US News recently came out with a list of the most affordable medical schools. As one would expect, many schools on the list are public institutions—and whether or not it is affordable depends on whether or not you’re an in-state or out-of-state student. Nonetheless it’s an interesting list because it includes the average debt per student upon graduation. The only private institutions in the top 20 are Baylor and Mayo. See the full list here.

–Liza Thompson, Expert Medical School Admissions Consultant

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Medical school interview season is fast approaching: the season generally spans from late August to March, although some schools do not start interviewing earlier and some go later. Applicants who submit their applications early (June) and then complete secondary applications efficiently (within two weeks of receiving them) will be extended interview invitations during the early phase of the interview process if their applications are deemed competitive. Applicants who complete application materials later will naturally get later interviews. There is a serious advantage in getting an early interview in that most schools operate on a rolling admission basis, meaning that spaces are given away as applications are considered. To help applicants understand what to expect at an interview I provide general guidance below as to the interview formats. See other posts on my blog in regard to preparing for a medical school interview and on the Multiple Mini Interview (MMI). Information about each school’s interview format can be found in the Medical School Admission Requirements (MSAR).

Interview Formats

There are several interview formats; applicants should be prepared for all of the types that they may encounter, as described below:

One-on-one interview: This is the most “traditional” kind of interview in that it has been in place longer than any other type and is the most common. During this format, an applicant has a one-on-one discussion with someone who represents the medical school (faculty member, administrator, or medical student). Typically this interview will last from 30-45 minutes, sometimes less and sometimes more.

Group interview: In this format, applicants will be grouped with others and face questioning from a small panel of medical school personnel. Most commonly this would be a group of three applicants along with three interviewers. Typically in this scenario, applicants may be asked individual questions pertaining to their particular background and/or the group is posed questions by the panel. Continue reading

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July is an incredibly busy month in the medical school application process. This is the time when secondary applications are in full swing. Having read thousands of secondary application essays over my career, which has spanned almost 25 years, I have tips for writing the best possible secondary essays:

  1. Read the prompt carefully. Don’t gloss over the prompt and write a general response. Instead, scrutinize every word and make sure you understand what the school wants to know about you. Tailor your response accordingly and be sure you have answered the prompt precisely.
  2. Be direct.  In your essays, be as direct as possible. Most prompts are asking for specific pieces of information. Give it to the schools in a clear and concise way. Don’t be vague.
  3. Don’t mindlessly reuse essays from one school to another. I have often seen applicants try to reuse essays—verbatim—to save time. This rarely works well. While you may be able to use the gist of one essay from one school to another, the prompts are often subtly different—as such, they need to be read very carefully (see #1 above!) and answered with precision.
  4. Tailor your response to each school.  If you do your due diligence, and learn about each school to which you apply, you will be able to create much more effective secondary essays. You’ll be able to show what you know and write more meaningfully about why you wish to attend a particular school or what you would contribute to its environment. If there’s one aspect of the curriculum that particularly appeals to you, cite this in your response.
  5. Help the schools get to know you.  Secondary essays offer a chance for you to help each school get to know you better. The secondary prompts are thoughtfully created by each school because they want to know key pieces of information about you. As such, secondaries present a golden opportunity to elaborate on challenges you have overcome, particular passions you have, interests you hold dear, or goals for your future.

Applicants rarely anticipate accurately the extensive time and thought it takes to write secondary application essays. This is an extremely important aspect of the medical school application process; secondary applications should be given the time and effort they require to produce stellar and effective essays. If you have questions about secondaries or want help with yours please send me an email at

–Liza Thompson, Expert Medical School Admissions Consulting

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The Liaison Committee on Medical Education (LCME) accredits medical schools in the US and Canada. The accreditation process ensures that medical schools meet certain standards set by the LCME. Medical schools are required to “demonstrate that their graduates exhibit general professional competencies that are appropriate for entry to the next stage of their training and that serve as the foundation for lifelong learning and proficient medical care.”

Accreditation is important since most state medical boards require that U.S. medical schools be accredited by the LCME as a condition for licensure of their graduates and US medical students cannot take United States Medical Licensing Examinations unless they are enrolled at an accredited school. Each medical school goes through a review and re-accreditation process periodically. Occasionally schools are put on probation and required to make changes if they want to maintain their accreditation.

Medical school applicants should be cognizant of the schools which are on probation. If they apply to those schools they should find out what the schools are doing to rectify the situation to be taken off probation. As of this writing there is only one medical school on probation.

–Liza Thompson, Expert Medical School Admissions Consulting

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Secondary applications arrive fast and furious soon after the primary AMCAS application is transmitted to the medical schools. It’s important to return secondary applications quickly since an application is not considered complete until the secondary has been received. The suggested time window for returning a secondary application is within two weeks of receiving it. Do the math—if an applicant applies to 20 schools, that’s 20 applications to complete within two weeks, all with several essays to write. Let’s say the average secondary application has three to four essays–that’s 60-80 essays. Writing that many essays in a short period of time obviously creates a tremendous amount of work.

The secondary applications are absolutely as important as the primary application, and they should be completed carefully and with great care. To streamline the process many applicants pre-write secondary applications, putting the finishing touches on them when the secondaries are actually released. Bear in mind, as well, that secondary application prompts can change from year to year—so sometimes prewriting a secondary can result in wasted time if an applicant writes an essay that is no longer relevant. But on the whole, secondary prompts do not change from year to year; most usually stay the same. Continue reading

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Photo courtesy of the New York Times

Photo courtesy of the New York Times








Does studying art enhance your observation skills as a physician, thereby allowing you to pick up subtle signs of illness? In recent years, there has been a general acknowledgment that studying art–and fine-tuning the art of seeing–helps medical students hone their skills. More medical schools are incorporating gallery visits and art classes into their curricula in an effort to sharpen students’ observational acuity. Arts Practica was founded by Alexa Miller to help medical professionals gain more skill in what they see. Arts Practica offers training programs, gallery visits, and classes which encourage med students to “learn to see.”  An article in the New York Times describes a forum that took place at the Museum of Modern Art which convened educators and doctors to discuss teaching strategies in programs melding art with medical education. An additional article in the Times describes “What Doctors Can Learn From Looking at Art.”

More medical schools are adding an arts component to their curriculum, and some examples are below:

Continue reading

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One of the components of the AMCAS application is the “Work and Activities” section, in which applicants help medical school admission committees understand how they have chosen to spend their time outside the classroom. There are 15 spaces for activities; each experience must have a short (<700 character) description and applicants also select three of these as their “most meaningful” activities and write longer (<1325 character) essays about them. For more information about the “most meaningful” AMCAS activities please refer to this blog post.

Applicants must make decisions about what to include in the Work and Activities section; whether they should group activities of the same ilk together; and how they should describe each experience.

Should applicants simply report the facts?  Should they provide reflection? How much detail should they include?  For the short descriptions you will be limited by space; there is only so much you can include. Here are some tips for writing the best possible activity descriptions in the AMCAS application: Continue reading

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Every year in the late spring, the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) publishes the Medical School Admission Requirements (known as the MSAR—pronounced em-sar). This online tool is the most reliable source of information pertaining to US and Canadian medical schools.  The information is provided directly from the medical schools to the AAMC. As such, it’s the go-to source for comprehensive and accurate information about each medical school. It includes information pertaining to:

  • Curricular structure
  • Interview format for each school
  • Class size
  • Each school’s mission
  • Median GPAs and MCAT scores
  • Premedical requirements
  • Whether schools accept AP credit, community college courses, or online classes
  • Cost
  • Combined degree programs
  • Demographics of students
  • Acceptance information:  size of the applicant pool, ratio of in-state and out-of-state applicants, number of international students
  • Whether schools accept international applicants

The MSAR is the best reference tool for all medical school applicants. Be sure to use the source for the year in which you apply to medical school so you get up-to-date and accurate information. The MSAR recently underwent a complete overhaul and has a new look and even more helpful information and filters for looking up schools that are in an applicant’s GPA and MCAT ranges.

–Liza Thompson, Expert Medical School Admissions Consulting

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The American Medical College Application Service (AMCAS) requires applicants to include descriptions of their activities. You are given space to include 15 experiences. All of the entries require contact and other pertinent information to be included. You must classify the experiences by type, selecting from a drop down list of choices. You are given 700 characters, including spaces, to write a short description of each activity.

The “Most Meaningful” Descriptions

In addition, you must select three activities as “most meaningful” and write an additional essay about these experiences. You are given 1325 characters, including spaces, to describe each experience in more detail and include information as to why it was meaningful to you. Quoting directly from AMCAS, “When writing your response, you might want to consider the transformative nature of the experience: the impact you made while engaging in the activity and the personal growth you experienced as a result of your participation.”  Read this carefully because the language here tells you exactly what to think about as you write your descriptions.

Here are some tips to writing the most meaningful AMCAS experience descriptions:

  • Think about why the experience was “transformative.” How did it change you? What did you learn from it? What skills did you acquire that you will bring with you to the medical profession?
  • What impact did you make with this activity?  Did you somehow leave a lasting legacy? Did you come up with new ideas to advance the organization or have an impact on the people you were working with? If so, describe these things.
  • How did the experience change you?  Did the experience help you see a population, a field of discovery, or the world in an entirely new way? Did it stretch you and teach you something you never thought you were capable of? If so, tell why.
  • The key to writing an outstanding entry for your most meaningful experience descriptions is thoughtful reflection.
  • Help medical school admissions committees understand who you are through the descriptions you write. Writing in-depth descriptions as to why an experience meant a great deal to you will help admissions officers understand you better.
  • Don’t try to “game” the system. Be honest in choosing the three experiences that were truly the most meaningful to you. If you do otherwise, admissions officers are likely to see right through it.
  • For the “most meaningful” entries it is common to choose a clinical experience, research experience, and community service experience, although this varies widely from applicant to applicant depending on the array of activities in one’s background.
  • Remember that you will likely get asked about these experiences in an interview; be prepared to talk about them.

Continue reading

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Being on a medical school’s waiting list offers the prospect of an acceptance but it can also be agony waiting for that acceptance to come through. For those who are already accepted at another school the waiting is not nearly as intense—they at least know they are going to medical school. But for those who have yet to be accepted it can be a time of stress as they wait to hear, fingers crossed.

For guidelines and tips on med school waiting lists check out another blog post. For the uninitiated here’s how the med school waitlist process generally works, although policies vary from school to school.

  • Schools fill their classes by March 1st, accepting at least the number of applicants to fill the class—this is required by the AAMC traffic rules.
  • Medical schools create waiting lists throughout the application cycle, with a firm waitlist in place by the spring.
  • Some waitlists are ranked while others are not. Most schools don’t reveal whether their list is ranked; if they are ranked, schools rarely, if ever, reveal an applicant’s ranking.
  • Some schools group those on a the waitlist into categories:  high priority, medium priority, and so forth.
  • April 30th is the date by which all applicants who have been accepted at multiple schools must make a decision about which one school they will attend; they must withdraw offers at all other schools.
  • Leading up to April 30th spaces become available at various medical schools as applicants decline offers. As a result, there is shuffling in med schools’ rosters as the deadline approaches and spaces become available.
  • After April 30th schools know exactly where they stand in regard to filling their class. If they have vacancies they go to the waitlist.
  • If an applicant is given an acceptance after April 30, schools do not have to give him or her much time to make a decision (prior to this date, schools must give applicants two weeks to decide whether to enroll).
  • If you’re on a waitlist, your contact information should be up to date at every medical school where you are waitlisted; the schools will want to contact you quickly should they decide to offer you an acceptance.
  • Most movement from waitlists occurs from late April to mid-June. Occasionally spots open up after this time but the openings become much less frequent.
  • For advice about being accepted to medical school from a waitlist please read my other blog post referenced above.

Please feel free to contact me via email at to discuss your particular situation or to ask questions.

–Liza Thompson, Expert Medical School Admissions Consulting


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