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The Joys of Applying to Medical School

The path from undergrad to medical school can be a long and challenging one with many potential pitfalls and setbacks. In this article, a premed student, Travis Tweedy, will walk us through the joys of applying to medical school. While there are many, many joyous parts of applying to med school there are some less than stellar parts as well, so a selection of those will be addressed at the end.

The Time

Unfortunately, it only takes four years of hard work and dedication for most students to matriculate into med school. A lucky few are able to stretch out that time even longer by adding a master’s in public health or other additional degrees prior to matriculation but sadly even those students are only able to stretch out the time so much before their time as a premed student must come to an end.

Besides the many years of demanding academic performance required to be competitive for medical school admissions, there are the thousands of hours of service, research, and shadowing required. Thankfully if a prospective student forgoes personal relationships, personal hobbies, and sleep they might be able to put in enough time in these categories to be in at least the top 75th percentile compared to their peers.

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The Money

Even better than the time commitment though is the monitory expense. According to AAMC there are shockingly few required expenses in this process. Most schools use the AAMC’s American Medical College Application Service┬« (AMCAS┬«) to process applications. This is only $170 for the first school and $41 for each additional school. Since most students only apply to about 10 or so schools that means it is less than $600 for the primary application. According to Travis, everyone should agree that is an amazing value for a service where you provide all the information yourself which they then forward to the schools who sign up for that service. It is almost unbelievable that they can afford to provide that service for so little money.

If the applicant is really fortunate then not all of their prospective schools will use AMCAS and they will be able to do all the work of applying multiple times and for multiple fees. The good news is that even if all of their prospective schools do use AMCAS they are still likely to have secondary fees for applying and require supplemental applications. This can mean hours of work and many hundreds of dollars. Oh, joy!

There can also be fees from the school sending the transcripts because after all they couldn’t possibly be expected to do that for free, could they? The many tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on tuition couldn’t possibly be used to cover this pittance of a fee required to send transcripts. Thankfully like all the fees, you will not have to think too hard about whether or not to pay this fee, after all, what are you going to do, not apply to med school?

The MCAT registration fee is $320, which sadly is all-inclusive for registration and score sharing. Hopefully, in the future, they will figure out ways to tack on additional fees for things like needing to use a chair or sharing your score report in English.

While the amount of money you can spend on the above items is sadly capped well below the median annual household salary in the U.S., the amount of money that can be spent on non-direct expenses, such as clothes for interviews, test prep material, application guides and services, and travel-related expenses are almost endless!

*Editor’s note: Travis failed to mention that there are alternatives to spending a fortune on these items, probably to spare the applicant from missing out on the joys of spending all this money. Still, it is important to note that there are vouchers available for students who need financial assistance. Information can be found here. There are also tons of great, free resources to be found on SDN to help applicants navigate the process, such as this article.

The MCAT

While choosing a favorite was tough for Travis to do, ultimately he decided that the MCAT was his favorite part of applying to med school. Something about obsessing over your value as a person being reduced to a quantifiable value really shines a spotlight on how humanizing the application process can be. After you get to spend time and money (discussed above) you are graded on a scale with your peers over how well you have memorized concepts and materials you will never use again in your life. And don’t forget about the sleepless nights spent studying and worrying over either or not you will be able to score the minimum required competitive score at your schools, likely to be about 520 or so according to Travis, who is totally not a gunner by any stretch of the imagination. If you should score lower than that you can always retake the exam after spending way more time and money to become more competitive!

The Personal Statement

The joy of writing objectively about one’s self in an interesting fashion is undoubtedly the easiest part of applying. Even this step has its drawbacks though. How is the potential applicant supposed to decide which flaws to fabricate in order to not appear too perfect? Which flaw should the writer emphasize that while technically a flaw still casts the writer in a positive light? Being a perfectionist is always a good fallback but is it too cliche? Or can “too perfect” perhaps serve as the flaw? Also which fictional family member should the writer kill off in the personal statement to prove a personal connection to medicine and which medical condition should they have bravely fought for many years before ultimately succumbing?

Editor’s note: Good example personal statements can be found here and here.

The Interviews

The interviews are a really fun way for extroverted people to meet new people and try to use a very short amount of time to impress the people who control the fate of their lives in a very high-pressure environment with no chance to get a do-over if things go poorly. Since most people who dedicate all their spare time to studying in libraries are extroverts, this makes the experience a perfect fit for most med school applicants. If the student is really lucky the interviews might be mini-interviews where they get to meet TONS of people in a VERY short amount of time. Think about how fun it will be to try to make a lasting positive impact over and over again in such a short amount of time!

Hopefully, COVID will not get in the way of needing to fly all over the country for these interviews. Virtual interviews take out all the fun of getting dressed up in your nicest suit and trying to convince an adcom panel that you are a better fit than everyone else you are interviewing with, whom you are also meant to socialize with before and after the interviews in what Travis can only assume is a social experiment testing some kind of cruel zero-sum game theory (which he loves).

*Editor’s note: The best part of a virtual interview is the “pants optional” policy in every virtual meeting! 

The Bad Stuff

Sadly it is not all rainbows and sunshine when applying to medical school. Sometimes, Travis warns, you will accidentally make friends in study groups or get some pointless feeling of fulfillment or altruism from the extracurricular volunteering. It’s also unavoidable that you will get a feeling of accomplishment from crushing your opponents in class (some people call them classmates or peers or *even worse* friends – but remember these people are your competition). Keep both eyes on the prize (med school admission) at all times. After all, your true friends are the grades you made along the way.

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