Question of the Week: Addressing a Weakness in My Candidacy

Friday, May 18, 2018

Question: I know I shouldn't compare myself to other students, but it's hard not to feel like everyone else is so much more put together than I am. Even so, I've been trying my hardest and am happy with many aspects of my candidacy, but I'm really worried that my disciplinary probation from last year will immediately make me a weaker candidate than so many other applicants. How can I best address this in my application?

Answer: First, we know from conversations we have with your peers that virtually every applicant feels like they are inferior to their peers. The phenomenon of comparing your insides to others' outsides runs rampant among premeds (and Princetonians in general: case in point, this article written by a very successful alum). Keep in mind that you have amazing strengths as an applicant (and person!), that medical schools value resilience and perseverance, and do you best to move forward in this process with confidence. If you don't yet feel confident in yourself as an applicant, admissions committees and interviewers are going to sense your self-doubt and doubt your readiness for the next step. 

That said, it's helpful to know what areas of your application may benefit from additional context and enhancement. With a disciplinary action, one of the best remedies is just time--the further in the past the incident was (with no repeated issues), the less of a concern it will be. If there are lessons learned from the situation that you can parlay into actions, that can demonstrate a lot of personal awareness and growth--for example, if it was an alcohol violation, going through BASICS training and then becoming a peer educator who helps others understand healthy behaviors. It may also help to have one of your recommendation letter writers address the situation if they worked with you through it, talk about what you learned and how you matured from it. Plus, you'll talk with HPA about the situation and we'll provide additional context and information in your committee letter packet. This holds true for other areas of concern where context and advocacy could help, like a single semester where your grades slipped, a low section score on the MCAT, or a need to pursue postbac coursework: reflecting on what went wrong, taking action to address it, and having recommenders and HPA explain in more detail (while also highlighting the strengths of your candidacy) can help to allay concerns that admissions committees may have.

QOTW in 2016: Am I cut out to be a doctor?