How Do Adcoms Look at Your Application?

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Session 359

What do adcoms look at first? What do they do with the data you give them? On this episode, I’ll talk about the adcom’s perspective on your application.

If you haven’t applied, be sure to listen to this episode so you can make sure you’re not making some common mistakes when it comes to your application.

Just trying to get inside the head of an admissions committee is ideally what you want to be thinking about when you’re completing your application. Don’t write for the admissions committee, but potentially what they’re looking at and how very common traps can keep you from an interview invite or an acceptance.

A lot of these thoughts are coming from my YouTube series, Application Renovation. Check out our Season 1 that includes six episodes. We’re breaking down the application of a student. I look at their application while trying to put myself in the shoes of an admissions committee. I try to find out where they’re missing something. What went wrong?

If you applied to medical school and have not gotten in, submit your request to be a part of Application Renovation so we can get on Skype and break down your application. Then you can move forward with a stronger application.

Listen to this podcast episode with the player above, or keep reading for the highlights and takeaway points.

[02:55] Your Timing Matters

'Apply as early as possible.'Click To Tweet

Medical schools operate on a rolling admissions basis. Not all do this, but most of them do.

Not every medical school is the same. The earlier you apply the earlier that you get secondaries. The earlier that you get reviewed for an interview. The earlier you have your interview, the earlier you can be reviewed post-interview for an acceptance.

Apply as early as possible and make it complete as much as possible. Don’t rush things. Don’t sacrifice quality to get an application in early.

If you know that the application opens up in May of the year before you want to start medical school, then prepare for it. Save for the application. Plan for all other parts of the application that you’re going to need so you can get them ready on time. Oh, and don’t forget the MCAT.

What adcoms are looking is how prepared were you for the application? If you passed it on the deadline, that tell them immediately that you cannot prepare well. You’re disorganized or that there are things in life that distracted you from the application.

It’s the same thing with the secondary applications. If you haven’t yet, check out and get all of the secondary essay prompts so you can pre-write them.

Turning them in 3-6 weeks after would tell adcoms that you’re not prepared or you’re disorganized. It’s telling them that you’re too busy. Or that you’re not really interested in their school because you’re working on other secondaries. It’s telling them a lot of things.

'This is how admissions committees are looking at you as an applicant even before they touch your application.'Click To Tweet

[Related episode: What Does the Med School Application Timeline Look Like?]

[06:55] Initial Application Screening

The admissions committees are pulling data from the application services. They can manipulate the data and do whatever they want with the data. At this point, you’re nothing but a bunch of data, numbers, and essays. They don’t know who you are and they don’t know why you want to go to their school.

Because there are so few seats at each medical school and few interview slots, medical schools have to have a way to sift through applications and narrow them down.

'Medical schools have to have a way to narrow down what applications they're going to look at and what applications aren't.'Click To Tweet

Some medical schools tell you that they review every application. And a lot of them are going to use filters for this. They can set up these “digital shredders.” 

If your MCAT score and GPA do not meet certain cutoffs based on that specific school, your application will wind up on the cutting room floor.

Some schools have processes in place to have someone go through what ends up on the cutting room floor. They look for that needle in a haystack. They look for that one student who has shown amazing progress with their GPA, but maybe they just couldn’t get their MCAT score high enough. That can happen.

The majority of schools are going to filter out the really atrocious-looking applications based on stats. They look for those who just haven’t proven themselves academically. And even if you think you have lots of clinical experience or you showed leadership skills, those applications are going to get screened out.

Unfortunately, schools will still send their secondaries out to those students. Their hopes get up and they pay more money for it. That’s a whole another ball game.

'Schools filter those applications and get down to the students who they feel are academically qualified to be a student.'Click To Tweet

Don’t think of these filters as bad for you. Think of them as just a way to get rid of the students who just haven’t proven themselves. Hopefully, you have proven yourself. Listen to Session 35 where I had Dr. Greg Polites from Washington University Medical Schooll. We discussed how to overcome starting off poorly in your undergrad.

[Related episode: 9 Med School Application Tips That Will Give You an Edge]

[12:10] Looking at Trends

Once you’ve proven your academic abilities, now you can potentially be on someone’s desk. This means you have a good enough MCAT score and a good enough GPA to make it through the filters.

You’re now getting reviewed by a human looking at your application. They’re going to look at your classes, your trends, or your workload level. Did you take a postbac? Are you a nontrad? How old are your classes?

I had a student who hasn’t heard anything back from her applications and her classes are 10-20 years old. There was nothing new. This is going to be a red flag for a lot of schools since you haven’t been a student for a long time. 

[14:35] Clinical Experience and Shadowing

The next possible thing that the reviewer may look at is the Activities section on your application. They look for two things: clinical experience and shadowing. All those other stuff are important, but they want to know how much shadowing and clinical experience you have.

Back in Episode 356, the biggest mistake students are making is not enough clinical experience. The atoms wouldn’t trust that you know what you’re getting yourself into.

'Without shadowing and clinical experience, how do you know you want to be a doctor? You don't.'Click To Tweet

At this point, they don’t need to know your story. They will move on as there are thousands of applications to review. Remember that it’s the smallest things in your application that can cause a reviewer to say that you’re not worth their time. And they’ve moved on because of those little things.

Once you’ve moved past clinical experience and shadowing, they’d probably look at the other parts of your extracurriculars. They want to know about your hobbies and who you are as a person. It’s not just about research. What else is out there?

[Related episode: Can I Get in Enough Shadowing and Clinical Experience?]

[17:35] Personal Statement and Secondaries

Your personal statement comes next. Now, if it starts off saying you’ve always known you wanted to be a doctor, there’s a pretty good chance they’re not going to continue reading this.

'Why do you want to be a physician?'Click To Tweet

They want to know why you want to be a physician. Check out my book, The Premed Playbook: Guide to the Medical School Personal Statement and find out how you can write your story. Learn how to figure out why you’re on this journey and how to communicate that.

Reflect on why you’re on this journey. And so the personal statement is going to be very important.

Some schools leave out personal statements because a lot of students don’t know how to write a good personal statement. So they move on to the secondaries because this is more specific to the school, even though several schools still have generic secondary essays.

If the question is about the school, make sure you’ve done your research and it’s not just generic stuff.  If it’s about diversity and how you can add to the class, be able to answer that.

If there’s a question about obstacles you had to overcome, they want to see that you’ve lived life and you’ve had obstacles. They want to understand that you’re going to be resilient through medical school. 

If your biggest failure to this point is not winning the state championship in your football team in high school then that might be a potential issue. You may need some more experience. Those are the kinds of things they’re looking at in your secondary essays.

[Related episode: The Medical School Application Personal Statement]

[20:28] Interview

It now comes down to interviewing and how well you interview. How well can you communicate and connect with the interviewer? Show them who you are to get that acceptance.

[Related tool: Medical School Interview Question Generator]

[20:40] Final Thoughts

This is the general look at an application. Again, check out Application Renovation as we dive deep into applications. Or apply to be a part of the Application Renovation.


Apply to Application Renovation

PMY 35: How to Fix Your Medical School Application After Starting Premed Poorly

PMY 356: Why Aren’t These Med School Applicants Getting Interviews?

The Premed Playbook: Guide to the Medical School Personal Statement