How to stand out as a medical school applicant

It’s 11:00am when we finish listening to a somewhat pointless series of talks from various medical school administrators on interview day — one on financial aid, one on the medical curriculum, another on the school’s student organizations. It’s time for the medical school tour. All the applicants rise from their seats in unison, button their suit jackets, pat down any newly formed wrinkles, and lodge their briefcases symmetrically between their arm and their side. Our tour guide is on the admissions committee.

The applicant in the far corner of the room jolts towards the door. He seizes the chance to display his chivalry, swinging the door open towards the left, holding it for the tour guide and the other applicants. As the next applicant approaches the door, she is content with second place. She arrives to the door holder from behind, grabbing the door and extending her arm with a go-ahead invitation for others to walk through. Others won’t succumb. They line up on the right, mimicking the extended arm invitation gesture, waiting for others to exit the room before they do. It’s race to establish the polite among us.

We all somehow made that 3% cut. Some of us flew thousands of miles to be here and have dreamed of this day for years and years. And we are hungry for the opportunity to stand out. How will the admissions committee remember our faces after we leave?

Landing an interview ostensibly establishes a level playing field for us applicants. We are all equals when we arrive in the morning and we have just a day, maybe two in the case of us MD/PhD candidates, to demonstrate that in fact, a few of us stand out from the rest. One might think the interviews themselves are the primary means of doing this. Sure, for those that can’t articulate why they want to be doctors, they may be thrown out of the game quickly. But let’s be frank. How many of us made it this far and can’t do that? There might be a few tougher questions to help distinguish how we think on our feet. But again, this might pick out one or two applicants at most from our group that seem incapable.

Landing that interview was just the first step. To get the acceptance — it’s a level we sometimes don’t know how to attain. And it drives us to take insane measures like arguing over who gets to hold the door open for the dean of admissions.

Standing out as a medical school applicant is multifaceted, and it may not happen consciously. When trying to make an impression, don’t impress anything but whom you really are, on the inside and the outside. Act as a person, not an overly emphatic individual who would otherwise run out of steam in under an hour. I find that admissions offices really have the applicant’s best interest at heart. They will do their best to do what they think is best for you — whether its acceptance or not.

Robert Eisinger is a pre-medical student.

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  • T H

    Part of medical school and residency is learning to run the emotional marathon that is modern medicine. Spending one’s emotional strength and building one’s emotional endurance so as to not run out within the hour is just about the hardest thing to learn.

  • Robert Eisinger

    What I’ve realized is that it doesn’t take long to identify applicants that are trying too hard to stand out. I think that ‘being yourself’ is the answer, although maybe not the one you wanted. In the interview room, answer questions honestly and don’t emphasize experiences that weren’t notable, for example. I can’t speak about group interviews, I have little experience in that realm. The main point here is that there exists this intense seriousness that is associated with the interview day and I find that being relaxed is more conducive to demonstrating who you really are. And demonstrating who you really are is the better route to take, because medical schools each have their own personalities and you want to find the one that best fits who you are. Admissions committees are looking for that. This is all simply my personal opinion and what I have discovered to be useful approaches.

  • Robert Eisinger

    The statement about not being overly emphatic is not necessarily about emotion. Rather, it is directed towards this yearning (that at least I have often experienced as an applicant and have clearly seen in other applicants) to come off strongly to the admissions committee. This includes such acts as the one I mentioned in the article, awkwardly and abnormally wanting to hold doors open for important people. The statement is much more general. It encompasses, a tendency to force the largest smile possible for even subtly humorous moments in the interview room, for instance.

    I strongly agree that demonstrating empathy is important on interview day.

  • Ms Fab

    Did you get an acceptance, Robert?

    • Robert Eisinger

      I was one of the fortunate and lucky few :)