Most mistakes are irritating at worst, such as accidentally sending a package to your former address or forgetting to charge your phone. Such slip-ups don’t typically lead to serious consequences. You learn from what you did wrong, then take measures to ensure it doesn’t happen again.
Missteps during the medical school application process are a little more worrisome. You spent a lot of time building your resume and studying hard to perform well in your classes, so you don’t want to do something that could hinder your chances of getting accepted.
We looked to some experts to dish on the mistakes too many medical school applicants make. Their advice could help you with everything from selecting schools to gearing up for interviews. Make sure you avoid these common mistakes.
9 Medical school application mistakes to avoid
1. Limiting your school selection too much
Word of mouth can be very useful for determining whether a school provides a good education, but you still need to do your research. Joseph Franza, associate director of admissions at St. George’s University, mentions prospective students sometimes discount a school based on one negative comment before fully investigating it.
“They don’t actually apply to all the programs that could be a really good fit for them,” he says. You could end up missing out on a research opportunity or dual degree that aligns with your career goals.
"They don’t actually apply to all the programs that could be a really good fit for them."
A similar problem is framing your entire application to please a single medical program. Your dream school might emphasize extracurricular activities and volunteer experience, but you’ll be sending out a significant number of applications.
“Another school may say, ‘Yes, those things are great, but you need to make sure you meet these GPA requirements,’” Franza explains.
Some applicants even make the mistake of sending out too few applications. Keep in mind that US medical school hopefuls who were interested in starting during the 2018–2019 school year submitted an average of 16 applications. You’re much better off keeping an open mind and applying broadly.
2. Assuming you’re a highly competitive medical school applicant
Admission to medical school continues to become more difficult. The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) reports the total number of applicants increased from 42,231 for the 2008–2009 school year to 52,777 for the 2018–2019 year, but the number of seats offered has not seen a corresponding increase. This should make you think carefully about how you stack up against other applicants.
Franza says some prospective students have a tendency to think they’re more competitive than they really are. Perhaps you tell yourself that one bad semester is no big deal, but it could matter significantly to admissions committees. “It’s just a matter of how much they let their grades suffer,” Franza explains.
3. Writing a bland personal statement
Your personal statement is the first opportunity to share something meaningful with the people evaluating your application. Simply repeating experiences you’ve already listed on your resume or sticking to a generic outline won’t cut it.
"Don’t start with a cookie-cutter formula."
“Don’t start with a cookie-cutter formula,” suggests Kim Lifton, President of Wow Writing Workshop, and someone who has helped many medical students craft their essays. “Start by answering this question: ‘What do I want to share with the medical school admissions committee that they will not know from the rest of my application?’”
Think critically about which stories you choose to include when writing your personal statement or any other essays. Lifton says they should demonstrate why you would be a good doctor and how certain qualities make you unique.
4. Making excuses
Very few students have a spotless resume, so there’s no need to be embarrassed about imperfections. That said, you need to take responsibility for that bad grade or short-lived volunteer experience.
"They don’t want to hear you referencing excuses."
“Medical schools want to see the positive trends and experiences you can bring to the table,” Franza says. “They don’t want to hear you referencing excuses.”
5. Trying to be somebody you’re not
Admissions committees can struggle to see distinctions when wading through so many applications. You might be tempted to make yourself stand out by writing a personal statement you think they want to read, but you should never misrepresent yourself. “Don’t try to be anyone you are not,” Lifton advises.
There’s a way for everyone to express themselves in writing. Just think about who you are, your defining traits. How would your best friend describe you? “If you are creative, then be creative. If you are serious, then be serious,” Lifton advises. “Write in your own voice, using your own words and style.”
"Write in your own voice, using your own words and style."
6. Taking interviews for granted
You should applaud yourself if you get invited for one or more interviews, because medical schools are often very selective about how many invitations they extend. This also means you need to take preparation seriously.
“A lot of undergraduate universities offer mock interviews and things of that nature,” Franza says. Taking advantage of practice interviews can help you become more confident when speaking about your experiences.
You might not have access to the same structured interview preparation programs that undergraduates do if you’ve been out of school for a few years, but you should still do your best to get ready. Franza suggests searching online for some common interview questions, then practicing your answers in front of a mirror.
Lastly, you need to make sure you get off on the right foot for the actual interview. Dressing sloppily, avoiding eye contact, and arriving late are all examples of major mistakes some medical school applicants make. “It just doesn’t come off professionally if those things are happening,” Franza says.
7. Failing to fully research schools
While you may be traveling to a certain medical school specifically for the interview, you should use the opportunity to learn everything you can about the program. “Try to speak with students and graduates, because that’s how you know what you’re getting yourself into,” Franza says. This strategy can help you learn specifics you won’t read about elsewhere.
"Try to speak with students and graduates, because that’s how you know what you’re getting yourself into."
And don’t forget to do your research before you step foot on campus. Franza says some applicants simply don’t study the medical school enough prior to attending an interview. A lack of knowledge might make you stand out, but certainly not in a positive way.
8. Not acquiring enough experience
Even if you have a 4.0 GPA and outperformed all your peers on the MCAT, you still need to round out your application with plenty of experiences. U.S. New & World Report explains medical schools want to see that you’ve demonstrated an interest in medicine through your activities outside the classroom.
Clinical experience is particularly important, and admissions committees will be skeptical if you’ve never worked with patients before.
9. Enrolling at the first school that accepts you
Gaining acceptance to medical school may leave you feeling ecstatic, or at least relieved. While you might be tempted to commit immediately after finding out you’ve been offered a seat, you’re better off taking some time to think.
“You applied to all these programs, so you should really consider all these programs and not just grab the first seat that you get,” Franza advises. Acting too quickly could mean you end up missing out on attending your top-choice medical school.
"You should really consider all these programs and not just grab the first seat that you get."
One thing you should know is many programs will allow you to make a deposit and reserve a seat without actually committing. Be sure to check with individual medical schools to make sure you understand their policies, but you might be surprised at how lenient they are. Most US schools give you until the end of April to make your final selection.
Put your best foot forward
Getting into medical school is a rigorous process. But you can breathe a little easier knowing which mistakes to avoid as you work through applications. Addressing any problems now can help you stand out among the other medical school applicants when interview season arrives.
If you have been considering St. George’s University, you’ll want to start learning more about the program to find out if it meets your needs. Supplement your research by reading our article, “10 Surprising Facts About the SGU School of Medicine.”
* This article has been updated from a previous version to include current facts and figures.
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