4 Things You Need to Do Now to Prepare For Your Applications

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Session 331

Whether you’re applying to medical school this year, or later, we’re going to discuss what you should be doing to help your medical school applications.

Today, I’m discussing what you should be doing right now, specifically, four things you should be doing to prepare for your applications. If you’re a freshman in college and getting ready to apply to medical school, and you’re planning on applying in May or June of this year, or whatever year you’re listening to this, then this one will be a little bit more applicable to you.

[01:40] Blueprint MCAT (formerly Next Step Test Prep)

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[03:05] Letters of Recommendation

Depending on where you go to school, your pre-health advising office may have requirements for letters of recommendation. If you are at a school that uses a committee letter, talk to your advisers to find out if they’re able to write you a committee letter. Also, find out from them what letters of recommendation they require.

The general rule of thumb is getting letters from two science professors and one non-science professor. You may add a physician into that mix as well for an extra one.

“Students ask if they should get a letter of recommendation from a patient who wants to write a letter. I wouldn't go that far.” Click To Tweet

Just as I don’t advise students to get a letter of recommendation from a patient, I wouldn’t suggest getting one from a nursing manager either. Two science, one non-science, and a physician you’ve shadowed are enough.

Now, if you are applying to an osteopathic medical school, a lot of them will have in their language that they strongly recommend a letter of recommendation from an osteopathic physician. Some of them will require it so I strongly recommend it. However, if you are struggling to find an osteopathic physician to shadow, this shouldn’t be a reason not to apply to osteopathic schools. Go ahead and apply, and continue to look for an osteopathic physician to shadow. If you continue to struggle, and the school reaches out to you, then you can open up a conversation and ask them for some recommendations as to where to shadow.

[05:52] FindShadowing.com – Soon!

We are hopefully starting a new website called www.FindShadowing.com. We just hired someone full-time to reach out to physicians to get them into our database so that we can then open it up to students looking for physicians to shadow.

If you have a shadowed a physician, please help hook us up with them and send them to www.FindShadowing.com. There’s a link that physicians can use to sign up and enter their information. Our goal with it is to kind of put some protections in for the physicians so they’re not overwhelmed with 100 student requests the first day it’s open. So we’ll figure all of that out as we go. It’ll be a free service. We’re thinking about potential value adds to where if you want to maybe sign up to be the next person to request, maybe there’s a small charge to hold your place. But other than some small things like that, it’ll be a free service to use for you guys. So that’s www.FindShadowing.com.

[08:15] Asking for a Strong Letter of Recommendation

Let’s say you’re a nontraditional student. You haven’t been in your undergrad in many, many years, and you’ve taken a postbac recently. It’s probably easy for you to get science letters of recommendation because you have been taking your science pre-reqs and a postbac. But what about that non-science?

To help you with this, go through your school list. Try to figure out the schools that you’re most likely to apply to. Reach out to them and see if they’re willing to alter their requirements to fit you as a nontraditional student. If they won’t, that is a very good sign that they’re just not very friendly to nontraditional students. So just go and be happy that you now know that.

One thing that you want to clearly do 100% is to ask for a strong letter of recommendation. Just because you got an A from a physician, when you only had little interaction with them, isn’t enough. You need to be able to develop a relationship with your professors.

“It's not just about getting an A. It's about that connection with that professor, the relationship that you've built.”Click To Tweet

Hopefully, they’ve learned who you are, and you’ve had conversations with him or her. You have to have that relationship. So as you are starting a course, go to the professor and introduce yourself. Let them know that you are premed and that you will potentially be asking for a letter of recommendation at the end of the course. Ask them if this is something they do, and if they do, what do they expect from you so you can get a strong letter of recommendation from them. Set those expectations early on in the process.

“Set those expectations. That's how you get good letters of recommendation.” Click To Tweet

If you are applying early on, one of the services that I’ve always recommended is Interfolio. Meanwhile, Medical School Headquarters is also in the process of creating a site that will give students more information about letters of recommendation – how to ask for them, who to ask, and what school requirements are. We will also teach you where you can upload all of your letters. We will also interact with the application services to get that data into your application.

We’re in the process of starting to look through that right now. If you have any feedback, please shoot me an email at ryan@medicalschoolhq.net, with the subject “LOR service feedback” or something along those lines.

If you’re not applying this year, you should be thinking about letters of recommendation, getting those stored, asking for them, getting them ready to go. If you are applying this year, you should be asking for these as soon as possible – preferably January to February. You don’t want to wait until the last minute because you don’t want a letter to hold your application up from being complete. I’ve heard horror stories of students waiting on a specific letter they needed, and the professor didn’t turn it in until September. Then the applications complete in September.

“You want to apply as early as possible because of rolling admissions.”Click To Tweet

[13:55] Personal Statement & Extracurriculars

The second thing that you should be doing right now to start preparing for your applications is to think through your personal statement and extracurriculars. If you’re applying this year, you want to start writing drafts. If you’re applying next year or the year after, you just need to start thinking through it.

“Personal statement and extracurriculars take a lot longer to write than students expect. So you have to take your time to go through it, to do it well.”Click To Tweet

If you are early on in this process and you’re not applying for a couple of years, one of the most important things you can be doing right now with your extracurriculars is to journal everything. This is, in fact, another service that we’re thinking about creating here, a service that will allow you to track all the stuff online. Nevertheless, you can use a good old pen and paper, and track all of your extracurriculars. Every time you leave a shadowing experience, a clinical experience, whatever it may be, journal. Journal, journal, journal it. Write it down. What did that experience mean to you? What did you do? How did it make you feel?

Don’t worry about tracking the hours and all that stuff, which you need as well. But worry about the emotional side of things. So that when it comes to writing your extracurriculars and your personal statement, you have these feelings to draw upon when it comes to writing your application now.

Moreover, if you are applying this year as you’re listening to this, you should already be writing drafts of your personal statement. If you need help with your personal statement, check out my book, The Premed Playbook: Guide to the Medical School Personal Statement. I have a video course that includes access to office hours every other week where I look at personal statements and give feedback.

If you need more one-on-one help, check out the personal statement editing service that I offer, or you can use through Next Step as well. There are lots of ways to get help out there on your personal statement, but you really need to just start thinking through the process of what you want to say in your personal statement. Remember, the personal statement should be about why you want to be a physician.

“The personal statement is all about why do you want to be a physician, not what type of physician you want to be.” Click To Tweet

Extracurriculars are hard to write. It’s hard to write a story, it’s hard to write something meaningful and impactful in 700 characters, or 600 for AMCAS, or 300. It’s impossible to do it in 300 for TMDSAS. It’s 700 characters, it’s what you get. Can you tell a story? Of course. But it’s going to be hard and it takes time.

[17:50] Maintain Your GPA

If you’re two years out from applying or four years out from applying, you need to continue to maintain your GPA. You don’t want to have to overcome struggles in your GPA because you are focusing too much on one thing and not another.

“The application process is a huge balancing act, making sure that you can do it all, and do it all well.” Click To Tweet

A lot of students are taking gap years now so that they don’t have to do it all. They understand that this is a hard process to do it all. Because of this, a lot of students are purposefully taking a gap year so they don’t have to take their MCAT during a normal timeframe.

They can take it after the majority of their classes are done, or maybe they take it after they graduate. Then they apply when they don’t have to take the MCAT or they aren’t taking courses.

All this being said, you really need to keep up with your MCAT and GPA. Those stats are very important. It’s not the only thing you need to focus on for your application, but they are very important. You still need good enough stats. You still need a good enough GPA and good enough MCAT.

Again, don’t let those things slip. Don’t let focusing too much on writing your personal statement hurt you in preparing for a test that is going to drop your grade. That downward trend, if you’re getting bad grades near the end of school versus the beginning, is a completely different story to the admissions committee. So don’t let that happen.

[20:33] Secondary Applications

A lot of students don’t understand this whole process – the primary application, the secondary application. Once you submit your primary application, depending on when you submit it, medical schools are going to send you secondary applications.

Most medical schools will send you a secondary application regardless of your stats. So you really have to be prepared for this process. If you are applying to twenty or thirty or forty schools, know that each school is going to send you a secondary application.

The majority of them are going to send you a secondary application that includes two to five more essays on all of those. So as soon as you are done with your primary application, or even before, you need to start thinking about those secondary applications. They, too, are important.

Some schools even prefer to read the secondary applications especially when they think the personal statements had been written poorly. So secondary essays are important. Don’t just focus all your time on the primary application and skimp on the secondaries.

Good news! Check out www.SecondaryApps.com, where we have a whole secondary essay database on our website now. And we’re working on some more tools for it, some more videos to help you explain how to answer specific types of questions. All of that stuff will come in the near future. Every school is listed there and If there’s something you see that’s wrong or maybe updated, there’s a link in there to send us those updates as well.

But the majority of schools don’t update their essay prompts every year, and so what you see in there is likely what you’re going to get. So start thinking through stories that may answer the questions they’re asking. Start thinking about who you are as a person, and your journey, and why you want to go to specific schools. Those are the questions that they’re going to ask that you’re going to have to fill out.

“As much as you can, as best as you can, have all of your secondary essays done by the time you get them from the schools. That way you can just copy and paste and be done with it.”Click To Tweet

Again, for students who are listening to this who are still a year, or two, or three away from applying, go to www.SecondaryApps.com and start browsing around at some of the schools you’re interested in. Just check out the types of questions they’re asking so that you can start thinking through the stuff now. A super common question that gets asked in interviews and on secondary essays is, ‘Tell me a time when you’ve advocated for somebody who’s not like you, somebody different than yourself.’ Start looking at those.

[24:24] Final Thoughts

Here’a quick recap of everything I’ve discussed today. Check out www.FindShadowing.com for some help with your letters of recommendation. Again, if you have any feedback on that, let me know, ryan@medicalschoolhq.net.

For personal statements and extracurriculars, go get The Premed Playbook: Guide to the Medical School Personal Statement. It will help you write your personal statement. If you need more help, we have our video course that gives you some access to me. We also have office hours where you can ask questions and get answers. And if you need more personalized help, we do one-on-one as well.

Next, MCAT and GPA are super important so keep those up as best as possible. Don’t get overwhelmed with everything else that you let your grades or your MCAT score start to slip. And then for secondaries, our new secondary essay database, go to www.SecondaryApps.com. Even if you are not applying this year, go check it out. Browse through the site and see the types of things that are being asked of you when it comes to writing your secondaries.


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Blueprint MCAT (formerly Next Step Test Prep)’s Medical School Admissions Consulting




The Premed Playbook: Guide to the Medical School Personal Statement

Check out Medical School HQ’s personal statement editing service