When you start application process for medical school, you begin to realize how many steps there are. Too many. In fact, one could easily write an entire book about the med school application process (and many have!)

In the last couple of blog posts, we've given you advice on how to best use MCAT study groups, how to set up an MCAT study schedule, and how to manage the stress of MCAT prep.

Who are we anyway? Brainscape is the developer of the world's most effective flashcard app, and our team of MCAT flashcard authors has over 50 combined years in MCAT tutoring. Instead of writing an entire book about this application process (who has the time for that?), we're sharing key pieces of advice about med school admissions that all too often get overlooked.

The core of a strong med school application is a strong GPA earned in a variety of difficult classes, a high MCAT score, and a range of interesting extracurriculars. But you can’t change any of those things after you’ve already started applying.

Instead, let’s focus on the three major things you can influence once you’ve started applying: the essay, the letters of recommendation, and the interview.

And have you started studying for the MCAT? We have the perfect study tool for you. Our MCAT flashcards will help you nail the MCAT by breaking down the heaps of information you need to learn and optimizing your study process with you. Check it out.

The personal statement

As with the application process in general, you can find entire books written about how to construct a good essay. We'd strongly recommend reading through one (here's an example). Even well-prepared students, however, seem to have a tendency to ignore three key pieces of advice when constructing their essays:

Tip 1: Start early

We can’t emphasize this enough. Your first effort at your personal statement will be terrible. Everyone’s is. You will probably end up having to work through a half-dozen drafts or more. To have time for that much revision and rewriting, you’ll need to start early.

Tip 2: Make it about you

This may sound silly—after all, it’s your personal statement. But so often, people end up telling a story about a person they knew, or a patient who had an impact on them at a volunteer opportunity, etc. By the end of the essay they’ve told a compelling story about someone else, rather than themselves. Sure, the essay includes a discussion about the author’s reactions, but they remain just that—reactions to someone else, rather than something that comes from within the writer.

Tip 3: Get feedback from many different sources

People can often feel embarrassed about their personal statements, and as a result they only show the essay to their pre-med adviser, and maybe a parent. This is a major mistake! You should get feedback from friends, professors, classmates, parents, and yes, your pre-med adviser. Since you don’t know the exact person who will be reading your essay, you have to aim for a work that has strong general “readability”. If you can show the essay to both your physics lab partner and your grandmother, and both of them like it, then you’re on the right track.

Letters of recommendation

As with the personal statement, there’s tons of advice out there, but I’d like to emphasize the one that is most often forgotten: the thank you card.

After someone has agreed to write you a personal statement, you should wait a week and then send them a follow up thank you card. Depending on your relationship with the letter writer, it may be appropriate to send a small gift as well. In the card, be sure to say something along the lines of “Thank you for having written that letter”, phrasing it as if the person has already written it. Of course, professors are busy folks and they haven’t written it in the past week, but putting it that way serves as a little reminder to them to get the letter done.

The other nice thing about the thank you card is that since so many students forget to send it, you will stand out as being as especially thoughtful student (remember that the popular professors all get the requests for LOR’s so they tend to get swamped).

The interview

Finally, once everything else is done, you know you’re in the home stretch when you’ve made it to the interview. The interview is basically the medical school’s way of saying “you’re good enough to go here, but since we can’t admit everyone, we have to do a final check.” At a typical school, they might receive anywhere from a dozen to several dozen applications for each seat in the class. But they won’t interview more than a small handful of students for each spot. Meaning if you’ve made it to the interview, your odds of getting in to the school just shot up from 15-to-1 up to 4-to-1 or even 3-to-1.

Again, you should pick up a book-length treatment of how to do med school interviews and be sure to follow all the basic advice you can get from them. But as with the essays and LOR’s, there’s on essential piece of advice that students constantly forget: be sure to have questions.

In every interview since the beginning of time, there’s that moment where the interviewer looks to you and says, “So, do you have any questions for me?” When that moment comes, you don’t want to just stare blankly at the person going, “. . . uh . . . where’s the bathroom?” Instead, you want to be sure to have a handful of focused questions about that particular school. Show the interviewer that you’ve read up about that school, that you’re enthusiastic about attending, and that you’re well-prepared for the interview.

We're here to help

Everyone here at Brainscape would like to thank you for reading, and we hope that this series of articles has been helpful and informative.

Your first step in the process is to start prepping for the MCAT, by gathering the resources you need, including Brainscape’s MCAT flashcards. Good luck!

Studying for the MCAT using Brainscape's flashcards
Study for the MCAT using Brainscape's MCAT flashcards.