So I have a pre-med counselor who is (surprisingly) actually worth her weight. I thought I'd share this letter for those without an acceptance this year. FROM THE CAREER CENTER... In a previous posting we started a discussion about how people fail to gain admissions to medical schools for various reasons. In this posting we will try to take a closer look at some of those reasons along with suggesting appropriate courses of action to address those situations. The most common reasons why some individuals fail to gain admission to medical school are: 1. too many applications from other competitive applicants and, possibly, targeting of the "wrong" schools 2. poor academic record (GPA, especially science GPA; MCAT or both) 3. insufficient clinical exposure and inadequate demonstration of a sustained interest in medicine 4. unconvincing performance at the interview 5. incomplete, late or sloppy application (non-compelling personal statement, generic letters of reference, scarce extra curricular activities, late application submission, etc.) 1. TOO MANY APPLICATIONS FROM OTHER COMPETITIVE APPLICANTS/APPLICATION TO THE 'WRONG' SCHOOLS On any given year, a certain number of applicants fails to gain admission to medical school not necessarily because of something that was intrinsically wrong with their candidacy but rather because they were practically indistinguishable from other qualified applicants or perhaps because they submitted their application a little late in the process or applied to schools for which they were not particularly competitive. These are individuals who obtained several interview offers but ended up being waitlisted at a number of schools. These are individuals who would only need a little help to tip the scale in their favor when they reapply. They are applicants who, depending on their specific circumstances, could greatly benefit from a more timely application along with an application year spent engaging in research, providing community service, perhaps taking some additional science-related courses on a non-degree seeking basis, and/or obtaining more clinical exposure. Greater awareness of schools' specific missions and selection criteria will also help these individuals to more wisely and realistically target schools for application.The combination of these strategies is likely to effect better results the next time they apply. 2. POOR ACADEMIC RECORD Then there are those whose GPA (especially the science GPA) and/or the MCAT scores are not as competitive as they could or should be. Borderline or below-average academic credentials are one of the most common reasons why applicants fail to gain admission to medical school. Usually, these are applicants who may have received secondaries, but did not get many (if any at all) invitations for interviews. The total lack of interview offers often stems from a medical school's assessment (or fear) that the applicant may not be academically ready for medical school. If applicants have a sound GPA (both cumulative and science) but lower MCAT scores, then what they need the most is a good preparation to retake the MCAT. A postbaccalaureate program or a master level degree may not be as beneficial in this scenario as when both undergraduate grades and MCAT scores are deficient. A well-thought out plan and strategy to study for the MCAT along with any other activity of choice to demonstrate a sustained interest in medicine (research, community service, clinical exposure ) would be an appropriate course of action for these individuals prior to reapplying. As a general rule of thumb, individuals with really low science GPA could greatly benefit from enrichment programs like those offered at the post-baccalaureate level. Some of these courses also may have an MCAT preparation component. Individuals with more borderline science GPA may enroll in science-based master level programs as a way to boost their AMCAS GPA and demonstrate to the medical schools that they are finally ready to handle the rigors of the medical school curriculum. However, not all master's level programs are equally suited to serve the needs of these individuals. If a poor science GPA is the issue, a master's level program that does not entail core courses in the basic sciences may not fit the bill. A major issue to consider with master's level programs is their duration. As hard as it may be to accept, some reapplicants could greatly benefit from waiting a year to reapply, so that their reapplication could reflect their performance during their first year in a two-year master level program. *****Individuals with a poor academic profile need to understand that more research and clinical exposure alone are not likely to help their case******. So, if these individuals truly want to reapply and be successful, they need to address their academic deficiencies first. In future messages, we will discuss post-baccalaureate programs, special master's level programs, etc. in greater detail. 3. INSUFFICIENT CLINICAL EXPOSURE Every year a number of applicants are not successful in gaining admission to medical school mainly because of their limited or lack of health-related experience. Often these individuals will have difficulties in getting interviews or if/when they get one, they struggle to express their commitment to medicine because of their lack of relevant experiences to support their opinions, beliefs, and professional plans. Medical schools expect applicants to make a sincere effort to learn more about themselves and the medical profession through readings, shadowing of professionals, volunteering in the community, working in clinical settings, and conducting research if at all possible. Of course, individual circumstances vary greatly. For example, in some cases, the limited health-related experience may be the result of lack of time due to financial pressures to work or because of other family responsibilities. Or they could be the result of a recent, not thoroughly explored decision to attend medical school. Or they may even be the consequence of one's total immersion in his/her academic pursuits at the expense of other life- and character-shaping experiences. Even in those cases where the academic record is stellar, the lack of health-related exposure can jeopardize the final outcome of an entire application to medical school. Individuals in this situation are advised to pursue employment in and exposure to the health field prior to reapplying. Common choices under these circumstances are service and/or employment within the health care arena, participation in clinical research projects, involvement with a domestic or international health-related organization, etc. 4. UNCONVINCING PERFORMANCE AT THE INTERVIEW A small number of individuals may get several interviews but end up being waitlisted or worst, rejected, at all those schools. This could be the case when an individual "looks good on paper" but then does not manage to market him/herself adequately in person. Common reasons for these scenarios range from candidates coming across as particularly introverted during the interview, or too arrogant, or even somewhat unpleasant. Other times, reasons for rejection range from the medical school questioning of a candidate's level of maturity and commitment to the medical field, to simply not having enough compelling reasons to favor this candidate over some others. Additional academic pursuits are usually of little help to these individuals. More hands-on and life experiences may assist these individuals better in their maturation process, both from a personal and a professional standpoint. These experiences may help candidates in presenting themselves more successfully the next time they apply and market themselves, especially during their interviews. Specific help via self assessment, introspection exercises, practice interviews, and participation in select leadership opportunities to enhance interpersonal skills and stretch one's boundaries may prove beneficial, along with a sustained involvement in volunteer or work experiences in health-related settings. 5. INCOMPLETE, LATE OR SLOPPY APPLICATIONS Usually incomplete, late or sloppy applications will prevent a candidate's file from going very far. If a file is incomplete, it may never come up for review (missing MCAT, letters of reference, application fee, etc.). If applications are filed late, they will have to be that much stronger to compel an admission officer to bring them to the top of the pile when the entering class is already half or almost totally subscribed. Sloppy applications with personal essays written carelessly, or letters of reference that do not exemplify any effort to establish a meaningful relationship with the writer--just to name a few common culprits--may have trouble in rising to the top of the applications' pile. Sloppy and incomplete applications can also signal arrogance (applicants not taking the process seriously), lack of commitment (not being invested in the process) or disorganization (not having done one's homework). In an arena as competitive as the medical school application process, even little things count and medical school admissions officers are very likely to favor an application that does not present similar "flaws" as they have so many more applications to choose from. Depending on individual circumstances, a more timely application, a well-thought out personal statement and new and more supportive letters of reference may effect a better outcome in the next application cycle. However, procrastination, disorganization, apathy, etc. could be potential red flags for these individuals suitability and commitment to the medical profession--something that would definitely be worth discussing before engaging in a new application cycle. For the procrastinators, the first word of advice would be to question how committed they really are to this career choice. Often a late and careless application (beyond a possible innate tendency to procrastinate and being over-involved in other activities) may signal a lingering self-doubt or questioning of one's career choice. Assuming that everything else was in place (competitive academic profile and extracurricular experiences), perhaps the best course of action for these individuals is sincere introspection, along with some honest chats with important figures in their support system as to the possible underlying reasons for such poor approach to the application. We have seen several applicants over the years sabotaging their own application for various reasons, including trying to satisfy their parents or other meaningful figure(s) in their lives (so that they could tell these people that they had tried, things did not work out, so now they are free to pursue whatever OTHER dreams they may have had!) Or, even without parental pressures, we have occasionally seen applicants unconsciously self-sabotaging their own application because they were having second thoughts about pursuing a medical career due to the length of the training, the level of indebtedness, or the lifestyle that they would be experiencing during their training years and beyond. Self-doubt is a normal stage of career exploration but it is a much harder factor to reconcile or deal with when one feels he/she is beyond the exploration stage and is already knee-deep in the decision/implementation stage of that commitment. Because some of these applicants cannot quite allow themselves to change course and pursue alternative career interests at this point, they may unconsciously try to negatively impact their candidacy so that they can finally and "rightfully" pursue something else (in other words, they let destiny or in this case, admissions committees decide for THEM).