Premedical or M.D./Ph.D. Programs

 

Table of Contents

Introduction

There are two distinct pathways by which students can gain admission to a professional school. One is open to all majors and requires just a basic knowledge of science and mathematics. Students taking this option are evaluated by the Health Science Advisement and Evaluation Committee (HSAEC), which writes a University of Delaware recommendation to medical institutions of the student's choice. In addition to required course work, students must participate in volunteer work. However, to be seriously considered, students should participate in other activities.

Certain tasks must be accomplished each year. While the Freshman and Sophomore years are devoted primarily to studies, in the Junior year students must complete their HSAEC pre-med files, be interviewed by two HSAEC committee members in preparation for the University's evaluation of the student's record, and take the standardized medical admission exam, the MCAT. During the Senior year, students apply to medical school, travel to medical schools for interviews and receive decisions on their applications.

The other pathway, the Medical Scholars Program (MSP), is open only to second semester freshmen. The MSP is an early admission program with Jefferson Medical College, Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia, PA. The program leads to a B.A. in Liberal Studies from the University of Delaware and an M.D. from Thomas Jefferson University.

General Schedule for Premed Students

Freshman and Sophomore Year

During the freshman and sophomore years, students should make an effort to determine if medicine is a good career option. Students should set the following goals:

  • Obtain excellent grades: Medical school admission generally requires high grades (above 3.5 for allopathic schools and 3.3 for osteopathic schools).
  • Get to know your professors: If you do well in a course and want the professor's recommendation, don't wait, ask for one at the end of the semester.
  • Give careful consideration to your choice of career by volunteering: Getting involved in a health-care setting during this time is invaluable in letting you know that medicine is the field for you.
  • Open an official file: The appropriate forms for opening a pre-med file and forms for obtaining letters of recommendation are available from Ms. Ramona Wilson (see below). Pre-med files must be opened no later than the first semester of junior year.

If you still have questions, contact Ms. Ramona Wilson (115A Wolf Hall, 831-2282, ramonaw@udel.edu) or the chairperson of the HSAEC, Dr. Florence Schmieg.

Physician Area Shortage Program at Jefferson Medical College

The state of Delaware is now included in the Physician Area Shortage Program at Jefferson Medical College. The program already includes the state of Pennsylvania.

This program selects medical students from small or rural towns in the state who plan to become family practice physicians in similar areas, not necessarily their own home towns. It provides special mentoring and rural/small town clinical experiences as part of the normal M.D. training at Jefferson. There is a small amount of need-based financial support but it is very limited. Students applying to Jefferson who indicate an interest in this program are given special consideration for admission to Jefferson. If you are interested in being considered as a PSAP applicant, be sure to read the information on their website and to identify yourself to us as you open your HSAEC file or earlier.

Junior Year

This is a very busy and important year! The HSAEC will be making their evaluations and recommendations in June of this year. To be evaluated, you must inform the Biology Undergraduate Office that you want to be evaluated that year. This must be done prior to April 15. Hopefully your file will already be completed. If not, do so now.

This is also the year you will take the MCAT exam. More information about this follows. You will need to register for this in March to take the April test (this is the recommended time). There is also an August test but we advise against waiting until then if you hope to attend medical school immediately after graduation because you significantly lower your chances of acceptances if you wait.

Senior Year

Finally you will need to apply to medical schools. This is initiated with an on-line application to AMCAS or AACOMAS, which is usually done before the end of August. Sometime during the fall or winter semester, you will be asked to interview at medical schools. Most students are admitted to medical school between November and April, however some students are admitted as early as October or as late as August.

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Coursework

Medical schools in the United States admit students with a variety of backgrounds who demonstrate scientific aptitude, evidence that they have the commitment, ability, and maturity to successfully complete the rigorous program, and who have demonstrated their true interest in the field by either volunteering in a health-care or other service-oriented institution or program and/or by doing laboratory research with some medically-relevant application. M.D./Ph.D. applicants are expected to have done research, although any field or topic area is acceptable. Although most M.D./Ph.D. programs are in biomedical sciences, there are several in the social sciences and humanities that are available as well. The particular undergraduate major of the medical school applicant is not restricted to the sciences. In fact, most medical schools want to see a broad range of course work in addition to the required courses necessary to apply to a particular school.

The courses necessary for application to medical school will usually include the following. However, a particular school may have additional requirements or, less frequently, fewer requirements. Once you have a feel for where you might like to apply, look at the individual school to be sure what they require.

  • 1 year of Biological Sciences, with laboratory
  • 1 year of General Chemistry, with laboratory
  • 1 year of Organic Chemistry, with laboratory
  • 1 year of General Physics, with laboratory (non-Calculus-based)
  • 1 year of English
  • 1 year of Calculus or 1 semester of Calculus plus one additional semester of math (Some schools have no math requirement). It is important that you check the math requirement at every school to which you apply individually. Many schools previously not requiring math are now requiring it. It is safest to take two semesters of Calculus to cover all possibilities.

UD science courses corresponding to the minimum requirements would be BISC 207/208 - Introductory Biology; CHEM 103/104 - General Chemistry; CHEM 321/322 - Organic Chemistry; PHYS 201/202 - Introductory Physics; MATH 221/222.

Note: Most medical schools will not accept advanced placement credits as a substitute for the above. If you have them, you should take more advanced courses in the field to fulfill this requirement or repeat the courses for credit, relinquishing the AP credit.

Science majors usually fulfill the science requirements during the undergraduate years as part of their major. If you are not majoring in a science, you will need to incorporate the requirements into your schedule. Remember that you will need to take the Medical College Acceptance Test (MCAT) which is required by most medical schools and which contains questions related to all of the science requirements. As you continue to read this site you will see that the science GPA is one of the major influences on medical school acceptance. All students, including science majors, should also include courses in many of the liberal arts such as history, anthropology, sociology, philosophy, etc. A good guide to possible courses is the list of courses available to you for completion of the Group A, B, and C requirements in the College of Arts and Sciences. Remember, you are interested in a people- oriented profession that requires scientific aptitude as well. It is a complex blend and the medical school admissions people are trying to find people who have both characteristics.

Note: Before evaluation by the HSAEC, students are expected to have completed at least half of the required science courses here at the University of Delaware. If a student has taken some of the required science courses at another college and has had the credits approved here, he/she must take additional science courses here before being evaluated. This does not apply to special linkage programs such as the Bridges program with Delaware Tech.

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Additional Activities

Volunteer Work

The second consideration you need to make early is how you will demonstrate your interest in medicine and/or people. There are two major directions this can take.

  • The best way is to obtain actual patient contact by volunteering your time in a health-related environment (hospital, emergency room, ambulance corps., neighborhood clinic, doctor's office, nursing home, etc.). Many medical schools require this experience. The idea here is to gain first-hand knowledge about what medicine really is like, as well as to show your own interest in the field and your concern for others.
  • A second possibility is to volunteer in some other people-oriented environment (Wellspring, Prison programs, Homeless shelters, Boys or Girls Clubs, etc.). It is best to choose one, or at most, two things and show a continuing commitment to them rather than to accumulate a laundry list of minimal experiences. Hopefully, this will not be some contrived, mickey-mouse thing you do simply to "get into medical school", but will be something to which you feel a true commitment. Medical school admissions officers are very wise, experienced people. They usually can tell the difference.

Note: The HSAEC will not evaluate you until you have accrued a minimum of 50 volunteer hours. You will also be asked to obtain one letter of recommendation from someone knowledgeable about your volunteer experience as part of the evaluation process.

Research

In addition, many students elect to pursue scientific, laboratory research with a faculty member here or with a scientist at another school or in industry. Except for M.D./Ph.D. applicants who must do research, there is some question as to whether this is important for medical school acceptance. The most likely answer is that it depends upon the particular type of medical school to which you are applying. A research-oriented medical school (Duke, Cornell, University of Pennsylvania, etc.) is more likely to give extra consideration to applicants who have this experience than are schools with a primary focus on training clinical practitioners (most osteopathic medical schools, for example). However, even here, there is a growing emphasis on research in a number of schools, so if you are at all inclined in this direction and have the opportunity, by all means try to participate in this.

Again, be sure why you are doing this. It is not likely to be a very successful experience for you or your faculty advisor if you actually dislike research but are simply trying to help yourself get accepted to medical school. You certainly do not want to do anything that would give you a negative recommendation. But more important, you will be missing the opportunity to use your time in other ways that might prove more meaningful in the long run.

Honors Degree and Degree with Distinction

For those truly interested in research, the University offers the Honors Degree and the Degree with Distinction, both of which require a research thesis. Obtaining one of these degrees clearly places the student in unique standing relative to other applicants.

Other worthwhile activities to consider include student teaching experience, academic tutoring, or pursuing course sequences that build on themes. Also, experience with Problem-Based Learning is an excellent preparation for medical school, where many such courses are found. What is important is to show evidence of your academic depth and intellectual curiosity, desirable attributes for any medical student.

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Letters of Recommendation

Are Letters of Recommendation Really that Important?

It is very important to get strong letters of recommendation as you apply to medical school. At a large university like Delaware this is sometimes difficult to do if you have not made some attempt to get to know your professors. When you apply for your evaluation to the Health Sciences Committee, you will need to get five faculty letters (three science professors and two non-science professors) as well as at least one recommendation from someone outside the University who knows you, preferably someone familiar with your volunteer experience. Also, students interested in applying to osteopathic medical schools will need to get a letter from an osteopathic physician either now or when you actually apply.

How can you get to know a professor?

First, realize that most professors are sincerely interested in their students. That is why they are professors.

  • From first semester of freshman year and beyond, be comfortable with knocking on that office door and talking personally with your professor.
  • Be frank about your reasons for approaching him/her. Talk about the course. What is interesting about it? What do you need clarified? What can you do to learn more about this subject?
  • If you are interested, ask to do research with the professor.

Also do not forget your academic advisor who is also a member of the department in which you are majoring.

  • Get to know this person especially well.
  • Talk about your future goals and the best path to achieving them.
  • Tell them what your strengths are and why you feel you would make a good doctor.

This will allow him/her to write a particularly strong letter for you, one that demonstrates that they really know who you are and can give insight into why you should be accepted.

Many advisors never hear from their advisees. Students tend to be most comfortable getting advice from other students. Unfortunately, students cannot write medical school letters of recommendation for you, and may not be giving you accurate information. See your advisor!

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Medical College Acceptance Test

The Medical College Acceptance Test (MCAT) is required for admission to almost all medical schools in the United States. It consists of three major sections, Verbal Reasoning, Physical Science, and Biological Science, scored on a scale of 1-15. The average score of all test takers is around 8 on each section. The average score for admission is around 10 on each section. This can vary from school to school. Consult the medical school's web site for their norms for acceptance. There is also a writing sample component that is usually not used for admission decisions but is additional information for the medical schools to help evaluate your communication skills. The MCAT is now offered 22 times during the year. It is completely an on-line examination, taken at defined testing locations. Read more about this at the official MCAT web site. This schedule is a major change from the previous schedule of only an April and an August test offering of a written examination. We suggest that you take the examination in April of junior year, certainly not later than May. Since many medical schools are on rolling admission, you maximize your chances for acceptance if you can be evaluated early in the admissions cycle. That does not mean that you cannot gain acceptance if you take the examination later than April or May. But you want to give yourself every advantage possible. Of course, you should never take this exam if you are not sufficiently prepared. Whether you pay for a professional test-prep course (Princeton Review, Kaplan, etc.) or you buy prep books at a bookstore and do it on your own, the important thing to remember is that you must take this exam seriously and prepare accordingly.

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The Application

The majority of allopathic medical schools are part of the American Medical College Application Service (AMCAS). This is an organization providing a centralized application service. On one application, you can apply to most of the schools you are interested in. You will also send your transcripts to AMCAS and they will distribute copies to all schools you list on your application. The suggested number of schools is 12. Many students apply to 15 or more. The more schools, the more you will have to pay to AMCAS. The application is now accepted ONLY as an on-line application. Strive to submit yours early in June if possible. Do not procrastinate!

What is the Application like?

The application takes some time to complete. First, you will need to construct a personal statement of restricted size. Take great care with this part of your application. It is what distinguishes you over other applicants with similar records and test scores. You will also have to include every single course you have ever had at any college. This is required despite the fact that you will also submit official transcripts. The AMCAS organization will use these courses and grades obtained to recalculate your GPA. Two GPAs are reported: Overall non-BCMP GPA and Overall BCMP GPA. BCMP stands for Biology, Chemistry, Math, and Physics. You will also list all honors and awards and volunteer, extracurricular, and employment experiences.

After submitting this application, usually three to six weeks later, AMCAS mails you a summary statement that includes your recalculated GPAs, your MCAT scores (if available), and a list of all the medical schools to which they are sending your application.

Note: No letters of recommendation are needed for this part of the process. Do not request your Committee letter at this time.

Some medical schools do not subscribe to AMCAS. If you elect to apply to one of these schools, you will need to request an application from that school individually. The dates these are available vary. You should call, write, or access the WEB sites of these schools to learn the earliest date you can obtain an application and submit it. Remember, here also, be as early as possible!

What are Secondary Applications?

Once AMCAS has sent out your applications, you can expect to receive secondary applications from the medical schools directly. There is quite a range of possibilities here. A few schools do not bother with a secondary application and use only the AMCAS. These are rare. Other schools will send anyone who applies to them through AMCAS a secondary application. This can be very rudimentary or quite complicated, requiring additional essays and information. It almost always requires another application fee. The average is $60 per school. (You already have paid AMCAS at least $250 and probably more to send the AMCAS application). Some schools include the average MCAT scores and GPAs of the previous year's class for you to compare to yours. Weigh your chances against the expense of applying. There are some very selective schools which do a pre-screening of the AMCAS applicants and send a secondary application only to those students who have some chance of admission. Consider yourself complimented if you receive one of these applications. Realize, however, it is still extremely difficult to be accepted at one of these schools.

Complete these secondary applications very carefully. This will take a great deal of your time and become a considerable nuisance to you. Remember, this is what it is all about. You cannot fulfill your goal of being a doctor without getting admitted first! So persevere. And once again, do it as soon as possible. Just because the final due date is, say, Oct. 15 or Dec. 15, mail it in immediately. If you wait until near the due date you are most likely to be rejected or at best be put on the waiting list. Medical school waiting lists can be as large as 1,000 students. It is best to have completed this process before the start of the Fall semester of your senior year. That means submit all secondary applications no later than the end of August if possible. If not, definitely submit no later than the end of September.

M.D./Ph.D. Applications

M.D./Ph.D. applicants will do all of the above (including the AMCAS). In addition, when you receive your secondary applications they will include an additional application for M.D./Ph.D. students. Sometimes, only one secondary will be needed that replaces the usual M.D. application. Often, however, you will need to complete two separate applications, one designed for review by the M.D. admissions committee and one for review by the Ph.D. admissions committee. Both are complex and require a lot of time to complete. You can expect to be asked for additional recommendation letters for the Ph.D. portion, in addition to those already requested for the M.D.

How to Request Committee Letters

Once you have received your secondary applications (they tend to come in a cluster), you should request that we send out your Committee letters. Do this by submitting a written request including a list of all of the schools to the Undergraduate Biology Office. You must also include addressed, 9 by 12 mailing envelopes for each school. We will be copying the committee letter and all recommendation letters to include in the envelopes and mail to the schools. Both AMCAS and non- AMCAS schools will need this sent to them.

Applying to Osteopathic Schools

For applicants to Osteopathic Medical Schools, the process is very similar. There is a different initial, centralized application form from the AACOM that you will need to complete and submit. Again, do this as early as possible. Also, most osteopathic schools will want a letter of recommendation from an osteopathic physician. If you have not obtained one as part of your evaluation file, you will need to get one now.

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Where to Apply

Misinformation

There is often considerable misinformation in the minds of most college students about medical school admission. This is understandable. The admissions process you are most familiar with is the one you have just experienced, applying to college. Unfortunately, medical school admission is in many ways the complete opposite of college admission.

This difference stems from the very regional acceptance preferences of medical schools. Unlike college, where most non-state schools are looking for students from other parts of the country to have diversity in their student populations, medical schools show tremendous preference to students from their own state and region of the country. This is true even for many private medical schools. There is a good reason for this:

  1. It is very costly to educate a medical student. Much of the money to do so comes from the state where the school is located.
  2. The school would like to maximize the chances that the students they are educating will remain in that state or region to practice medicine.

Many private medical schools say they show no preference. However, if you look at the in-state vs. out-of-state statistics for accepted students it becomes obvious that very few schools show no preference. State medical schools offer you the best chance of admission. Most state schools fill classes with better than 90% state residents. There are a few that have a lower percentage than this (University of Maryland and Penn State are examples) but they still have significant preference for students from their state.

An exception to this regional preference are the MD/PhD programs at many schools which often do not have a regional preference for acceptance.

Delaware has no state medical school. What do I do?

Delaware residents are at a disadvantage here. They have no state medical school. However, 20 places are reserved at Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia for Delaware residents. All Delaware residents should seriously consider applying to Jefferson. They will be sent an additional form with the secondary application on which they will check off that they are interested in the Delaware Institute for Medical Education and Research (DIMER) program. They will fill out a very short form with biographical information that is signed by their parents (or themselves, if they are independent), stating that they have paid Delaware income taxes in the previous year. This will allow them to be considered for one of the slots set aside for Delaware residents.

The Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine has recently become a member of the DIMER program also. They currently hold five seats for Delaware residents.

In addition to medical schools within your state, you should also look at schools in your region. Private schools in the state of Pennsylvania often show some special consideration for Delaware and New Jersey residents, for example. You may even be able to get an acceptance at one of the state schools in your region if you are a very competitive applicant. All students should begin their selection process in this way. Then things become more individualized.

Honestly examine your profile

  • If you have a GPA, both Science and Overall, 3.5 or above, and also have at least a 33, preferably a 35 or higher, on the MCAT, you can apply to any school in the United States that interests you. It will still be uncertain if you will be accepted at a particular school, but academically you have a chance.
  • If you do not have this kind of record, apply to the private schools that are less selective. The average scores and GPAs are published annually and can be obtained from the AAMC Web Site. Remember, you do not need to attend Harvard to become a doctor.
  • In the long run, that is the most important thing. By all means, apply to any school you think you might have a fighting chance to get accepted to, but be reasonable. The cost and the time required for every additional application is considerable. Make the most of your choices.

Potential applicants should begin looking into schools during sophomore year. The Princeton Review and the U.S. News and World Report publish yearly guides to United States Medical Schools which are very helpful. Curriculum, innovations, location, grading system, availability of institutional financial aid, housing, etc., are all factors to be considered when making your choices, but only after you have looked at your state and regional schools.

There is also the option of applying to foreign medical schools. If you are thinking along these lines you should contact these schools to learn their application procedures, etc. There have been some reports in the media recently that residency slots after medical school will become increasingly difficult to obtain, especially for graduates of foreign medical schools. You should consider this when making your decision to apply outside the United States.

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The Interview

Congratulations! You have received an invitation to be interviewed at one or more of the medical schools to which you have applied. This is the next step in your path towards becoming a doctor. Virtually all schools require an interview and receiving one is a significant hurdle to have passed in the acceptance process. Most applicants do not receive an interview. However, the acceptance rate after interview is also quite low. It ranges from 10% to about 50%, depending upon the school. Therefore you will want to have a good interview experience. If you are a competitive applicant and have applied to schools in a variety of locations, the interview part of your application process will be quite costly. The medical schools prefer, and most require, that you interview at the medical school. A few regional interviews are offered by some schools, but this is not the norm. Therefore, you may be flying around the country or traveling up and down the East Coast by car or train. The medical schools will either allow you to choose from a range of dates to interview or will be quite dictatorial and assign the date to you, indicating it will be a great inconvenience for them if you want to change it. Each school is different. Feel comfortable calling the school (if you can get through to them!) and asking for a date change if you feel you absolutely need to change it. Do not do so for a trivial reason. These interviews are the last in the series of steps you need to go through to obtain your goal. They should be a priority. If you have applied to several schools in the same area, say New York City, and have received an interview at one, it is acceptable to call the other schools and see if there is any chance that they could interview you near that time. If, however, the school that has offered you an interview is considerably less selective than the one that you have not yet heard from, it may be better not to call. You will know best about this if you have accurately evaluated your level of competitiveness.

Suggestions for the Interview

  • Obviously, the interview process will interfere with your coursework, especially if you are very successful and are traveling to many places. To allow for this, try to make first semester senior year as flexible as possible, since that is when you will go to most of your interviews if you have followed our suggested time line for applying. If you have to miss classes, talk to the professor ahead of time and explain why. They know that this is important and will make allowances for you.
  • Dress conservatively and neatly for your interviews. There is no prescribed "right outfit". Do not try to be flamboyant or to draw attention to yourself as a free-spirit by how you dress or wear your hair. You cannot know how your interviewers or others at the medical school will react to this. Why take the chance when you are so near to your goal?

What is the Interview like?

The interview process varies depending upon the school. Most schools will describe it to you when they request the interview or soon thereafter. There are also descriptions available in published materials available commercially. Expect to be asked just about anything. There is no formula we can give you here that can prepare you for all possibilities. The major consideration is to show yourself as an articulate person who is well-read, informed about current issues, and who has ideas and opinions that they can support with rational arguments. You do not have to agree with everything your interviewer feels. Use this as an opportunity to ask questions about the medical school that show you really have an interest in attending it. It is difficult to know whether you have had a good interview or not. Most students underestimate how well they have done. You are likely to have different experiences at different places. You may really click with a certain interviewer, sharing interests that lead to a lively, enjoyable conversation, or you may have an interview that feels more like having your teeth pulled. Whatever it is, by having a number of interviews available to you, you should be able to get an acceptance at one or more schools where you will be happy to go. If you feel that you have had an unfair interview you must inform the medical school that same day. Often, you can convince them that you deserve another interview. This, of course, should be a rare request. But if you truly feel you have been unfairly treated, ask for another interview! Many schools include more than one interview as part of the interview process, which minimizes this type of problem.

Many schools give you the opportunity to stay with a medical student overnight before or after your interview, especially if you are not local. This is an excellent opportunity for you to get a birds-eye view of the medical school from the student's opinion. It also lets you see what kind of living arrangements are available to you. We highly recommend that you take advantage of this opportunity.

Note: It is customary to write a Thank You Note to your interviewers. It probably doesn't impact his/her evaluation, but it is the polite thing to do.

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Acceptance

Depending upon the school, admissions decisions may be made monthly, at two or three times during the year, or all at once in February or March. Whatever the situation, you will be expected to respond within one or two weeks to the offer of acceptance. Usually this is only a note sent back saying you accept. Sometimes a nominal fee is required as well.

What if I get several acceptances?

Obviously, you have preferences. In order to allow students the opportunity to choose from a number of schools that offer them admission, the AAMC has guidelines that the medical schools follow. You can hold multiple acceptances until sometime in May, usually May 15. If you have not made a decision by then, you may forfeit your place everywhere. You must officially withdraw your place in writing once you have made your decision. You will probably receive a note from the medical schools in March or April, listing all of the schools that have accepted you, and seeming to threaten you if you do not make a decision between them. Do not be intimidated. You have until May to decide. Some schools have scholarships that are not decided upon until April and you deserve to have the complete picture before making your decision. Once you have, however, you should withdraw from the other schools immediately. You can, however, continue to hold any waiting-list slots you may have.

What should I do if I'm not accepted?

First, remember that the current admission rate is around 50% at best. A rejection does not mean you are not "good enough" to become a doctor. It simply reflects the overwhelming number of applicants for a small total number of openings.

If you are not successful in gaining admission, you must seriously re-evaluate your profile. Are your grades a little too low? Pursuit of an advanced degree or matriculation at a post-baccalaureate course designed to strengthen your preparation for medicine have sometimes proven successful in the past for subsequent admission of students with lower GPAs. Is your MCAT score not competitive? Retake the test after serious, intense preparation. If you have been put on the waiting list at a medical school but not admitted, consider re-applying to that school under their Early Acceptance program. You have already been deemed "acceptable" by being put on the waiting list. By committing yourself to that school, you increase your chances that they will accept you.

Also, feel free to call the schools that did not accept you to get feedback about your application. Most admissions committees will discuss this with you.

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