I actually have a timeline posted in the FAQs but I wanted to specifically get the attention of those who are starting to work on applications now.
The earlier you do everything, the better off and happier you will be.
Note that I am a world-class procrastinator. I am deadline-driven. I often pay my bills late. I put off lots of things and always have. All three of my kids were born after their due dates. Quite possibly the ONLY thing I have done early was my medical school application.
Please don’t be deadline-driven when you’re working on your application this year. If AMCAS says that the application must be in by November 1 (just for example), do NOT think that you can put off worrying about your application until October! You want your stuff in EARLY.
Why? Lots of reasons. First of all, this application process is a logistical challenge. You need to have transcripts sent to AMCAS, LORs and secondaries sent to each school, etc. etc. You will be juggling a lot of different things, and there are MANY steps along the way where things can go astray. So the sooner you start the process, the easier it will be to make sure that things are going as they should - and the easier it will be to rectify things that do NOT go right. One common example is transcripts to AMCAS; AMCAS in years past has been notorious for losing these. If you arrange to have your transcripts sent at the earliest possible date, you should be able to check a few weeks later to see if AMCAS has them. If not, you can check in a few more weeks. If they still don’t, you’ve got plenty of time to request that they be sent AGAIN.
Same thing with LORs, especially if you are getting individual letters sent. People often have good intentions and say they’ll send a letter right away - but then they don’t. If you start checking with a school in August, say, for a letter you were told was sent in July, you are in much better shape than having to scramble for letters near the end of interview season.
Another deadline you’ll run across are the individual schools’ secondary deadlines. When you receive a secondary, you want to get it back to the school within one month at the MOST. Now, if the secondary arrives in late July and you’re studying for the August MCAT, yeah, you can put off doing it until right after the MCAT if you need to - but do NOT keep it sitting around until right before its due date, please!
If you’re taking the April MCAT, a frequent question is, should I apply before I have seen my scores? This is pretty individual and will depend on how you felt going into the test (what were your last practice scores?), how you felt coming OUT of the test, and how you feel about the rest of your application. For some people the MCAT score decides whether they’re going to apply at all that year. Your MCAT scores are available in early June so it is understandable if you want to wait. You may also face the situation of having so-so MCAT scores where you determine that you want to apply, but you also want to retake the MCAT. You can indicate this on your application.
I am something of a control freak, I admit it. One of the things I found really discomfitting about the whole application cycle was how much of it was out of my control. I could not watch my committee write the letter and put it in the mail. I couldn’t stand over the registrar and see her send the transcript to AMCAS. I couldn’t help an AdCom person notice the great things in my application.
So it was really important to me to assert control over as much of the process as I could. Getting things in early and then checking to make sure they got there made me feel a lot better - I felt like I did as much as I could to make my application a success.
You don’t want to end the application season second-guessing the little things YOU could have done differently!
I actually have a timeline posted in the FAQs but I wanted to specifically get the attention of those who are starting to work on applications now.
Fortunately Mary posts this each year, and it is fabulous advice!! Heed it well.
The only thing that I would add is that YOU are in charge of your application. If you haven’t heard anything from AMCAS or a med school in 4-6 weeks, find out why! Don’t be pushy or rude, be friendly and concerned (admisisons offices keep track of unpleasant applicants and it doesn’t bode well for admission). But keep track of each and every part of the process for every school you apply to. Most admissions offices will not call you and say, “We sent you an invitation to interview 10 weeks ago and you haven’t let us know what you want to do.” They’ll possibly just assume the worst - that you are not interested. Whereas if you had been keeping up on things, you would have gotten in touch with them after 6 weeks of no-apparent-communication-from-them and asked how your application is doing. Mind you, you don’t wnat to abuse this, but you do want to know what stage your application is in for each school.
If you have never been early or even on time for anything, then make your medical school application your first time. Being early is just that important!
Second piece of advice - read, read, & read some more about this process. The more educated you are on how all of this intricate process works, the better off you will be & more able to cope with the inevitable SNAFUs - they WILL occur. Furthermore, take no one’s advice as the gospel…except mine, of course …learn how to cull multiple perspectives through the intellectual seive that you will generate through your reading to glean out the pearls of wisdom from all of the BS that will be shoveled at you.
Third, remember that in many, if not most, Ugrad institutions - it is NOT the most adept, learned or caring professor who Chairs the pre-med committee. Usually it is the most Jr faculty member or the one who did not move away fast enough when someone called for volunteers. This is not always the case, but you will not be able to tell poo-poo from shinola unless you have educated yourself --> see point #2.
Forth, see where Judy mentions taking responsibility for your own application? Read it, read it & read it again. Every year you hear horror stories about folks finding out that their apps are incomplete, lost, mixed up, scores missing right before the deadline…or worse, after the deadlines. People, those deadlines are set in granite - they will not budge them for anyone for any reason even if the mistake is theirs - period. So, YOU must take ownership in this process and keep tabs on the progress of every single item requested by every single program to which you apply. I strongly suggest making a chart or keeping a journal. Detail every item needed by every program you apply to & place check boxes by each item. You will need to keep track of when you requested each item from your Ugrad program, when your school mailed it to AMCAS or to the individual program(s) & when you received verification from the program(s). If anything is missing - you will be the only one penalized & you are the only one that will be held responsible. So, follow up in a clam, polite & professional manner. Judy is not blowing smoke when she says programs keep track of rude applicants. Being an ass to a secretary can be the kiss of death to your app!
Again, I cannot stress enough this is your process - TAKE OWNERSHIP IN IT! In some abstract manner, this is an assessment of your professionalism & maturity…if you cannot successfully navigate this process, it does not portend well your ability to navigate med school either.
Thanks for starting this thread! If it wasn’t for the advice posted here on OPM, I wouldn’t have fully realized how important it is to get applications in early. It’s so thoughtful of you all to post this information!
I have one question, for anyone who could address this. I plan to request my LOR’s in mid to late April, right after the MCAT. Does that seem early enough? I’d rather put it off till then than do it this minute. Plus, I know all the profs I’m planning to ask pretty well (I have 3 in mind right now, and a fourth already on file), and I plan to stay in touch with them during the process to make sure things get done on time.
I’m having the pre-med committee at my undergrad write a committee letter, where they pull together all the individual letters from my profs (which will get sent straight to the committee). I think they send the committee letter out in early fall. Is that normal? School will be out of session all summer, so I can’t see them doing it in July. And May seems awfully early–I don’t think the committee will be completely in gear then, and I won’t even know which secondaries I’m doing yet.
Also, I’m going to be participating in a summer research program. If I have a good rapport with my advisor, would late summer or early fall be too late to be asking for a letter from that person? The remaining parts of my application should hopefully be done by early June.
Do remember that some undergraduate schools require that you have a composite letter of recommendation from a pre-med committee. If this is the case, now is the time to get your letters of recommendation requests out to your letter writers.
When I was seeking LORs, I put together a packet that included my personal statement and a short description of each school that I was applying for. If your letters need to go through a committee be sure that your letter writers know where to sent them. Include a stamped addressed envelope. Include instructions for things like if they need to be on specific letterhead. Be sure to include your resume or CV along with your personal statement too. A well written resume or CV can make your LOR writer even more impressed with you and add some depth to the letter.
Some pre-med committees want you to sit for an interview with them. If this is the case, you want to be working on this now. As others have stated above, you can’t really be too EARLY for medical school applications. Earlier is always better.
Finally, drop your LOR writers an little update about your progress. This helps to remind them to get your letters out. Include things like visited University of Virginia medical school for an informal tour etc. Let them know that you appreciate what they are doing for your career. Be sure to put something in your request that lets them know that their association with you has make an impact on you and your future career.
Again, think EARLY!
This is all great information and I hope everyone applying this year will read through this thread often.
I will add my suggestions to the rest of the them… If you don’t have a good amount of clinical volunteering yet, get started ASAP. You could get in a good 4 months worth between now and when you need to send your AMCAS or your AACOMAS. Find something meaningful where you can get great patient exposure.
And research both MD and DO educations and professions. You might be pleasantly surprised to find out you love the whole DO profession and want to apply to the DO schools as well as the MD schools. If you chose to apply to both, keep in mind you will need at some of the DO schools a letter from a DO that you have shadowed or interviewed with so make sure you can get this and have it ready before you need to send it in with the rest of your LORs. There are some fantastic DO schools, so do your self a favor and investigate all your options.
And lastly, I would study the MSAR before applying to any school. Make sure you are qualified to go to the schools you are applying to. It doesn’t make sense to apply to East Carolina School if you aren’t a state resident, because they don’t accept out-of-staters. Also application costs can add up, so make sure you apply to a school you would want to attend and make sure you would want to live there for 4 years. In other words don’t apply to a rural school if you hate the country and vice versa, don’t apply to a city school if you despise cities.
Good luck to the applicants for the Class of 2009.
Most pre-med committees will give you a form to give to each of your recommenders. Part of this form includes the area where you “waive your rights” (to see the letter). You DO want to sign this form and waive your rights to see the letter.
I have a meeting with the premed advisor in 1 week… but I can’t wait that long…
What is the “policy” for letters of recommendation?
How many do you need?
Who do they need to be from?
When and where do they need to be sent?
Who needs to send them?
I’ve heard anything from 3-5 are recommended. I’ve heard that there should be 2 professors, 1 other (like volunteering or a doctor that you’ve shadowed with).
I’m really confused as to when they need to be sent and where. Do they go in when the app is submitted in June (or whenever it gets submitted) or do they have to be in by some date (whenever applications close for the year). Do they go in to the schools that we’re applying to or in to AMCAS in June?
There is a pre-med committee at my school… but I’m not sure that I want to use them. I think it’s optional. I don’t really like the idea of relinquishing “control” of my recommendation letters to a committee, among other things. I also really kind of want to know what people are saying about me in those letters…
btw… thanks for starting this forum!!! great information
If there is a committee that writes a committee letter, you will probably need to use the committee; schools prefer it. The intermediate option (as at my post-bac school) is to have a letter-forwarding service (in which case you give the letters to the service, and then tell the service who to send copies to). The final option–much more cumbersome–is to get your letter-writers to send letters to all your schools, and seal and send (with signatures over the seal of the envelope) envelopes addressed to each of the school (provided by you, of course).
Letters do not go to schools until the schools request them (usually with secondary applications).
You can not see the letters; however, you can ask if the letter-writer feels comfortable writing a “strong” letter of recommendation for you. If they do not, then don’t use them.
You need two professors, at least; and yes, then one to three additional people. Lab chiefs, doctors, research mentors are best; employers in a related field are fine; employers in an unrelated field are OK but last on the list–common wisdom is to only have one of these, if any. Letters from friends, colleagues, etc, are out.
The point of the letters from the admissions committee point of view is to compare you to other applicants, so the best letters come from people (like professors or others who see a lot of pre-meds) who are in a position to do so.
Andrea, as Joe noted, if you qualify to use the pre-med committee at your school, many med schools will expect that you will use the committee. Not using the committee is a big red flag because it implies “We know this person best of anyone and we don’t feel good about recommending her.” Or, medical schools may infer that the applicant’s viewpoint is something like, “I didn’t get along with anyone at this dump and I am sure they wouldn’t write me a good letter.” Regardless of whether there’s a shred of truth to either viewpoint, you don’t want anyone thinking these things, obviously! My school asks for an explanation if you are NOT getting a committee letter.
Sounds like you need to find out 1) if you’re going to be able to use them, and 2) if so, more about what they do and how they work. I know that when I first started looking into this, I was amazed to find that my pre-med committee actually did a LOT. I just had no idea.
If the committee is like most I’ve seen, they’ll take your individual letters AND also input from you (could be an interview they have with you, or a biographical form you fill out) and weave these things into a good story. Since I’ve been on an AdCom, I’ve seen LOTS of committee letters and I have to tell you that they are quite good - these people know how important the letter is and they take pains to make it informative and helpful. Sometimes the individual letters are appended to the committee letter; sometimes not. Usually the committee letter will feature the best quotes from the individual letters.
So first is to find out if you’ll be able to use the premed committee. Some restrict access to degree candidates; others to a certain # of credits. There may be GPA and MCAT requirements (this is so the school can claim “60% success rate getting into med school for people we recommended” - they’re NOT recommending the people below cutoffs that they think make them less likely to get in). You’ll have a much better idea of what to do next once you’ve got all this information, good luck!
My school asks for an explanation if you are NOT getting a committee letter.
Since GWU is on my list of schools to apply to I’d like to know how they view applicants without the committee letter. There are a couple of things that make my situation different: 1) I haven’t attended my undergrad institution in over 10 years and when I was there, my GPA was quite bad. 2) I’ve completed graduate school and have great letters of recommendations from my advisors there. How will this situation be evaluated by the Acdom? Thanks!
You can take their statement at face value: give an explanation of why you aren’t submitting a committee letter. They seem open to the concept that not everyone can do this, and willing to entertain a variety of reasons why. I suppose if they were uncomfortable with the explanation they might dialogue further with you about it, but I don’t have any knowledge of that.
On another thread, an OPM has found out to his chagrin that an old transcript has an error in it. That prompted me to add to my advice list:
If you haven’t yet done so, request your own copy of ALL your old transcripts NOW. You’ll need them when you’re filling out the AMCAS on-line anyway, so it’s time to get going on that. But if you discover a problem, you want to be pro-active about fixing it at the beginning of the process.
Good point Mary,
but what if it was so long ago, or so far back in your memory, that you don’t remember what you took (or what grade you received in it)…
I just received my transcript in the mail today. (man, I didn’t think it was THAT bad)… and I swear up and down I didn’t take Game Fish Management all those years ago… but I don’t remember enough to say one way or another.
Is there any way to double check? Obviously my hole-y brain isn’t fail safe.
You’ve got to go in and talk to these people and try to get a manual review of your records or get them to go through whatever process they go through to verify transcripts. My husband went through a difficult process with enrollment services at our university. He got strange requests from them as he was applying to get his transfer credits approved so he could graduate. They kept saying they wanted his transcripts from Central Maine Technical College. Only he’s never been there, and in fact, never lived in Maine and possibly never driven through Maine.
It turned out his University of New Orleans transcript showed he had taken an evening course at Tulane University in New Orleans, and they wanted that transcript from Tulane. Wha? In other words, records get goofed up in amazing ways and there has to be some process to correct them. You may have to be appallingly persistent to find out what that process is and get it done, but it’s worth pursuing if your transcript looks kind of freaky to you.
I agree about verifying GPA and records. This also goes for what AMCAS sends.
I heard the dean from EVMS give a talk at our school about this very thing. He told us he had an applicant who was miffed and very upset that EVMS didn’t even offer him a secondary. He met with this guy to talk about the guy’s 2.4 GPA. Shocking, but it wasn’t a 2.4 like AMCAS had reported, but rather a 3.9. Somehow AMCAS messed something up and if he hadn’t met with EVMS he might not have realized there was a serious error. They granted him an interview.
So please, check to make sure your numbers are all correct. I am sure this is a very rare case, but it goes to show you just how very important your numbers and records are.
This is a perfect example of one of my points (please refer to my sage words of advice above ) - TAKE OWNERSHIP IN THE ENTIRE PROCESS! YOU & ONLY you are responsible for making certain that all 'i’s are dotted & all 't’s crossed. That mean not only proofreading mant times over EVERYTHING you send in; but also proofreading any documents sent by other agencies on your behalf.
To emphasize this, short version here, AFTER it was TOO LATE, I discovered a typographical error on the information that AMCAS transmitted to all of the schools I applied way back when I was an applicant. Even though I KNOW that what I submitted to them indicated I would graduate w/ my BS from UTDallas in May '99 - the application data they sent out to all of the MD schools was that I would not get my BS until Dec '99. Effectively, this meant I was attempting to apply to medical school w/o a BS or BA. Even w/ a 4.0 & 40 MCAT, this would have placed me at a decided disadvantage. In the context of my app (heavy-duty awful old grades w/ enough “mass” to preclude ever reaching a competitive cumGPA), my having an ‘academic probation’ & more 'W’s, 'D’s & 'F’s on my transcript than you can shake a stick at - this error ON MY PART, I suspect, was critical in my many summary rejections & small return on interview invitations.
Why is this my fault? At that time, you were provided with a copy of what AMCAS transmitted to all programs along with a letter requesting that I proofread the document just in case there were errors so that they could be corrected in a timely fashion. I chose not to do so. My fault.
So, make a chart formatted such that you can make absolutely certain that every program has everything they need as far in adavance of deadlines as is feasible. On that same chart, make reference to when & from who each piece of your app was requested from & make damned certain that those tasks are fulfilled.
These ancillary people have minimal vested interest in your success as an applicant. You have everything invested. Where does that lay the onus of responsibility? YOU
I have to agree with OMD and as a matter of fact I really think that my success this cycle was due to the fact that I anal retentively (is this even a word?) went over all my stuff with a “fine tooth comb”. I made sure that my AMCAs was ready to go at the end of May, I had ALL my LOR’s ready to go before the semester ended in April, I had an excel chart with all the medical schools I was applying to and the date of AMCAS submission, date of LOR’s sent, date of secondary sent, etc…It is really up to YOU to make sure that YOUR application is without fault. Nobody should complain about how AMCAS screwed up if these things were in your power to fix, now of course AMCAS can screw up with things out of your power but that is another story. Getting transcripts in EARLY is in your power so do that ASAP like as soon as AMCAS will take them sometime in May. Making sure that everything on your transcripts sent to AMCAS is correct is in your power as well, get hold of all transcripts NOW and go over them and make sure that there are no errors and you will need them to fill AMCAS anyways. Knowing about the application process is also in your power it is all over the aamc web page go read. Knowing how to FILL OUT amcas is also in your power go get the pdf file that is on aamc.org now BEFORE you start actually filling it out this will tell all that you need to know. For example for prior service folks you MUST get AARTS from the Army and SMART from the Navy no exceptions EVEN if none of your military schools were actually “given credit” by your undergrad. If you were ever in the military and went to basic training you HAVE to have this transcript sent to AMCAS period. If you do not, your AMCAS will not be verified and you will be left hanging. Secondaries is also in your power to do them in a timely fashion and the early bird gets the worm. I submitted mine as they came within 48 hours and I did 32 secondaries and received interviews from all except two schools. Sooo most of the application is in your hands take advantage of that, because let me tell you, the rest is for sure out of your hands.
Efex mentions getting secondaries out quickly - AWESOME point! I have a couple of suggestions to make the drudgery of answering the numerous essay styled question that appear on secondaries.
First, keep a computer copy of your PS & all essays written in the process of your application, even versions that you discarded to start over. These can serve as the nucleus of new essays, as those asked on secondaries frequently heavily overlap.
Second, the essay topics usually only subtly vary from program to program. So, keep computerized, editable versions around to build upon. It is certainly easier to modify the wheel as opposed to re-inventing it.
Excellent point Dave…that is what I did. I had ten secondaries all hit my mailbox around the same time. As Dave mentioned, many of the questions were all the same or very much relating to the same topic (guessing about 50-75% of mine). I simply created a word doc for each school that I completed a sec. for. In each doc. I typed the question exactly as it appeared and gave my response beneath it. I was able to do a lot of copy and pasting to complete all my secondaries. Just make sure you proofread and then proofread again. I almost sent back a completed sec. in which I had addressed the wrong school name in the response to a question asked. That might not have gone over too well.