Medical school applicants often wonder whether they should update schools with new information after submitting their application. This “update letter” can serve several purposes and is an important vehicle for keeping the medical schools informed as the application year unfolds. But applicants often wonder what merits sending an update to the medical schools. The following list includes the chief items of interest for the medical schools.

Honors or Awards:  If an honor or award is achieved since submitting the application the medical schools should be informed.

Publications/Abstracts/Presentations at National Research Conferences: If an applicant has conducted research and it has culminated in a new publication, abstract, poster, or presentation this information should be provided to the medical schools.

Changes in Classes:  If an applicant’s courses change and a class which was included in the application is dropped it should be reported to the medical schools, especially if the course is a requirement at a particular school.

New Jobs or New Responsibilities in the Workplace:  If you switch jobs or assume more responsibilities/roles in a job your had when submitting your application it is worthwhile to update the schools with this information.

New Grades:  If enrolled in courses during the application cycle new grades should be reported to the schools in an update letter.

Negative Developments:  Applicants are also required to report any negative developments that occur after submitting an application. If any kind of disciplinary action is taken or if an applicant is arrested for any reason it must be reported to the medical schools. The rules in the AMCAS application stipulate that any infraction must be reported to the medical schools within 10 days of receiving it.

Do not inundate schools with multiple letters; only send letters if there are real updates to report. The “update letter” differs from the “letter of intent” or “interest” although updates can also be woven into those other letters. Please see my other blog posts on letters of intent and/or interest.

It’s imperative that you keep an update letter to one page. Admissions committee members are stressed for time; make your letter short and direct, while providing valuable information. You should also use the update letter as a vehicle to convey your reasons for wanting to go to a particular school.

If you’re not sure about the proper format of the letter or the contents that are specific to your situation please feel free to email me at liza@thompsonadvising.com or call me for advice at 410-292-5219.

–Liza Thompson, Expert Medical School Admissions Consulting

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The medical school application process starts in June of the year prior to medical school enrollment and extends to the following April. But for some applicants—those placed on waitlists—the long process extends into the late spring and summer and can span 14 months. I have 25 years of experience guiding students to in regard to medical school waiting lists, and thus have advice to offer to those on waiting lists along with guidelines to follow and the proper protocol.

1. Be grateful that you still have a chance! A waitlist position is better than a rejection and you still have a chance for admission. As such, start thinking about what you can do to emphasize your strong interest in a school where you are waitlisted.

2. Think thoughtfully and carefully about what you would add to the incoming class at any medical school where you are waitlisted. Express this cogently and convincingly in a letter you send to the admissions committee. If you want to move from the waitlist into the class you MUST convey your interest to the admissions committee. Submit a letter soon after being notified of your waitlist status. Articulate specifically why the school appeals to you and what you would add to it. Express your enthusiasm; schools want students who are eager to enroll and who will contribute positively to the environment. If you’re certain you would accept a spot in the incoming class if admitted, you should write a letter of intent.

3. Be sure that your contact information is up to date if you’re on a waitlist and be prepared to be contacted at any time. Also be prepared to respond to a waitlist offer quickly. There are AAMC rules pertaining to waiting list protocol.

4. Do not badger the admissions office of any medical school where you are waitlisted with repeated calls or letters. Do not communicate with the admissions office more than once a month and do not pull out the “important” people with connections to the school to try to advance your case; this will only annoy admissions committees.

5. Keep the medical school informed if there are important updates to report.  If you publish research, win important awards or earn honors you should keep the medical school apprised of these accomplishments.

Movement from waiting lists usually occurs in April, May, and June. Occasional spots open up in July, and can even occur up to the first day that a school starts. As a medical school admissions consultant I advise applicants through the waitlist process. Feel free to send me an email at liza@thompsonadvising.com or call me to discuss your particular situation.

–Liza Thompson, Expert Medical School Admissions Consulting

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Medical school is expensive and many medical students need financial aid to afford it. US News and World Report has come up with two lists of medical schools which give the most aid; one identifies public schools and the other lists private schools. Of course, public schools are typically very hard to get into if one isn’t a resident of that particular state; keep that in mind when looking over the list of public schools.

Top 10 public medical schools awarding the most financial aid:

  1. University of Central Florida
  2. Ohio State
  3. University of California—Davis
  4. Oregon Health and Science University
  5. University of California—Los Angeles
  6. University of South Dakota
  7. Medical College of Georgia
  8. University of Kansas
  9. Oklahoma State
  10. University of Iowa

Top 10 private schools awarding the most financial aid:

  1. Kansas City University College of Osteopathic Medicine
  2. Lincoln Memorial University—DeBusk College of Osteopathic Medicine
  3. Rocky Vista University College of Osteopathic Medicine (a for-profit institution)
  4. University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine
  5. Howard University
  6. Mayo Clinic School of Medicine
  7. University of Pikeville Kentucky College of Osteopathic Medicine
  8. Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine
  9. Hofstra
  10. Pacific Northwest College of Osteopathic Medicine

For information about financial aid or how to apply for it, each school’s financial aid office will provide a wealth of resources and instructions.

–Liza Thompson, Expert Medical School Admissions Consultant

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As a medical school admissions consultant, I often get asked about college majors and whether a certain major will curry favor with admission committees.  I advise students to follow their passion(s) and choose a major based on their genuine interest(s). You don’t have to major in a science field to be prepared for medical school. Having advised hundreds of individuals who changed careers to pursue medicine, I have seen applicants from a diversity of non-science majors achieve success in the application process. The same is true for those who are more traditional; those who are planning to apply to medical school either during their senior year of college or shortly thereafter can major in the humanities or social sciences and appeal to admission committees.

Medical schools value applicants who have studied the humanities or social sciences, in particular. They bring an important perspective to patient care since they have presumably encountered the human condition in their reading of literature or social science. Continue reading

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The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) recently published an Analysis in Brief which covers trends in medical school applicants from 1980-2016. The AAMC analyzes data to identify trends in admission and help medical schools understand changes in demographics over time. There has been a strong push to increase the number of underrepresented minorities in the medical profession to align with the percentage of their numbers in the general population. Despite this push, gains have barely been made amongst minority groups. Asian applicants have made the most significant gains. The data show that Asian applicants to medical school have increased by about 16% in that time period; Asian matriculants (those who actually enroll in medical school) increased by about 17%. American Indians and Alaskan Natives have decreased in numbers; applicants decreased by .2% and matriculants by .1%. The actual numbers are paltry; only 54 American Indians or Alaskan Natives enrolled in medical school in 2016.  Blacks/African Americans increased but not by much; applicants increased by 1.2% and matriculants by 1.1%. Continue reading

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Medical school is expensive; paying for it can be both burdensome and complicated. But financial aid, usually in the form of loans, does exist and medical school financial aid offices facilitate the application process. In addition, these offices are good sources of information for medical school applicants. The Association of American Medical Colleges also has a wealth of information about financial aid to help applicants navigate the process. The AAMC provides a step-by-step list in regard to applying for financial aid; the first step is filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Some examples of comprehensive and good sources of information provided by medical schools’ financial aid offices are the following:  Johns Hopkins, Vanderbilt, the University of Chicago’s Pritzker School of Medicine, Alpert Medical School at Brown, Stanford, and the University of Michigan. In addition, Dartmouth’s Geisel School of Medicine has a helpful guide in regard to financial aid for medical students.

–Liza Thompson, Expert Medical School Admissions Consultant

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A recent article in the New York Times about the Bard Hall Players, a theater company consisting of medical students at Columbia’s College of Physicians and Surgeons, highlights the importance of engaging in stress-reducing activities during medical school. Many medical students find creative pursuits to be enjoyable while also enhancing their understanding of the human condition.  As a second-year medical student says in the article, “When you have the ability to see other people’s lives and put yourself into them, then it helps you serve them better and understand what they’re going through in a different way.”

Columbia is not the only medical school with opportunities for students to engage in creative outlets. Harvard’s Arts and Humanities Initiative promotes involvement in the arts and states that, “The arts and humanities are powerful tools in medical education that have the potential to improve professionalism, reflection and empathy among physicians and trainees, foster humanism, reduce burnout, enhance perspective, sharpen physicians’ analytic and diagnostic skills, and improve teamwork and communication.” More information about Harvard Medical School’s focus on arts education can be found here.

At Yale, they have incorporated a course in observational skills—at the Yale Art Museum—for its first-year medical students. At Penn State, there is a required humanities elective. The Music and Medicine program at Cornell provides opportunities for musicians to collaborate and create music. More medical schools seem to be adopting creative programs in an effort to incorporate both creativity and reflection into their training programs.

–Liza Thompson, Expert Medical School Admissions Consulting

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The US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit ruled in favor of a medical student with a hearing disability at Creighton. The court stated that the student was not given ample accommodations so that he could perform at an equal level as his med school colleagues.  Many medical schools will consider this court decision, and it will perhaps have an impact on their issuing of accommodations for those with disabilities.  

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The median medical school debt is $189,165 according to the Association of American Medical Colleges. While this figure might seem daunting, it’s manageable over time according to many experts. The Association of American Medical Colleges recently published an article titled “Taking the Sting Out of Medical School Debt” and there is fairly extensive information on its website in regard to medical school costs.
Grants and scholarships rarely cover the full cost of attending medical school; most med students take out loans to cover the difference. There are only a few schools which offer “full-ride” scholarships, usually based on merit. Sallie Mae also has helpful tips about paying for medical school.

Medscape recently reported that more medical students are graduating debt free but this is likely due to wealthier students going to medical school, not because scholarship money has increased.

–Liza Thompson, Expert Medical School Admissions Consulting

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As a premedical advisor and medical school admissions consultant I encourage premedical students to read books that will expand their view of the medical profession. Reading literature allows us to better understand the human condition which, in turn, makes doctors better practitioners. In addition, during medical school interviews applicants are sometimes asked about books they have read about the medical profession; interviewers want to know whether the applicant has been curious enough to read about his or her chosen profession.

The books I have selected cover different aspects of the medical profession, from practicing medicine to understanding global health challenges to navigating the complexities of cultural competency. I have compiled a list of helpful books for premed and med students. Out of that list of 38 books, I have chosen 10 as essential reading material:

  1. The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman
  2. Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder
  3. How Doctors Think by Jerome Groopman
  4. Better: A Surgeon’s Notes on Performance by Atul Gawande
  5. My Own Country: A Doctor’s Story by Abraham Verghese
  6. Caring for Patients from Different Cultures by Geri-Ann Galanti
  7. Strong at the Broken Places by Richard Cohen
  8. On Death and Dying by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross
  9. The Citadel by A.J. Cronin
  10. The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande

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