How to keep stress under control when applying to medical school

Follow these simple steps to get a handle on the stress of applying to medical school

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Getting into medical school is difficult, stressful, and time-consuming. The good news is that it’s totally within your reach. Just because it is difficult doesn’t make it impossible. Many students have started where you are now and felt all the things you may be feeling; anxious, nervous, and overwhelmed. All of these feelings and emotions are normal but it’s important to not let them get in the way of your success.

A large part of stress is caused by uncertainty, so the best way to combat stress is to prepare in advance. Follow this quick guide to help you ensure that you have everything in order to apply to medical school:

Step 1: Determine where you stand

First, you’ll want to ensure that you’ve met all medical school requirements and have taken all the necessary prerequisite courses. Make a list of all your extracurricular activities, clinical experiences, volunteer experiences, and shadowing experiences. How does it look? Are there areas you can improve? Review your list and double-check that you haven’t forgotten any work you have done. Perhaps you had an interesting experience in rural medicine or volunteered abroad? Try and include activities and experiences that are meaningful in your journey to medicine and demonstrate a serious time commitment. 

Next, calculate your science and cumulative GPA. Are you happy with your marks or is there room for improvement? To address any low marks or coursework gaps, consider re-taking courses, or enrolling in a postbaccalaureate or special master’s program. Be sure to review medical school acceptance rates to compare how your statistics measure up to that of accepted students at the schools to which you’re applying. If you haven’t already taken the MCAT, when do plan to do so? Your score is important and the fewer attempts you take to achieve an excellent score, the better. There are some medical schools that don’t require the MCAT, but most of them do. Ensure that you only take the test when you are 100% ready and are scoring consistently well. 

Step 2: Secure quality letters of recommendation (LOR).

A great LOR is better than a good letter any day. Ask suitable candidates, such as a professor or a physician you shadowed early to ensure they have enough time to write you an amazing letter. Keep in mind that admissions committee members will be looking through hundreds of applicants with high GPAs, MCAT scores, and impressive personal statements. Recommendation letters are so valued as they will provide an external, objective evaluation of your suitability for a career in medicine to admissions committees. 

Step 3: Work on your application. 

Now it’s time to begin working on filling out your medical school application. You’ll want to utilize the significant experiences that you listed in step 1 to create a strong AMCAS Work and Activities section of your application. For this section of the application, you will be able to select up to 15 experiences covering research, volunteer experiences, employment, awards, honors, publications, and extracurricular activities, and you can enter up to four occurrences for each type of experience. Keep in mind that quality is more important than quantity so don’t feel you need to fill in all 15 spaces. 

One of the most important parts of your application is your personal statement. This statement needs to answer the question “Why do you want to be a doctor?” You want to give yourself as much time as possible to write your statement. Do not think you can do this in an evening or even in a week. Some statements take months to get just right with multiple edits and revisions, ideally with the help of a professional medical school advisor

Step 4: Ace your CASPer test.

More and more programs are using the Computer-based Assessment for Sampling Personal characteristics, known as the CASPer test, in their admissions process. This is a web-based tool that is used by some medical schools, nursing education, pharmacy, optometry, veterinary, and medical residency programs and it claims to evaluate candidates’ “soft” skills and decision-making abilities. This test is often used as an intermediary step to decide which candidates should be invited to an in-person interview. For this reason, it’s essential to understand how to prepare for CASPer and ensure that you practice in advance with CASPer sample questions that are likely to show up during the actual test.

By following all of these steps, you’ll have successfully applied to medical school. Your final obstacle before acceptance will be to ace your medical school interview. To keep stress to a minimum, ensure you prepare effectively by participating in realistic mock interviews, receiving personalized feedback, and practicing with common medical school interview questions or Multiple Mini Interview (MMI) questions

Best of luck in your journey towards becoming a doctor!

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