10 Actions That Hurt Your Medical School Chances

If you are serious about attending medical school, pay close attention to how you present yourself to an admissions committee. Remember that competition is fierce. Finding ways to set yourself apart and focus on activities that matter to admissions officials will well position you to make a positive impression. Here are 10 things you should take care to avoid as you prepare to apply to medical school.

Focusing on sports accomplishments. Involving yourself in sports and other physical activity is important to your health and well-being, but if you’ve logged thousands of hours rowing, marathon swimming, playing tennis and the like, while logging much fewer volunteer hours, you will find yourself at a grave disadvantage. Impress the admissions committee with strong evidence of how you have sought to help others, a crucial characteristic in medical students and physicians.

Relying on a foreign mission trip for volunteer activity. Traveling overseas to help underserved populations demonstrates compassion and humanity, but if a mission trip counts as your primary volunteer activity, it won’t be enough. Know that other medical student applicants will report numerous volunteer activities that span years, putting you at a disadvantage. What’s more, your single overseas mission trip may be interpreted as a desire to travel versus a passion for serving others.

[Read: The Worst Advice Ever Given to Premed Students.]

Describing your research inappropriately. Be cautious about how you characterize your role in your research projects. For example, if your description makes it sound like your only role was to wash the beakers and keep the lab clean, the admissions committee won’t be impressed. These tasks may well have been part of your responsibilities — and that’s okay — but be sure to describe the project from a scientific perspective. By doing so, you will not only demonstrate your involvement, but also your understanding.

Having a family member or close family friend write a recommendation letter. Most admission committees frown on receiving a recommendation letter written by a family member or close family friend. Why? The committee members will assume that you are either trying to pull rank if the letter writer is someone of particular influence or unable to find an adequate number of letter writers who can objectively compare you to other students.

[Read: How Medical School Admissions Will Change in 2019.]

Having someone who barely knows you write a recommendation letter. For a recommendation letter to be most effective, the writer must have a solid sense of who you are. If they don’t, their words will ring hollow. So before you ask, say, a professor from whom you received an A to write a recommendation letter, ask yourself if he or she honestly knows you. Another tip is to meet in person with each potential letter writer and spend time speaking with them in advance of your request.

Writing a defensive summary of an institutional action. Don’t be surprised if the admissions committee asks you to disclose any criminal, conduct or academic performance infractions. Not only should you disclose any infraction, no matter how minor it seems, but you should also show sincere remorse. The admissions committee is looking for evidence that you learned from your mistakes. Don’t try to sweep a mistake under the rug or act defensively. Showing remorse and humility demonstrate maturity and integrity.

Demonstrating a grudge against a parent on your application. Family dynamics can be complicated, and not all families are supportive — admission committee members understand this. That said, your medical school application isn’t the appropriate place to air a grievance about a parent or family member. If you find it necessary to describe a family situation because it’s crucial to your story, put aside the anger and resentment, and instead show compassion and forgiveness.

Submitting a severely critical or judgmental essay. Part of becoming a successful physician is the ability to truly hear what others are saying. This ability is crucial, both in the doctor’s office and at the bedside. Physicians must be able to listen to and consider others’ perspectives, even when they express a different opinion. Thus, when you are working on your personal essay, be sure your writing is free from judgment and harsh criticism. While it is okay to express an opinion, it is important to back it up with evidence and ensure that you considered all perspectives.

[Read: 4 Points to Include in Every Med School Personal Statement.]

Requesting special treatment. If, early on, you request some sort of special treatment, from being released from taking a required course to being excused from submitting a certain type of recommendation letter, be sure you have a justifiable reason. Your reason must be rock-solid, especially when it comes to school requirements. After all, the school perceives its requirements as important or they would not have included them. If your reason appears improper or dishonest, your request will leave a negative impression, and the admissions committee will assume that you will routinely request special treatment from this point forward.

Having unexplained gaps in your academic record. Myriad reasons exist for gaps in a student’s academic record, from a serious illness to an extended caregiving situation. Most often the gaps involve personal details that may be difficult to share. Still, if you don’t provide the truth, you allow the imagination of the admission committee members to take over and fill in the blanks. You can shed some light on what really happened without offering granular details, but if you don’t explain gaps admissions committee members are left to imagine a scenario that is likely worse than the truth.

With proper advance planning and critical thought, you can easily avoid all of the actions above and assemble an application packet that represents your best self to the admissions committee.

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