Dec 1, 2007
The Application Cycle
Posted in: Academics & Research
You don’t need me to tell you that the college application process is rough, and can sometimes leave you feeling as if you’re trapped in a sick game that is like a scavenger hunt and therapy session rolled into one (“You’ve landed on the ‘Guidance Counselors’ Office.’ Collect your letters of recommendation and proceed to your personal statement, where you will divulge your greatest disappointments and accomplishments to strangers.”) Have no fear; there is light at the end of the tunnel. Second semester senior year will rear its head shortly, bringing with it stress-relief and (hopefully) a mailbox stuffed with acceptance letters. These letters will validate years of hard work and sacrifice, and set you on a new and exciting path.
The choice to go to college right after high school was probably an easy decision for you (at least it was for me.) Hopefully you have received assistance from your teachers, guidance counselors, parents, and maybe even these blogs, so the decision to apply was not a daunting one.
In four years, you will be in a completely different situation. As “crusty’ seniors, my classmates and I are at a point where we have to make a lot of decisions- big, complicated, and sometimes expensive decisions. The options are endless: go to more school (graduate, medical, law, business), get a “real” job, take a year off to figure things out, work for a non-profit organization (Teach for America, Peace Corps), work in a lab, etc. It can be a very confusing and frustrating time, since these decisions will make a profound impact on the rest of our lives. My classmates and I must think long and hard about what our next step will be. Suddenly, high school looks so easy, since almost everyone knew the next step was college, it was a just a matter of choosing which one.
But, I’m happy to report that this can also be a very exciting time for college seniors. Just like you will undoubtedly receive a college acceptance letter, many of us are receiving job and graduate school offers. It’s with a bit of trepidation that I say that the next 9-10 years of my life are essentially planned. I will be spending the next two years at Oxford University thanks to the Rhodes Scholarship, followed by 7-8 years in an MD/PhD program. Some of the details are still fuzzy, for example I still need to apply for degree programs at Oxford (I’m hoping to studying Integrated Immunology and Global Health Science), and I haven’t committed to a specific MD/PhD program yet, but the general plan is in place.
So how did this all happen? I’m still trying to figure that out myself, actually. The easy answer is that I made a decision about what I want my life to be like and how I will try to make a difference in the world within my field. Then I applied to programs that seemed like they would help me to accomplish these goals. The rest of this entry is a brief summary of the admissions processes for medical school and the Rhodes Scholarship.
Medical School: Most people don’t realize that the medical school admissions process starts early; the primary application (equivalent to the college Common Application) is released in the beginning of June. So if you want to enter medical school right after college, you have to make that decision by the middle of your sophomore year, to allow time to get a pre-medical advisor and get letters of recommendation. (By the way…I’m writing this on the train and it just broke down!!! Ahh, Amtrak, you are the bane of my existence.) I had all of my secondary applications submitted by the beginning of September, and I began getting interview invitations shortly afterwards. (Unlike the college application process, med school interviews require you to travel to the school itself. MD-only programs have one day of interviews, MD/PhD programs generally have two.). The traveling is both a perk and a fault. Because of one of my interviews, I got to go to California for the first time. The interviews are always scheduled on a weekday, which meant that I’ve had to miss classes and devise creative strategies to complete all of my schoolwork remotely. But hey, I’m not complaining.
Rhodes Scholarship: Studying at Oxford has been something that I’ve wanted to do since I spent a week there through a program I was involved with in high school called Youth Leaders International. So far I hadn’t gotten to study abroad (there were too many neat things to do at MIT) so it seemed like a great opportunity to get a different perspective on the practice of medicine and research process. When it came time to seriously considering applying, I checked out the bios of the past scholars and found them to be quite intimidating, as everyone seemed to have accomplished supernatural feats. Even so, I applied with the encouragement and support of the MIT Distinguished Scholarship Office.
The Rhodes application is (dare I say) even more rigorous than the medical school application, in some respects: eight letters of recommendation, 1,000 word personal essay, list of activities and honors, and transcript. First, the application materials have to be turned in to MIT. Next, there are several interviews with graduate students, alumni, and faculty, and then MIT chooses a group of students to give institutional endorsements to. These students formally submit their applications to a Rhodes district. There are 16 districts in the country, and you can apply to either the district where you went to college, or where your permanent residence is. A month or so later, each district invites 12-14 students for interviews, which usually consists of an informal cocktail party on Friday night and a formal panel interview on Saturday. Finally, each district chooses 2 students to win the award, and the winners are announced in person on Saturday evening.
As you can see, the applications don’t end when you get to college. Try to enjoy the process, and remember that you will be fine no matter what. Best of luck to you all! We’ve all been in your shoes, and we’re living proof that there is life after the college admissions process. Feel free to post any questions and I’ll try to address them in my next entry.
And finally, I’d like to extend a big, BIG thank you to everyone who responded so positively to Matt’s entry about me (and of course to Matt for writing it.) I really appreciate it!!!