Science Now goes to med school

I know that it may seem strange giving advice about applying to medical school while I am only halfway through the process, but I figured I had better give it before senility creeps in and I forget what I wanted to say.

Honestly though, even at this point there are many things that I wish I had done differently, and, having recognized them too late to do me any good, hope that this information will be helpful to some. Today I’ll focus on the primary application; later I may follow up with information about taking MCATs, secondary applications (when I finish them), and interviews (when I start getting them).

The primary application is the first step in applying to almost every school. It is done through the American Medical College Application Service, or AMCAS. This is a common application, and the same information will be sent to every school you apply to.

The AMCAS application becomes available on June 1 the year before your enrollment year; so for the entering class of 2010, it will be available June 1, 2009. Medical school admissions are almost all rolling, so the best thing you can do is submit your AMCAS application as early as possible. Shoot for June 2. Seriously!

There is a long processing time between when you submit the application and when it is verified and passed on to your schools. If you wait too long the processing time can take up to six weeks, but if you submit in the first few days it will probably take less than a week.

There are two things that will likely hold you up in the primary application: getting your transcripts in, and writing your personal statement.

You’ll need to send a transcript from every undergraduate institution you have attended (with the exception of some study abroad programs). Send these in as soon as your spring semester grades are all in. That way your application will be complete as soon as you submit it.

By far the hardest part of the primary application is the personal statement. It is only 5,300 characters, that’s about one typed single spaced page. This is the actual prompt:

“Use the space provided to explain why you want to go to medical school.”

Very direct! If you do really want to go to medical school, this should really be the easiest question to answer, but the hardest essay to write. I agonized over writing this. You know why you want to go to medical school. It’s just so hard to articulate in a way that is comfortable — you feel the need to be impressive but don’t want to brag. You want to articulate that you have considered very thoroughly your decision, but you don’t want to come across as having doubted it. The crux is that you are expected to have taken a critical look at your desire to go to medical school, without sounding like you were ever really in doubt.

It is an issue of balance. The solution is if you have had a defining moment when your interest turned to medicine, by all means, start there. But that can’t be all. From there explain everything that you have done to be absolutely sure of your decision.

If your numbers (MCAT scores and GPA) are lower than most, or if there are any big gaps in your academic record, then your personal statement is the place to explain why.

Try to write your personal statement after classes end in May, and have a few people look at it before June. Start thinking about what is going to be in your personal statement now; it is a great way to take a critical look at your desire to go to medical school.

Finally, a place on the application where I didn’t expect to be snagged was the work/activities section. The maximum number of entries is 15, so it really shouldn’t be a problem fitting everything important in. What threw me off is the area they give you for a brief description of the activity. I was surprised by how much space they give: 1325 characters. That’s about a fifth of a page.

I chose not to use this space, I didn’t want to try to embellish on or add commentary over every work experience and activity. Instead I described everything accurately and succinctly, expanded in places where it came naturally, and hoped my activities would speak for themselves. I’m not sure if this is a good approach, but will find out when I go up for interviews.

If you have any more questions, please e-mail me at Thanks for reading!


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