Monday, February 18, 2008

Application Anxiety Disorder

Now, I will state first that I am not currently suffering from Application Anxiety Disorder (AAD), but the same cannot be said of many of the people here who, aside from being keeners in the extreme, are highly concerned with email interview invites, admission statistics, personal "stats" (read: GPA, MCAT scores, extracurriculars, etc.), and, of course, the variable and seemingly illogical admissions policies of Canadian medical schools.

As an applicant myself, I've avoided most of this anxiety by, well, staying away from such forums and similar websites. For the moment, I lurk at this "premed" forum now and then, but I figure that avoiding registering there much less posting is a very healthy way of adding to my own stress levels. Admittedly, since I have at least two more interviews (for a current total of three chances to win), I'm well past the greater part of the uncertainty, but this forum is a testament to the overwhelmingly stressful and, well, excessive admissions process.

There are essentially a few givens for getting to the interview stage, at which point your "personal characteristics" (and subjective judgements thereof) start to matter a lot more. You'll need reasonably high marks and an MCAT score that's "high enough" and also balanced among the four categories; if you ace the science portions of the MCAT, but screw up the verbal reasoning or writing sections, your chances of getting an interview fall precipitously. Naturally, though schools like Queen's and UofT post "cutoffs" for admission, the rules are not as hard or fast as they might seem, and the process is by any reckoning opaque. However, since schools have varying cutoffs for students from different regions or backgrounds, an applicant might have an excellent chance at one school within her region and no chance at one in another province. Of course, if the justification for high academic standards for admissions is that people with high marks would make better physicians, then all this regional favouritism seems more than a little odd.

In any case, the process used to be much simpler - my dad, whose information is over thirty years out of date, doesn't recall having an interview at all to get into UofT. However, admissions appear to have become considerably more competitive over the years with the result being that academics are no longer enough - you need a certain array of community involvement (e.g. volunteering in hospitals or with sick/disabled people), extracurriculars, good references, and, often, research experience. Moreover, you need to sell yourself effectively in essays and, of course, at the all-important interview, where must demonstrate an ethical sense, critical thinking skills, strong communication skills, and "knowledge of the Canadian health care system". In short, you must pour yourself into the process, sell yourself in your essays, spend several years working away at getting lots of A's and A-'s, all while being well-rounded with some degree of community involvement and evidence that your life does not entirely revolve around schoolwork. And if you don't want to severely limit your application choices, you need to write the MCAT too, an ordeal which generally deserves its reputation as the most grueling of all standardized tests.

And so, after answering all manner of vaguely invasive personal questions in the essays and spending literally hundreds of dollars in application fees and transportation and hotel costs, you must remember that you still stand a better-than-even chance of being rejected. Most schools, at least, won't leave you hanging too long, and they'll send you a polite but firm email informing you that you didn't quite make the cut for an interview. At least one school, which shall remain nameless, won't have the courtesy to tell you anything, even after the interview dates have passed.

As for me, well, I'm not letting myself worry too much. I'm old enough to feel a bit more laidback about the whole process, but then I'm also lucky that I feel fairly confident of getting in somewhere. I don't think this confidence is misplaced, but this is far from a sure thing. In any case, Dal remains my best bet - the interview went well enough, I thought - but I won't find out until at least the end of this month and maybe much later. I could easily know the answer before either my Queen's or McMaster interviews, so I'm hoping it's the "right" answer. We shall see. I'm still waiting on UofT, and while I should be able to get an interview there, it's possible that a certain technicality will cause problems.

So, I'm not suffering from AAD, thankfully, but the process makes me wonder why that's not the case. It's certainly not fun!


Ladyjutea said...

I'm so glad I don't have to worry about such things.

In Korea, they practically kill themselves to study for the university entrance exams and people are picked for the marks from those tests. One exam and that's it. Is that much better though? I'm inclined to say no.

Josh Gould said...

Definitely not. I have one friend here who failed said entrance exams in China and came here to study - she's very smart and eminently capable - those sorts of systems make no sense.

Deborah said...

MCAT? Are you applying for Med School?

Josh Gould said...

In a word, yes. I'm sorry that I hadn't told you before!! As ever, proof that we should chat more. :)

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