously. Ignore rumors that tell you that all admissions committees look at are your MCAT score and GPA. This is simply not true. Medical school applicants have gotten smarter and more competitive, especially in this generation. You really think you are the only one out of thousands of people with a 4.0 GPA and a higher than average MCAT score? Think again!!
  • Be meticulous. Revise and edit until your fingers bleed. Just kidding. But do revise and edit until your application is spotless.
  • Save money for your applications. No, really. You should. These things are not cheap.
  • Be honest. The truth comes out one way or another, especially if it is a big lie. Dishonesty will not only get your application revoked, but it can also put your entire career in medicine on the line. If you get caught in a lie, you might not ever be able to apply to any U.S. medical school ever again. There goes your hard work down the drain!
  • Breathe. The application cycle might be the most daunting part of the pre-med journey, but keep in mind you are almost there. Keep going. Finish strong! Do it for your future patients and their families.

“Be like the stem cell. Differentiate yourself from others.”


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