Made a lot more small changes for V3 of the guide, I think it's now at the point where it gives comprehensive advice on the whole application process.
Medical Program Application Guide V3
Try and take as many Honors and AP/IB courses (especially math and science) as you can without harming your unweighted GPA. A GPA of 3.8-3.9 is competitive but varies depending on school and rigor. Class rank is also important. You want to be within top 5% of your class, and being lower than 10% will really harm your application.
Get involved with clubs/organizations that interest you, and do medical activities but not exclusively. Medical activities would include being a Volunteer EMT or Ski Patrol or lifeguard, shadowing a doctor at a hospital or private practice, volunteering at a hospital or nursing home, and research with an undergraduate professor or through a program. Non-medical but still important activities can be general community service like free tutoring or a soup kitchen, academic competitions, sports, music, paid work experience, and especially leadership positions in organizations.
Having interests outside of just medicine will help you stand out in the applicant pool. It might not matter for mid and lower tier programs that only look at your standardized test scores, GPA, and for a few basic activities. Top programs will have many applicants with near perfect numbers, so they can look deeper into your ECs for what makes you unique and this can make their admissions less predictable as well. At the top programs, not being a cookie cutter applicant will be essential when your competitors are also 99th percentile and have the same standard medical ECs.
SAT/ACT and SAT Subject Tests:
Start prepping early for standardized tests because many programs have cutoffs that they won’t consider you beneath; note that other applicants will be well over the cutoffs. There are other resources about preparing for the SAT and ACT, so I won’t bother rehashing what they have to say about those tests. My recommendation is to take a practice exam (preferably a released official one) and use that score to create a preparation plan. Some students can do very well by preparing with practice tests and test taking books, but others may need classes or individual tutoring.
A 2200-2300 SAT is competitive, top programs might want higher scores. Some weigh the math + critical reading sections of the SAT more than writing, so take that into account if your writing score varies significantly from the other two. The ACT is widely accepted by programs, and you can compare scores using the concordance table: http://www.act.org/aap/concordance/pdf/reference.pdf
Many programs require 2 or 3 SAT subject tests and often mandate or prefer specific subjects. You need to look up the requirements for your programs in advance and pick tests that fulfill them most easily. Math Level 2, Biology-Molecular, Chemistry, and a humanities test can likely cover all of your requirements. A 700-750 on an SAT subject test is probably the minimum to be competitive, but you can get a 750+ relatively easily if you study and have done well academically before.
October may be the latest accepted testing month for programs, but you need to contact each program to see which testing date is their latest acceptable. Subject tests may be allowed later than the SAT/ACT or after your main application is submitted, but this should be avoided if possible. You can take up to 3 subject tests on a single testing date, but you can’t take the SAT and any subject tests together in the same month or testing cycle.
Letters of Recommendation:
Many programs require these be from teachers and ask for one science/math and one humanities LoR. Ask teachers at the end of junior year or very early in senior year for your LoR. Pick teachers with whom you have the best relationship. It helps if they are skilled writers, personalize the LoR, you had them junior year, did well in the class, or if you worked with them for any club/sport. If allowed by the program and relevant to your application, get one from someone you did a major EC like research with and who knows you well.
The main Common App essay stays the same from year to year, so write it early if you want a head start. Nearly all programs and schools want this essay or it can be adapted for them. “Evaluate a significant experience, achievement, risk you have taken, or ethical dilemma you have faced and its impact on you,” is the annual essay and the other choices rotate and aren’t as suitable for adaption (some UGs use paper/online apps that you can easily tweak your CA essay for, but only if you pick the main topic).
Some programs want you to indicate a major for either the program or if you are accepted into the undergraduate school only. Some accelerated programs turn into 8 year programs if you pick engineering or a similar major. If picking a regular undergrad major, feel free to go with whatever interests you, since you can be a premed with anything. Biology is a popular major for program students and regular premeds because its required classes overlap heavily with those needed for medical school, but Biomedical Engineering is gaining popularity for also fulfilling premed prerequisites and being a rigorous engineering major (which is great if you do well, but the workload and GPA hit are seen as negatives).
Common program essay topics are “why do you want to do medicine,” “what qualities in a doctor are important,” “how do you know you want to do medicine and what experiences led you to that decision,” “when have you overcome adversity,” “when have you been a leader,” “why an accelerated program,” “research or clinical career goals,” “why this school and its values/goals specifically,” “what major and why,” “how would friends/family describe you or you yourself,” “your strengths and weaknesses,” “name hobbies/activities within and outside of medicine,” and general college interview questions along those lines. Write 2-3 pages on the why medicine questions and your ECs, and you can easily trim them down to fulfill most of your essays and short answers.
Programs within your state and especially public ones might be easier to get into and those that are highly ranked undergrads or med schools will be tougher. Some programs strongly prefer students with certain interests like research, business, or engineering so take that into account when applying. Some are instate only and therefore much easier to get into, others have an instate preference which is still helpful, and some give an advantage to applicants from rural and underprivileged backgrounds.
Don’t apply to programs you would never want to attend; it’s a waste of your time and money. Applying to regular undergrad safety and reaches is a good idea too, strong applicants can get unlucky and have unexpected rejections. Applying to 10-15 programs isn’t unreasonable considering how competitive and unpredictable their admissions can be, and proper recycling of essays can make applying to that many very attainable.
is a good place to start making a list of programs you’re interested in. It’s a good idea to use multiple lists and check the program website to verify the list information; there’s no guarantee a given list will be up-to-date or include all programs.
Use acceptance threads from past years to benchmark yourself and pick where to apply. http://talk.collegeconfidential.com/multiple-degree-programs/1300355-bs-md-results-class-2012-a.html
is the most current stats thread. You don’t need to make a chance thread unless applying to an uncommon program or you have a unique application situation.
Program websites, the contact personnel they list, or a web search can answer nearly every question you have about a particular program. Please, don’t create new threads when you can easily find the answer yourself.
Organizing your application beforehand will prevent any last minute errors or missed deadlines. Make a list of the requirements for each program. Those that don’t use Common App might require mailed transcripts and LoR, and some want them uploaded to their application website. You need to give teachers and the guidance office time to fill out any paper forms or upload your data, so keep that in mind when looking at deadlines. You might want to make a checklist for each program with all of its requirements and their timeline. Some programs will accept test scores and letters of recommendation slightly after the main application, but this is a variable policy and “late” submissions are not desirable.
Application deadlines are often in late October and through November. Send your applications as soon as you can, but try and submit any paper applications in a single envelope so nothing is misplaced. Call to confirm receipt for a mailed application, since there is a good chance it can be misplaced anyway. Use Common App if allowed (makes the LoR and transcript handling much easier) and don’t forget to send standardized testing score reports.
Subject tests need to be submitted separately though the College Board website, and some programs may require official AP scores to be submitted with the application too.
Midyear reports are often a requirement by programs and undergrads, although some may not look at them for program decisions. You only need the end of year report for the school you will be attending.
Interview notifications can happen from around January through March for the most part. http://talk.collegeconfidential.com/multiple-degree-programs/1266847-bs-md-interview-notification-class-2012-a.html
can give you an idea of when notifications go out, but note that they vary from year to year and some occur over a span of a few weeks or longer. http://talk.collegeconfidential.com/multiple-degree-programs/1317543-interview-process.html
discusses the interviews at each program specifically; it’s a great resource for the programs that invite you.
Interviews tend to be one-on-one, but some are with 2 or maybe more interviewers. They’re similar to regular college interviews in their format and tone. Interviews often ask the same questions as the essay topics above, so it’s a good idea to plan what you might say if asked one of those standard questions. Be ready for questions about current events, like the abortion debate, healthcare reforms, stem cell research, etc. It’s more important that you articulate and support a position rather than the side you take, but it doesn’t hurt to be aware of the leanings of your interviewer.
Business attire is definitely expected e.g. every guy will be wearing a suit.
Go to mixers the day before if possible and get contact info for current students in the program so you can ask them the questions you can’t of the program directors. Send a thank you email to anyone who interviews you and one to the interview coordinator (many of them are on the admissions committee and it’s common courtesy).
Choosing a program:
Late March and through April is the period of notifications from programs for interviewed students. Wait to send in your deposit as long as you can or until you have heard back from all programs because many will notify long after UGs do. Go to any open houses, speak to current students, and try and get a better feel for the schools you were admitted to. As far as picking a program beyond “fit,” the general consensus is that all US MD (allopathic) medical schools are mostly equivalent and that residency program directors consider many other factors over school name when applying. Still, some say that being top 40 NIH funding or top 20 US News makes a difference for getting into top residencies. Some other factors to consider are: Cost (6-8 years of school is going to be expensive no matter what, but some programs are triple the cost of others. Debt sucks and interest rates for grad loans are rising as compensation falls, so school cost might be the deciding factor), location (being away from family for 6-8 years can be hard, and you may prefer a city or certain location), ranking (it matters even if it isn’t everything), requirements (GPA and MCAT minimums vary between programs, some are much harder than others. Most say a 30 MCAT and 3.5 GPA aren't too difficult if you manage to be accepted.).
Don’t attend a program unless completely sure about medicine. If you can get into a medical program, you can probably also get into a top 20 UG and would be competitive applying the traditional route to medical school if you maintain your academic performance. Don’t give up a top undergrad only to drop out of the program and end up in a school you wouldn’t have gone to otherwise and with poor financial aid. The only exceptions are the very top programs at Rice, Brown, and Northwestern but even then you are committing to a school which might not be the best for you if you drop out of the program. Bottom line, don’t take a program acceptance unless you’re confident you want to be a physician and know the future you’re signing up for.