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Friday, September 24, 2021

The culture of (re)application

HANNAH LEE / AGGIE

Pre-health applications often require second attempts

Every Aggie had to apply to gain a spot at UC Davis and thus knows that the application process can be emotionally and monetarily demanding. However, sometimes the act of applying can also include reapplying.

Narges Maskan, a fourth-year biological sciences major and the director of membership for the undergraduate American Medical Women’s Association chapter at UC Davis, is a pre-med student taking a few gap years to teach elementary school biology before going to medical school. She wants to take time to grow and become the best applicant she can be.

“Wait to apply until your application is in the best possible condition,” Maskan said. “I think really the mistake that some people make is they apply because they are kind of impatient [and] they want to get into medical school.”

However, according to Maskan, this impatience comes at a price.

“It’s an expensive process, and emotionally it’s very draining,” Maskan said. “For the whole year you’re checking your email and your mailbox, hoping you get a response.”

Regardless of this, graduate programs still see a substantial number of reapplicants. As Maskan highlighted, the important thing is to improve the application from the first round.

“There’s nothing wrong with being a reapplicant, but the problem with being a reapplicant is that you didn’t take time to work on your application,” Maskan said. “I think if you don’t get accepted the first round, medical schools aren’t going to want to see you re-apply that same following year with nothing new to add substantially to your application. Maybe you need to do a post-baccalaureate [program], or just even take a couple classes at a local college, get your GPA higher, [or] maybe take time off and study for the MCAT full time.”

Maskan also pointed out some of the minor details that make a major difference in the final results of one’s application. For instance, it is really useful to analyze whether the application’s weakness lay in test scores, personal statements or the interviews. Sometimes applicants don’t pay enough attention to the requirements of different schools and what they are looking for. Some schools strongly prefer in-state students, and applying as an out-of-state student to such schools may be limiting.

“Looking at their average GPAs and their average MCATs and seeing where you really match on the 10th and 90th percentiles [is something] people don’t end up doing,” Maskan said. “When you stay limited and you’re not really looking at their match and acceptance rates, you kind of shoot yourself in the foot. I’ve known people that have not gotten in literally because their school list wasn’t right.”

From the opposite perspective, Zahra Samiezade-Yazd, a fourth-year global disease biology major, shared her experiences as an interviewer, recruiting members as undergraduate volunteers for her student-run Joan Viteri Memorial Clinic.

“A lot of people were really proactive [as] they would […] email us back and [ask for] feedback on what [they] could’ve done better,” Samiezade-Yazd said. “A lot of them were freshmen and sophomores, and a lot of them […] had room for growth. We could see that maybe not this year, but definitely next year it would possibly work out. It was really good to hear that students were like interested in learning how they could improve next time,”

Samiezade-Yazd recently committed to pursuing a degree in public health at UC Berkeley. She advises applicants to articulate why they are choosing a particular school, program or clinic as opposed to another institution that may provide similar opportunities.

“Especially for med school, a lot of students will say, ‘the reason I want to go to med school is because I want to help people.’ Well why can’t you help people by being a garbage man?” Samiezade-Yazd said. “Why can’t you help people by doing [something else] instead? You have to figure out why you have to be a physician in order to help people. I think that makes a really huge difference.”

Samiezade-Yazd argued that there is a way to express one’s feelings that may be cliche in their intent but unique in their presentation, setting the applicant apart.

“Its very easy to say I just want to help, but you have to honestly say what really drew you to this issue,” Samiezade-Yazd said. “Even if it seems cliche, as long as you say it in your own words and as honestly as you can, it’ll sound unique.”

Dr. Hwai-Jong Cheng, a professor and advisor for neurobiology, physiology and behavior students, deconstructed the standard definition of “reapplication” and reframed it in the context of constantly having to retry throughout one’s professional and personal life.

“At your stage, you apply for college or later apply for medical school — you call it reapplication simply because you apply this year and it doesn’t work, and you work on that and you try again next year, and you call that reapplication,” Dr. Cheng said. “In the future you are going to the job market […] then you’re just looking for a job until you get a job, so that’s like multiple reapplications. I think for anyone at some point they all re-apply for stuff.”

Even after earning a double doctorate (an M.D. and a Ph.D.), Dr. Cheng still goes through the reapplication process.

“For example I’m doing research, so we apply for grants and a lot of different things to support my lab,” Dr. Cheng said. “We need to reapply again and again, so I don’t think that it’s such a scary concept, reapplication.”

Sometimes a rejected application can be a chance for self-improvement and more preparation for the position.

“Even for a small internship or summer internship, you need [to] apply, right? Maybe this year you apply for that and you don’t get it, but next year you apply and you get in — is that reapplication?” Dr. Cheng said. “If we are going to all these professional jobs, application is the norm, maybe a constant.”

 

Written by: Sahiti Vemula — features@theaggie.org

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