Ask Dr. Gray: Premed Q&A: Writing About Obstacles in Your Application

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Ask Dr. Gray: Premed Q&A: Writing About Obstacles in Your Application

Session 83

If you’ve faced adversity on your path to med school, you aren’t alone! Today, we’ll talk about how to discuss obstacles in the med school application process.

Today, we’ll look at a student with a 3.5 GPA who has overcome a ton in a better light than another student with a 3.5 GPA who hasn’t had to overcome anything.

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For more help on your medical school application, check out The Premed Years Podcast.

[00:45] The Best Way to Portray Yourself on Your Secondaries

“I am in the midst of applying to medical school, this cycle. My AMCAS verification went through on the 22nd of July. Okay, so I’m in the midst of secondaries.

I’m a bit of a nontraditional applicant. I graduated from my university in 2018. I wasn’t really sure I wanted to do medicine until about my junior year. And so a little bit later to this process. I haven’t known I wanted to be a doctor since I was in diapers or anything like that.

I am currently working full-time as a medical assistant. I’m supporting my husband as he finishes his undergraduate degree. I’m working full time to support our family. I am married with no children. I’m just about to turn 26. Not too old, but definitely a little more nontraditional in the sense that I didn’t really know I wanted to do this. 

And so as of now, I’m just trying to figure out the best way to portray myself and my secondaries. I have a federal applicant waiver for the AMCAS (Fee Assistance Program). I’m just trying to figure out how to portray the obstacles that I’ve had to overcome without seeming too much like I’m making excuses but being realistic and authentic about the situation.”

[03:14] No Pity to Be Had

When you get to this stage in your application, there are questions in the secondaries like “Tell me about the biggest obstacle you’ve had to overcome.” And one of the biggest languages that I hear from students is they don’t want anybody to feel pity for them. 

Well, this depends on how you write it. It depends on your frame of reference and the kind of perspective you’re bringing to the table when you’re writing about it.

You’ve obviously gotten at this stage of the game so there should be no pity taken. You’ve gotten to this point where you’ve overcome the obstacles, you’ve submitted your application, and now working on your secondaries. So there’s no pity to be had.

Admissions committee members really look at those stories. They’ll look at a student with a 3.5 GPA who has overcome a ton in a better light than another student with a 3.5 GPA who hasn’t had to overcome anything.

'It's all about what you've done with what you've been given.'Click To Tweet

You just need to tell your story as truthfully and as honest as possible without exaggerating and without trying to limit it as well. So just let them know what you’ve been through, what it did to you, how it has made you stronger, and why you’re here today. So don’t worry about the pity party because there’s nothing to pity.

[06:09] Dealing with Impostor’s Syndrome

Nobody does as well as they want to on their MCAT. It’s all about perspective. You never want to compare.

If you’ve started prewriting your secondaries from If you’ve seen the secondaries, a lot of them ask how did you have to work while you were a student? This is your opportunity for you to differentiate yourself. Because a lot of students don’t know what the percentages are of premeds who need to work and who don’t work.

“Don't come from a standpoint of what is going to separate you from the other students. Otherwise, you're playing the comparison game and that just never works.”Click To Tweet

You have to come from a point of view of, here’s your story, take it or leave it, and just lay it all out on the table. 

However, if part of your story is you were a coke addict, then potentially, there’s some concern to lay all of that out on the table. Addiction is a potential big red flag in the application process.

[10:10] Finding the Balance Between Quality and Time Constraint

Obviously, most of the people on this journey are Type A premed students, so everything has to be perfect. But at some point, you have to let go of that mindset, otherwise, all you’re doing is hurting yourself at this point. I’m not saying don’t be a perfectionist, but just be less of a perfectionist. You just have to fully commit some time for your secondaries to get them done.

'At this point with secondaries, every day that you delay is another day where there are more interview seats that are taken.'Click To Tweet

For example, Carle Illinois College of Medicine has a very unique secondary essay. Their whole application process is very different. They don’t even do interviews. So you need to be more unique with your secondary essay prompts. And if every school was like Carle Illinois, then the secondary essay process would be much harder. Because a lot of what you write for one won’t necessarily translate to another. There won’t be a lot of copy and pasting.

And right now, with some medical schools being a bit lazy with having a lot of repetitive questions, just take advantage of that. 

[16:13] Prioritizing Which Schools for Your Secondaries

Sort according to whatever your top choice is. And that is determined through location, class size, curriculum, and all of those things that you need to consider when making your school list.

So as you get your secondaries every morning when you start to work on it, pick your top choice out of these 10 schools for instance. Then work on that one first. Then pick your next top choice out of the remaining 9. Then work from there.

“You are submitting those secondaries first so that your application is complete sooner at those schools.”Click To Tweet

[17:15] The Two-Week Turnaround Rule

Subscribe to the two-week turnaround rule. Of course, you need to submit it if you’re over two weeks but be sure to submit as soon as you can.

'It's all about rolling admissions.'Click To Tweet

[18:48] “What Are Your Ties to This Area” Prompt

If you’re applying to a school that doesn’t specifically ask about your ties to the area, you can just say that really want to come to this school. And if the prompt isn’t specifically what are your ties to this area to want to come here, then you should focus more on the school and less on the location.

[20:10] Should You Bring Up Any C-?

If it’s just one C-, you really don’t have to bring that up, unless the secondary would ask you to explain for every class that you’ve got less than a B or less than a B-. Besides, everybody struggles with organic chemistry. But the question that would probably come up is why didn’t you retake it.

“The bigger question is not why you got a C- but why didn't you retake it knowing that the majority of schools out there don't consider that good enough for passing the prereq.'Click To Tweet

[23:30] How to Stand Out

Tell your story. You lean on the things that you’ve learned from your experiences, without looking at how different you are. Just talk about your journey. Talk about your experiences, how you’ve had to balance school, and being an athlete and working and all this other stuff. 

'Don't lean on it to stand out but lean on it because that's your story.'Click To Tweet

[24:04] Doing Interviews with Limited Resources

First, check out The Premed Playbook: Guide to the Medical School Interview. Lean on your premed advisors if you have access to them.

If you have access to the physicians, where you’re a medical assistant, see if they’d be willing to do a mock interview with you. The interview book has around 600 questions that you could use. Or ask your husband to do the mock interview with you.

'The goal of the interview is to have a conversation.'Click To Tweet


The Premed Playbook: Guide to the Medical School Interview

Meded Media

The Premed Years Podcast

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