Oct 20, 2014
10
2
Status
Medical Student
Hello everyone,

I applied to many US schools last year without much success. I was lucky enough to get into a great school in my own country (Canada) and I am very happy there (and endlessly grateful for my acceptance). However the defeat on the US front left me wondering about the value of my application. I am simply trying to understand with humility what I could've done better/differently. Please note that I only applied to top US schools (I applied to all tiers in Canada). So I am basically asking the question: "What was I missing to get into Harvard or any other top school?"

Your input is greatly appreciated!

Here are my stats:
GPA: 3.80 (3.76 at time of application).
MCAT: 34 (with equal scores)
ECs: Research in 5 different labs (mostly neuro), hired as an undergrad to TA a 200-level uni class (received an award for it), local volunteer 3 years at a suicide hotline (interventions and training new counselors), work with suicide attempt survivors in the hospital, 2 medical/teaching humanitarian missions (Africa and South Am), previous work as dance teacher with professional company and lifeguard/teaching swimming to special needs children. Also involved within uni clubs and peer tutoring in CEGEP. I have won 7 times the writing competition in my high school and am also a black belt in Karate and was competitive synchronized swimmer in my teens with a national gold medal (if that matters - I was much younger for these).

Possible explanations:
1) My grades and/or MCAT just weren't high enough to really make them consider me given that I'm an international (well Canadian) applicant. I did have some hardships to explain the slightly lower than required GPA (very sick mother for the most part) but I didn't use them and didn't do any "underprivileged" or "adversity" letters because I wasn't sure that that was the kind of hardship that they considered valid (as opposed to lower socio/econ background etc.).
2) I didn't have some of the requisite expository writing/english classes. I majored in PHGY and minored in NSCI but dropped the minor in my final year to do 2 poli-sci classes and a research project instead. The minor didn't let me do research. Ultimately that means only 2 classes out of my entire degree were non-science, but I went to CEGEP and did college-level English, Poli-Sci and Humanities there (basically the equivalent of freshman year).
3) Ref letters: I thought they were good. I got some from Harvard and UCSF alumni who taught or supervised me as well, the CEO of a fortune 500 company for whom I worked for, the volunteer coordinator I'd known for years as well as some profs with whom I had a great relationship in CEGEP. I thought the more "high profile" ones knew enough about me not to write generic things, but maybe I was wrong?
4) Poor application letters? I somehow doubt that this is why given that the people who reviewed my letter told me this was one of the best they'd read before and writing has been a strong point for me, more than science actually!

Finally, anyone know how receptive these top schools are to providing feedback?

TL;DR -> Canadian applicant. Did not get into any top US school. What was I missing?
 
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AspiringERMD

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If you only applied to top schools, your MCAT is slightly on the low side, too. Also, don't Canadian applicants have a hard time getting into US schools anyway? I don't know much about it, but I believe I've read that somewhere.
 
OP
C
Oct 20, 2014
10
2
Status
Medical Student
Yeah well it's harder for an out-of state student but often out-of-state and Canadian are pooled in the same category (or so I heard). Also, average accepted MCAT for top schools is 34-36 so I figured I was in the range but as a Canadian I might've need a couple more points..?
 

gyngyn

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You would have been a modest candidate for "top" schools even as a US citizen.
Heck, twice the number of CA applicants would not even get into any CA school with your ap (compared to IS accepted)!
 
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OP
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Oct 20, 2014
10
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Medical Student
You would have been a modest candidate for "top" schools even as a US citizen.
Heck, twice the number of CA applicants would not even get into any CA school with your ap!
Ouch! What part of my app would make you say that?
 

gyngyn

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Ouch! What part of my app would make you say that?
All of it: stats, EC's.
We had dozens of lovely applicants holding no acceptances with stats better than yours last year.
Don't get me wrong, your ap looks good. Good applications can still go nowhere depending on state of residence (or lack thereof).
 
OP
C
Oct 20, 2014
10
2
Status
Medical Student
All of it: stats, EC's.
We had dozens of lovely applicants holding no acceptances with stats better than yours last year.
Don't get me wrong, your ap looks good. Good applications can still go nowhere depending on state of residence (or lack thereof).
I see. Thank you for your honesty! I do count myself as very lucky to have gotten in and I agree that my there was room of improvement in my grades. What could've been stronger about my EC's? I was told that I had stronger than average EC's quite often.. I know that I have no publications (although I have one now) and there are probably other flaws. What else, if you don't mind me insisting?
 

gyngyn

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I see. Thank you for your honesty! I do count myself as very lucky to have gotten in and I agree that my there was room of improvement in my grades. What could've been stronger about my EC's? I was told that I had stronger than average EC's quite often.. I know that I have no publications (although I have one now) and there are probably other flaws. What else, if you don't mind me insisting?
It's not that your application has serious flaws, but rather that in the stratification of thousands of candidates, yours is not likely to rise to the point of interview given the risk associated with your international status.
 
OP
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Oct 20, 2014
10
2
Status
Medical Student
It's not that your application has serious flaws, but rather that in the stratification of thousands of candidates, yours is not likely to rise to the point of interview given the risk associated with your international status.
Ah, I understand.. So there is the need for very exceptional stats and ECs to be of interest to these schools as an international applicant, and my application was not at that level. That makes sense. Thank you for explaining!
 
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zzxxzz

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So I am basically asking the question: "What was I missing to get into Harvard or any other top school?"
Low MCAT, low GPA, weak ECs (for a top school). While you were a very good applicant in general, you would've been overall below average in pretty much every category for a top program, even if you were a US citizen.
 
OP
C
Oct 20, 2014
10
2
Status
Medical Student
Low MCAT, low GPA, weak ECs (for a top school). While you were a very good applicant in general, you would've been overall below average in pretty much every category for a top program, even if you were a US citizen.
So what would be considered strong ECs? (or stronger in my case?)
 

zzxxzz

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So what would be considered strong ECs? (or stronger in my case?)
For a top school? Awesome things that the average applicant couldn't/wouldn't do:
- Publication(s). My buddy at Harvard published 4 times as an undergrad, both in clinical and bench work.
- Serious research. Not saying yours wasn't as you didn't give details, but everyone knows there's research and then there's Research, with a capital R. My friends at Harvard, Mayo, and Case all did Research.
- Significant direct patient care experience.
- Unusual/special ECs.


Again, you didn't have a weak app by any means. But the people getting into these programs aren't mere mortals...
 
OP
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Oct 20, 2014
10
2
Status
Medical Student
For a top school? Awesome things that the average applicant couldn't/wouldn't do:
- Publication(s). My buddy at Harvard published 4 times as an undergrad, both in clinical and bench work.
- Serious research. Not saying yours wasn't as you didn't give details, but everyone knows there's research and then there's Research, with a capital R. My friends at Harvard, Mayo, and Case all did Research.
- Significant direct patient care experience.
- Unusual/special ECs.


Again, you didn't have a weak app by any means. But the people getting into these programs aren't mere mortals...
I see. Thanks for putting it into more concrete measures! I definitely think my weak point was publications (none at time of application)

To clarify a bit my ECs: I think I did have significant patient care exposure (I've intervened with over 200 "patients" on the suicide help line and was in charge of the follow up for about 50 heavy psych cases for a clinical study). I also like to think I did serious research (1 year + project with 20-30 hours/week in the lab, full time summer work, etc) and these led to 2 publications (one clinical, one fundamental) currently under review and 2 posters but a bit too late.

Of course I know that my app was far from perfect. I don't consider myself God-like or anywhere near that in terms of apps (that kind of ego would be worrying...) and getting even an interview at one of these legendary schools would've been a blessing and a shock.

Thank you all for the very precise feedback. If one wants to improve, one has to know where to start ;)
 

zzxxzz

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To clarify a bit my ECs: I think I did have significant patient care exposure (I've intervened with over 200 "patients" on the suicide help line and was in charge of the follow up for about 50 heavy psych cases for a clinical study).
You'd be surprised at how many applicants work on suicide hotlines. The issue is that you don't "get your hands dirty." It's definitely clinical work, but not quite the same as changing bedpans, cleaning catheters/stomas, drawing blood, etc.


I also like to think I did serious research (1 year + project with 20-30 hours/week in the lab, full time summer work, etc) and these led to 2 publications (one clinical, one fundamental) currently under review and 2 posters but a bit too late.
To clarify, the "seriousness" of research doesn't depend on the commitment as much as the complexity of the work/level of involvement. We had a student in my lab who worked full time or overtime for two years...but basically all he did was run gels and do what he was told to do.
 
OP
C
Oct 20, 2014
10
2
Status
Medical Student
You'd be surprised at how many applicants work on suicide hotlines. The issue is that you don't "get your hands dirty." It's definitely clinical work, but not quite the same as changing bedpans, cleaning catheters/stomas, drawing blood, etc.
I might be biased (or lack exposure) given that I haven't met anyone else in med who has done that kind of work and my talking about these experiences is usually met with a lot of disbelief that I did that.. but then again I know that I've only seen a minimal portion of the med applicants! I haven't gotten "dirty" in the hospital; interviewing psychiatric cases and doing some shadowing in a rural clinic was as close as I got... That is a pretty big flaw now that I think about it.


To clarify, the "seriousness" of research doesn't depend on the commitment as much as the complexity of the work/level of involvement. We had a student in my lab who worked full time or overtime for two years...but basically all he did was run gels and do what he was told to do.
You make a very good point. I am proud to say that I did the kind that teaches you how to research (capital R) and not the work that turns you into a very good automated western blot machine or something of the sort. My last experience was with a new prof (untenured): small lab, lots of responsibilities. I was given a few projects to run on my own from start to finish. By the end, he also had me design and optimize protocols for new techniques - it was all work with neurons, very delicate and frustrating. I did surgeries, dissections, imaging, culture, FACS scanning, behaviour, etc, etc. . Definitely learnt a lot..

Anyway. I guess now it's time to focus more on residency apps.. I've got four years to become a bit more superhuman! :)
 
OP
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Oct 20, 2014
10
2
Status
Medical Student
I've been a faculty member and visiting professor at plenty of places where I never got an interview!
That's quite inspiring! I do hope that I can be like that too.. I want to be competent more than I want a specific name or school on my diploma.
 
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zzxxzz

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I might be biased (or lack exposure) given that I haven't met anyone else in med who has done that kind of work
What I described is what a CNA does. Not sure how similar things are in Canada but it's a single week of training in my state; blood draws, meds, injections, etc, are another (optional) week. Only requirement is a GED, ability to lift a decent amount of weight, and a passed drug screen. Know several people who worked as CNAs, including myself ;) Some jobs are basically charting positions in hospitals, others are daily care in nursing homes/hospices.

As a side note, it's a great clinical opportunity for any premed student. Very easy - practically disturbingly easy - to get a job with no experience. Lots of premeds fight for (and then get fired from) scribe jobs, but getting a CNA license is easy and instructive. But I think you're right, surprisingly few people actually go for it.
 
OP
C
Oct 20, 2014
10
2
Status
Medical Student
What I described is what a CNA does. Not sure how similar things are in Canada but it's a single week of training in my state; blood draws, meds, injections, etc, are another (optional) week. Only requirement is a GED, ability to lift a decent amount of weight, and a passed drug screen. Know several people who worked as CNAs, including myself ;) Some jobs are basically charting positions in hospitals, others are daily care in nursing homes/hospices.

As a side note, it's a great clinical opportunity for any premed student. Very easy - practically disturbingly easy - to get a job with no experience. Lots of premeds fight for (and then get fired from) scribe jobs, but getting a CNA license is easy and instructive. But I think you're right, surprisingly few people actually go for it.
I meant more for the suicide hotline (never met another med student who did it) but as well for the CNT, I don't think it is as standardized in Canada.. at least CNA isn't widespread in Quebec as far as I know. We do have some people who volunteered with EMTs however. Often hospital volunteering is quite passive (keeping company to patients, distributing food, helping at meal times) and at times barely involves any patient contact at all. I would've loved to do something like CNA!
 

Catalystik

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What was I missing?
If you look at the mission statements of schools like Harvard they say something like, they want to "create and nurture a diverse community of the best people committed to leadership in alleviating human suffering . . .". Did you list a substantial peer leadership activity that gives evidence of that potential?
 
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sat0ri

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What I described is what a CNA does. Not sure how similar things are in Canada but it's a single week of training in my state; blood draws, meds, injections, etc, are another (optional) week. Only requirement is a GED, ability to lift a decent amount of weight, and a passed drug screen. Know several people who worked as CNAs, including myself ;) Some jobs are basically charting positions in hospitals, others are daily care in nursing homes/hospices.

As a side note, it's a great clinical opportunity for any premed student. Very easy - practically disturbingly easy - to get a job with no experience. Lots of premeds fight for (and then get fired from) scribe jobs, but getting a CNA license is easy and instructive. But I think you're right, surprisingly few people actually go for it.
Hm you seem to have some insight on this scribe thing:
Is there a high turn-over rate, and if so, how high and why?
Do you think the experience is less valuable or even valueless? Previously, I heard it's one of the golden jobs for pre-meds.
 

zzxxzz

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Is there a high turn-over rate, and if so, how high and why?
Depends where you work, but yes, it's high. Two reasons:

1) Lots of incompetent scribes. As a scribe, you basically either "get it" or don't. You have to simultaneously listen to and accurately write down a large amount of information in often a very short period of time; sometimes exams take less than a minute. It's a very high-competition, high-responsibility job, so if you aren't a good scribe, you will quickly be replaced. Working in the ED can be chaotic, so I'd recommend starting in another dept if that's an option. Pay very close attention during training.

2) This is from my personal experience, but I have also heard this from people who work for other companies: scheduling inflexibility can be a huge factor. You have a med school interview two months out and want to not work that day? Some chief scribes will say "well, you're scheduled to work, so you'll be here." Again, this depends on where you work, but we once had 6 scribes quit in 6 months due to complaints about scheduling. That's basically a entire department's worth for a smaller dept. Just make sure your chief scribe understands you're a premed student and have other (higher) priorities. When a clinic runs over, you're staying, and that can mean a 4 hour shift turns into 6 hours. Also, again, if you work in the ED, prepare for late nights.

Finally, some small reasons:
- The pay sucks. It's generally minimum wage w/o overtime, often w/o meal breaks; you get a formal "lunch," etc, but you'll work through it 90% of the time (which is true of literally every medical job, but still...)
- You're basically at the mercy of the provider, some of whom can be very difficult to work with. Some physicians are very nice and helpful; some are gruff and unresponsive.

Do you think the experience is less valuable or even valueless? Previously, I heard it's one of the golden jobs for pre-meds.
Definitely not valueless. It's basically paid shadowing, and gives good experience in EPIC/whatever program is being used. You also learn a ton.

Wouldn't call it "golden" because, again, it's basically paid shadowing. You have zero actual patient interaction, zero patient care, etc. You're basically a passive observer to the exam.

It is a nice view into the medical system, though. You will likely work with PAs and perhaps NPs, so you can see how they work compared to physicians.
 
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Low MCAT, low GPA, weak ECs (for a top school). While you were a very good applicant in general, you would've been overall below average in pretty much every category for a top program, even if you were a US citizen.
There are many top programs where a 34 MCAT and a 3.8 GPA are not "below average."
 

zzxxzz

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There are many top programs where a 34 MCAT and a 3.8 GPA are not "below average."
Other than Mayo, name ONE.

Let's actually look at the data. Medians from MSAR:

Harvard: 37, 3.9
Stanford: 37, 3.9
Hopkins: 36, 3.9
Penn: 38, 3.9
San Fran: 36, 3.9
WashU: 38, 3.9
Yale: 37, 3.9
Columbia: 38, 3.8
Duke: 36, 3.9
Chicago: 37, 3.9
Case: 36, 3.8
Northwestern: 36, 3.9
Cornell: 36, 3.9
Michigan: 36, 3.8
Vandy: 36, 3.9
Pitt: 36, 3.9
NYU: 36, 3.9
Mt. Sinai: 37, 3.9

See a trend? Yes, people get accepted with lower stats, but for a top, top program, a 34/3.8 isn't great.