7 Medical School Application Mistakes to Avoid
January 16, 2020
7 Medical School Application Mistakes to Avoid
When reviewing your medical school application, you have to make sure there aren’t any obvious red flags. With experience screening thousands of applications, it becomes easy for admissions committee members to easily pick up on signs that point towards a difficult or undesirable student. The type of medical school application mistakes may vary depending on whose pile your application lands in, so you need to stay cautious and avoid glaring errors on all fronts.
You might be wondering how to recognize such red flags. They can come in various capacities, from the easy-to-guess fact that you must follow instructions, to the more specific details like thinking about how to frame your AMCAS activities list. Use our list of seven medical school application mistakes so that your profile doesn’t stand out in a negative way.
Not following instructions
This might seem too basic to be included within medical school application mistakes to avoid, but you would be surprised at the number of applicants who do not stick to simple instructions. If you can’t abide by protocol on your medical school applications, you leave the reader wondering whether you will be able to adhere to them while in medical school, or even worse, when caring for patients. When completing your application make sure you READ the instructions and FOLLOW them.
For instance, the AMCAS limits you to 15 activities described under 700 characters for a reason. Don’t use your personal statement to add to your description of one of your entries, nor should you use the personal statement to explain an inconsistent grade. Make sure you take note of what the purpose of each component is so that you don’t immediately fall into the “rejected” pile before the reader fully goes through your materials. Don’t ask yourself if there can ever be an exception if it’s not clearly stated. You’re expected to respect the instructions at all times!
Significant gaps of unexplained time
When reviewing residency applications, I used to entertain myself by trying to guess what the applicant was doing in the 2 years that were blatantly unaccounted for on their application - usually my imagination landed on negative ideas. Understandably the reader’s mind will wander to the worst-case scenario if you do not give them an alternate option. If your resumé includes a gap between your time as a pre-med student and your next clinical research job, the fact that you’ve failed to mention what constituted the lapse makes them feel as if you’ve got something to hide. It is okay to have gaps in your education or your extracurriculars as long as you explain them.
If you took a couple of years off, what did you do? If you traveled, mention experiences from your time abroad. Your activity might not fit the traditional mold (and that can even help you stand out), but it’s better to leave no questions unanswered. It’s even okay if those gaps were due to family or emotional issues, particularly if you learned and grew from the experience and were able to recover, as this may even be an indicator of resilience or integrity. Be transparent. It’s definitely something you must remember when it comes to medical school application mistakes to avoid.
Downward trends in performance
Starting strong and trending downward isn’t unusual when students get caught up in the distractions that come with life. Life happens. Sometimes students have a hard time. Unfortunately, if you have not been able to recover your grades or performance, the reader has to assume you are still struggling and won’t view you as an applicant to admit. If there is a significant reason you are still not doing well, acknowledge it, take responsibility, and highlight how you will learn from the experience and improve your performance.
Take a look at the GPA for admitted students at the schools on your list. If you believe that yours is far below the median of the institutions where you’re planning to apply, you should also strongly consider a post-baccalaureate program to help convey that you can bring your performance back up to the level required for success in medical school. Not demonstrating that you take your academics seriously and failing to make an active effort to raise your performance fall under the notable medical school application mistakes you could make.
Inconsistencies in your personal interests
It is absolutely possible to have very diverse and broad personal interests; however, if you’ve dabbled in lots of things but committed to nothing, it may reflect a lack of passion. Take a look at your most meaningful extracurricular pursuits and try and find a connection within them. Are they all related to working with children? Have the majority of them involved conducting research on a particular patient population? Dig deeper into your resumé and try to find a common thread that can tie your application together.
Moreover, you need to be consistent when discussing the kinds of activities you’ve been involved in and how they have shaped your perspective. If you can’t talk intelligently or knowledgeably about the extracurriculars you’ve mentioned in your AMCAS application and secondary essays, it may lead your interviewer to question if maybe you were just checking off boxes because you thought that is what medical school admission committees want to see. You should be genuinely interested in the activities you list on your application, or else you’ll find yourself making one of the major medical school application mistakes.
The things that should go without saying
Lying and plagiarism should be self-explanatory. Don’t do it. Also, don’t assume you won’t be caught. The one advantage to reading many applications is that it becomes easier to pick up on clues that things just seem dishonest or inconsistent. If you have any doubts about whether or not you should take a sentence or two from a strong essay you found on the Internet, the answer is absolutely not.
Admissions committees will count you out without question if they suspect foul play of such manner in your file. The AMCAS also asks you to list a contact for each extracurricular and work experience that you’ve included, so if they’re in doubt, school officials can contact the people to verify whether the information you have provided is in fact correct.
Avoid exaggerating your own achievements or boasting aggressively about your different parts of your resumé. You want to remember that admissions committee members are familiar with typical pre-med experiences and how long they take. They also know how to count and can determine whether or not it would have been physically possible for you to spend over 40 hours a week working at a lab while you were still a full-time student. In your essays, don’t recount a dramatized version of your experience with the common cold as this will ring hollow next to harsher circumstances others in the applicant pool have faced. Among the medical school application mistakes to keep in mind, you must remember to be honest and accurate in how you present yourself.
Don’t be arrogant
As you tackle your application materials, remember to watch your tone. While you should definitely highlight your most impressive achievements, you want to word them in a way that isn’t conceited. Arrogance is a little tougher to hide because some applicants do not realize they are coming off as pompous. There is a fine line between being confident and proud and being self-important. If you find you are putting down others to make yourself seem grand or you are presenting yourself as “the best” at something you may not be the most experienced at, take a step back and rethink your strategy. This tone is especially important for MD applicants, as medical schools are looking for candidates that are ready to focus on others. You need to show such characteristics throughout your application!
In order to successfully impress admissions committees, you must avoid any red flags that immediately stand out to admissions officers. To spot these medical school application mistakes, you can create a checklist that outlines these errors to ensure that you put your best foot forward as you get ready to submit. Best of luck!
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