Should you address your weaknesses and mistakes in your med school applications?

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According to many teaching professionals and mentors, one of the common questions that many pre-med students ponder over when putting together their medical school application is whether they should talk about their weaknesses and academic lapses or whether they should just gloss over it and hope the question never comes up.

What do you think?

All scrubbed up and ready to observe in surgery! Most applicants would automatically choose not to bring their mistakes or weaknesses to anybody’s attention and that’s not surprising. The idea of an application is to highlight your strengths and achievements so why lessen the impact by talking about weaknesses and mistakes. Chances are the reader may not notice that it took you two years to complete your 10th grade instead of the standard one year so why draw attention to it?

Experts advise differently. According to them it is better to be forthright about past academic struggles and lapses in your records rather than have the admission authorities discover them at a later stage in the application process. And trust me, they will discover it.

At medical school interviews, admissions personnel commonly ask interviewees about times when they have struggled. If it is evident on the application that you have taken a longer time than normal to complete a particular program or an academic year, you can be sure you will be asked to explain why at your interview.

There could, of course be several different reasons for your academic lapses, from hospitalisation for substance abuse, depression or illness, dismissal from school or one of many other uncomfortable situations. Although these are sensitive issues that you’d rather sweep away under the carpet, it is better to be upfront about them rather than hope the reader misses it while screening your application.

While nobody can force you to reveal something that you do not want to, it will end up as a massive red flag on your application. Honesty and integrity are critical characteristics of any physician and if you cannot meet these basic character requirements at this stage, admissions authorities will have second thoughts about giving you one of their precious seats.  Think of it this way – there is a small chance you may not get accepted if you tell the truth but if you try and skirt the issue, you won’t have any chance at all of getting accepted.

Let’s face it, no one is perfect. Many of us, including highly reputed physicians, have made mistakes that we’d rather forget. Nevertheless, while we cannot change our past mistakes, it is how we take responsibility for these challenges that can make or break our future. The important thing is to be honest and transparent about your shortcomings, no matter what they are, and then emphasise what you did to overcome these shortcomings, what you learned in the process and how you have grown from that experience. 

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