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.
honest disclosure is always the right thing to do," notes June Flaim, 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,
Flaim, who formerly served as director of admissions and student affairs for the schools of medicine and pharmacy
at the Bradenton, Florida campus of the Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine, 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? Flaim 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," Flaim notes, "the specifics are
detailed so that the reader has a full understanding of
If you are tempted to leave off any black marks on your record, Flaim 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
NOTE: We have received a lot of
questions about what exactly an "addendum" is for
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