This might sound corny, but you should view the medical school admissions process as a love affair – a committed declaration of your passion for medicine and/or a medical school.
How do most love affairs begin?
These days, it often happens on dating apps, with people swiping through endless options of suitable bachelors and bachelorettes. Up to their standards? You get swiped right and stored for later. Not up to snuff? You’re swiped left and jettisoned into the cloud, never to be heard from again.
In a way, your GPA and MCAT are like the dating app’s algorithm – certain data that helps filter down all the acceptable “matches” for medical schools. So these need to be good/high enough for you to even show up on their radar.
Unfortunately, the average GPA and MCAT have risen recently and made the “algorithm” even more stringent.
In case you’re curious, the final date to take the MCAT without delaying your application is May 24th (assuming an AMCAS submission day of May 30th).
Recommended Reading on GPA and MCAT:
On these dating profiles, there are usually a handful of photos, featuring the eligible suitors engaged in their favorite activities, along with some basic info about work experience, hobbies, interests, and quirks. You can think of these as your Work and Activities Section – a brief but important glimpse into your qualifications and distinct traits as a candidate.
Besides basic demographic info and the Disadvantaged/Institutional Action essays (more on those later), the Work and Activities Section is the first thing medical schools will read on your AMCAS application. That’s right – it comes before the Personal Statement – so it’s your chance to make a good first impression.
You’ll have up to 15 spots for your Work and Activities, with 700 characters to describe each entry. You can write these 700-character descriptions as paragraphs or bullet points.
If we’re thinking of this as your dating profile, you should have two main goals:
* Be clear and considerate of the reader’s time
Imagine reading a dating profile with lots of typos, confusing language, strange timelines, etc. You’d be likely to pass, even if they seem interesting, because they don’t seem to have their life together.
* Show yourself as qualified and distinct
Most online daters have a set of criteria that their potential partners must meet, such as a steady job, a social life, adult responsibilities, etc, but they’re also looking beyond those prerequisites to see if you stand out from the thousands of other possible choices. So you’ll want a balance of traditional pre-med activities and atypical, interesting experiences.
Congrats – you’ve been swiped right and are a potential match! Things are really heating up on the MedSwipe App.
On dating apps, a match is usually followed by some chatting via text message, where people ask each other questions to learn more about the jobs, hobbies, and activities listed in the profile. If the chats go well, it’ll be time for the first date. You can think of these chats as your Most Meaningful Essays.
On Coffee Meets Bagel, the app prompts people to ask their matches about certain parts of their lives: “Jennifer spent a year in Tibet – ask her about it!”
Your choice to go on a date with Jennifer will likely result from how interesting her response is. The trip to Tibet is nice, but the insights attached to it are what will separate her from the thousands of other world travelers on Coffee Meets Bagel.
So, the way you discuss your activities MATTERS. People want their life partners to have passion, and medical schools feel the same way about you as a candidate. Like crafting your dating profile, writing a Most Meaningful is an art. The three Most Meaningful essays let you exhibit certain chapters in your life and explain their importance to your growth and development.
From your 15 activities, you’ll choose three to give the Most Meaningful distinction, and each will get 1325 characters to explain its significance. Like the activity descriptions, these should ideally have a mix of traditional qualifications (clinical volunteering, research, etc) and unique involvements (improv comedy troupe, art therapy program creator, etc).
If the medical schools like your stories, they’ll keep reading (or invite you for a first, second, third, and fourth date). They’ll be curious to find out more about your potential compatibility. You’ll have piqued their interest about what lies beneath your profile.
If you’ve gone on a few dates with someone and you’ve made a connection, there’s a pretty good chance he or she will hit you with some “real talk.” Maybe he or she has a kid, or just got out of a long relationship, or is trying to quit smoking. Perhaps he or she made some mistakes in the past, has a troubled background, or has some kind of record with the authorities.
During these moments of “real talk,” things can go one of two ways:
* You’ll admire your date for his or her honesty and appreciate the way he or she has reformed. Based on the facts and subsequent actions, you’ll be able to see the way that he or she has changed. Hopefully you’ll also be assured that these past transgressions will not recur down the road.
* Your date’s explanation will come off as a red flag. He or she will not sound remorseful, and there may even be some resentment or entitlement. You won’t get much sense of how your date has changed since the incident, and you’ll now see him or her as a serious liability.
First impressions can be impossible to recover from.
When medical schools read your Institutional Action Essays (optional), you want them to have the first reaction. In this essay, you’ll have 1325 characters to describe any “institutional action” against you, which includes both conduct violations and academic probation. Your goal is to be honest, take ownership of the mistake, and present ways that you’ve improved or rectified the situation.
The Disadvantaged Essay is a little different, but it still definitely counts as “real talk.” It’s 1325 characters and optional as well. Usually disadvantaged candidates are viewed positively by medical schools, but that doesn’t mean you can just write whatever you want. Sure, there’s less risk than the Disciplinary Essay, but your narrative can still be interpreted in different ways, both good and bad.
Think about it – if your date shared his or her past hardships, how would you react? It depends, right? Do they let the facts speak for themselves, or do they editorialize and dramatize the situation? Does it sound like they’ve processed the past events or does it sound like they’re still working through them? Is it primarily a “woe is me” tale, or is it presented as an important life lesson with personal growth?
You can find examples of both types of essays in our guide to the Personal Statement and Essay Prompts 2020: AMCAS, AACOMAS, and TMDSAS.
If done poorly, both forms of “real talk” can sink your chances of dating your love interest in the long-term. But if done well, these narratives can actually make you MORE attractive.
Same goes for your application to medical school. Keep playing your cards right, and maybe the two of you can “go steady.”
Okay – you’ve been on a few dates at this point. The medical schools have learned a lot about your activities, your major involvements, and even your mistakes and failures along the way.
If they’ve arrived at your Personal Statement and they’re still interested, congrats. That’s a big step in the right direction. In dating terms, the medical schools are at that point where they’re considering whether they should introduce you to their friends and parents. They’re wondering if you’re as special as you seem, or if you’ve just done a good job of putting on airs. They like you, but they want some deeper affirmation before they commit to you in the long term.
The Personal Statement is where you can bring everything together – your profile, your activities, your background and life events. In a sense, the Personal Statement puts everything in context and helps the separate aspects of your narrative to synergize.
It boils down to this: Now that you know a bit more about me, let me explain how it all fits into my dream to become a physician. In dating terms, this is the moment when you’re most on trial. Sure, you seem to have a good personality, but do you have your life together? Do you have dreams? Do you have a concrete plan? Do you have what it takes to meet your goals? Have you taken steps towards it? Is it clearly and unequivocally the right path for you?
Imagine you’re meeting your date’s parents and you have dreams of entering the circus. How can you describe that aspiration in a way where they’ll take you seriously? Your audience of medical schools will be just as skeptical about your dreams as a doctor, so you have to leave them with no doubt. Yes, I am “the one” for your son or daughter, and no one else. Yes, without question, I am “the one” for medicine and your school.
Simple, right? No. Like real relationships, a personal statement requires consistent effort and constant revision.
Okay, so your date has decided that you’re eligible. You’re qualified. You have what it takes as his or her potential suitor. That’s just half the battle.
Now you have to write him or her love letters and whisper sweet nothings until he or she falls hopelessly in love. And that’s where the Secondary Essays come in. They’re the essays that medical schools send you to complete once you’ve turned in the AMCAS.
Sure, you could follow the obligatory formula for love and affection – sending flowers or chocolates, buying jewelry, offering a Hallmark card with a cheesy message. But that won’t exactly make your date feel special, right?
Don’t be “that guy.” Don’t disappoint your medical schools.
Same goes for secondaries. Although you’ll DEFINITELY want to reuse your secondary essay material across schools (since the schools ask similar questions), you’ll want to put forth enough effort to make the schools feel special.
Remember giving Valentines to your peers in elementary school? You probably gave all the special ones to people you liked, and saved the repeats for people you felt lukewarm about. Medical schools will be able to tell if you’ve given them one of the repeat Valentines, so at the very least, you’ll need to gussy it up differently each time.
In order to be truly thoughtful, you’ll need to take inventory of the schools’ values, their offerings, their ongoing programs and research, so that you can show that you really love them and aren’t just playing games.
There’s data out there that claims that one out of four women have turned down a marriage proposal at some point in their lives.
Okay, so let’s say that, roughly, there’s a 75% chance that the person will say yes to your proposal. That’s pretty dang good odds, especially considering your generally low chances of compatibility upon first meeting.
The interview is like this. Once you’ve gotten the interview with a school, your chances of acceptance skyrocket from about 2 or 3% to upwards of 40, 50, or even 60%. It makes sense. They have found you attractive enough to invite you across the country for a special little chat. They’re already pretty keen to you. So now you’ve just got to avoid saying the wrong things or botching your proposal.
According to the Bustle article, the 25% of women who rejected marriage proposals claim that they thought the proposal was poorly done, or not specially crafted for them, or that the person wasn’t serious or committed enough for the long term.
That’s why you prepare ahead of time for an interview, just like a marriage proposal. It’s not to be taken lightly, and you can’t effectively “wing it.” You’ll need to practice so that you can avoid red flags and create such a strong impression that they just can’t say “no.”
Like a proposal, you have to make the interview a moment that medical schools will truly remember (and cherish forever? Haha okay, let’s not get carried away!).
Last year, the AMCAS changed its “traffic rules,” its set of guidelines for declaring your intent and eventually selecting schools to attend.
The traffic rules are overly complicated, like some marriages, which is why we wrote a comprehensive guide about the subject.
Come April and May, you’ll need to comply with certain dates and deadlines for two separate distinctions: “Plan to Enroll” and “Commit to Enroll.”
But once all the logistics are addressed and the dust clears, you’ll be able to enjoy a honeymoon period with your school of choice, including move-in day, orientations, and of course, the first day of fall classes.
Will you find your match on MedSwipe? Can you convince medical schools to swipe right and give you a chance? Take it one step at a time, and play your cards right, and you’ll be destined for true love.
Was this guide useful? Still have questions about the application process? Let us know in the comments and we’ll respond personally!