Wednesday, May 8, 2013

How to Get into Medical School: Part 3

In the most recent post in this series (which can be found here), I talked about writing your personal statement, getting LORs, and creating your AMCAS application. In this last part of the series, we’ll discuss the rest of this *cough* fun *cough* process.

Secondaries (or, Giving Away Your Savings)

Secondaries are medical schools’ way of holding you upside down on the playground and shaking your milk money out of your pockets.  Secondary applications are medical schools’ way of getting to know you a little bit better as an applicant by asking questions that they, as a school, care about. It essentially amounts to more essay writing, and oftentimes many of the essays you write will be interchangeable among schools. The catch (there’s always a catch) is that you have to pay to submit them. In fact, most schools won’t even review your application until you do. And then, they might just reject you outright anyway within a period of time that makes it highly unlikely that a real person even read them (I’m not bitter at all….). Some schools don’t have secondaries…but they often still make you pay. Just because they can. They can run anywhere from around $25-$125 a pop, so plan ahead financially for these.

The key here is just staying on top of them. It’s not a bad idea to create a list of schools you’ve applied to, which ones have sent you secondaries, which secondaries you’ve returned, etc. You can update this later with interview invites, acceptances, waitlists, withdrawals, etc.  If you can find last year’s secondaries (like on the school-specific threads on SDN), then if you have time it usually pays off to pre-write them. They generally don’t change too much, but even if they do, you can often re-use the prewritten ones for other schools. Regardless, try to have them submitted within about two weeks of receiving them. Again, spend some time on these and try to have other people review them, if possible.


After a ton of writing, wringing your hands, and nervously checking your email, you’ve finally got your first interview. First off, congrats! Somebody wants to get to know you a little more. Once you’ve made it to this stage (generally, anyway), your odds of getting accepted by that school can go up quite a bit. But now you’ve got a whole host of problems to worry about.

First off, what to wear? I’m no fashion expert, by any means, so I’ll defer this topic to any one of the threads that pop up on SDN this time of the year regarding interview attire. I will say this, however: be fairly conservative. Now is not the time to express yourself via fashion – let your application do the talking. Unless you really know what you are doing (and you probably don’t), your goal is to not stand out in a crowd, at least in terms of fashion. Usually, it just ends up being a bad thing. Stand out in your interview and in your application – not your fashion choices. For guys, this means buying a suit. Charcoal is recommended, and some people like navy blue. Black can be done, but seems to generally be recommended against. Wear appropriate dress socks, and get some nice (but again, not loud) shoes. Women….you’re on your own. Sorry. Again, the threads over on SDN, as well as countless interview attire articles online, are likely to be of more service to you here. Just play it safe, watch your necklines/hemlines and perfume (it’s ok to smell nice, but don’t be overpowering), do some research, and you’ll be fine. Regardless of your gender, DO NOT wear jeans. That should be a given, but, sadly, that doesn’t always seem to be the case.

So you’ve picked out your attire. Now what? Well, you’ve got to get there. This is where it can get really expensive (as if buying a new suit wasn’t enough…). Drive if you can, but oftentimes you’ll need to fly. Shop around, try and find good deals, and lump your interviews together if you can to reduce the number of trips you’ll need to make. Take advantage of student hosts – it’s cheaper than a hotel and often a great way to really get some great info about the school (just be sure to maybe take them to dinner, or at least leave behind a nice card). Get a decent travel bag, preferably something you can carry on to the plane. Avoid checking a bag if you can. Get travel-sized toiletries. And use the public transportation systems when possible – avoid taxis and rental cars, as these can get really expensive really fast. Get a travel folder to carry your itinerary and any lodging plans, boarding passes, or public transportation info in.

With regards to preparing for the interview: Know your application by heart. Come up with a good answer to the questions, “Tell me about yourself,” “Why do you want to be a doctor?” “What are your greatest strengths/weaknesses?” (think of at least three for each category),  “Why this school?”  and “Do you have any questions for me?” Don’t memorize a rote answer, but remember some high points that you’ll hit when you address each question. If you do all of that, you’ll probably be fine. It’s also a good idea to peruse the interview questions section for each specific school on SDN.

At the end of the day, just remember that your interviewer is your friend. It’s his or her job to present you to the admissions committee and sell you to them. While the questions might seem difficult or your interviewer might seem mean, s/he is just trying to get to know you. So give him/her something to sell. S/he’s on your side.

Aaaand the Waiting….

 Once you’ve finished your interview, you’ve pretty much done all that you can. So relax. More than likely, it’ll be a few weeks before the school can even get back you with a decision. Hopefully, they’ll give you a timeframe. If not, you’ll probably be constantly checking your email and mailbox (Ok, let’s be honest…you’ll be doing that anyway). But seriously…relax. You’ve done what you can.

If all goes well, sometime in the fall or spring after your interview, you’ll get a notification of acceptance. Congrats! You’ve made it. You’re going to be a doctor. If you are put on a waitlist, don’t give up hope – consider sending in occasional updates with new information about activities, why you love the school and would be a good fit, updated transcripts, etc. If you’re rejected, write it off and move on. There are more interviews to come. Hopefully. If not, consider what you can do to buff up your application for next year.

Springtime Glory

Hopefully, once spring rolls around, you’re sitting on at least one (maybe more?) acceptance. By May 15th, you have to withdraw from all but one school. By that time, schools should have sent you financial aid packages, which will assist you in making your final decision. My only recommendation here is, when at all possible, go with the cheapest one. Cheap school is good school. The “prestige” of the school (unless it’s literally a top 10 school, or whatever, and your goal is definitely something in academics) really doesn’t matter. You can do well wherever you go – your school’s name won’t give you a free ride. And money may not be able to buy happiness, but the quicker you can pay back your loans, the quicker you’ll be financially free – and freedom is pretty darn good.

The summer before school starts is generally pretty much up to you. You can work, relax, travel, etc. Do NOT prestudy for school. You won’t be able to study efficiently, and more than likely you’ll regret it later. It’s tempting, I know, but don’t do it. If you absolutely must do something, then start thinking about HOW you’ll study. Will you read books? Make outlines? Use flashcards? Group study? Solo study? Some combination of the above? For example: I, for one, am considering using the spaced-repitition flashcard program Anki to retain material – not as a primary learning tool, mind you, but something to help me remember the bits of info I need AFTER I already understand them from reading a textbook, listening to lecture, etc.  I’ll probably post more about this later. You can read more about it here and here (I highly recommend these sources if you’re interested in Anki). I also plan on using OneNote to take notes during school. So I’ve spent some time familiarizing myself with these programs.

Also, spend some time doing things you won’t have much time to do later. Hang out with loved ones and friends. Read some books. Watch some TV. Relax. For example, I’m really interested in personal finance, investing, retirement planning, and have been thinking a lot about paying off loans and whatnot down the road. I figure it’s better to know these things ahead of time so that I can get the jump on them as soon as I am able – and some things, like personal finance, are just things you should know anyway. If you want, spend some time perusing the Boglehead’sWiki and over at White Coat Investor’s blog for more information.

So that’s it. Sorry about the written vomit. Good luck on your path to medical school, and I hope what you read here proves helpful to you in your journey.


  1. Tweaking your advice on shelving your personal style in favor of the basic job interview ensemble, I believe it's still important that your personality will healthily shine even in a corporate-appropriate outfit. The prospective employer wants to know you to some degree, so pretending to be a A-line skirt or tie person would be well, pretentious. There will unnecessary level of discomfort on your part which might lead to screwing up the interview. - Ro of write my essay

    1. Excellent point, and good article. It is entirely OK to wear something that will make you feel confidant, even if it might bend the rules slightly. Each person just needs to weigh the benefit (wearing something that makes them feel more confidant - which, really, is incredibly important in an interview setting) vs. the risk (of being viewed as pretentious, out of touch, unable to follow "instructions," etc.) and find a balance that is comfortable for them.


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