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The first “formal” step in the medical school application process is turning your primary app in, and as a result, it is a very important process that should not be taken lightly. This is your opportunity to make a first impression on the medical school admission committee members, and you should do your best to look them in the eyes and meet them with a firm handshake (or whatever the application equivalent of that would be…).
Whether you're working vigorously to finish your application now, or are getting a head start for next year, keep these key tips in mind:

Submit your application early.

While the effort to turn in your application early should never compromise its quality, if possible, it's usually advantageous to have your application in sooner rather than later. Most schools engage in rolling admissions (in where they accept students throughout the fall/winter/spring), and fixed class sizes can serve to antagonize a later application (simply because there could be fewer/no class spots left at that point). Again, the quality of your primary application should always be preserved, however there is no reason to delay your application submission if you feel that it is complete. 

Make sure your MCAT scores will be available on time.

Tied very closely to when your application will be considered by admissions committees is when your MCAT scores will be available. While related, when you submit your application does not always guarantee its consideration if your MCAT scores have not yet been reported to AMCAS. Generally speaking, while most schools can receive your primary application without your MCAT scores, they will not look at it until your scores have been reported. As a result make sure you keep in mind how your test date/score release will impact when your application is considered. 

As a result of this students should also remember that their will likely be no advantage to submitting your AMCAS primary significantly before your MCAT scores will become available to the schools you are applying to. If you chose to take the MCAT over the summer (of your current application cycle) do not rush to submit your primary before you've even taken the test, simply because this will not offer you any advantage.

Make your personal statement… personal.

This essay could perhaps be one of the most critical aspects of your application. It is the one aspect that most clearly cuts through all the other “lifeless” aspects of your primary (scores, grades, coursework, etc.). This is an opportunity to show the admissions committee what type of a person you are, and what you have to offer their program not only as a student, but more importantly, as a human being. Your GPA and MCAT will make you eligible for consideration, but it is items like the personal statement that will get you the interview. 

While addressing the question of “why you want to be a doctor” directly is an attractive topic, more subtle approaches that demonstrate why you belong in medical school can also be advantageous to your application. Before you start writing away, think very critically about how you define yourself, and what you would want others to know about you. This is a small window into who you are behind the application; make sure you seize it.

There is no single topic you “should” discuss, but rather you need to make sure that everything you do write about is specific to you and completely genuine. Grew up on a family farm? Have an interesting story about your journey to the States? Had a near-death experience? Write about it! Show the admissions committee that you are not just another student who has a GPA and MCAT score, but rather you are a “real person” who has much to contribute to the field of medicine.

Treat your "activities list" like a financial portfolio. 

You want to diversify and give the admissions committee an inclusive look into all the different things you have done before applying to medical school. These activities DO NOT have to be only ones that directly apply to medicine. (For example, in the past I did marine biology research and this was a topic that came up in most of my interviews that was fun to talk about, and in no way directly related to medicine).

Just like your personal statement (but in a different way) use this an opportunity to share interesting things about yourself. In many respects the field of medicine is dedicated toward preserving not only life, but the quality of life as well. As a result, medical schools want to enrich physicians who are balanced and have an appreciation for what quality of life means. Use this activities list as a means to show admissions that you not only work hard, but know how to explore and interact with the world around you as well.

Represent yourself honestly.

In the end, you must make sure that your compiled application is very much in line with who you are. There may be the desire to embellish, or say what you “expect” admissions members want to hear. However if your application is anything less than genuine, this will be very obvious to experienced application reviewers. Honesty and clear communication are also important skills in the field of medicine, and your primary application needs to embody both of these fully. Remember that when it comes time for your interviews, material from the primary app will definitely come up in conversation!


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Masis Isikbay

Masis Isikbay

Masis graduated in 2012 from University of Portland with a B.S. in Biology. He completed his degree program in only three years and was also named the Valedictorian of his class. After graduating, Masis spent two years working in clinical cancer research while publishing work on a new therapy for castration resistant prostate cancer. Masis received a score of 36 on the MCAT and now attends Harvard Medical School. Outside of school, Masis continues to work in the field of prostate cancer at the Harvard School of Public Health where he studies epidemiological factors that relate to the disease.
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