Varsity Tutors brings you insider tips and advice straight from nationally recognized admissions experts. Rishi Mediratta is co-author of the book Cracking Med School Admissions: Trusted Advice from Students Who’ve Been There, as well as a medical school admissions adviser. He obtained his undergraduate degree in Public Health Studies from Johns Hopkins University and went on to complete Master’s degrees in Medical Anthropology and Public Health. Rishi attended medical school at Stanford University, and he is currently a resident physician at Stanford Children’s Health and Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford.
VT: How much time should be set aside to adequately prepare for and complete a Med School application?
Rishi: Start working on your applications as soon as possible so that you can turn in your American Medical College Application Service (AMCAS) application when it opens in June. I cannot stress this point enough. The earlier you turn in your application, the more likely it is that you will receive a medical school interview and, in turn, get accepted into medical school.
For some students, completing the entire AMCAS application takes several months to one full year. The tasks required to complete the AMCAS application include: submitting your transcripts from college and any graduate work, completing and submitting your MCAT scores, writing a medical school personal statement, gathering your letters of recommendation, and writing the descriptions for the work/activities section of the AMCAS application.
Don't underestimate the amount of time it takes to finish all of these components of the AMCAS application.
VT: What is the single most important thing applicants should focus on with this application?
Rishi: I think a student has to create a great narrative about why he or she wants to go to medical school and what makes him or her unique from other applicants. Our team often tells the students we advise to create themes for their applications. Does the student really love research? Health education? Helping special needs patients? The theme should be evident throughout multiple parts of the application – from the personal statement, to a letter of recommendation, to the secondary essays.
VT: What are the best ways to go about selecting a terrific personal statement topic?
Rishi: For the AMCAS personal statement, you should start by asking yourself these questions: What am I going to do with my medical degree? What do I want to tell the admissions committee about myself? Are there any interesting stories related to medicine or healthcare that are unique to me? What cultural experiences have I had that formed my experiences with healthcare? What do I want the reader to learn about me from reading my personal statement? Are there any skills or personality traits I want to highlight?
One thing I always tell applicants is to create a story that highlights your message of why you want to become a doctor. Don’t just make your medical school personal statement an extended laundry list of your extracurricular activities.
In addition to the AMCAS application, there are also medical school secondary application essays. In your secondary essays, try to not write about the same topic that you wrote about in your medical school personal statement.
VT: Are there any essay topics you get tired of seeing or would warn students to stay away from?
Rishi: Any topic is really fair game. I wouldn’t say there is something you shouldn’t write about. If the topic or experience is important to you, then write a compelling story about it. Our team has advised students who wrote about topics ranging from being part of Division I athletics, to conducting clinical research with patients, to helping a woman with multiple sclerosis, to working as an Emergency Medical Responder.
Again, I want to iterate that your medical school personal statement should be a story that highlights your attributes and interesting personal stories. Most of the successful medical school essays I have read over the past few years focus on one or two experiences, rather than four or five different activities.
VT: What are the biggest mistakes one can make on a Med School application?
Rishi: The biggest mistake a student can make is to turn in his or her application late! I have met students who have literally been told that they would have received an interview invitation if they had turned in their applications earlier. Don’t be in this situation.
Turn in your AMCAS application as early as possible (at the latest by mid-July) and your medical school secondary applications by mid-August. Turning in applications early will especially help those students who are worried about their GPAs and MCAT scores.
VT: What is the typical process an admissions officer goes through to evaluate applications?
Rishi: Some schools screen AMCAS applications based on a student's GPA, MCAT scores, and the university he or she attended. Other schools do not have a preliminary screening process. The applicant then receives an invitation to submit a secondary application.
Next, admissions officers choose which applicants will receive an interview. After the interview, admissions committees will discuss their applicants. If committees feel like you are a strong applicant, then you will receive an acceptance letter. Other students may also receive a waitlist or rejection decision.
VT: How should students go about determining the culture of a medical school, and whether they would be a good fit?
Rishi: The best way to learn about the culture of a medical school is to visit the school and speak with students who go there.
For pre-clinical years, some great questions to ask are: Are you graded on a pass/fail system? Are the students collaborative? Can you give examples of this collaboration? What are the most popular extracurricular activities? What is the housing situation like? Do people live in the same dorm buildings? Are people spread out? What resources are available to students if they need help with medical school classes?
For clinical years, some great questions to ask are: Do most people take a year off? What clinical sites do students do their clinical rotations at? Is the school flexible as to when you take your Step 1 and Step 2 exams?
VT: How important are grades and standardized test scores when admissions decisions are being made?
Rishi: Grades and standardized test scores are important, but they are only one piece of your medical school application. Students stand out through their passions, extracurricular activities, and leadership. Again, highlight these factors through your essays, interviews, and letters of recommendation.
VT: What tips do you have for students asking their teachers for letters of recommendation?
Rishi: In regards to letters of recommendation, try to build strong relationships with your recommenders. Don’t be afraid to ask for letters one to two years before you apply, right after you take a class. Schedule a meeting, if possible, to speak with your recommender about why you’re applying to medical school. Come prepared with a draft of your personal statement and examples they can use for your letter of recommendation.
Give your recommender plenty of time to write your letter! Some students inform their writers near the AMCAS application open date, and their AMCAS applications get processed at a much later date.
Also remember to write a thank you letter to your recommenders, and to update them on the outcome of your application.
Visit Cracking Med School Admissions for more information.
The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Varsity Tutors.