Encouragement and Warnings for Late Medical School Applicants

Two blog posts in two days after two months without a single word?! I know you’re probably confused, so I’ll give you the two-part answer: 1) The deadline for the NIH fellowship application that I’ve been working on all summer is looming quite near now and my brain is becoming fried from scouring over pages and pages of my own academic writing – I NEED to freely write again; and 2) This date holds a special place in my past –

two years ago today I submitted my medical school application! 

I bring this up for two reasons (two must be the number of the day!)

First, I would like to encourage anyone whose medical school application is taking a little longer than planned that it is not too late to still apply this year. While it is ideal to apply in early June when the application system first accepts submissions, plenty of people do not get their application in that early. In fact, while I submitted my application first on this date, I didn’t send it to my actual school where I was accepted until October (though its deadline was in December not October like most schools). Therefore, all hope is not yet lost for this year if you have not submitted.

On the other hand, I would also like to warn you that applying this late does have its risks. I applied to 15 schools in total – ten in July, four in September, and one in October. This put my application toward the bottom of the pile for many schools and they had already accepted quite a few students before even looking at my application. The majority of my secondary applications came while I was also trying to manage school, marching band, research, leading a sorority, and working overnights shifts as a receptionist. Turning around the secondary applications in two weeks (as recommended!) became challenging especially when I received some applications just as my two-week long marching band camp began (let’s just say 12 hours of band each day was not conducive to writing strong secondary responses.)

After completing all of these applications, spending a couple thousand dollars, and receiving quite a few rejection letters, I finally – FINALLY – had one small bit of good luck. I got my first interview invite in mid-November for my undergraduate institution’s MSTP (MD/PhD program). I then interviewed the day after my last final for fall semester (so just before Christmas.) In mid-January, I found out that I did not get in. It was hard to deal with especially knowing that other people had been accepted to school so much earlier. A friend applied to pharmacy school months after I submitted my primary application, interviewed before my first interview, and was accepted soon after that. Many of the twitter #medfam folks had already announced their acceptances as well. I feared checking my e-mail in case I had a rejection letter (and since many MD/PhD programs also consider you for MD alone, you often get TWO rejection letters per school).

Luckily, I then received an interview invite to Illinois in mid-January (they line up the MD/PhD application deadline/interviews with graduate programs, which are much later). I interviewed in early March and received my acceptance in the middle of the month. I made it, but barely.

It’s true that all you need is that one acceptance, but I can’t help thinking back and wondering “What if?” What if I hadn’t found out about Illinois’s MD/PhD program from an e-mail? What if I had ignored said e-mail? If I had followed through with my original schools that I applied to, I would have been re-applying (which I was preparing to do anyway by the time of my acceptance) meaning all of my time and money would have been for nothing.

Looking back, the process would have likely been better had I applied earlier and been smarter about where I applied (but I really wanted to go to places like Yale or UCSF). Instead, I applied to 15 schools, interviewed at two of them, and was only accepted at one. Therefore, I highly suggest that you take a good and hard look at your application and try to figure out if it’s worth applying later into the cycle, and if you’re willing to go ahead with applying, figure out if the schools you’ve picked are reasonable. Otherwise consider waiting until the next year to apply and do it early in the application cycle.

I lucked out. Through my many rejections, I came to find the University of Illinois. While their MD/PhD program is not NIH funded (unlike the MSTPs that I had naively set my aims to), I honestly do not think I could find a more perfect program for me (important to note – the “top” school may not be the best schools for you – know thyself!) Had I applied earlier, perhaps I would have got in somewhere else that processed their applications earlier and not even applied to Illinois. But who knows, maybe I would have loved it there too. Either way, the risk of not getting in was quite real to me and it becomes more real the later you apply.

Good luck to all who are applying!


8 thoughts on “Encouragement and Warnings for Late Medical School Applicants

  1. Parsa Mirmehdi

    Your story is inspirational. Congratulations, I know it is not easy to get into an MD-PhD program. I read your personal statement and thought it was excellent. I focused on the spiritual side of my life when I wrote mine because that is the aspect of my life I derive most of my inspiration from. However, I doubt many admissions committees will be able to relate; we shall see. I am in the process of applying to MD programs this year. Your blog has been exceptionally helpful.

    Thank You,


    • Hanna Erickson

      Well thank you! I’m so glad that my blog can be a help. The thing about the personal statement is that it’s just that – personal. As long as you can show your potential to be a great doctor through the spiritual side of your life, I’m sure admissions committees will be able to relate. Good luck!

  2. Norman

    Just want to say this blog was very helpful. I applied quite late (October, November) and my application is hardly competitive so I’ve pretty much come to terms with the eventualities.. I’m also starting to really consider my options and whether or not I’m really serious about medicine. Bit of a sad place to be as a senior but better late than never. If you don’t mind me asking, how long is it going to take you to complete your MSTP?

    • Hanna Erickson

      I’m sorry to hear that this application cycle isn’t going well for you. This does sound like a great time for you to really figure out if it’s what you want to do though! Whether you still think medicine is what you want or you find something else that suits you better, I believe situations like this can actually be quite helpful to understand yourself better so that you can take on the next step of your life with even greater preparation and, more importantly, passion. Seriously, don’t worry about this happening as a senior. It’s better to not rush into things than come to the realization that it’s not for you later on.

      As for your last question, I’m actually not in a Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP). Only some MD/PhD programs receive funding from the NIH to make them MSTPs, but mine is not one of those. Nonetheless, my program – just like MSTPs – will take approximately 8 years (depending on how long my PhD takes) though ours has a different structure. Basically, it will be 3 years longer than my PhD (since I take my M1 classes during my PhD and do M2-M4 afterwards).

  3. bobby

    When you say applied on July 25th does that mean that you submitted your application for amcas verification or that your secondaries for those ten schools were done by July?

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