Three Things to Consider Before Applying to Medical School

You probably already know that the application process can be lengthy, time-consuming, and expensive, with no ironclad guarantee of admission — even with a stellar GPA and MCAT score. And, no matter how much work you put into the process, there are no guarantees about the outcome.

So, before you start, what should you be thinking about before you apply?
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Admissions 101: It’s Not You, It’s Me

MBA AdmissionsGetting rejected is hard stuff. What makes it even more painful is that few MBA programs (or law schools or medical schools) give rejected applicants specific feedback on why they didn’t get in. Applicants just want to know what they “did wrong” to not get in, but, even when schools do provide feedback, the applicants normally end up confused and still guessing about what to do next.

What’s the deal? Are admissions officers trying to obfuscate the process, keeping you in the dark so that you can’t “game” the system? Are they just cold hearted, not caring about you, especially once they’ve decided they don’t want you? No and no. The truth is that, when someone gets rejected, it’s often because the school just couldn’t find any great reason to admit them over thousands of other applicants.
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Admissions 101: What Admissions Essays and Wedding Speeches Have in Common

Business School Admissions
Who's the lucky guy?
Next week yours truly will deliver a speech at a wedding. I have known the groom for nearly two decades, and I consider him to be one of my closest friends, even though distance unfortunately keeps us apart most of the time (I live in California and he lives in Beijing). While I don’t consider myself to be an expert toastmaster, I’m not too worried, since I know that what makes for a great admissions essay or personal statement also makes for a terrific wedding speech.

Think back for a minute and consider the last few weddings you’ve been to. If you’re lucky, you only have witnessed great wedding speeches and toasts, but odds are that you’ve sat through at least one or two bombs. What accounts for the difference?
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The Worrisome World of Essay-Writing Services

MBA Admissions Consulting
We think we once saw a guy selling essays in this alley.
Recently the Chronicle of Higher Education published a piece written by an anonymous “hired gun” who writes admissions essays, term papers, and even doctoral theses for paying students, who in turn pass these off as their own. Not long after that, Bloomberg Businessweek ran a similar article that profiled a couple of similar services that write essays for business school applicants. (Veritas Prep was actually mentioned as an ethical alternative to these services in the latter article.)

Two things really bother us about the existence of these services. Is one of them the fact that they’re unethical and shady? Well, yes, we do think that, but that’s so obvious that we won’t devote any more words to it here. (If you’re the type to consider buying your essays from someone, then maybe becoming a business leader or a lawyer or a doctor isn’t the best path for you.)
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Writer’s Block? Try These Three Cures

MBA Essays
"What matters most to me? Why? WHY??"
If you’re applying to graduate school this year, there’s a good chance that right now you’re surfing the Internet while procrastinating on writing your admissions essays or personal statement. The Internet is the ultimate procrastination tool, after all, but hopefully finding this article will be the best thing that could have happened to your essays.

The term “writer’s block” means different things to different people, but here we’ll use it to describe any situation where you know what’s on paper (or on your computer screen) is far from being a finished product that you’ll be happy to submit as part of your finished application. Maybe you just can’t think about what to start writing about (this is what most people think of when they hear “writer’s block”), but an even tougher case can be when you’re staring at a nearly-finished essay and you just know that it’s not working. In either case, try these three things to clear your mind and start fresh
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How to Put the "I" in Application

Law School AdmissionsAn application tip for the graduate school candidate.

Most of our time writing on this blog is spent diving into the nuance and nitty gritty of GMAT prep and the MBA admissions process. Every once in a while, it helps to take a step back and look at things from a very fundamental, building-block level.

Today we are going to take a crack at some armchair psychology — thinking about why people have such a hard time writing about themselves in graduate school essays and personal statements. Not just the “what to say” part, but also how to say it. Put bluntly, most people produce fairly mediocre prose when it comes to writing about their own lives and goals.

Think back to the process of applying to college and try to recall the most difficult thing about the applications. No doubt it was writing the myriad essays required by each school. What made those so difficult? After all, surely your high school English classes demanded more of you as a writer. The answer is actually pretty simple: you had to write from the “I” perspective for the first time in many years.

From the time we enter elementary school, we are taught to avoid using the word “I” in our writing. Whether in fiction, research, opinion, or reporting, the use of the word “I” is frowned upon by English teachers and grammar purists everywhere. So it comes as no surprise that the task proves difficult when we are asked to do it after years of neglect.

A graduate school applicant has at least been through this once before, but the transition is still uncomfortable. The best thing an applicant can do is become fully aware of this internal struggle. Once you realize that the nagging doubt in your brain is actually the voice of your eighth grade journalism teacher, it becomes much easier to ignore –- nay, destroy – that voice and tackle the assignment at hand. So embrace your inner “I” and enjoy the rare chance to bombard your reader with the most glorious of all pronouns.

For personalized, effective MBA admissions, law school admissions, or medical school admissions help, give us a call at (800) 925-7737 and speak with one of our admissions experts today. And, be sure to subscribe to this blog and follow us on Twitter!

Defending Admissions Officers Everywhere

Law School AdmissionsLast week, Michael Kinsley, the editor-at-large for the Atlantic Wire, wrote an op-ed piece on the admissions process that highlighted some of the reasons why things have become so competitive and cutthroat over the years. The piece focused primarily on college admissions, but there are multiple mentions of graduate school and examples of HBS, so it seems fair to consider Kinsley’s words from the perspective of graduate school admissions.

And what were his words?

As they pertain to admissions officers, nothing much more than the usual screed about the arbitrary nature of selective college admissions. Make no mistake, there are some good thoughts in here: some interesting and basic (and probably more interesting because of how basic it is) math showcases the rise in competition over the years, and I certainly agree with the idea that in planning out our lives we “obsess about this college versus that only because that’s the only factor we can obsess about.” Well said and certainly true, as far as I’m concerned. Where Kinsley loses me is in his critique of the admissions process itself, and the accusation that “the decision is essentially random, the process was wildly inconsistent, and I might well have been turned down because the assistant dean didn’t care for his lunch that day.”

Here, Kinsley simply resorts to the party line of outsiders, media members, and higher ed critics, groaning on about how arbitrary it all is. I half expected to read the phrase “throwing darts at a dart board.” And make no mistake, there is an element of chance in the admissions process at an elite institution. There is luck. There is a human element that plays a large role. There are more than enough qualified candidates and it can seem harsh, unfair, and capricious when some get in and some do not. But to dismiss the entire process because of these factors is to fail to understand that process. Yes, there is luck — but the role that luck plays can be reduced through careful planning and presentation. Yes, there is a human element — but that human element can be a benefit when you take the time to consider the person on the other side of the desk. Yes, there are more than enough qualified applicants — does that mean you should just give up?

I can tell you two things, as someone who was an admissions officer at a highly selective college (acceptance rate under 30%) and as someone who now works with applicants to highly selective graduate programs. The first is that admissions officers DO work hard, as they claim in their rejection letters (much to Kinsley’s chagrin). An admissions office typically has one “file reading” professional for every 1,000 applications and that personnel is responsible for both recruiting those applicants and then making decisions on their credentials. The process features multiple layers and gets several eyes on the same profile — decisions aren’t made based on what someone has for lunch. That’s reductive, throw-away language that people use when they don’t want to wrestle with reality.

The reality is that admissions officers work hard, they care about what they are doing, and they want to see applicants who work just as hard and care just as much. This is bad news for many who view the process as more of a sweepstakes and less of a rigorous match-making and interviewing experience, but it’s good news for people who want to roll up their sleeves and treat their applications with care.

The second thing I can tell you, given everything I just wrote above, is that I wouldn’t want someone who views the admissions process the way Michael Kinsley does to advise me on my own applications.

At Veritas Prep, we both support the work of admissions professionals and believe in our ability to help candidates confront this difficult process. We don’t throw up our hands and blame it all on the fates. And neither should you.

For personalized, effective MBA admissions, law school admissions, or medical school admissions help, give us a call at (800) 925-7737 and speak with one of our admissions experts today. And, be sure to subscribe to this blog and follow us on Twitter!

Online Behavior in Medical School Admissions

Considering the impact of the Internet and social networking sites like Facebook on the admissions process has quickly become a pretty tired story. Yes, students should take care to manage their online presence, but no, admissions officers are unlikely to search every nook and cranny of the Web to “bust” applicants. As it relates to MBA and law school admissions, there’s not much to discuss in this area.

However, that may not necessarily be the case with medical school. CNN recently ran an article about a study conducted by the Journal of the American Medical Association that explored online behavior of medical students and presented some very interesting conclusions. In short, the stakes are higher for med students than they are for their business school or law school counterparts, which may have ramifications on the admissions process.

According to the article, there were six medical schools that reported a violation of patient privacy by one of its students, often in the form of detailed blog posts or Facebook updates. According to CNN, most of the inappropriate student conduct reported in the survey was “related to the student’s own behavior, including drunken, drug-related, or sexually suggestive images or comments, as well as the use of profanity or discriminatory language.” However, that handful of privacy violations is a huge concern, especially considering that some of the violations were reported by the patients, rather than the students.

Obviously, this is going to be a fairly major issue within the medical school community, and you can expect more programs to adopt official policies about the social networking sites. However, a potentially overlooked consideration is how this will impact the admissions process. At the very least, this is a reminder of just how important character and ethics are in a candidate, as the best way to prevent some of these actions is to avoid the types of people who are likely to commit them. Beyond that though, what might we see? All of the old arguments about Facebook suddenly become relevant, because it is more than just a window into a candidate’s life, it is a preview of how they will live and behave on the Internet once they become med students.

It is certainly something to watch and at the very least, medical school applicants will want to be more cognizant of their online behavior than their law and business school counterparts.

For more advice on medical school admissions, call us at 800-925-7737 and talk to one of our admissions experts.

How Veritas Prep Started in Admissions Consulting

We’ve been helping business school applicants for a long time now, so long that it’s easy to forget that we didn’t start out in that business. After Veritas Prep co-founders Markus Moberg and Chad Troutwine launched our GMAT prep service in 2002, it quickly became apparent that our students not only needed GMAT help, but they also needed help in pulling together their entire business school applications. How did we know? Because they came back to us time and time again, asking us to help them with their applications just as we helped them with their GMAT prep.

While we were flattered, we didn’t immediately dive into MBA admissions consulting. We were only going to do it if we could do what we did in GMAT preparation — do it better than anyone else. After talking to many respected experts and learning what was out there, we realized how we could do it better, and in 2003 Veritas Prep’s admissions consulting arm was born!

(You can go to YouTube and watch the video in a larger size.)

We have built the industry’s largest team of admissions experts, consisting of graduates and former admissions representatives from all of the world’s top MBA programs. When you work with Veritas Prep, you will not only get assistance from a Head Consultant who has worked as an admissions representative — as an admissions officer, application reader, or interviewer — but you will also work with a graduate from each of your target schools, to get true “insider” information about the culture and workings of each program.

Visit our site to find out more about our MBA admissions consulting services!

How to Make the Most of Medical School Secondaries

The medical school application process is a marathon, not a sprint, as it features an AMCAS application (featuring most of the admin work, a slew of short answer questions, and the always-difficult personal statement), secondary applications for individual schools, and then interview days at select programs. The whole thing lasts for nearly a year and the time spent tends to dwarf the application processes for other types of graduate programs.

The current leg of the marathon is the secondary application round. It is the part of the process that most closely resembles a college application or MBA application process, in the sense that candidates must respond to essay prompts that are specific to each program. This is the stage of an applicant’s journey that demands a focus on “fit” with individual schools, as well as clear motivation for studying (and then practicing) medicine. The AMCAS was the time for setting yourself apart as a med school candidate … secondary season is about fitting in.

Here are three other crucial tips for secondary applications:

1. Key on service. One interesting correlation that is gaining steam in medical school circles is the notion that community service translates to the pursuit of primary care careers. The current med school culture is very focused on producing good primary care doctors, so medical schools are taking a longer look at these trends, and, in many cases, deducing that a commitment to service is one of the best predictors that a med student will enter this field. Applicants should be sure to include all such experiences and look to build around both the service activities as well as the lessons learned when crafting essay responses.

2. Avoid cut-and-paste. One common mistake made by candidates on their secondary applications is that they fail to resist the temptation of cutting and pasting answers from the AMCAS. One requirement of the AMCAS is to answer a series of short prompts, including listing and describing course work, activities, and research experience. Many medical schools include similar questions on the secondaries. For instance, Columbia asks prospective students a question about extracurricular activities that sounds a lot like the short answer prompt on the AMCAS. The temptation to cut and paste the answer is very strong. Of course, this would be a huge mistake. Not only can Columbia cross-reference the new answer with the old AMCAS answer, but simply recycling a list fails to meet the challenge of the question. It is fine to give a basic rundown in an AMCAS short answer, but broader themes must be addressed in a secondary question. You have to make connections between your own experiences and the culture at Columbia. You have to show how your level of involvement will translate to medical school. It’s a whole new ballgame and your best bet is to simply reference the old answer to ensure consistency, and then start fresh.

3. Take your time. An oft-quoted cardinal rule of medical school admissions says that a secondary application must be submitted to the school no more than two weeks from date of issue. The thinking goes that anything longer suggests to the program a lack of interest. This is not necessarily true. Yes, spending three weeks rather than two may tell the medical school in question that you are not a frothing maniac with nothing else going on in your life than secondary applications. Is that the end of the world? Med schools are looking for disciplined people who can handle heavy work leads, yes. But they are also looking for well-adjusted, balanced individuals who can see the big picture. It is far better to take an extra day or two, or even a week, to do a nice, thorough job on a secondary application, than it is to slap it together and rush it out the door. This is especially true if the secondary application happens to come from the medical school at a busy or stressful time – during a move back to college, during midterms, etc.

Finally, note that the general nature of secondary applications has changed in recent years. It used to be that a secondary application was an indication of forward movement, as schools commonly sent out secondaries only to select students as a way of thinning the herd. Now, however, most schools (over 80%, in fact) are automatically sending out secondaries to everyone who applies. This means that students are truly starting fresh with that program. The AMCAS will still be a very real part of the consideration process, but it has not factored in to a future decision yet. Secondaries must compliment the AMCAS. Research must be conducted into each school to which you are applying. As a result, it is our belief that students should apply to no more than 15 medical schools, given the amount of work that awaits them secondaries release.

For more on medical school admissions consulting at Veritas Prep, be sure to explore our services and feel free to give us a call at 1.800.925.7737.

Should Medical School Admissions Requirements Change?

Anyone with even a basic interest in medical school knows that the requirements for pursuing an MD are substantial. Pre-med courses, the MCAT, multiple stages of the application process, interview days — there are a ton of pieces to the puzzle and it all adds up to a tremendous amount of work. Everyone knows it is a grind. But is it the right grind? This is a question that is rarely posed, but that was both asked and answered recently in an important report called Scientific Foundations for Future Physicians, which was described in detail today on the Stanford News Service. This report makes a series of recommendations that call for subtle-yet-important changes in the way medical school candidates prepare for their graduate work.

The report was produced by a 22-person committee, which was tasked jointly by the AAMC (Association of American Medical Colleges) and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute in 2007. The committee was headed by Sharon Long, a Stanford biology professor and a former dean at the university, and calls for the following changes to the existing medical school requirements:

  • Replacing a list of required pre-med courses with a series of “competencies” (knowledge, skill, and attitude).

  • Adding competencies to the med school education as well, to account for increasing reliance on math and physical sciences in everyday medical practices.
  • One example of swapping in competencies for required courses is changing the pre-med requirement of taking calculus with a demonstrated ability to “apply quantitative reasoning and appropriate mathematics to describe or explain phenomena in the natural world.”
  • The goal of the new framework is to push development of undergraduate science coursework and create flexibility for pre-med students to take classes outside of the requirements. (Specifically, the hope is that more pre-med students will take courses like Biochem or Stats, without having to add units of coursework, and that more pre-med students will seek out liberal arts majors.)

Long provided a salient quote that speaks to the overall philosophy behind these recommendations:

“Think about it this way. You can get from the first floor to the second by going up a ramp or by taking the steps. Right now the medical school entrance exam assumes the only way is the steps, and it tests you on each one. We want the exam to test whether you can get to the second floor, not how you got there

Announcing Veritas Prep’s Medical School Admissions Consulting

We are pleased to announce the latest offering to Veritas Prep’s many admissions consulting options: Medical School Admissions Consulting.

There is arguably no greater application challenge than applying to medical school. Comprised of multiple in-depth components, a medical school admissions cycle is like a law school application (the AMCAS application, complete with the personal statement requirement), an MBA application (supplemental applications, consisting of a variety of unique essay questions), and a job interview (grueling Interview Days) all rolled into one, 8-to-10 month gauntlet. It is a process that puts candidates and their motivations to the test, as medical schools look far and wide for tomorrow’s doctors – people who are passionate about medicine and have the intelligence, courage, and dedication to practice in an ever-changing health care environment.

Fortunately for medical school applicants, Veritas Prep has created a tailored, targeted mix of services that allow candidates to get a handle on the process without requiring dozens of hours of consulting. By focusing on the foundational elements of the process – the personal statement, the essays, and interviews – Veritas Prep can help applicants maximize each application component in a cost-effective and efficient manner. One highlight in particular is the unique Application Essentials package which starts with a client resume, builds a positioning strategy, and then moves toward perfection of either the personal statement or a set of essays. And for those clients who seek more comprehensive services, we offer hourly consulting, complete with recommended time allotments.

With a team of over a dozen expert medical school admissions consultants, Veritas Prep provides clients with a customized approach to the process. All of our consultants are former admissions representatives, published authors, or both. As always, the hallmarks of Veritas Prep are expertise and level of care and both traits are evident in each of our talented consultants.

Visit our web site to learn more, and be sure to follow us on Twitter.