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Avoiding Common Pitfalls When Applying to Med School

Dr. Wu cautions against over-emphasizing a particular disaster as your reason for becoming a doctor. “Medical school admissions committees are wary of applicants who seem so outraged by a recent tragedy that they appear to be acting on a gut response to become a doctor to ‘save the world.” You’ll do better by making sure that all of the components of your application make sense and fit your central theme,” advises Dr. Wu.
You should also make sure you have enough time to dedicate to your personal statements for all your applications. You want to make each essay strong and targeted to the specific school, so you must make sure you’re not overloading yourself and allowing your personal statements to suffer as a result. “All applicants should consider how many applications they can realistically expect to manage,” says Dr. Wesley Hsu, who served on the admissions committee of Johns Hopkins Medical School. “The primary AMCAS application is only the first step in a long gauntlet. Most schools require a secondary application that can be at least as time consuming as the primary application itself!”
“Unless you can devote a significant amount of time to completing applications, you are well served by limiting your applications to ten to 15 schools. Less than that, and you risk not being accepted anywhere. More than that, and you may not have time to complete all of the applications carefully,” warns Dr. Hsu.
Pitfall #2: Recommendations
Obviously, you’re not going to ask for a letter of recommendation from someone who doesn’t think very highly of you. But equally as important, you should seek letters of recommendation from people who can boost your candidacy for med school, rather than people who will provide little or no information to support the claims in your application.
Consider several factors when looking for recommendation letters. First, a letter from a prestigious professor may sound like a good idea, but it’s not going to help you if he doesn’t know anything about you.
“Many applicants are eager to get letters from famous professors they took classes from” says Dr. Greg Goldmakher, a graduate of the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School. “The problem is that classes taught by famous professors almost always have hundreds of students. A Nobel laureate who knows you only through your participation in a large class won’t be able to write anything that truly distinguishes you from all the other applicants who worked hard and got good grades.
“It’s better to get a letter from someone who has gotten a chance to know you and your personality and to understand what motivates you to pursue a career in medicine. Choose a professor who taught a small seminar course or a mentor who saw you work in a research or clinical volunteer setting,” advises Dr. Goldmakher.
It’s also important to get recommendation letters from people qualified to comment on your potential as a med student. Rather than simple character references, you want letters that confirm the claims you make about yourself in your application and refute any negatives the admissions committee might find.
Dr. Tim Wu, reminds applicants that they’re not applying for a job. “The recommenders who can help you get a job are not the same recommenders who can help you get into medical school,” he advises. “Often, clients ask me if people as far removed from academics as ‘my supervisor at the Gap’ or ‘my church deacon’ or even ‘my grandmother who’s had a lot of medical problems, so she knows what she’d want in a doctor’ can be good letter writers. My answer is a big ‘no’ These are mere character references. A good letter writer, by contrast, will confirm the positive aspects of your med school application and assuage any concerns the admissions committees may have with regard to your candidacy.”
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