Applying to med school is an extensive and expensive process. There are many prerequisites to be taken in college or during a post-baccalaureate program—among them biology, physics, and the most notorious pre-med sieve, organic chemistry. Then there’s the seven-hour MCAT, the medical college admissions test, which demands considerable preparation (and an over-$1,000 Kaplan or Princeton Review course). And I haven’t even begun to describe the application process itself.
Let me be clear: Don’t apply if you don’t want to be a doctor! Believe it or not, there are people who drop out of med school in the first year, who after years of preparation suddenly realize that maybe medicine isn’t for them. So if you’re thinking about med school, make sure you are comfortable with your choice. Talk with physicians. Volunteer in hospitals. Do clinical research. This will not only help you figure out if medicine is for you, but also, if you do apply, make your application that much more impressive.
So let’s assume that you have decided, after careful consideration and/or yoga meditation, that you want to be a doctor. The AAMC, the Association of American Medical Colleges, now requires that you submit an AMCAS (American Medical College Application Service) online application by late fall, but those who know how the game is played get their AMCAS applications in by June, early July at the latest. This is very important. Earlier does give you a better chance. This is the primary centralized application to nearly all your schools (113 of the 125 in the U.S.). It can be sent to as many as you wish—you pay per school. Most people apply to between 10 and 15 places, though I know somebody who applied to 30, no joke.
The AMCAS application asks you first for a personal statement. I hate writing these. There’s a lot of pressure—you want to convey who you are, why you’re a good applicant, and why you are interested in medicine all in one essay. Just relax—don’t overthink or overedit. The admissions officers are looking for doctors, not writers; all they want is a sense of who you are. Just don’t say you want to be a doctor for the money or for the access to prescription medicine. In addition to the essay, you submit your transcript and list your extracurricular and summer activities—pretty straightforward. Finally, you need recommendations, which you may have to submit through your college.
Once the AMCAS is submitted, the roller coaster begins. Schools will contact you for additional information, and often ask you to fill out a secondary application, which means more essays to write and more money to pay. Then, a few schools will hopefully grant you interviews. Some schools have rolling admissions, some not. You may receive rejections at any point during the process, pre-secondary to post-interview, and you will probably not be offered interviews at all the schools to which you apply. It really does become a game. You have to fly to schools around the country to interview at them—covering your own expenses.
On an interview day, you are put into a group of applicants, pooled together for a school tour, and then split apart for individual interviews. Some interviewers may grill you with tough questions on ethics and our health care system. Others may just want to chat. Familiarize yourself with the school, know what’s distinct about it and how you could fit in. I also recommend the website studentdoctor.net. Applicants post interview feedback recording their impressions of the schools and the kinds of questions they were asked. This can be good preparation for your interview.
By May, you pick a school. Even with that choice, your decision isn’t set in stone, by any means. People jump between schools off wait lists, literally until the first day of classes in the fall.
The application process is far from perfect—and it’s certainly biased toward the affluent. The AAMC has a Fee Assistance Program (FAP), but that will only reduce the MCAT fee from $190 to $85 and send your application free to 10 schools—no help if you want to apply to more schools or for the travel expenses for your interviews. The application process is a pain in the ass, for sure. But American med schools are among the best in the world, and if you want to be a doctor, it’s definitely worth it. Good luck!
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on July 27, 2004