I know I know, it's been a ridiculously long time since writing my first post on med school apps. I got so busy at school with classes, theater, and interviews that I didn't have time to blog for our millions of readers (ok, not millions, but spread the word! tell you're friends! we're a big deal!).
Anyways, I figured I would take this winter break (hallelujah!) to play some catch up, post a little more regularly, and update yall on my application cycle. Let's see....so I left off with finishing primaries. At this point in the game, if you're currently applying, the following info won't be terribly useful (though maybe entertaining?), but for future applicants, it should help.
So, let's talk secondaries. All summer, these were the bain of my existence, the reasons I locked myself in my room on many a summer night after getting out of work, the outcome of which made me cry myself to sleep and wake up early worrying that I had something left to finish (ok, so maybe not the first part of that statement, but you get the idea). Moral of the story: Secondary applications are ENERGY VAMPIRES.
Why is that? Simply because of the sheer number of essays you will be filling out. You may be thinking, "Well, it shouldn't be that bad! I'm sure they all ask the same questions, so I'll just recycle my essays with a little tweaking." HA! Ya, that's what I thought too, until I started doing them. Let me start off by saying I applied to a ridiculously large number of schools, and as a result, had a proportional number of secondaries (you'll find that most schools don't prescreen, so almost everyone gets a secondary so they can take more of your money). I soon began finding that most schools were asking from anywhere to 2-6 (sometimes more or less) short-answer or essay questions. Some were pretty similar, such as the different flavors of "Why MD/DO?", "What qualities do you have that would make you a good doctor?", etc. But why couldn't I just write one of these essays and copy and paste it over and over again? CHARACTER LIMITS!!!
I cannot express enough how much I hate character limits. Almost all of my applications had very specific character limits (not even word limits!) that you could not possibly get around. Sure, I wrote some good "Why me" type essays, but by the time I trimmed a 750 character essay to a 350 character essay (yuh, you'll see this), it no longer made sense and required a re-write.
Character limits weren't the worst part of the process for me. The worst was the amount of self-reflection and keeping the motivation to keep going. Personally, I'm no good as self-reflection and I sometimes feel uncomfortable talking about myself (hell, I do theater to escape from myself sometimes!). If you have trouble with this, be warned, it takes more time and energy than you think. It certainly got easier as the process went on, but still, you should prepare for a year-long adventure of reflecting on your life and selling yourself (metaphor guys, not literally) to the adcoms.
"So," you're thinking, "what can I do to prepare for this forced onslaught of existential crises and digging deep to my emotional core?" Well, here are some tips I figured out along the way:
- Start a word document where you can work on and store all your essays. Set up a space for each school and copy and paste the questions, writing the character limit next to it. From here, work on your essays (and watch your character limits along the way!) so you have a log of everything you have written. When you're done, just copy and paste back to the application (which is probably online). Oddly enough, it's not always easy to retrieve your application after you press submit, and being familiar with your answers when you arrive at interviews is vital.
- Look for trends and themes in the questions being asked. The "Why medicine?" "Why DO (if you're applying to Osteopathic schools)?" type questions. Instead of trying to copy and paste between applications, distill out some buzzwords and main ideas and put them at the top or in a different document so you can draw on those same ideas (and not have to regenerate them in your brain) when writing individual essays.
- Ask your friends and family for advice! I had one question that asked us to list 5 character traits you would want to find in a doctor, then describe ways I displayed these character traits in my life. I was at my job while working on this, and brainstormed with my boss different adjectives that describe a good doctor. Other questions ask for "3 words that describe you" or "3 things about you your friends value most". Ask others how they see you, how they would describe you, because sometimes, you're vision of yourself is too harsh (mine certainly was). The way other people described me brought a lot more depth to how I "sold" myself in my applications.
- Keep the school's website open while doing your application. On any application, you WILL be asked "Why this school?". If it's a school you're only tangentially aware of (aka you read about it in the MSAR, on SDN, or somewhere else), do a little research on the school before writing. I scoured the websites for about half an hour, finding 2 or 3 things that really resonated with me. These could be location, unique programs, teaching methodology, residency placements, whatever piques your interest. Personally, I liked starting with a school's goals, values, and mission statements (they're pretty easy to find). While some are more general, they tell a lot about why the school was founded, the population it serves, and the kind of students (aka future doctors) it hopes to educate.
- DON'T FREAK OUT! There were lots of times I was so tired of filling out secondaries I thought about cutting some out, reducing the number of schools I applied to. Admittedly, I definitely submitted a few that weren't by best work, contained spelling and grammar errors, and may have logistically made little sense. Don't let yourself get burned out, and DON'T give up. Ultimately, I pushed through and completed all the secondaries I received (it took about 2 or 3 months, but I did it!). Just remember, the more polished secondaries you get in, the more people that will see your application, the higher the chances (potentially) of getting into medical school. This is what kept me going, and maybe it will work for you.
After you submit secondaries, it's all out of your hands until you (hopefully) get invited for an interview. Thus, the waiting game begins. Schools basically have any time from the time you press submit until March or April (even until late summer sometimes) to look at your application and invite you for an interview. Just try to relax and focus on other things. Periodically check in on your application status at the schools you applied to, make sure your application is complete, your letters of recommendation are in, and that your file is complete. After that, there is really nothing else you can do. Oh, and for the record, I finished all my secondaries by September, and to date, I have only had 5 interview requests. I haven't heard a peep from a lot more than 10 other schools.
Next post: Interviews! Get pumped, it's gonna be big.