I don’t know that there are terribly many prospective medical students who read this blog, and I imagine those that do have plenty of advisors to guide them along the path toward getting into medical school. But on the off chance someone might gain some aid from what insight I’ve gained over the past year, here are a few tips for applying to medical school.

Submit your primary application ASAP

I talked about primary and secondary applications in a previous post. The AMCAS application is the one that gets sent out to your schools. It includes all the basics; classes, personal statement, work history, letters of rec. You send your official transcripts to AMCAS once and they verify all your grades and classes before the schools even know you’re applying to them. This process can take up to six weeks (or so the organization says.)

It’s a first come, first serve business though. If you have everything in to them by the first date you can submit your application (June 1 I believe) then the turnaround on verification is about a day. If you wait even a week after that, suddenly that six weeks is pushed to the max. We weren’t even taking the MCAT until mid June, and scores didn’t come out until July, but some folks were still waiting on their AMCAS verification well after everything else was ready to go. It made a much bigger difference in interview invites than I think any of us could have guessed.

And by the way, it takes time to get transcripts sent, not to mention a personal statement and the fact that the application requires you to type in by hand every class you have EVER taken post secondary school (including AP courses.) Plus you’ll have to write a short paragraph about your three most important extracurricular activities, which was pretty excruciating. This is not an application you can run off the night before it’s due.

Apply to a wide range of schools

I have no idea what algorithm they use for deciding to invite people for interviews. All told I had interview invites to a few reach schools, a few right-in-my-grasp schools and two safety school. I was flat out turned down by several schools that had significantly lower average GPAs and MCAT scores than my average, as well as a slew where I felt right on the mean. Why? I haven’t the foggiest. Meanwhile several reach schools not only interviewed me but interviewed me early.

I was always going to apply to the in-state public schools (your chances of getting into an in-state school are wildly better than getting into an out-of-state public school and mildly better than a private school) but aside from that, there was a great deal of arbitrary decision making that went into selecting which schools were on my list. I can’t help thinking that if I had been pickier, I might have had a far emptier dance card come application time.

Of course there was a mild correlation with how quickly I returned by secondary applications which is why….

Turn your secondary applications in ASAP, but don’t skimp on them either

Secondary applications are obnoxious, I won’t lie. You’re asked the same, stinking questions over and over again in slightly different ways so that you have to write out a brand new essay (or tweak the hell out of an old one) each time. By the tenth time I had to come up with a creative way of explaining how I was a diverse student or come up with a reason why I wanted to attend that specific school, I was starting to question how much I really wanted this school to like me after all. We were told to send in our secondaries within 48 hours of receiving them, but it was weeks before I even looked at many of them.

In the end, though, the first four secondaries I turned in were the first four schools to invite me for interviews. In one interview I was told that my essay had been one of the best they had read and afterward they felt they had to talk to me. Meanwhile the schools that I dragged my heels on or that I lazily submitted reworked versions of previous essays didn’t give me the time of day. Secondaries count. Don’t forget it.

Apply to in-state public schools; be wary of out-of-state public schools

All of the in-state schools I applied to invited me for interviews and invited me early.

Meanwhile, an out-of-state public school from the state I had lived in before the postbac, a medical school whose hospital I had volunteered at and whose campus I had lived literally across the street from, was the first school to reject me. (And no, score-wise it wasn’t a reach.) The only other out-of-state public school I applied to not only declined to interview me, but apparently forgot they had even sent me a secondary application. Ouch.

The trends I noticed applying to medical school were based on my own experience and a few close friends. Hopefully it can help give someone the jump on the whole application process as the cycle begins again. Most of all, if you are applying, remember to cast a wide net. Luck plays a bigger role in who makes it to medical school than most of us would like to admit.