What to Expect in the Medical School Application Process

I spent four years of college working my butt off to get good grades, get involved with extra-curriculars, and I even took a 7-hour exam all to “get my application ready”. But the truth is, I had no idea what the application actually entailed. With a lot more hurdles than expected, I didn’t get my application in nearly as early as I would have liked. My application wasn’t verified until mid-July (I didn’t even know an application had to be verified), despite my goal to get my application submitted by June 1st.

If I had known just a bit more about the process before starting, I could have saved myself A LOT of stress. I would also recommend taking advantage of MCAT Self Prep’s one-on-one Admissions Consulting as well as our in-depth course on crushing your medical school applications. But first, let’s dive in. Here are four hurdles that can be expected during the application process:

1. The Three Parts of the Primary Application:

I think the only thing I knew about the primary application was that it included a personal statement. After probably 35 drafts and enlisting about 5 different friends to proof-read, I finally felt okay about my personal statement.

 **If you need help with the personal statement, MCAT Self Prep has affordable admissions consultants available for one-on-one help. Our Medical School Application Course also offers an excellent resource that helps with the drafting and application process. My best advice is to accept that you will have to write and rewrite your personal statement repeatedly until you’re satisfied.** 

As it turns out, however, there are actually two other pieces to your primary application in addition to the personal statement

The next challenge for me was writing up my “work/activities” essays. I knew at one point I would be asked about what extracurriculars I had been a part of, but this format was new to me. Although the character count is limited to 700 characters, you will end up writing a mini-essay about each extra-curricular that you have been a part of. I ended up writing 11 of these little essays (the maximum is 15)  which encompassed everything I had done for the last 4 years from playing a sport, to volunteering, to awards I had received. It was trickier than I thought to try to tell a story in this limited space of how each activity impacted me. One resource that helped me understand what they were looking for was Bemo Academic Consulting. They do a great job of emphasizing that even in this limited space you can show admissions committees everything you learned rather than just telling them what you did. 

The AAMC has listed the categories of potential activities on their website. Try to list up to 15 activities that you’ve participated in after graduating high school and which categories they would fall into:

    1. Artistic Endeavors
    2. Community Service/Volunteer – Medical/Clinical
    3. Community Service/Volunteer – Not Medical/Clinical
    4. Conferences Attended
    5. Extracurricular Activities
    6. Hobbies
    7. Honors/Awards/Recognitions
    8. Intercollegiate Athletics
    9. Leadership – Not Listed Elsewhere
    10. Military Service
    11. Other
    12. Paid Employment – Medical/Clinical
    13. Paid Employment – Not Medical/Clinical
    14. Physician Shadowing/Clinical Observation
    15. Presentations/Posters
    16. Publications
    17. Research/Lab
    18. Teaching/Tutoring/Teaching Assistant

Additionally, I was not prepared to have to choose 3 experiences to write about in more depth, but this ended up helping my application overall. A lot of these experiences I felt strongly about, so it was a nice chance to explain a bit more about a few things. So look at this as a positive thing! Show off what you’ve accomplished! Take your time with these essays and draft them/edit them nearly as much as your personal statement. It will be time-consuming, but these essays can carry a lot of weight! We recommend starting to draft your personal statement and activities by at least January of your application year.

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Here are some of the activities I put. Tutoring actually ended up being one of my “most meaningful experiences”.

Another good resource is Accept Med. This helped me decide how many experiences to include.

2. Timing the Application Cycle is Tough: 

This was the theme of my application process. I couldn’t seem to get the timing quite right. There’s a lot of steps to coordinate so here are some tips that I wish I knew and hopefully, this can help you set yourself up for success.

Tell your letter writers a due date prior to the actual deadline and follow up with them! Your mentors are very busy physicians and professors. Emails can slip through the cracks. In my experience, I had to email some of my writers many times to make sure they were aware of deadlines. I don’t think it was personal or it was that they didn’t want to help me out, and they seemed thankful for reminders as the date came closer. That being said, don’t inundate or attack your letter writers before you want them to write nice, flattering things about you. 

Request your transcript on time! This seems so simple, and it should be, but I thought that meeting with the pre-med department at my undergrad was enough to make sure they were sending everything needed. However, the individual student must submit a transcript request to AAMC at most universities. To make things worse, a lot of undergrad schools mail the transcripts out rather than send an email so you will need to allow extra time. 

Actually prewrite secondary essays! This means start drafting a 500-word essay for the most common secondary topics: a challenge/adversity that you faced, what you did with any time off in college, your future plans, and what diversity you could bring to the class.  For me, this made a world of a difference. As I said my application was late (mid-July) but because I was delayed I was determined to get my secondaries turned around ASAP. Below you can see how I kept track of each secondary application and the drafting process. I used the prompts from the previous year to draft and then edited once I knew the updated prompts. In the last column I would mark if there was a good essay I could use as a template for other secondary questions. With all of my prep, I was able to get my secondaries in earlier than some people who had received secondary requests long before me. 

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3. Don’t get Sucked into Student Doctor Network! 

I was really good at stressing out over what people posted in SDN. I would constantly look at people’s stats, the number of schools they applied to, and how many interviews each person seemed to already have and panic. I am very thankful for my two coworkers who were also applying in the same cycle who forced me to get off SDN and reassured me that everything would work out each time I decided there was no chance it would. 

Aside from finding the list of every secondary question by school, there was nothing on SDN that was helpful to my application process at all. I learned nothing from people’s posts other than how great they thought they were and how inadequate I must be. Everyone gets interviews at different times and stats are not the only thing that defines the strength of your application. If you can, try to use this site only to find secondaries and get off. Be confident in yourself and your application, I’m sure it is better than you think! 

4. Applying to Medical School is Expensive: 

I’m talking really expensive. I ended up submitting 23 applications for a total of $3552 (including primary application costs, secondary applications, and CASPER). That’s a lot of money!! That’s before traveling to interviews and the costs associated with that. With my research assistant salary, this was difficult to plan for. Just be aware that this is the type of budget you’re looking at if you want to apply to this many schools. That being said, I definitely did not need to apply to 23 schools (I let the SDN-induced panic control that decision). Most students apply to 15-20 schools. Think about how much money you’re willing to spend here and plan the number of schools accordingly. Most students applying to 15+ schools spend between $5,000-7,000 for the application cycle, however, many students do not spend that much. Be aware of the fee assistance programs and see if this is something that can help you with these costs. Additionally, we are here to help you save on costs associated with taking the MCAT so that way you won’t be as financially burdened when you apply. Check out our 100% FREE MCAT Prep Course!

Hopefully some of these tips can save you a bit of stress or at least help you know what to expect. This is definitely a stressful process, but you are so close to all of your hard work paying off!! All it takes is one acceptance and it doesn’t matter if it’s in October or July. Good luck everyone! You will get through this and we are here to help with one-on-one mentoring for application and interview prep! Schedule a FREE consultation with Andrew today!

Warm regards, 


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Marie scored in the 99th percentile in both the Chemistry/Physics and the Biology/Biochemistry Sections. She has been tutoring since high school and always instills confidence in her students. Learn more.

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How we Matched up the Khan Academy Passages with the eCourse Lessons

Each lesson of the eCourse contains links to 1 to 5 Khan Academy science passages for the purpose of providing you with non-AAMC material to practice your science passage reading skills on. By completing all the linked passages within every lesson, you will have finished all the freely available Khan Academy science passages.

To match up the Khan Academy Science Passages with the eCourse lessons, we carefully examined the passage and question content of each one. Then we decided which lesson of the eCourse best correlated with that content. You may notice that some passages don’t match up perfectly with the current lesson. If they don’t match up with the current lesson, they should match up with one of the previous lessons in the module. We did this carefully so that you could practice your science passage reading skills on passages that contain the content you’ve already learned.

Why we don’t recommend non-AAMC CARS practice questions

We recommend practicing CARS by reading non-AAMC CARS passages but not doing the associated practice problems. The reason we don’t recommend doing the practice problems is because the MCAT is written by the AAMC. They have a very unique style in which they write CARS practice questions that third-party companies (try as they might) are unable to replicate. When students spend time on non-AAMC CARS practice problems, they get familiar with the wrong style of questioning, leading them to overthink and incorrectly respond to the questions written by the AAMC. Thus, it is in your best interest to solely practice on AAMC CARS practice questions.

That said, we highly recommend practicing your reading skills on non-AAMC CARS passages. In our Ultimate CARS Strategy Course, we provide you with 1,000 free CARS passages and 100+ homework assignments, giving you ample material to practice on. Reading countless passages while practicing the proper reading habits and strategies will prepare you well to conquer the CARS section as it was written by the AAMC.

Which books do the lessons match up with?

The books we use in each lesson are linked below. We plan to stick with these older editions of the books since very little has changed and the older editions are much more affordable:

First Edition of the Kaplan 7-book Series
First Edition of the Princeton 7-book Series

Do the chapters match up perfectly?

The Kaplan Books, Princeton Books, and Khan Academy Videos were all produced by different authors. For this reason, there are some chapters in the Kaplan Book or Princeton Book that are not even found in the Khan Academy Videos and vice versa. For instance, the Kaplan and Princeton Books have chapters that cover certain experimental procedures that the Khan Academy Videos do not cover.

Our goal in matching up the books with the videos was to correlate the content as best as possible while also covering ALL the content from every resource. For this reason, when nothing in the Kaplan Books matched up with one of the video playlists, instead of leaving the reading assignment for Kaplan blank, we inserted material that did not fit in anywhere else (i.e. one of those chapters on an experimental procedure that was not covered by Khan Academy). So, when the assignment doesn’t appear to match up right, please know that this was intentional.

*If you follow the reading assignments outlined, you will finish the entire Kaplan 7-book series and/or Princeton 7-book series by the time you finish all 10 content modules.

Do the sections match up perfectly?

If the sections assigned in our eCourse do not match up with the sections contained in your content review book, you may have a different edition. The sections should still match up the large majority of the time, but in the rare instance that they don’t, I’d recommend simply reading sections that do match up and saving the ones that do not for a future lesson.

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