The countdown starts

The fun has begun.

With my Medical Professions Advisory Committee (MPAC) interview last week, this process for applying to medical schools has officially begun. I suppose technically the first packet of information I sent to them in January was also an initiation, but this interview sets the tone for the committee letter and since AMCAS is opening up in just about a week, I thought it was appropriate to get down some of my last minute thoughts before my freedom is completely wrenched from my anxious fingers.

The next year of my life is going to be devoted to this process. “That sounds like an awful long time” you say? Yes, yes it is. The procedures for applying to medical school, including the insane amount of prerequisites both academic and extracurricular, are designed, in my eyes, primarily to self-select. It is a system created to weed out those who don’t want to or can’t manage to jump through all the hoops necessary. The year long application process is just another obstacle to overcome. Luckily I have some experience with long and painful applications.

The application itself opens up for the class entering in fall 2012 on or about May 5th, 2011. From that day forward, applicants will be able to enter in biographical data, class and grade information, work and activities, MCAT scores, select schools, and enter in their personal statement reflecting upon “why medicine.” The paperwork for requesting transcripts is also available and we can start getting those sent into the application service. We can take as long as we want to submit the finalized app, up until the submission deadlines of individual schools, usually around October 15th. However, one should not wait that long. Because the majority of med schools operate under a “rolling admissions” policy, it behooves the applicant to submit as early as possible. The first day to submit is usually June 1st. Guess what day I’ll be submitting?

After submission, we wait for verification, the process by which AMCAS checks your information entered and makes sure it’s all correct and you didn’t say you made a 4.0 when you really had a 2.7. If you submit early this verification process is quicker. If you wait, it takes longer. Last year people who submitted June 1st were verified within hours. People who waited until June 2nd had to wait up to a week for the status change. Not that a couple days makes much difference because AMCAS doesn’t send out the first batch of verified applications until June 10th. So basically as long as you’re verified by then you will be in the group of apps that med schools see first. After that, batches are sent out to schools pretty regularly. My plan is to make the first round, a good method for someone with painfully average stats like myself.

After schools receive your primary application they send out secondary apps. Secondaries are sometimes screened, often not. If not screened it means that everyone who selected the school on their AMCAS gets offered to fill out the secondary. If they screen based on numbers you might be rejected pre-secondary. Ouch. It’s also important to turn out secondaries quickly, but depending on the schools’ own deadlines you might not even get some of them until August. Most go out within a few weeks of the receipt of your primary, however. Secondaries are important. They give us a chance to tailor our applications to a specific school. Usually this is done by three to five essays on the subjects of “why this school”, diversity issues, overcoming challenges, or ask about some of our other, hidden talents. It’s not the place to regurgitate information already available on AMCAS. Most schools these days do secondaries online, but a few still have the old paper versions unfortunately. These will be frustrating for me while I’m applying from Africa.

The next step is to wait until you are listed as “complete” at your schools. This means that they have the primary and secondary applications as well as your letters of recommendation and anything else they might need in order to evaluate you. Once you are complete at a school, the admission committee (adcom) meets and decides who gets invited for an interview. Most schools look at everything, scores are not the whole story.

If you get an interview you will be invited to come to the school for the day and show them your stuff. If you apply early and are relatively competitive you’ll probably get most of your interviews before January, although many schools go until much later. Since I’ll be flying in from Africa for my interviews I’m planning on letting schools know I’ll be available anytime during the month of October. Hopefully I’ll get some bites.

After interview season, you wait. And wait and wait and wait. Then there’s news: rejection, acceptance, or waitlist. Final decisions have to be made by May 15th. Some people don’t come off the waitlists until July, however, so there’s often no way to know for sure until late in the game.

It’s arduous that’s for sure. I think the waiting is going to be the most frustrating part, although I’m lucky in that waiting for interviews will be short and sweet for me; once October is over and I’m heading back to Benin, there’s no more interviews for me and I can assume rejections from those schools. Easy as pie. Post interview waiting (assuming I make it that far!) is going to be torture.

During the wait before secondaries, it’s possible to pre-write a lot of them. Student Doctor Network posts the secondary prompts from previous years and very few schools change their questions. Out of my fourteen schools, I’ve actually pre-written ten of my secondaries. This will save time and ensure that I am one of the earliest applicants. Please notice me despite my depressing MCAT and GPA!

So there you have it, a basic run down of the next 12 to 14 months of my life. If all goes perfectly I could have an acceptance as early as Thanksgiving. If things go horribly horribly wrong, I could be rejected everywhere and reapplying in 12 to 14 months. Sooo, that’s comforting!

I think I’m going to use my last week of freedom to do nothing medical school related at all. Seriously, I’m going to fantasize about all the other career choices I could have fallen in love with, I’m going to web surf blogs of law school and business school students, read books that have nothing to do with health or medicine, pretend I’m on my way to get my MFA and become a world famous children’s author, and ignore the healthcare policy issues in a sickening display of apathy and ignorance. It is the last time in my life I will be able to do this and I am going to get as much out of it as possible. Here I come astronaut school!

Standing there alone the ship is waiting.
All systems are go. are you sure?
Control is not convinced
But the computer has the evidence
No need to abort.
The countdown starts


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