Courtesy of the Plan II pre-Medical Society: Your Guide to Med School Applications! Everything you wanted to know, and more Is this really going to be as hard as everyone seems to think it is?

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Courtesy of the Plan II Pre-Medical Society:
Your Guide


Med School Applications!

Everything you wanted to know, and more...

Is this really going to be as hard as everyone seems to think it is?

As you may or may not have realized already, come junior year, a lot of pre-meds start stressing out about applying to medical schools. Some of us are just beginning to stress; some of us have a seemingly unlimited holding capacity for stress and have been freaking out since freshman year; some of us are just unshakeably cool about the whole thing. Wherever you are in the process, the best advice I can give you right now is to take a deep breath and DON'T PANIC. Read this handbook, and if you still need a breathing bag after that, talk to one of the officers or an HPO guidance counselor. But don't worry. You can do this. ^_^

First Things First: An Overview of the Application Process

  • When to Start: The application process takes a year – you submit your application during the summer, do interviews during the fall, and in the spring there's the match and you find out for sure where you'll be going. So most people fill out the application in late spring of their junior year, or early in the summer right after. This is if you want to go straight into medical school after you graduate. If you want a year off in between (or you're going to take 5 years to graduate), then you can start the application during your senior year.

  • The Health Professions Office Resources: Each year the Health Professions Office holds workshops on the application process (in spring) and the interview process (late summer/early fall). Be on the lookout for these, and attend. If not, go see an advisor. And if you've never looked at the HPO website by this point, now would be a good time to check it out! But really, start looking at what they've got on there freshman year; they have a lot of cool resources for you.

  • The Application Services: Texas and Everywhere Else

  • TMDSAS – There are 9 medical school in Texas, and all except Baylor (which is the only private medical school) use the TMDSAS application. The application opens around May 1st, and they will start sending the applications to the medical schools beginning on June 1st. TMDSAS charges $75 for the first school, and $10 for each subsequent school you wish to apply to. It usually takes TMDSAS between 4-6 weeks to process your complete application after you submit it, before they will send it out to medical schools. Keep this in mind – even if you finish in July, it won't start getting to the schools until August, and then they'll need time to process it too. The deadline to submit is October 1st – BUT DO NOT WAIT THIS LONG!!! Check out the TMDSAS website for further info:

  • AMCAS – Just about every other school in the US, and Baylor in Texas, use the AMCAS application. You can begin submitting your application on June 1st with AMCAS, and the earlier you submit, the faster they will process it. I submitted mine in the second week of June and it took them 16 days to process it – later on in the summer it will take up to 6 weeks. AMCAS charges $160 for the first application, and $35 for each application after that. The deadlines to apply with AMCAS vary by which schools you are applying to, but the earliest are October 1st. Check out the AMCAS website for further info:

  • What you're going to need:

  • Completed Prerequisites (or almost completed; see section below)

  • Transcript – You'll have to fill out transcript request forms to have UT send your transcripts to TMDSAS and AMCAS directly; however, I also recommend getting a copy for yourself to help you fill out the part of the application where it asks for your coursework and grades.

  • MCAT score (from the past 5 years for Texas schools; some other schools want more recent scores) (also see section below)

  • Letters of Recommendation (see section below)

  • Personal Statement and Supplementary Essays (see section below)

  • What will be helpful:

  • Volunteering Experiences - (especially in the medical field – they will ask you for dates and hours, so keep track!)

  • Shadowing Experiences – Volunteering and/or shadowing activities are considered HIGHLY important. Medical schools and interviewers look at these to gauge your commitment and awareness of what you're getting into, and these will help you write meaningful personal statements.

  • Leadership/Club Activities (like this club, for instance. ^_^ )

  • Extracurricular Activities/Hobbies (be an interesting person)

  • Research – if you have done it and can remember it and cared about it, it will definitely help in some places. If not, don't worry about it.

A Few Components of the Application Process in Detail

  • Prerequisites – You do not need to have completed all of your prerequisites at the time you apply to schools – they'll usually consider your application as long as you are on track to complete the prerequisites before you graduate. However, if you do not complete the prereqs by the time you graduate, they will revoke your acceptance, so make sure you're on track to get these done. Some schools have different prerequisites (especially out of state schools), so you should check these for each school you want to apply to. However, most schools require:

  • 14 semester hours of biology – 12 hours of lecture and 2 hours of biology lab. The lecture hours include Bio 311C and 311D, Genetics, and one upper-division biology.

  • 8 semester hours of inorganic chemistry – 2 three-hour lectures and 2 hours of lab.

  • 8 semester hours of organic chemistry – 2 three-hour lectures and 2 hours of lab.

  • 8 semester hours of physics – 2 three-hour lectures and 2 hours of lab.

  • 6 semester hours of English (aka, Plan II Freshman Lit)

  • 3 semester hours Calculus/Statistics – certain schools will require one or the other. Statistics required by: UTHSC at San Antionio, Texas A&M HSC, Texas Tech in Lubbock, and UNT HSC (Tx. College of Osteopathic Medicine). Calculus or Statistics accepted by: Texas Tech in El Paso, UT Southwestern in Dallas, and UTMB in Galveston. UT Houston doesn't care if you take math or not. ***Double check with an advisor before you rule out one or the other of these. Some classes you might need to take later require Calculus as a prereq.

  • 3 semester hours of Biochemistry – Required by UTHSC in San Antonio and Texas Tech HSC in Lubbock. Strongly recommended by everyone else. You can take 3 hours of Biochem through CH 369, and then Plan II will require you to take Plan II Physics. Or you can take two semesters of Biochem through CH 339 K and L, and then Plan II will let you off the hook on Plan II Physics (note, the premed physics will not fulfill the plan II physics requirement!).

  • See the HPO's page on prereqs for the different classes that fulfill each requirement:

  • The Horrible, Terrifying, or Not-So-Bad MCAT – Almost everyone freaks out about this test. The first two things that most schools look at when deciding to interview you are your GPA and MCAT, so you can see why (they also give a lot of weight to your personal statement, but that's not as easy to judge just on first glance). Basically, you need to take the MCAT before you can apply. The AAMC offers the test at scattered times, but mostly in the spring semester, and you should consider signing up several months in advance if you want to take it in Austin, because we only have one test center here and it fills up fast. Also, keep in mind that it will take one month from when you test before they release your scores. So if you sign up to take the test in June, it will be July before you can submit your application – therefore, don't take it until you're prepared, but really, the earlier the better. As for prep classes – those things are expensive. Some clubs have scholarships you can sign up to try to get (like ours), but before you decide if you need a prep course or not, go take the free practice test on the AAMC website. It's full length, and should be a pretty good indicator of how you would do on the real thing, since they administer the real thing. If you are not too far off from what you want, then you might not need a prep course. I didn't take one, and I did fine. A lot of people took them and also did well. It depends on you. Don't freak until you've taken a practice test.

  • Letters of Recommendation – From a logistical standpoint, know that UT has a letters service with a website called Interfolio, and so you can just have your writers send the letters to Interfolio and then ask Interfolio to send it to the schools (this way you don't have to hand your writers 15 stamped, addressed envelopes to send to all the schools you're applying to). You'll need three rec letters, at least one from a science professor (some out of state schools require two from science; and usually calculus counts). On the matter of actually requesting these things, here are a few courtesy tips:

  • Get to know your professors. If you get someone at the beginning of the semester and think, “Hey, they seem cool, I think I'm going to do well in this class,” then go to office hours a few times and make sure they know your name (and preferably a few more things about you). Office hours are not just for people who need help with the material!!! Then keep in touch with them after the class ends. This will make it easier to ask them for a letter later. *I baked cookies for professors I really liked at the end of each semester. And then I kept coming back each semester after that to visit them and give them more cookies. Not everyone does this, and don't do anything if it isn't sincere.

  • Ask early. At least a month in advance. Preferably two or three. If the professor you want to ask teaches large classes, or if you didn't know them that well, it may be best to ask the fall semester before you want to apply. This gives you time to think of someone else if they say no.

  • Ask correctly. You should be able to give them everything they'll need to write and deliver your letter – the request form for Interfolio, as well as a stamped, addressed envelope to Interfolio, as well as a resume (and preferably a rough draft of your personal statement too). Also, write a thank-you letter once they agree (this is important; they don't have to spend time doing this for you) and in it you might want to tactfully remind them of when you would like them to send the letter by. *If you ask in the fall, you might just ask, “Would you be able to write me a letter in the spring?” and then get these things to them early in the spring.

  • Personal Statement and Supplementary Essays – The personal statement is an essay on the order of about 5000 characters (a page or two) where you explain why you want to be a doctor, what you think it means to be a doctor, and what you want to accomplish as a doctor. Everyone's will be different, but it's good if you can talk meaningfully about actual experiences you've had, rather than just wax lyrical on theory. TMDSAS also has two “optional” essays of 2500 characters each where you talk about unique circumstances, and personal characteristics or experiences that will bring diversity to the student body. Spend time on these. They are important. Consider going and talking to an advisor in the HPO to get them to proofread your essay before you send it off – they've seen a lot of statements, they can tell you if you're lacking anything.

What are my chances of getting in?

I know when I was applying, the one question I wanted to ask students who had gotten in was: What was your MCAT-GPA-resume? So I could try to match myself up and see what my chances were. Since this is a very difficult question to ask tactfully, here are some other places you can look to try to judge what your chances are.

  • Health Professions Office: They usually have some sheets with stats from UT's medical school applicants and their rates of acceptance.

  • TMDSAS website: On their home page for the medical school application, they have links to data on the admissions statistics (average MCAT, average GPA of people who ended up going to Texas schools) for the past year and the past ten years.

  • General, half common-knowledge guidelines – This is information from me as a non-professional, and not even the most savvy med-school applicant. However, it seems like a “safe” GPA is a 3.7 or above, and a “safe” MCAT is a 30 or above. If you're a few points off on either or both of these, don't get too down on yourself. These are just what seem to be around average for people who get into Texas med schools. A rep from Princeton Review also told us a model formula for getting an interview: (GPA * 10) + MCAT > 68. Don't get hung up on this formula, because he admitted it was only their best guess based on what several people who have served on admissions teams have told them. But it's also another way you can compare yourself to see if you're competitive.

The Interview

After you've submitted your application, and waited, schools will (hopefully) start sending you invitations to come interview. Most schools interview between August and December, and yes, you're going to have to miss a few classes for these all-day events, unless you get them all done before school starts (unlikely; Houston and Southwestern don't start interviewing until September). You'll go to the school, and spend from about 8 or 9 am until 3 or 4 seeing the school, learning about it, and doing two one-on-one interviews with staff or medical students. The interview is important in deciding if you get in, but don't be too intimidated. Very few interviewers will grill you on coursework you've had, or expect you to be an expert on healthcare. Most of them just want to get to know you. Some of them give you free stuff. If you are really worried, you can go to student doctor network and look at what some people say their interviewers asked them. Here are just a few tips:

  • Dress smart. All the other students will be wearing suits – that doesn't mean you HAVE to, but wear something professional. Bring comfortable shoes for the walking tour.

  • Review your application. They'll probably ask you to expand on a few of the things you mentioned.

  • Be confident, and polite. Polite means be on time, in particular. It also means don't just roll over if someone asks you to justify a comment you make, but also don't spend the entire 30 minutes in a heated debate with your interviewer.

  • Prepare a couple of questions for them. This was the hardest part for me, but EVERYONE will ask you if you have any questions for them, and the questions you ask can help them form an opinion of you. Are you interested in research, or volunteer opportunities at the school? Are you interested in shadowing the hospital faculty? (I asked this at about every interview – whether the faculty are open to 1st and 2nd years shadowing. Everyone said yes, enthusiastically.) Think of something, because it will come up.

  • Write thank you letters to your interviewers afterward. I think the HPO doesn't emphasize this, and it's not the end of the world if you don't, but it's a common practice, and may be expected by some people (UT Houston, for sure). Address them to the interviewer, in care of the medical school.

After the Interview: Acceptances and the Match

  • Acceptances: Schools in Texas start offering pre-match acceptances to in-state residents on November 15th. I think a lot of out of state schools do rolling admissions, meaning they can start telling you if you got in shortly after you interview. If you get pre-match acceptances from multiple schools, you can accept ALL of them – these are like tentative acceptances, they are not binding. If you don't get any pre-match acceptances, but you interviewed at several schools, don't freak out yet.

  • The Match: On January 10th, everyone enters “The Match.” This is for Texas schools, through TMDSAS (NOT including Baylor), and what happens is you rank the top four schools you want to go to (at which you did complete an interview), the schools rank the students they want to receive, and on February 1st everyone finds out where they are going. If you got a pre-match acceptance from your top-choice school, you rank them first and you will go there. If you didn't get a pre-match offer from your first choice school, then you can rank them number one in the match, and then rank the school you did get a pre-match from as number two. If you don't get into your number one, you'll still have that spot in the other school. If you didn't get any pre-match offers, and you don't match anywhere, then you might get offers as the semester goes on and some schools find that space has opened up because students they accepted turned them down.

So... that's a lot of information. What do I need to know or be doing right now?

  • Freshman and Sophomore Year:

  • Do well in your classes. If you can keep a high GPA freshman (and sophomore) year, that will make it less stressful later on when you realize you might not get an A in organic chemistry, or physics, or biochemistry. Try to create a little bit of a cushion for yourself, because the classes are only going to get harder. This means learning to study well and manage your time. You ideally want around a 3.7 or higher when it comes time to apply.

  • Get to know your professors. Particularly the professors in those nice, small Plan II classes – if you keep in touch, they might write you a recommendation letter come junior year.

  • Start volunteering somewhere. Look at the HPO website for medical volunteering opportunities. Don't do this if you're already feeling overwhelmed, but also know: you are never going to have more time than you have now. If you can get some things done now, it will help you later on.

  • Start looking for shadowing opportunities. The more shadowing you get done, the better. Plus, it's fun. Consider applying to Health Careers Mentorship Program – there is a pre-requisite medical terminology course you have to take, so if you want to do that, plan ahead. But they can set you up with serious shadowing. Also look into the connections that other clubs have too (like us ^_^).

  • Consider studying abroad or spending a summer in a medical program. The HPO site has a list of summer activities you can do – not all of them require you to leave the country, but that's really a bonus, isn't it?

  • Junior Year:

  • If you haven’t shadowed or volunteered somewhere, do that this year. If you don’t have any connections to a doctor, then what the Health Professions Office recommends is to dress nicely, and take your resume to a doctor’s office and ask if they would consider allowing you to shadow. You might have to leave your resume with a receptionist; let them know you’ll call back in a few days “just to check.” Be polite. Expect some people to say no – it’s okay. If they say yes, be professional, overdress for the first time, and send them a thank you letter when you are done.

  • Fall Semester – start thinking about who you’re going to ask for rec letters from. If you’re going to ask someone who taught a large class, you might want to ask this semester if they’ll be willing to write you a letter in the spring. If they taught a lot of students, chances are a lot of other people will be asking them. It’s also not too late to start getting to know your current professors, to ask them in the spring.

  • Spring Semester

        • Attend an HPO interview workshop. Try to do this early – like January or February. You don’t want to be one of the people who attends in April or May and finds out you have to start asking professors for rec letters (though if you’re reading this, you already know).

        • Ask for your recommendation letters from your professors. Again, remember to write them a thank you when they agree to do it.

        • Take the MCAT, if you haven’t already. Some people take it sophomore year, or at the beginning of their junior year, but don’t feel pressured to do this. Just try to take it by the middle of May, so you’ll get your score and be able to submit the application in June. This does mean you need to sign up to take it in January or February, however.

        • DO THE APPLICATION EARLY!!! This is the BEST thing you can do to increase your chances of getting interviews, and to give yourself some peace of mind. Plan on getting your application in by the middle of June. I put mine in on June 12th and was done with interviews by September 23rd. It’s such a relief. Don’t put it off, because the longer you take to get it in, the longer it will take the application service to process it, and your schools might have already started doing interviews before they even know you exist. It is really tough to submit it in late July, and realize that the schools are just receiving it in September, when some of your friends have already done their first interviews. This is the best advice I can give you.

Do you still have questions? There are lots of people you can ask. Try the HPO (I can’t recommend these people strongly enough.) Try asking the officers of this club. Feel free to contact me whenever, though I might take a little while to get back to you, depending. Holly Day, class of 2011, Good luck! And remember, DON’T PANIC! You got this. ^_^

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