Goro's guide to applying to med school (2018 version)

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Goro

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So application season is upon us once again. I have some tips for you. Grab a cup of coffee, pull up a chair.

What do we Adcoms look for? People who will make good doctors and who will be good students.

But to be the former, you have to be the latter. Evidence for doing well in med school is evidenced by an applicant with above average grades and MCAT score, evidence of a good work ethic, strong time management skills, reasonable expectations of what it means to have a career in medicine based on personal experiences acquired as an adult (not, "I shadowed by grandpa when I was 8 and therefore I know what it is to be a doctor"), capacity for self-reflection, able to give and receive feedback and learn from it, good self-care and resilience in tough times.

A high risk of failing out or withdrawing due to lack of motivation would be the opposite of the attributes listed above (kudos to LizzyM for this).

· Applying early is good. But don’t freak out if you’re not submitting by end of July. Most Admissions deans don’t get started at work until after Labor Day. By end of September, it's probably too late for MD schools (unless you’re a stellar candidate, or fulfill one of the school’s missions), but FYI, the DO cycle is longer (up to Dec or even Jan!) I'll make some DO-specific posts in the pre-osteopathic forum later.

· You get into med school by having a good app, not because you’re early.

Do NOT underestimate how much time it will take to properly fill out 20-30 apps! Pay very careful attention to these wise words from Gonnif:

I want to point out …the need to understand the money, time, and effort in applying to medical school and why the very common mistake of applying to far too many schools in hopes you will get into one is not the most optimal and efficient strategy to get into medical school. I hear applicants tell me all the day the days, weeks, even months they spend in crafting their PS on their primary, but do not see the they will have 10-20-30 or more secondaries that need to be done in the same highly polished, coherent, and concise way that your Primary was done. You don’t get into medical school because you got in more secondaries quickly, you get into med school by having good quality secondaries.

When I tell applicants that just applying to medical school [that is the actual applications] should be considered a full time job from mid-May thru at least mid-August, they do not seem to fathom it. When they ask when they can travel for 3 weeks out of the country, I say the year before you apply. It is a sh*tload of work and that seems to shock them when it actually happens. This is why I reiterate, reiterate, reiterate:

Prereqs completed before MCAT
MCAT completed before AMCAS
AMCAS completed before opening day
Because the secondaries can drown you


· If you don't have your MCAT in (or some other crucial requirement), it's OK to start applying. The verification process can take some time, so if you can get that out of the way, so much the better. Apply to an unrealistic reach school. But if you’re re-taking MCAT and are waiting for your new score, get verified, but do NOT apply until you have your new score. Schools do not hold your apps in the hope that you’ll get a better score.

· Do NOT apply to a school that you don't want to go to. It's one thing to not like a place after an interview, but, really, do your homework. I am appalled by people who have 1000s of hours of research experience, yet can’t be bothered to look over med school websites, other than the Admissions face page. These pages are very valuable in letting you know what they’re looking for. Some examples:


Admissions Recommendations - U of U School of Medicine - | University of Utah

Requirements | College of Medicine - Tucson

Selection Criteria


· Think about where the schools are. Mayo and Rochester are not merely cold in the winter, but Siberian cold. Tulane, on the other hand, is hot and sauna-like in the summer (but with great food). Consider your support groups, if you're leaving home for the first time. I literally have lost students to homesickness.

· Don't know where to apply? Do your homework. MSAR Online is a mandatory resource. The money it will save you from not applying to even one wrong school (for you) will more than make up for the cost of MSAR.

· Know your target schools, beyond the numbers. Many schools are mission driven, like Howard, UCR, SIU, Mercer and Central Michigan. Again, do your research!

· Look up how many public schools accept out-of-state students, and what percentage are these of the class? MSAR tells you this in the Acceptance Information tab. Many schools (ex. Mercer, UND, USD, U NM, LSU, U MS) will highly favor in-state residents, to the exclusion of OOSers. Those OOS students taken at, say, U IA or U AL, most likely come from neighboring states, or went to undergrad in the state. I am surprised at how many people draw up lists of schools to apply to, based upon info from USN&WR (again, poor research skills on parade here). So don't apply to U HI just because you'd love to go to med school in HI. Have the bona fides for HI. My rule of thumb is if >5% of the matriculants are from OOS, it might be worth applying. But be > avg.

· More and more med schools accept CC credits. Again, MSAR is useful in telling you who does, and who doesn't take the coursework. Here's a rule of thumb.

-If you go to a CC and then to a UG school, that's fine.
-If you go to a CC as a non-trad to get the pre-reqs, for for grade repair as a DIY post-bac, that's also fine.
-If it appears that you're avoiding your UG school's rigorous weeding courses by taking them at CCs, then that's going to raise some eyebrows.

· Apply strategically! What I mean is look over the MCAT AND GPAs of the schools you're interested in, and apply to those whose median scores are close to your own. Do NOT apply to a school if your numbers are <10th percentile of matriculants. The people who get into Yale with a 510 MCAT are either URM, legacies, veterans, or have something really spectacular about their story.

· My suggestion is that if you're 2-4 points below the school's medians, you're in striking distance, but consider your numbers carefully. Apply smart and apply once. But the higher the pole you want to climb, the slipperier it will get.

· In light of the above, there's "reach", and then there's "unrealistic". Be realistic.

· If your GPA is under 3.4, I recommend NOT applying now, unless you live in an area where the state schools have their 10th-90th percentiles stretching down to 3.3. An example is U AR or U MO-KC. Better to take a post-bac or SMP and get the GPA into a competitive zone. Oh, and I'm not impressed with the n=1 stories of "my cousin got into Harvard with a 3.0 GPA". There will always be outliers.

· If you do well in a SMP/post-bac (GPA >3.6 AND have a MCAT > 513), or have a massive rising GPA trend that looks like the Nike swoosh, then there are med schools that reward reinvention, even if your cGPA is <3.4! Search for my other posts for lists of those.

· A great GPA is not going to make up for a poor MCAT, and vice versa.

· The average MD matriculant nationwide currently has a cGPA of ~3.76 and an MCAT of 511 on the new exam. Remember these numbers.

· In that vein, think very carefully about "ties" to a state. Growing up in a place and then moving away is fine. Wife's family lives there? Not fine.

· Have as any eyeballs as possible go over your app. There's no excuse for spelling, grammar or thoughtless mistakes on your PS. And for God's sake, when you cut and paste, remove school A's name and replace it with B for the app for school B. As in sports, where the team that makes more mistakes will lose, the apps with the fewest mistakes get received more kindly.

· Don't use your PS to explain why you got bad grades. It's for "Who are you?” for "Why Medicine?" and how you got to that decision.

· Speaking of the PS, see these invaluable comments by the wise Med Ed: https://forums.studentdoctor.net/threads/youre-doing-it-wrong-part-1-your-personal-statement.1247362/

https://forums.studentdoctor.net/threads/youre-doing-it-wrong-part-2-your-experiences.1247838/#post-18746176

· Do NOT write in your PS or secondary about what you think we want to see...write about your passions and what drives you. Write about what makes you interesting.

· The “diversity” prompt for secondaries (as in "How will you add to the diversity of our class"?) is NOT about your ethnic background. It’s about what unique thing do you bring to the entering Class? Think of it this way: if I asked your three best friends “what’s the coolest thing about you?” what would they say?

· Give some serious thought to the “Tell us about a time you failed” or “The biggest obstacle that you overcame is….?” prompts of secondaries. I believe a lot of people get weeded out by this one for being superficial, or coming across as over-privileged. Yes, I know some of you have charmed lives, but if the biggest hurt in your life was getting a C or B for the first time, that’s not going to go down very well. Not everyone goes experiences the death of a loved one, or goes through something traumatic, but really, what has challenged you the most? Moving away from home to go to college? Dealing with people of a very different culture? Confronting your own prejudices? These prompts are valuable because they make you think about yourself. Remember, to those who are given much, much is expected.

· So avoid writing something that would make a screener or interviewer think "that's it??" An example would be “I’m diverse because I went to school with lots of Asian kids.”

· If English is NOT your native language, have some native English speakers go over your app.

· Many schools send out secondaries whether you're competitive or not. They can be a tax on the hopelessly clueless, or the pathologically over-optimistic.

· Have the right ECs. You need ECs. There are tons of people on SDN who bitch and moan about them. Well, tough. Each school gets thousands of apps for some 100-250 seats. How do we winnow down the pool? The answer is something that hyperachievers with no people skills hate hearing: you have display your altruism and humanity, your willingness to serve others, you know what you're getting into, and that you know what a doctor's day is like.

· It's not only about GPA and MCATs...it's about the rest of the packet. All the people you're competing with are academically clones of each other. So the guy with 1000 hrs in the lab and 100 hrs shadowing (and who thinks shadowing counts as volunteering) but has no other clinical experience doesn't know what he's getting into, hasn't shown anything altruistic and will be passed over for someone who reads to poor children, or brings coffee to the dialysis patients in hospice. 4.0 automatons are a dime-a-dozen. Stats may get you to the door, but ECs get you through the door.

· Always keep in mind that it's about what med schools want, not what you want. And in the end, it's about the patients.

· If you're doing this because your parents are pressuring you to do it, stop right now, grow a spine and/or some balls, and tell them that this isn't for you. You'll just save yourself a lot of misery later. Better yet, get them accounts on SDN so they can see what it takes to get into med school.

· It's a scary process. And that's OK. Keep in mind that this isn't a sprint, it's a marathon. Patience is a virtue.

· One or two bad grades in your app isn't going to kill you. Neither will parking tickets. Schools don't care about your parking tickets.

· Not all IAs will kill you either, especially if they occurred when you were young and stupid, and now have grown. AdCom members were young and stupid once too. But the key thing is to own your transgressions, and don’t make excuses for them.

· If you have a felony in your background (especially a crime against a person), or multiple offenses, especially DUI, stop right now. Your medical career is over.

· In light of the above, even if you have had your juvenile records sealed, expunged, or sent to the Planet Zool, do a background check to make sure they’re really sealed. Not all of these things disappear, and if there’s any hint that you’re hiding something, you can be rejected, have your acceptance rescinded (it’s happened) or be expelled. Be truthful. You get a box to explain things. Explain well and OWN your transgressions; learn from them as well.

· If you have an institutional action (IA) for cheating, stop right now. Your medical career is over. Now, there's cheating and then there’s cheating. Plagiarism is not the same as merely forgetting some footnotes. Having someone take an exam for you is, well, lethal. Thus, a cheating IA means you should either find another career or first engage in 5-10 years of some honest, virtuous position of responsibility.

· Always have a backup plan. You should consider yourself rejected until you have an acceptance email in your Inbox, no matter how many wait lists you’re on.

· Know what's in your app. Do NOT lie. Do NOT embellish. If you did research, know what it was about.

· If you're still collecting LORs, simply ask "do you know me well enough to write me a good LOR for my med school app?"

· It's OK to have had a poor semester, or even a poor year, if you have overcome that with straight A’s since then. People believe in redemption, and let's face it, we like come from behind stories.

· This process is not a zero-sum game. If you have a 3.5 GPA, and your cousin Jane has a 3.7, you're still competitive. You're not competing for the same seat, just a seat.

One more thing about secondaries, I see these memes repeated all the time, and want to set some people straight.

Concerning the disadvantaged prompt, many people have terrible lives and childhoods. The essay is not meant to be a pissing contest for who had the worst life, but for those who were denied opportunities to have a decent secondary level education and were thus handicapped in their road to college, or at college.

So "Where do I apply?"
My rough rule of thumb:
MCAT > 517 and GPA > 3.7: anywhere.
GPA >3.5; MCAT <515: all except Harvard/Stanford class schools
GPA >3.4, MCAT <511: Drexel/Albany class schools.

Look up and use the LizzyM score, or consider WedgeDawg’s rubric:

WedgeDawg's Applicant Rating System (Updated Jan 2017)
MCAT <504: strongly suggest re-take. The minimum MCAT ideally should be 511.

The wise Gonnif has this wonderful summary about the application process. Take heed!

I am always utterly astounded by supposedly high achieving students who assume a self-imposed timetable for applying, do not understand the process well enough to realize how much time they need to complete finishing prereqs, MCAT prep, and filling out in a highly polished way, the AMCAS Primary Application and 10-25 additional secondary applications, the reality of the chances and competition that getting an acceptee truly is.

Here is my reasoning in outline form of what applicants should prioritize

Applying to Med School means:
*Illuminating your positives
*Minimizing your negatives
*Optimizing your chances with timing
*Reducing your risks
*Efficiency in doing your application
*Being the strongest first time applicant

The MCAT:
*Is weighted as much as GPA
*Should be considered at least a 6 credit course in time and work load
*Will stay with your forever
*Risk should be reduced by having the prereqs completed and sufficient time, energy, and focus to do well on it once

Filing out the Applications:
*is the AMCAS primary and 10-25 supplemental applications
*that need to be coherent, concise and compelling
*completed with high quality and in a highly polished way
*Has lengthy transcript entries, ECs and many, many multiple essays
*Should be considered a nearly full-time job from mid-May thru at least mid-August
*Be completed early in the cycle as to give applicants the most optimal timing

The data on applicants include:
*15 is the average number of applications
*40% with 3.8 GPA or higher don’t get an acceptance
*60% with 3.6-3.8 GPA don’t get an acceptance
*20% with MCAT 517 or higher dont get acceptance
*nearly 50% of matriculants get a single offer of acceptance
*So nearly 1/2 of acceptees have a 7% acceptance rate
*about 60% of matriculants took a gap year


Modified to:

Gonnif's New 10 Rules for Submission Hope and Interview Timeline
Rule 1: Take a Breath.
Rule 2: With a 40% overall acceptance rate, all applicants must assume they will be rejected
Rule 3: All applicants should assume that they will be a reapplicant and should continue to enhance their records from the moment they submit
Rule 4: About 25% of applicants each cycle have applied at least once before
Rule 5: About 40% of matriculants take the MCAT more than once
Rule 6: At each individual school, at least 80% of applicants must be rejected prior to interview
Rule 7: 40% of applicants with GPA 3.8 or higher do not get an acceptance, 60% with GPA 3.6-3.8 do not get an acceptance
Rule 8: Almost half of all matriculants get only a single acceptance; almost a quarter of all matriculants get only a single interview invite
Rule 9: Acceptances off the Waitlist will continue thru early August
and
Rule 10: Nothing has come to completion until the corpulent woman has vocalized musically (or something to that effect)

Therefore in priorities:
*Complete prereqs and focus on GPA before attempting MCAT
*Put nearly 100% time, energy and focus into MCAT for 6-12 weeks or more. Complete the MCAT before starting AMCAS, optimally before the application cycle begins
*Put nearly 100% of time, energy and focus into the actual applications
*Begin application prep weeks or months before they open (Jan of application year)

As data suggests, the majority of successful applicants took a gap year.
And to summarize:

*Invest in MSAR Online.
*Pay very careful attention to the IS/OOS ratios of schools, particularly, public ones.
*Pay very careful attention to the 10-90th %iles for stats.
*Do NOT use USN&WR rankings to pick a school list.
*Visit the Admissions websites of EVERY school you're interested in, and look at FAQs, requirements and mission statements.

Development of a core competencies that premeds need to use to guide their academic and experiential preparation

Admissions Lifecycle - Admissions - AAMC

Course Requirements | M.D. Admissions | Albert Einstein College of Medicine

https://wmpeople.wm.edu/asset/index/btsher/competenciesworksheet

Not to mention all the detailed school websites

Detailed core competencies of what will be expected as a medical student:

Einstein Educational Competencies | M.D. Program | Albert Einstein College of Medicine

https://www.aacom.org/docs/default-source/core-competencies/corecompetencyreport2012.pdf?sfvrsn=4

Clear, free and inexpensive guides of what schools are are looking for.

Medical School Admission Requirements®

2018 Osteopathic Medical College Information Book (CIB)

Not to mention all the detailed school websites

A detailed 125 page outline of what you need to know for the MCAT.

https://aamc-orange.global.ssl.fast...a-4c00-83dd-c17cee034c47/mcat2015-content.pdf

What's on the MCAT Exam?

Free data sources for applicants about applying, how medical students do, and even residency.

FACTS: Applicants, Matriculants, Enrollment, Graduates, MD/PhD, and Residency Applicants Data - Data and Analysis - AAMC

AACOM Reports

Main Residency Match Data and Reports - The Match, National Resident Matching Program

ACGME Data Resource Book

Not to mention all the detailed school websites

A detailed explanation of what letters of evaluation should contain.

https://www.aamc.org/download/349990/data/lettersguidelinesbrochure.pdf

Not to mention all the detailed school websites

A large array of free tutorials and tools explaining how all this works.

AMCAS® Tools and Tutorials

Again, special thanks to gonnif for all his hard work in compiling these!!!!


AFTER SUBMISSION

Reviews of applications are not necessarily reviewed in chronological order or invited for interview at time of review.

Superstars, linked programs, associated UG institutions, family of alumni, grads of feeder schools, legacies, URMs, people who meet the school’s mission, in-state residents for state schools, linked post-bac programs like SMPs, and other factors may push an app forward in the process.

When these get added up they essentially become your interview priority. So you may get reviewed in August but priority doesn’t get you invited until February (kudos to the wise gonnif for that).

And to all of you, good luck!

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I don't think there is a reason for SDN to exist anymore after this post.
 
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Members don't see this ad :)
I second the notion of knowing your research. I “looked over” the research I did 2 years before I got interviewed. I looked over it a couple of nights before my interview. The guy I interviewed with was a PhD who was ONLY interested in my research. *gulp* I had to pull from the dark recesses of my mind to answer some of the details he was asking. I was accepted but jeez that was terrifying.
 
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Love it. Thanks so much for taking the time to put this together.
 
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Thankfully done with applying but read this anyways. Full of wisdom and a great post (sticky please???). Thanks for taking the time to help so many of us out @Goro
 
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@Goro as always, thanks for this. And as always I am available to give guidance to veterans at any point in the process. Happy to help.
 
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Thank you for the help @Goro , I wish I had read this 4 years ago
 
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Thank you for sharing!
 
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Beautiful post! No doubt will prepare myself for 2019 application cycle using this!
 
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Amazing. Thank you sir @Goro!
I feel like Smeagol from LOTR everytime I read a new guide of yours.
 
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Well done!! @Goro (Though you still confirmed my scared ****less feeling as an applicant this cycle)

Lol, every new question from a new poster should just automatically be referred here by SDN. Would clean up so much space on the front page.
 
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Well done!! @Goro (Though you still confirmed my scared ****less feeling as an applicant this cycle)

Lol, every new question from a new poster should just automatically be referred here by SDN. Would clean up so much space on the front page.
Every new SDNers should be forced to read the stickies and FAQs. That would also save a lot of our time. There are some people out there who also have never heard of google.
 
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One thing I would also add: Spend as much time writing the big secondary essays (adversity, diversity, why this school) as you do your personal statement. Having really strong essays for those topics makes a world of difference.
 
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@Goro
What is average hours of ECs, research and shadowing hours for a successful applicant these days? I looked through sticky threads and couldn’t find it. Thanks!


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My ballpark estimates:
Shadowing: 50 hrs
Clinical experience: 100-150hrs +
Nonclinical volunteering: 100-150 hrs +
Research? That's hard to say, but my rough guess is a semester's worth of experience.

For the really top schools, I believe that the volunteering hrs should be double that.
 
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My ballpark estimates:
Shadowing: 50 hrs
Clinical experience: 100-150hrs +
Nonclinical volunteering: 100-150 hrs +
Research? That's hard to say, but my rough guess is a semester's worth of experience.

For the really top schools, I believe that the volunteering hrs should be double that.
thank you.
 
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My ballpark estimates:
Shadowing: 50 hrs
Clinical experience: 100-150hrs +
Nonclinical volunteering: 100-150 hrs +
Research? That's hard to say, but my rough guess is a semester's worth of experience.

For the really top schools, I believe that the volunteering hrs should be double that.

Does it look bad (i.e. like just trying to check off a box, not really committed) if a big chunk of my nonclinical volunteering hours were accumulated like in the past ~10 months before applying? It’s a weakness in my app that I tried to address sorta last minute

Also can service activities (marathons, park cleanups, etc) done for non-service orgs (pre-med orgs, honor societies, etc) be listed on the app? Like “Misc Service Activities” or something, bc I have probably 100 hours of that wracked up.
 
Does it look bad (i.e. like just trying to check off a box, not really committed) if a big chunk of my nonclinical volunteering hours were accumulated like in the past ~10 months before applying? It’s a weakness in my app that I tried to address sorta last minute

Also can service activities (marathons, park cleanups, etc) done for non-service orgs (pre-med orgs, honor societies, etc) be listed on the app? Like “Misc Service Activities” or something, bc I have probably 100 hours of that wracked up.
What were you doing prior to this time? Context is everything.
 
What were you doing prior to this time? Context is everything.

Most of my ECs are research and leadership related. Not sure if this helps, but some of my leadership activities were service-related (like volunteer coordinator for student orgs, things like that)
 
Most of my ECs are research and leadership related. Not sure if this helps, but some of my leadership activities were service-related (like volunteer coordinator for student orgs, things like that)
I suggest a maximizing whatever time you have for volunteer experiences. No more research. Have you shadowed?
 
I suggest a maximizing whatever time you have for volunteer experiences. No more research. Have you shadowed?

Ok got it thanks! Yes I have about 50 hours but it’s all from last summer shadowing the same physician (internal medicine), is it worth doing more or shadowing other specialties?
 
Thank you so much, @Goro , for this comprehensive post. I've already shared it with several 2020 applicants as a definitive guide.

Obviously, you can't cover everything in one post, but one point that I think bears emphasizing is the cost of applying (really, from MCAT prep through the end of application season). I was woefully unprepared for the costs involved in this process, and I know I'm not the only one who had to limit her application numbers due to running out of funds. I recently advised an applicant planning for next year to budget $3000 to $5000 for the entire process, depending on the number of schools to which she applies. I realize that several thousand dollars is a drop in the bucket for some applicants, or their parents, but for those of us who are footing the bill ourselves, it's not insignificant. And the FAP isn't helpful for middle-class working folks---and the requirement to include your parents' income is totally irrelevant to non-trads who've been financial independent for (ahem) 15 years.
 
Thank you so much, @Goro , for this comprehensive post. I've already shared it with several 2020 applicants as a definitive guide.

Obviously, you can't cover everything in one post, but one point that I think bears emphasizing is the cost of applying (really, from MCAT prep through the end of application season). I was woefully unprepared for the costs involved in this process, and I know I'm not the only one who had to limit her application numbers due to running out of funds. I recently advised an applicant planning for next year to budget $3000 to $5000 for the entire process, depending on the number of schools to which she applies. I realize that several thousand dollars is a drop in the bucket for some applicants, or their parents, but for those of us who are footing the bill ourselves, it's not insignificant. And the FAP isn't helpful for middle-class working folks---and the requirement to include your parents' income is totally irrelevant to non-trads who've been financial independent for (ahem) 15 years.
I believe that it is the responsibility for students to understand what they are getting into, and that includes the logistics of the app process
 
Damn, Goro is like the best parent who wants their kids to succeed! What a true doctor? This really made me speechless.


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are we gonna get a 2019 update?
 
That late really? Excellent. Looks like I'll be pushing back my MCAT....
I am going to add my opinion on this if you are applying in Texas...And yeah, we always have to be different.

For the EY 2018 application season, 70% of TMDSAS applicants submitted a complete application (and that includes an MCAT score) by July 31.
Those guys got 90% of the interviews. It pays to be early in Texas!
 

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Goro! This post is amazing! Would you mind looking over the school list I posted earlier?

So "Where do I apply?"
My rough rule of thumb:
MCAT > 517 and GPA > 3.7: anywhere.
GPA >3.5; MCAT <515: all except Harvard/Stanford class schools
GPA >3.4, MCAT <511: Drexel/Albany class schools.

I was wondering for this rough rule of thumb what the harvard/stanford class schools are? Also, would there be exceptions to this rule of thumb applying to URM? Thank you for your help!
 
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