Questions About the Application Process
Applying to Medical School Using HPA
|Applying to Medical School Using HPA|
|High School Activities: Appropriate for AMCAS?|
|Responding to Acceptances|
Applying Early Decision to Medical School
Question: I was wondering what your opinion is about applying to medical school Early Decision.
Answer: The med schools that offer Early Decision (ED) programs - and not all do - typically select 5-10 students by this means. This number is quite a bit lower than the number of ED candidates admitted to most undergraduate colleges. One applies at the earliest moment possible in June, and med schools are not obligated to notify applicants until October 1. No one should apply "ED" without checking with the med school about the competitiveness of his/her credentials and discussing your idea with advisers at HPA. A med school dean or director of admissions should tell you that your grades and MCAT scores are competitive for their ED program, or at least what the numbers of last year's admitted ED candidates were. Applying early is very risky because when you submit your initial AMCAS application you may indicate only that one school. If you get deferred into the "regular" pool of applicants - and you won't know until Oct 1st -, or if you're outright rejected, only then may you apply to other schools. Applying to these other schools in October gives you a very late start, and will put you at a disadvantage. At Princeton we typically have 0-1 person apply early each year, usually to their state school. They have spoken to us, and to admissions people, beforehand, and their numbers are well above the averages for accepted applicants at that school. For a vast majority of applicants, however, the risks of the ED option (delaying your application at other schools) outweighs the benefit of focusing on one school. Lastly, if an applicant wants to make sure that a certain school knows he/she is especially interested, there are other ways of communicating this; applying "ED" isn't the best way to tell a school you favor them. ♦
Applying to Medical School Using HPA
Question: I am thinking about applying to medical school this summer, to start med school in fall of 2014. I know there are things I have to do through HPA. What are they?
Answer: This will all become clear when you come to an Applicant Workshop! The workshop is mandatory, and the dates will be announced in the next couple of weeks. We will offer the workshop at least a few times, and it will occur after Fall break. The basic tasks to work with HPA will include: having an introductory one on one with an HPA adviser in the fall, writing some essays, filling out forms, gathering letters of recommendation, and coming in for a pre-application interview in the spring. The tasks to actually apply will also include taking the MCAT, filling out the AMCAS application, and writing more essays and going on interviews. Right now, there isn’t too much to do! You could talk with someone you know who is applying right now, who can give you some perspective on the processes involved (this includes many of our pre-health peer advisers, and some of the student group leaders). You can also read about last year’s application process requirements on our website, but know that some things will change this year! We hope to have the website updated in the next few weeks. Applicant workshops will be announced through Vitals, and on the facebook page. ♦
Canadian Health Care
Question: I just got back from an interview at a medical school and they asked me what I thought of socialized health care. When I used Canada as an example in my answer, they pushed me to see how much I knew about Canada's health care system (or any socialized medicine, for that matter) and I'm not sure I answered the question that well. Do you know where to look for more info on this?
Answer: http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/hppb/healthcare/understanding.htm The best (and only) resource we know of is this site for the "Health Care Network" of Canada (see Understanding Canada's Health Care System on the sidebar for a basic overview). Familiarizing yourself with the way health care works for Canadians is a good idea, particularly as the issue of socialized or national health care is likely to remain a topic of discussion in the U.S. Congress for years to come, and may even make it into the presidential debates this month. ♦
Deciding Where to Apply
Question: Hi HPA – I just came to one of the meetings for people applying to medical school for 2011. I know it’s kind of early but I’m having trouble figuring out where to apply. You said at the meeting that you’ll give us feedback on our list of schools during our pre-application interview, which is great. But how do we come up with our “tentative” list in the first place? Thanks!
Answer: To review what we discussed at the pre-application meeting . . . You might consider the following issues:
- Is the school public or private? Consult the AAMC publication, Medical School Admissions Requirements (or MSAR) to determine how much your state residency will play a factor when applying to public medical schools. Look at how many non-resident matriculants the school had in last year’s entering class. Generally speaking, we will advise you to have all of the public medical schools in your home state on your list, plus private schools of your choosing. If you are not a U.S. citizen, then your list will be made up of private medical schools.
- Curriculum… What type of teaching styles allowed you to learn best at Princeton? How interested are you in doing independent research? Are you interested in a problem-based or integrated curriculum, or more traditional lecture style? Visit the schools’ websites and the AAMC Curriculum Directory at http://www.aamc.org/ to get a better sense of how schools’ “pre-clinical” years might differ from school to school.
- Seeing Patients… How soon would you like to get into a clinical setting? Does the school put you in the clinic right away, or after one semester or part of a “block”?
- Where will you be doing your clinical work and rotations—what types of hospitals? What patient demographic?
- Where do you go to have fun and relieve stress during difficult times—do you go camping or do you go clubbing? City or country?
- Who is your psychological and emotional support—family? Friends? Will they be close by?
- How much of a difference in cost is there among your schools? Your home-state public medical schools will be a good deal cheaper to attend than private medical schools. Is the difference going to radically change your amount of long-term debt or is the difference really not that great in the big scheme of things?
- Remember that where you end up going may very well come down to a gut feeling based on the front-row seat you will have on your interview day. In the end, the decision is often instinctive, especially when all other ‘rational’ factors are relatively equal. You’ll know so much more after you’ve interviewed.
- Also of note: We recommend you apply to 12-15 schools. The national average number of applications per applicant last year was 12. The Princeton average was 14. ♦
Question: Hi HPA, I am a junior who wants to take a year off before going to medical school. My plan is to go through the process next spring, however, since I’m on campus and it’ll be easier to get letters of recommendation and to interview with you for my committee letter. Once I’m accepted to med school, I’m going to ask for a one-year deferral. I know I want to go to med school but I also know I’m not ready to go right after I graduate. I’m just trying to get the process done ahead of time. That’s OK, right?
Answer: We are so glad you asked this question. It is a common misconception that going through the application process while on campus, then deferring, is the simplest way to go for applicants who know they want another year. We do not recommend this course of action. Not all medical schools have deferral policies, so you would be limiting where you could apply (never a good idea if you’re trying to maximize your competitiveness). Of the schools that do have deferral policies, they vary considerably in terms of what they will accept as a plausible reason for wanting another year. Their goal is to fill next fall’s entering class, and they generally view your request to wait another year with a critical eye. Some schools only accept deferral requests from individuals who have been accepted to internationally known programs like the Peace Corps or Teach For America, or have received a Rhodes or Marshall, or have a family emergency that prevents them from being able to matriculate in their intended Class. It is best to plan to apply to medical school in the spring of the year before you really want to attend. Whether you’re on campus or not really isn’t an issue. The interview with our office can be done on the phone or during a time when you’re back on campus. Letters of recommendation can be gathered in large part before you graduate. The application process itself is done entirely online and can be done from anywhere in the world. By all means, come talk to us about your individual case, if you’d like. Generally speaking, however, wait until the spring of the year before you’re prepared to matriculate. ♦
Do I Send My Fall Transcript to Medical Schools?
Question: I wanted to ask you about how to handle my grades from this fall. I'm a senior, applying to med school right now. Will the med schools I've applied to see my fall grades? Should I send them a transcript when the semester's over? Do my grades from this semester count?
Answer: As they say, "it ain't over 'til it's over." Some of your medical schools will request a fall transcript, and you should comply with this request. So, yes, your fall grades "count," meaning they may be scrutinized by some of your schools. For the medical schools that do NOT make such a request, we'd recommend sending a transcript pro-actively if your performance is on par (or better) than previous semesters. Also, if you're a non-science major who has the minimum of science classes OR a student with a borderline science GPA, then your performance in additional science this fall should be shared with medical schools. The most common situation in which a medical school asks for a fall transcript is when the applicant has been put "on hold" or officially waitlisted; in some cases, schools may even request a spring transcript, though most admissions decisions will be made by the time you complete the spring term. Make sure you have the Registrar send a transcript that's "official," not merely a printout of the grades you access online. ♦
Etiquette for Informing a Med School You're Going Elsewhere
Question: What is the best etiquette for the letter I will send to XYZ School of Medicine telling them that I will not be attending? I have been accepted.
Answer: Send both email and "snail" mail letters to make sure the message gets through. Address them to the dean/director of Admissions. If you have already accepted a seat in their Fall 2006 entering class, simply say something like, "Thank you very much for accepting me, but I have decided after considerable thought and discussion with my family to attend another medical school. I am very grateful for the time spent considering my application. Sincerely . . ."
If you were interviewed but still don't have a final decision from the school--and still know you'd like to go elsewhere--, you can say, "I write to withdraw my application from further consideration at XYZ School of Medicine. I am grateful for the time spent considering my credentials and the opportunity to interview. Sincerely . . ."
Remember that AAMC "traffic rules" dictate that you choose ONE school by May 15. ♦
High School Activities: Appropriate for AMCAS?
Question: I have some questions about the AMCAS application, specifically the Work/Activities section. Is it common to include activities from high school in this section?
Answer: A great question! At HPA, we’re lucky to engage in regular conversations with students and alums about the many ways that work and activities have enhanced their Princeton experiences. If your PAI Activities lists and conversations with us are any indications, most of you have a wealth of activities and work experiences from your college years to choose from. We’d suggest putting together your list from those activities. Including activities from high school might be read as stretching far back or suggestive of a lack of current involvement – something that we’re just not seeing when talking to Tigers about their experiences!
An exception would be for applicants for whom there is a direct connection between college commitments and previous activities. Maybe you began working in a lab in high school and continued researching there during your college years. Perhaps you’ve been performing with the same chorale group since tenth grade. If this is the case and earlier activities show some sort of continuity into your time at Princeton, you should feel free to include them in your AMCAS Work/Activities section. Remember, if an activity didn’t continue into college but you feel that it had a meaningful effect on you and you’d like for the admissions committee to know about it, you can always incorporate a discussion of it into your personal statement.
A lot of soul-searching and decision-making goes into compiling individual Work/Activities sections for AMCAS. If you have more than 15 items or aren’t sure which entries to include, please know that HPA advisors are happy to talk with you about crafting your final list. ♦
How to Talk to Medical School Admissions Personnel at Fairs
Question: Dear HPA, I wanted to go to the med school fair at Yale last month but couldn't make it. But I did come by and talk to the admissions people from Hopkins last week. I'm wondering if you can advise me on how to talk to admissions deans at these types of things. Is it OK to talk about my grades? And will there be more events like this during the year, and is it worth it for me to go if I can't talk about my individual situation? Thank you.
Answer : The Yale Fair and the Hopkins visit were just two of several events that are on the schedule this year. Later this term, Vanderbilt and Cornell will be visiting for 'open houses' like the one Hopkins had, and our Office of Career Services is hosting its annual Grad/Professional School Fair in Dillon on Friday Nov 10, 12:30-3:30pm (Go to http://web.princeton.edu/sites/career/data/GPSD_participants.html). It is always wise to have questions about the particular medical school whose representative you're talking to. It's best to do some quick research online before the event, and learn a little about the schools curriculum, location, student organizations, etc. Then, come up with some questions based on what you would want to know if you were an M1 (first-year med student) walking the halls at that school. In other words, put yourself in the position of a current med student and imagine what concerns you might have. It can also be helpful to ask if any Princeton alumni at their school are available to correspond via email.
As for speaking about your individual record, it is fine to be straight with an admissions dean and share your "numbers" (MCAT, GPA), but only one-on-one, NOT in group sessions. Admittedly, one-on-one time is rare. Remember, however, that the MSAR (Medical School Admissions Requirements, available at HPA) enumerates average MCAT scores and GPA's of accepted students at all U.S. medical schools, so you should be able to 'size yourself up' on your own. In group situations, our advice would be to keep the conversation less numbers-based and more focused on the character, curriculum, and unique qualities of the med school in question. It is certainly acceptable to ask for the business card of the person you're talking to, and follow up with additional questions (within reason!) after the event. ♦
"I'm going to be a pediatrician!"
Question: Hi HPA, I wanted to ask you about something that I was told by one doctor I shadowed: s he told me that since it is the “era of primary care,” that I should portray myself (in the AMCAS application and interview) as going into pediatrics as opposed to what I'm really thinking about, which is emergency medicine or working in the NICU or PICU. I just thought this sounded strange and I wanted to ask you if medical schools really give a preference to students who are interested in primary care. Thank you!
Answer: Very interesting to hear this, and not a little unsettling . . . It is our view that under no circumstances should you portray yourself in the application process as someone other than who you are. Self-awareness and authenticity/sincerity are big in medical school admissions. Besides, medical schools' admissions offices aren't really in the business of filling different specialties. That would be a true exercise in futility, since nine out of ten medical students enter a specialty other than the one they thought they would enter when they started med school. You are not expected to know your specialty as a pre-med, and if anyone at a medical school asks that question they're most likely aiming to discover whether you're aware of the different specialties and whether you've thought of the personal/professional life balance that is a struggle for all busy physicians; or, they’re simply making conversation, perhaps in an attempt to share with you information about their own specialty. They're not looking for you to commit to any specialty, or even to primary care more generally, and you run the risk of sounding fairly naïve if you do say something like, "I'm going to be a pediatrician!" ♦
Letters of Interest/Intent
Question: In addition to thank you letters, is it ok to write letters of interest, as you mentioned in your previous email? What would these letters consist of and to whom should they be addressed? I have written letters to my interviewers already, but if there is something more that I can do to express my interest, I definitely want to take advantage of that and do anything I can - especially for my top choice.
Answer: If you are certain that you would attend one medical school over all others –and you have interviewed at that school – it is appropriate that you write that school and say so. You would write the dean or director of admissions (always check proper titles, name spellings, in the MSAR book or on the web). If you really hit it off with your interviewer, he/she may be copied on that letter. While we would have told you several years ago that these letters had to be snail-mailed, we are hearing more and more from medical schools that email is fine. We still recommend that you email first, followed by a mailed letter on good quality paper.
This should be more than an I-really want-to-come-please take-me-letter. You should describe why you and the school are a good match. Be succinct; don't say the same thing three times. These are busy people. If you have grades to send, such a note could “introduce” those. Indeed, it is a good idea to send an update note whenever something of note happens in your academic or professional life. Finally, follow this letter up with brief notes, still expressing your interest, to the admissions dean/director every three to four weeks. At the end of the day, medical schools want applicants who want them, and they will be gratified if you have expressed a commitment to them.
As a postscript to our larger audience, if you are not ready to commit to one school this way, that is FINE. But you can still write letters of interest to the medical schools that you particularly like. ♦
Question: I'm a current applicant. Is it a good or bad idea to send a letter to medical schools? For the ones I haven't heard from, I was thinking along the lines of restating my interest and tying my application together more. And what about sending letters to schools where I've interviewed - and if I sent a letter to them what should I say? Thanks!
Answer: There are different kinds of letters that you can send, the most serious of which is the letter of intent, described above. You should wait to write this letter, however, after you have finished most, if not all, of your interviews - you wouldn't have much credibility if you told a school they're your first choice when you've only visited one or two (and you might change your mind with more interviews)!
Apart from the letter of intent, you can send new information about your activities or accomplishments, updates when you have new grades, and otherwise indicate your continued interest with the schools where you have not been invited to interview or have not heard anything at all, but do not make a commitment as you would in a letter of intent. Again, keep the letters brief and to the point.
For schools where you have interviewed, some will let you know when you interview what kinds of additional information they might want (or you can ask if they don't bring it up). Generally, it's fine to send updates of significant information (grades, publications, etc).
We'll discuss how to communicate with schools where you have been waitlisted at a later date . . . ♦
New U.S. Medical Schools
Question: I’m a sophomore so won’t be applying to med school for another year or two, maybe more. I’ve heard that there are a lot of new medical schools opening up. How will this affect me? Where are they? And is it really risky to go to a new med school? By the time I apply, there may be more new ones established. Just wondering. Thanks HPA!
Answer: Questions like yours are coming up more and more among the prospective applicants we see at HPA. Many of you may not be aware of the fact that we are experiencing a significant growth in the number of allopathic (MD-granting) medical schools. It’s true, several have opened their doors in recent years, admitting their first classes in ’09, ’10, and now ’11, and there are many more in the planning and accreditation stages. You can follow the status of the new schools as they progress through the rigorous stages of the accreditation sequence on the LCME web site: http://www.lcme.org/ (if you’ve got some time to kill!). Most schools are being founded in areas of the country traditionally lacking in adequate healthcare, with the hopes that the physicians they produce might remain in the region after graduation. The AAMC’s Senior Director of Student Affairs & Programs, Henry M. Sondheimer, MD, addressed questions very similar to yours in an email he sent not too long ago to a group of pre-health advisers. Dr. Sondheimer is in an excellent position to answer these questions, so we take the liberty of including his full response. As you will see from his remarks, there are risks involved for applicants to these schools. We will probably encourage you to include a new school on your list if you’re genuinely curious about it, keeping an open, yet critical mind throughout the interview process. New schools may be good options for some of you. ♦
Question: Hi Advisers - I am interested in going to a medical school with a Problem-Based Learning curriculum. Where can I find a list of schools that offer PBL? Do PBL medical schools generally differ at all in their undergraduate requirements?
Answer: No, there are no specific undergraduate requirements for a “PBL” medical curriculum—nothing other than the pre-med requirements for all schools. And regrettably, there isn't one comprehensive list of PBL curricula. Some good reading on the topic, however, related to medical education and PBL, can be found at: http://hsc.unm.edu/som/ted/mes/Problem-Based%20Learning.html. Your best bet for one centralized resource that allows you to learn about the curricula of various schools is the AAMC Curriculum Directory at www.aamc.org. The general overview is very helpful, and so is the ability to search for "School Curricula" and then "Required Courses" or "Course Schematic." For instance, you can see that the medical school that visited us last week, Dartmouth, has the following total number of hours devoted to Lecture, Conference-Learning, and Tutorials: http://services.aamc.org/currdir/section2/courses.cfm. You’re smart to be thinking about your learning style and how it might match up with the teaching methods at various medical schools. Asking about the curriculum is a great topic for conversations with med school admissions personnel when they visit our campus or when you meet them at professional school fairs. ♦
Reapplying After Being Accepted
Question: Dear HPA – I’m done with my interviews at medical schools and have one acceptance—at School X. However, I have been turned down from some other schools where I would rather go. And there were many more that did not interview me but I really think I have a shot at. I’m thinking that I’d like to reapply to medical school for 2011. I really do not want to go to School X. How do I start the process again?
Answer: This is a serious matter. Please come in and talk to us about your reasons for not wanting to attend School X. We’ve advised you from the beginning to apply only to schools you would attend, and to keep an open mind throughout. In general, we never advise former applicants to reapply when they were accepted to at least one U.S. allopathic medical school previously. Aside from the logistical issues of going through the process again when you already have an opportunity awaiting you, some schools will ask if you’ve been accepted to medical school before, and knowledge that you have been accepted would seriously damage your chances the second time around. Most schools feel, as we do, that enrollment in a U.S. medical school is a privilege and a wonderful thing. The only time we can think of where such a reapplication might be OK is if a serious personal crisis led you away from your goal in the midst of this application cycle (a death in the family, an illness, etc), and a number of years passed before you came back as an applicant; depending on the uniqueness of the situation, we suspect that med schools would understand why you stepped away from the chance to attend med school the first time around. But even in that scenario we would advise you to ask first for a one-year deferral, and try to renew that deferral if you needed more time to get back on track. ♦
Responding to Acceptances
Question: Some of my medical schools start sending acceptances next week. What’s the proper way to respond to news of acceptances?
Answer: Starting October 15 for medical school, and December 1 for dental school (others schools’ dates vary), you may begin to receive acceptances from schools. A few DO schools are sending acceptances starting in late summer. First of all, if you’ve just been accepted, congratulations! Go and celebrate, and then come back to this answer!
This may sound obvious, but accept the first seat you’re offered, even if it isn’t at one of your top choice schools and you’re confident that you’ll receive another – it’s always better to have one seat than none at all. If you later get accepted by another school that’s higher on your list, send professional letters 1) withdrawing from the first school, and 2) accepting the second school’s offer (this is a good time to become familiar with the AAMC’s traffic rules if you’re applying to MD programs).
Many schools will give you specific instructions on how to respond to an offer of admission. If you are offered a seat at a school and do not receive specific instructions, the basic first step is to write a letter to the Dean of Admissions, stating that you accept the position. Include your name (obviously) and your relevant contact information for the time from acceptance to matriculation, as well as any other information that you are asked to provide. If you haven’t done so already, this is a good time to get a permanent (non-Princeton) email account, so you won’t have to send an update when your Princeton account expires (please use a professional username). Most schools require a deposit, which is often refundable, to hold your seat. Send your response by certified mail, with a return receipt, so that you will know when the school receives it. At this point, you should also send letters withdrawing your candidacy from any school that you haven’t heard from, that you would not attend given your current acceptance. This gives them a more realistic idea of their applicant pool, and may be of benefit to others who are still waiting for interviews and acceptances. It’s okay to hold off on sending such a letter to schools you still wish to gather more information about – there is nothing wrong with staying in the applicant pool for numerous schools even after gaining an acceptance.
Also note that acceptances are contingent on continuing to do well. Maintain your good academic and disciplinary standards, and in general avoid doing things that could result in having your acceptance rescinded. ♦
Spring Semester Classes
Question: Do medical schools I am currently applying to see the classes that I take spring semester of senior year? Will it look bad if I am only taking 2 classes and neither is a science class?
Answer: When you completed your AMCAS application last summer, you were asked to list courses for the spring semester. The medical schools will not hold you to those classes, unless you had a pre-medical requirement like the English/writing requirement that you had not fulfilled. We see that you are taking a science class now, so you are in good shape, especially for a non-science major. As for “only taking two,” that is one of the normal patterns for senior year at Princeton, where people are expected to be working hard on their theses second semester. ♦
Visiting Medical Schools/Dropping by Admissions Offices
Question: Is it appropriate to visit medical schools I’m interested in before I apply, just to get a sense of what they’re like? I will be home this summer and there are a bunch of med schools in my city. Can I just call the school and ask for a tour or a meeting with someone in admissions?
Answer: What a timely question, given how many pre-frosh are visiting Princeton during the month of April! Applying to med school is quite a bit different than applying to college, however. For med school, the interview is such an integral part of the admissions process that you do not need to visit med schools prior to applying. In fact, it’s not a very useful enterprise, unless you feel you can benefit from a mere visual impression of the place. Few med schools have admissions staff with enough time to greet prospective applicants. The best you might hope for would be a self-guided tour, which offers little insight about the schools distinctive nature, i.e. its curriculum, clinical and research opportunities, student climate, etc; from the hallway of an administrative building, med schools all tend to look very much the same. Do your research by visiting websites and perusing the AAMC’s MSAR book, Medical School Admissions Requirements, available at HPA (and there’s now an online edition). Also, come to the info sessions we set up for you, where med school admissions deans and directors come to campus specifically to meet Princeton pre-meds and talk about their programs. This year, Hopkins, WashU, Weill-Cornell, UVA, Columbia, Vanderbilt, and NYU were here, to name a few. Once you’re invited for interviews and visit schools as a prospective student, you’ll get a good feel for the various places. Interviewed applicants are given tours, meet faculty and students, and have access to admissions and financial aid staff for answers to their most pressing questions. ♦