Application Secrets from a Pro
Mr. Christian Essman, Director of Admissions at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine. is very qualified to give us some medical school application secrets. As Director of Admissions, he meets every candidate who comes to Case. He sat down with Demetra Gibson, one of our TDM mentors, one-on-one to give some advice and insight from an insider.
What makes a strong candidate?
Mr. Essman: A strong academic history is what all medical schools look for. This is used to predict how a student will perform once in medical school and eventually as a physician. Everyone wants a smart doctor, and given the rigorous academic requirements, schools don’t want to set a student up for failure. Another thing we look for is well-rounded experiences, and not necessarily particular experiences. A student’s activities should not show that they went through a “premed checklist” of activities, but rather that they chose to do things they are passionate about. We should be able to hear enthusiasm as we read the application. And remember that no-one gets a gold star for filling in all activity boxes on the application. It is about quality not quantity. Lastly prior medical experience is almost a must. This shows that you know what you are getting into and that you understand the demands and sacrifices of the profession.
What are some of the most common mistakes you see students make during the application process?
Mr. Essman: Not applying early. Medical school admissions work on a rolling basis. If you apply in the summer, there are many spots to fill. An “ok” candidate would be offered an interview. In December many acceptances have gone out and there are few spots left. Some candidates that might have been offered an interview earlier in the year would likely be overlooked. Another mistake is a poorly composed application. A medical school application is a professional document and students will be judged on it. You don’t want to appear to be a sloppy person. Take the time to correct grammatical/punctuation errors. Don’t just list your activities but talk about what you did and learned from them.
What are some of the most common mistakes you see students make during the interview day?
Mr. Essman: Coming to the school unprepared. Just like you would for a job interview, do your homework on the school. Know what they do, how they do it, what they stand for. Another not as common but more detrimental mistake is a lack of professionalism and maturity. Students should treat everyone with kindness and respect and know that they are being observed. Don’t be asleep or on the phone texting/facebooking. My advice is to turn your cell phone off during interview day. We can all go 6hours without our phone. If there is a family emergency where you might be on your phone, let someone in the admissions office know.
What advice would you give students on picking programs?
Mr. Essman: Look beyond US World and News Rankings. Talk to advisors, colleagues and friends about your particular situation and their experience with the various programs. Go through the MSAR (Medical School Admissions Requirements) book. This book has a lot of information about every school in one central location. Information ranges from the school’s admission requirements (average GPA, prerequisites, etc) to life as a student and unique qualities of the school. Read about the curriculum and think about how you learn best. Take into account geographical considerations, and how far you are willing to move. Always apply to your state schools as you have the highest likelihood of acceptance there.
Taking “time off” between undergrad and medical school, how is that regarded?
Mr. Essman: We love it. Often times this candidate can bring more to the table. Students should ensure that the time is meaningful. For example doing things they did not get chance to do in college like research or volunteer work. Or even working to establish better financial readiness. Regardless of what is done during this time, it should not show that you are burnt out or unmotivated.
How can someone bolster their application, even if their grades aren’t that high?
Mr. Essman: First is their MCAT score. If grades are not high, students should start studying for the MCAT early and try to make that score strong. Students should try to showcase themselves in the best light. Paint a picture of yourself. We look at distance traveled – is this student a first generation college student who may not have known the lay of the land. Some students chose not to include employment history because they feel medical schools do not want to see it. Often this can be the hole that’s missing in an application. If you have to work many hours a week it could be part of the reason why your grades are not as high. Work experience can also allow you to showcase leadership, work ethic, responsibility, etc. Medical schools want to see self-reflection and the ability to internalize your experiences discussing what you learned from them.
Why should students consider Case Western Reserve University?
Mr. Essman: Case Western is the only medical school in town and is affiliated with some of the best hospitals in the country. The hospitals are not over-saturated. Many times you can be the only medical school on a service, which is rare for a large city. Case Western also has a strong research reputation while offering many clinical opportunities. There is a good balance of both and we are not funneling students in one direction. You can find your niche, exploring options or going deep into research or clinical activities, while having no competition in finding advising. There is a collegial environment at Case where students and faculty are invested in each other.