A medical student reflects on probably the most important part of the path to medical school: the application process. During the first part, he shares about the primary and secondary application, what he did right and what he did wrong.
My main reasons for sharing my personal application experience is to not only identify with readers, but also to comfort applicants by illustrating how they are not alone in their worries and doubts during this stressful period of their lives.
I tried to apply as early as possible because most people, who I thought was knowledgeable about applying to medical school, encouraged me to do so. I had no problem with applying early because I felt my application was ready. I had worked on my personal statement since December of the previous year. I received all my letters of recommendations. I turned in my transcript to AMCAS. And I had started working on my application ever since it opened in May.
When June 5th rolled around (the first day when the application could be submitted), I had stage fright. My application was ready, but I still felt it wasn’t ready (a very strange feeling). Regardless, I slept on it, looked over my application one more time to confirm that there were no errors (I was incredibly paranoid about grammar and writing mistakes) and I submitted my application later in the afternoon. I initially applied to 20 schools: all the schools in California (my home state) and schools in Manhattan, Boston, Philadelphia, and Chicago. Being completely honest, I chose out-of-state schools mainly based on their ranking and location. The only school I chose outside of those areas was Georgetown and that was only on a whim with no real reason. I wish I had put more thought in choosing my schools because my lack of intentionally definitely showed on my secondary applications and interviews.
My application finished processing on June 15, which was much sooner than I expected, and afterward, I just waited for schools to send me secondaries. While waiting, I decided to keep track of my application progress by using MDapplicants (here is my account if you are curious) . It was definitely a useful website but it bugged out a lot and wasn’t very user friendly. My friends knew I was applying so in order to keep them in the loop without having to repeat myself over and over again, I decided to make an email thread with my closest friends on it. I informed them of any major events via email and I gave them a link to my MDapplicants profile as well. In retrospect, this was probably one of the best decisions I made during the application process because the support of my friends made a huge difference in my emotional and mental wellbeing. They rejoiced with me whenever there was good news and encouraged me whenever there was bad news.
After I received my first wave of secondaries, I realized I had made a crucial mistake. I forgot to include my physician shadowing experience in my works and activities section. I panicked and wondered whether schools would notice. In addition, while going through my primary application again, I began to feel that I didn’t write about my extracurricular activities as well as I could have. Doubts invaded my head. I thought I had shot myself in foot by forgetting to include shadowing. The application was already stressful, and this realization just made it worse.
I soon decided that it was all out of my hands; worrying about my application wouldn’t make it any better. What’s done is done. I started diligently working on secondaries as soon as I received them (end of June, early July). Since people kept telling me that I should turn in my applications as soon as possible, I rushed to finish my secondaries very quickly. I regret rushing because I sacrificed quality for speed. There was no need to rush because I was already early. I should have taken my time and thought of high quality answers rather than the first thing that popped into my head. It also didn’t help that I was relatively clueless about how to fill out a secondary. It was safe to say that I didn’t really know what I was doing but I was making my own rules as I went along.
Whether it was in my primary or secondary application or even my interviews, one of my biggest struggles throughout the entire process was comfortably talking about myself in an engaging, informative manner. It felt awkward writing all these great things about myself and it showed in my writing. Because of this weakness, my first few secondaries were not so good. The secondary questions I hated the most were questions that went something like “Why do you want to come to this school?” or “What makes you unique?” How unique could I possibly be? And I felt like there wasn’t much that set schools apart besides location. To me, a medical school was a medical school. But with more practice, I slowly gained more confidence, figuring out how to tell a story with my writing. I also started to see what sets schools apart. Unfortunately, by the time I got really good at completing secondaries, I only had a couple left. Only then did I realize that I should have done more research on how to fill out a secondary. I also should have asked others to help me, especially with the “what makes me unique” question.
In my next article, I will share my interview and admissions response period. But before I end, I wanted to share some final random thoughts.
1. I used StudentDoctor.net’s School Specific Forums to keep track of my progress in comparison to other applicants. I would not recommend this. Even though it can be a useful tool, it only made me more nervous and anxious. I think it’s better to just have no expectations.
2. I overestimated myself as an applicant. I applied to a lot of competitive schools that are in some of the most popular cities in America. It would have been wiser to apply to other good schools that did not have as many strong applicants and were not in major cities.
3. I rushed my works and activities section and many of my secondaries. These two parts of the application are opportunities for you to stand out. It would be better to take your time (although you do not want to go too slow), possibly write multiple drafts, and get others to read your essays. This is especially true for secondaries from schools you really want to attend.
Go to part 7.