Applying to Medical School

5 Biggest Mistakes to Avoid When Applying to Medical School

Upon reviewing the 2020-21 medical school application cycle, there are several things many applicants wish they had done differently. It’s tough to be the perfect applicant or have the perfect application process experience. Here are the top five mistakes you can avoid when your time comes to apply next year cycle.

1.  Don’t Be a Lone Wolf

Despite you being one person applying to medical school, this is by no means a one-person show! It takes a village to cover all your bases and survive the application process. Make room for mentors, coworkers, professors, and friends and family to support you along the way.

Get advice from those who’ve been there and done it, as well as from professional admissions coaching services like MedSchoolCoach that can support you every step of your medical school journey.

2. Don’t Underestimate the Importance of Your Application’s Activities Section

This is a mistake I made early on in my preparation process. I had no idea how important this section was. In my first drafts, I gave boring, straight-to-the-point descriptions of all my extracurriculars. It wasn’t until I got my first round of feedback that I realized I should be telling exciting and compelling stories instead. Luckily, this was early in my prep process, so I had lots of time to edit them all. But don’t make the same mistake I did.

Be sure to use all 15 activities if possible and tell interesting stories with each description. Leave the reader wanting more than the few characters they were given. That’s a great way to pull in the admissions committee members and make them want to get to know you more.

3. Don’t Wait For Secondaries, Be Proactive Now

There are lots of free websites that store the old secondary application prompts for most medical schools – including here on Prospective Doctor. Find these, browse the schools you are interested in, and start drafting your secondary essays early.

Whether you apply to five, ten, or twenty schools, writing a ton of essays can be stressful and time-consuming. Ideally, you want to keep the turnaround time for these as short as possible. Most people say two to three weeks is a good time frame to aim for. The most efficient way to do this is to start writing them well in advance.

I waited for each secondary to roll in and ended up having to write over fifteen essays all within a few weeks, on top of managing my classes and exams. Don’t be like me!

4. Don’t Forget to Prep for the Vita Interview & The Casper Exam

These are both newer parts of the application process. The VITA interview was created in direct response to the COVID-19 pandemic and was made to assist schools in selecting quality applicants. Besides the medical aspects, VITA explores questions related to your personal journey, specific behaviors you can demonstrate, and hypothetical scenarios that allow you to demonstrate how you might behave in the future.

On the other hand, the Casper exam has been around for longer and is being increasingly accepted by medical schools across the country. In this 90-minute examination, students are forced to think about how they would react in a dozen non-medical situations to see how they would react in difficult situations.

Be sure to know whether the schools on your list require these two components and know the deadlines. You won’t get exciting reminders about these, so it’s up to you to prepare for them and submit them on time.

5. Don’t Rush. If You’re Not Ready This Cycle, That’s Okay!

Don’t invest time and energy into applying to medical school, only to realize that you would’ve been better prepared if you’d taken a year or two off. Applying to medical school is an exhausting, yet exciting process that you only want to do once, if possible. So, don’t be afraid to do what’s best for you to put your best foot forward the first time around.

Were you preparing to apply this summer but just got a lower MCAT score than expected? That’s okay! If that score is not enough to get you into the schools you want, consider taking more time to improve the score and get more experience under your belt.

Medical school will always be there, but you will only be this age once. Make the most of your time and apply to medical school when you feel most ready!


Have more questions about getting into med school or becoming a doctor? MedSchoolCoach has a team of admissions advisors who’ve all served on admissions committees. They are available to help coach you and to boost your chances of getting into medical school. Look them up!

Olivia Brumfield

Olivia is a senior at the University of Rochester where she expects to receive a B.S. in neuroscience. She is an aspiring physician with expertise in program management, clinical care, and REDCap with intermediate fluency in American Sign Language. She a Clinical Research Associate at the University of Rochester Center for Health + Technology, as well as the host of the PreMeducation video series.

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