Transitioning to Medical School

Your hard work has paid off and you’ve been accepted. Here’s what you can do as you prepare to start medical school.

I’ve been accepted and I’ve decided which school I want to attend. How do I inform all the schools of my decision?

The AAMC has established a series of recommendations called Application and Acceptance Protocols (which are often called “Traffic Rules” by advisors and admissions officers) to ensure that applicants provide timely notification of their enrollment decision. Once you choose your specific school or program, the AAMC recommends that, in fairness to other applicants, you promptly withdraw your application from any other school or program to which you applied or were accepted.

The AAMC recommends that you communicate directly with medical schools in writing; email is acceptable if the school has consistently used this method of communication.

What are the steps to accepting financial aid and putting my loans into deferment?

Once you complete your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and schools receive this information, you will receive an award letter from the financial aid office at each school that offered you an acceptance. After you read through the award letter(s), you’ll need to decide if you want to accept the full financial aid package or only a portion of it. It’s best to borrow only what you need; you always can request additional funds if you don't accept the full award at the beginning of the year.

If you have any outstanding federal student loans from your undergraduate education, you can defer payment on those loans. To qualify, you must be enrolled at least half-time. It’s important to keep in mind that during deferment, although no monthly payments are required, interest will continue to accrue on any unsubsidized loans that were disbursed. Therefore, if you’re able, it’s best to pay the accrued interest.

Once you are enrolled at least half-time, your school will report your updated status to the National Student Loan Data System (NSLDS) and your servicer will know that you are in school and therefore not expect payment.  It is recommended that you verify that NSLDS updated your enrollment status; otherwise you will be expected to make payment on your undergraduate loans.  You are also able to verify the servicer of your federal loans through NSLDS. If you have private loans, you’ll need to contact the lender or servicer of those loans to determine if payment can be deferred while attending medical school. To determine the lender/servicer of your private loans, check your promissory note or your credit report.

What else should I do before orientation?

Use the months leading up to medical school to take care of the things that likely will not get a lot of attention once school starts. According to Tara K. Cunningham, EdD, MS, associate dean for admissions and student diversity at the Texas Christian University and University of North Texas Health Science Center School of Medicine, here are the top three things to do:

  • Get yourself into a physician’s office. This is the time to make sure you’re taking care of yourself and getting your health care records organized. Students at most institutions, if not all, must provide proof of recent health immunizations prior to staring medical school. Your transition to medical school and clinical training will be smoother if you take the time now to locate your childhood and adolescent health care records. After all, you will be asking your patients to do the same so this is excellent practice and role modeling.
  • Get your finances in order. Remember, you will be living on a medical student budget, not a physician’s budget. Talk to medical students at your future school to find a reasonably priced place to live, possibly with other students with whom you could share the monthly expenses. Run a credit report and take care of any adverse credit issues that may cause problems down the road should you need a credit-based loan. Also, be sure to pay your credit cards in full each month because consumer debt will not be considered in your standard cost of attendance (COA) for medical school. Lastly, check your school’s dress code and enhance your wardrobe with clothing to wear to class and during clinical rotations. It should be professional, comfortable, and washable!
  • Get outdoors!  Medical school will teach you what you need to know to become a great physician over the next four years, so cracking the book for one or two months beforehand is going to take your efforts away from friends and family.  Instead, travel to a place you’ve wanted to visit but never had the time, and take time to reflect upon the many reasons you are entering the medical profession. Think about the privilege bestowed upon you to care and treat those most in need and remember, you have worked hard to get into medical school and now it’s time to work even harder for your future patients!

Is there anything I can do to make a good impression at orientation or the first week of classes?

According to Dr. Cunningham, “You should walk into orientation week like a Boss!  Be ready to engage with your colleagues and faculty and embrace the challenge ahead of you by facing it head-on!  But also give yourself a little forgiveness as you acclimatize to medicine and be willing to ask for help. After all, this is your first medical school experience and as a recent graduate said, ‘It takes 10 years to get 10 years of experience.’ Everyone at the medical school is there for your success, so take full advantage of student services, mental health counseling, tutoring, and other wellness programs to protect your trust, empathy and ability to be compassionate towards peers and patients.   Remember this if you second-guess your sense of belonging in medical school – go back to the day you received your admission offer.  Recall those feelings, tears and screams, and the pride of your accomplishments to-date.  You earned it.  Now keep at it.”  

What will medical school be like? 

Everyone’s medical school experiences are different, but you can read about some medical students’ experiences in their own words on the Aspiring Docs Diaries blog, and in these Inspiring Stories interviews. You can also read more about what to expect in medical school here.

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