Q&A Session about the Medical School Application Cycle

Apple Podcasts | Google Podcasts

PMY 425: Q&A Session about the Medical School Application Cycle

Session 425

In this episode, we do some Q&A as I shed some light on the med school application. If you are applying this next cycle, starting in 2021 to start medical school in 2022, then it’s time for you to start getting to work.

Check out applicationacademy.com, our new group coaching model geared towards helping more and more students along their path to medical school! And if you haven’t yet, be sure to give Mappd.com a peek to see how this unique technology platform can help you as well.

For more podcast resources to help you along your journey to medical school and beyond, check out Meded Media.

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

[02:49] Taking Classes at a Community College

Q: How much of an implication is taking med school prereqs at community college? 

A: It may hurt your chances at a specific medical school since there is some negative bias out there. But it’s all about why you’re taking classes at a community college. 

'At the end of the day, taking classes at a community college will not hurt your chances of getting into medical school.'Click To Tweet

Were you struggling at your four-year institution that’s why you ran to the community college because you thought it was going to be easier? If that’s the case, medical schools can see that you struggled, and they might question that. But if you went to a community college because that’s what worked for your schedule as a nontraditional student, you’re probably going to be fine.

[04:23] MD/Ph.D. vs. MD

Q: “I’m thinking about applying MD/Ph.D. versus MD. I have a ton of research experience. And I’m just starting to work now as an EMT. I graduated recently and I’m currently in my gap year. My main question is what is the main thing between MD and MD/Ph. D in regards to stats that differ and when you’re articulating your story? The things I want to do for my Ph.D. and the things I want to do for my MD are very closely aligned. So how do you not be redundant?”

A: The better question to ask is not the difference. The biggest thing is whether you want to be an MD/Ph.D. or an MD. That’s the question you have to ask yourself because they are very different careers.

An MD/Ph.D. is someone who is doing research and then sees patients as a side thing. But your goal and your intentions for your career are to advance the scientific knowledge in medicine – not clinical research, but more bench research. If that is not what you want to do, and you see yourself taking care of patients full-time and maybe some clinical research, then the MD/Ph.D. route probably isn’t what you want. And you should focus just on the MD route.

'You don't have to have a Ph.D. to do research.'Click To Tweet

The MD/Ph.D. is a completely different route. You do your first two years of medical school, and then you stop. And then you do three to five years of your Ph.D. to get that and then you go back and you finish your last two years of medical school.

Application-wise, the difference is that in the MD/Ph.D. application, you are writing two extra essays on the AMCAS application. There’s a research essay where you talk all about your research. And then there is a Ph.D. or an MD/Ph.D. essay, where you talk about why you want to be an MD/Ph.D. That’s on top of your personal statement, which talks about why you want to be a physician.

Additionally, there’s a lot of misinformation about having to have stellar stats if you want to do MD/Ph.D. It’s not necessarily true. Obviously, the best institutions are going to have high stats because that’s just the way it is. But there are plenty of institutions out there where you don’t need the best stats in the world. The one difference is you need a lot of research to get an MD/Ph. D. program. But that’s because you’re applying to be a researcher. And so if you don’t have that research to back it up, then what are you truly saying? So you’ve got to be careful with that.

Ultimately you have to do that research yourself and the soul searching yourself to figure out if that’s what you want.

[11:51] The General Application Timeline

The application generally opens up in May, whether that’s TMDSAS, AACOMAS, or AMCAS. Those are the three different application services for applying, respectively, to MD schools, to DO schools, or to Texas public schools.

For the AMCAS (the MD application), you cannot submit your applications until June 1. For the TMDSAS and AACOMAS, you can submit your applications immediately. So as you are going through the process, make sure you’re working on your personal statement because that’s going to take a lot of drafts to get to where you’re going. Check out The Premed Playbook: Guide to the Medical School Personal Statement.

You should also start to work on your extracurricular descriptions and lay out everything you’ve done including what’s most impactful for you. If you have more than 15 for the AMCAS application, decide which ones you’re going to write about. Extrinsic extracurricular descriptions are much harder to write. But work hard on telling those stories. There’s a good YouTube video that I did for that at premed.tv.

And a lot of you are still taking classes, you’re studying for the MCAT (which you’re hopefully taking by March or April of this year). If you’re applying this year, you’re starting to work on your letters of recommendations, asking for those, and doing all that kind of fun stuff. So there are a lot of things to do. And if you want some kind of guidance and all of that go check out the Application Academy.

[15:08] Assessing Reapplicants

Q: How are applicants assessed? 

A: There are a lot of misconceptions and myths around being a reapplicant equals lowering your chances of getting into medical school. And it’s just not true. You see students who don’t get into medical school the first time because there are weaknesses in their application. 

“A lot of times, students don't fix those weaknesses and reapply so they don’t get in.”Click To Tweet

To be a real applicant, you need to critically look at your application. That’s why I do Application Renovation, a series of videos that I do on YouTube where I look at applications and break down why a student didn’t get into medical school. Please also check out Mission Accepted. It’s a new series that I’m doing with students who got into medical school and I’m looking at their applications.

Stats could be some weak areas for many students. But many times, too, there’s just something missing in their story. For reapplicants, think about what you did differently. Be critical about your application. Look at where you went wrong, where are your weaknesses, and what did you do to work on them.

One of the big mistakes comes when students applying too quickly are not having time to fix their mistakes.

[17:39] International Shadowing Opportunities

Q: How do medical schools view international shadowing opportunities through companies such as Atlantis?

A: Atlantis is a great opportunity. With one caveat, you have to be able to afford it. It’s a very privileged thing to be able to do. But you shouldn’t be using it as the only shadowing experience you’re doing. If you’re buying your shadowing because you can’t get any other shadowing, then that probably isn’t going to look great. 

Now, there is only one school that I know of off the top of my head that does not accept international shadowing. And that’s the University of Utah.

Moreover, a lot of students are mixing up international shadowing like Atlantis with the medical mission trips and they’re both different. Because with the latter, students are actually going in and administering healthcare to patients. And there’s a lot of caution and warnings around that.

For example, students will come back and in their essays, they say they worked as a volunteer in Guatemala and were able to perform hysterectomies. And you don’t want to say that.

If you’re not allowed to do something here in the States, then you shouldn’t be able to do those things in a third-world country just because it’s a third-world country. 

[19:58] Master’s vs. Postbac

Q: “I’ve had a few schools tell me they prefer masters versus postbac. Is there a way to know which schools prefer which?

A: If you need to do some grade enhancement because you struggled early on, reach out to the schools and tell them about your GPA. Ask for their feedback and go from there.

A lot of master’s programs are probably generally easier. One of the reasons we say master’s programs are less influential is because most students do better in master’s programs. But one of the struggles students have is they look so narrowly on this one specific question when instead, you have to look at the big picture. If you don’t need to improve your GPA, then the question doesn’t matter, because they’re not looking for you to improve your GPA.

[22:56] Applying Before the MCAT Score

Q: “I am planning to take the MCAT this May as well as apply for this upcoming cycle. I was wondering if it is acceptable to complete my application before I get my MCAT score? Or would it be best if I take the MCAT in March? I’m a little bit confused about if it is okay to send the application before I get my score.

A: It is 1,000% possible to send in your application before you get your MCAT score. Your MCAT score doesn’t have to be in.

'You don't have to have taken the MCAT for you to submit your application.'Click To Tweet

One thing that students do if they’re taking a later MCAT is submitting their application early, as close to May or June as possible. Whichever application service you’re using, submit your application to one school that’ll get you in line. Get your application verified. This gives you time to get your MCAT score back. If it’s nowhere near where you want it to be, then you just have to see it as wasted money and wasted time. And then you repeat the process next year, hopefully with a better score. And then if you do get a score back that you enjoy, then you add schools to your application. One of the few things you can change after you submit your application is adding schools to your list. 

Personally, I’m a fan of taking the MCAT a little bit earlier so that you can focus on your application versus working on your application and studying for the MCAT. But at the end of the day, you have to take the MCAT when you are ready.

[24:48] Harder Application Cycle?

Q: “Do you think the 2021-2022 cycle will continue to be even harder because even more people will apply to the COVID or reapplicants from this crazy year.”

A: I don’t think the application cycle was harder this year. Everything was crazy this year. But I don’t think it’ll be harder because of people applying. And I don’t think this year will be any different.

AAMC released some stats that they had 18% more students applying. And I think there were a lot of people who submitted an application, just because the MCAT wasn’t a requirement at some schools.

[25:47] Weaving Your “Theme” Through Your Application

Q: “What is the best way to ensure that our “theme” weaves through our application?

A:  I don’t think you should have a theme in your application. Honestly, I think themes are distracting. Instead, you need to tell your story and that is the theme. For more ideas, be sure to check out The Premed Playbook: Guide to the Medical School Personal Statement.

'Themes are cliche and don't really add anything to your application.'Click To Tweet

[25:52] Shadowing Opportunities

Q: “Do you think the 2021-2022 application cycle will be a little bit more lenient about shadowing a number of hours or it has to be right? It’s still incredibly hard to find opportunities.”

A: I was talking to a Director of Admissions the other day on Instagram about shadowing and she said they’re looking at it. But they’re not sure if they can accept it, because you can’t get a letter of recommendation. It’s just not something that’s possible right now. So I think it’ll be very interesting.

And she even said that schools are going to have to go back to the drawing board. Where they look at everything that has historically been “required” to get into medical school. Then they need to assess whether they really need it.

'Most stuff doesn't predict success as a physician, but obviously, we need some sort of qualifications for schools.'Click To Tweet

All that being said, I think schools are going to be more lenient. The bigger issue is, if you don’t have shadowing and clinical experience, then how do you know you want to be a physician? How do you know that when you don’t have those experiences to back you up.

So you have to be careful with the fact that schools are probably going to be more lenient. You still need to have a good reason why you want to be a physician. And usually, those reasons come from experiences.

[29:52] Shadowing Hours and Reevaluating Application

Q: “How few shadowing hours is too few for these COVID cycles.”

A: Nobody knows.

Q: “At what point in the application cycle when you’re not hearing from schools should you start to think about reevaluating your application and improve it to reapply?

A: In every step of the way, you should be reevaluating your application. You should always be asking yourself what could you be doing better.

This COVID schedule is just so completely screwed up. But the normal timeframe is that you submit your applications from May to June. Then you get your secondaries back mid to late June. You start submitting those secondary applications and then start interviewing anywhere between mid-July and the beginning of August through March, sometimes for DO schools. And then if you’re applying to MD only, and it’s Thanksgiving in late November, and you’re not hearing anything, it probably isn’t good. But for this cycle, we’ve seen lots of craziness and things are just all over the place right now.

[31:51] The Goal of Your Personal Statement

Q: “Can transferring colleges to go to an undergraduate program with a better premed program be included in your personal statement as part of your efforts to get better experience and be more prepared for med school apps?

A: No, that does not belong in your personal statement. Your personal statement is why you want to be a physician, not what have you done to prepare yourself for medical school.

“Your job with your personal statement is to talk about why you want to be a physician, not talk about how amazing you are and how dedicated you are to becoming a physician.'Click To Tweet

[32:52] Clinical Experience vs. Shadowing

Q: “I have clinical experience from working at the hospital, even during this pandemic, as well as volunteer hours and research hours. I do not have shadowing hours, though, will my application still be looked at considering the state of the world with the pandemic right now?”

A: It’s definitely a question that’s going to be individual to each of the medical schools. It’s awesome that you’re getting the clinical experience right now. Having a job in a clinical environment is definitely the best thing right now because most volunteer opportunities have been obliterated with COVID. But you’re just going to have to either roll the dice or try to get shadowing as fast as possible.

[33:52] COVID-Related Interview Questions

Q: “Have you heard any common COVID-related interview questions we should be ready to answer this year? 

A: The COVID question is going to be how did COVID affect you. So just being able to talk about how COVID affected your MCAT studying, your hours, or whatever that is, you’ll need to be prepared for that.


Meded Media


The Premed Playbook: Guide to the Medical School Personal Statement


Application Renovation