Preparing your application to medical school is serious business. It is likely that what you say – or don’t say about yourself – in response to key questions on the application will be investigated. “Full and honest disclosure is always the right thing to do,” notes Dr. Wayne Shelton, a senior medical school admissions consultant for AdmissionsConsultants. And if you have red flags – such as an instance of poor grades or a brush with the law – you will want to include an addendum to your application. An addendum is the vehicle by which you explain the extenuating circumstances that contributed to a nosedive in your grades, or explain that detour from the law. An addendum could also be the tool to use to provide information about yourself that just doesn’t seem to fit in anywhere else in the application.
Admissions committees won’t necessarily write off an applicant whose history includes a flaw. But, Dr. Shelton, who formerly served on the admissions committee at Albany Medical College, explains that admissions committees will want to know why an applicant had a bad semester. “An addendum to a medical school application may be included to explain in further detail any unique circumstances or events that are reflected in the answers provided on the application.”
This important addition to the application for the candidates who need it should be brief, usually one or two short paragraphs. “The addendum, in effect, responds to any red flags the admissions committee might see when reviewing the application. An addendum may also describe something completely unique about the applicant, which the applicant is unable to capture in any other response to questions on the application. The applicant’s goal when including an addendum is to ensure that the admissions committee fully understands the applicant on paper so as to be able to make an informed decision regarding their application.”
How do you know if you need to add an addendum? Dr. Shelton explains, “Applications normally include two questions which, in my experience, have initiated the inclusion of an addendum. The first question is something like ‘Have you ever been placed on academic probation or been academically dismissed from an educational institution?’ If the answer is yes, often there are some unique circumstances which may have caused the applicant to have a poor semester in an otherwise stellar academic program. For example, the applicant may have experienced a personal tragedy, death in the family, or some other unique event that interrupted their focus. The addendum fills in the details of the event.”
Applicants who find that they must answer “yes” to the second question – whether they have ever been arrested or have a criminal record – will also need to include an addendum explaining the situation. If an applicant used that negative experience as a springboard for serious change, that information should be included. “Again,” Dr. Shelton notes, “the specifics are detailed so that the reader has a full understanding of the applicant.”
If you are tempted to leave off any black marks on your record, Dr. Shelton urges applicants to consider that all medical students are required to have a background check before matriculation, “Anything omitted from an application is cause for an acceptance to be rescinded. It’s worse to leave something off the application and have it appear on a background check than to address it on the initial application.”
NOTE: We have received a lot of questions about what exactly an “addendum” is for medical school.
In the AMCAS application, there is a box or space that asks about institutional actions taken against the applicant and if you answer yes you have to provide an explanation. It’s located on the second page under Additional Application Information. There is also a question about felonies, misdemeanors and military discharges, which may require further explanation.
In the Texas application (TMDSAS), there are two “optional essays” or addenda. The instructions for the first one say “state any unique circumstances or life experiences that are relevant to your application. […This] area is provided to address any issues which have not previously been addressed.” I think that this is the most appropriate place for the explain a “red flag” sort of addendum. Optional essay #2, asks people to describe “personal characteristics and/or important or challenging experiences you have had that will contribute to the diversity of or provide educational benefits to the student body,” and is more focused on that diversity part rather than on explaining challenging circumstances such as those that may have led to poor grades or MCATs. (This is a response to the Hopwood v Texas 1996 decision which forbade the use of race in admissions; the decision was abrogated by the US Supreme Court in 2003, but its effects linger on.)
In the AACOMAS application, the addendum is the response to the prompt, “If you answer ‘Yes’ to any question in the Additional Academic, Professional, and Personal Profile sections, a new box will open for you to provide an explanation. Failure to provide accurate information in answering this question will result in an investigation.”