The Most Important Part of Your Residency Application

The Most Important Part of Your Residency Application

The question Kaplan Medical Advisors get asked the most is, “What is the most important part of your residency application?” There really are two aspects to consider: how do medical residency programs choose who to interview, and how do they decide how to rank candidates?

Realizing that every aspect of your residency application can make all the difference, here are the factors most commonly looked at:


Residency application criteria #1: USMLE score

Each residency program has their own way of deciding who to invite, but nearly all of them have filters that preclude certain applicants. Your USMLE Step 1 score is often the first filter.

In a recent NRMP® Program Director Survey, USMLE Step 1 scores were ranked at the top by 94% of residency program directors as the most important “factor in selecting applicants” to interview.

If you haven’t taken the exam yet, try our free diagnostic exam. Then make sure your Step 1 study plan is designed to get you a stellar USMLE Step 1 score, not just a passing one.

Keep in mind, you can be a competitive applicant with an average score. Even though your Step 1 score is important, it is one of several factors residency program directors look at.

Residency application criteria #2: letters of recommendation

Once your high scores have gotten you through the Step 1 filter, your program director will likely turn to your letters of recommendation and overall academic record. While there isn’t much you can do about the latter, there is still time to improve the letters.

Many program directors want letters of recommendation that are written by U.S.-based physicians who have seen you in action with actual patients.

Residency application criteria #3: personal statement

While your USMLE scores and letters of recommendation might have gotten you this far, your personal statement might end up being the deciding factor for admission into a program.

Many residency programs view the personal statement as a kind of tie-breaker between similar applicant profiles. Use your personal statement to express who you are as a person and how you are a perfect fit for the program to which you’re applying. This is key as an applicant’s “perceived commitment to specialty” is another highly ranked aspect of an application.

Different criteria for getting an interview vs. getting ranked

Many applicants are surprised when they discover that scores and letters of recommendation matter more in deciding who to interview. However, letters aren’t a huge factor in ranking prospective residents. So what are the factors in program directors’ decisions to rank applications?

Program directors rank highly the people they would most like to work with based on professionalism, attitude, and interactions with faculty and staff. While letters of recommendation can certainly hint at that, how you conduct yourself during the interview in person will speak volumes.

So what’s the bottom line? The most important part of your residency application is the one that you are currently in the process of completing. In other words, every part can make or break your chance for admission. With this mentality, you should give your full attention to each component. By doing this, you will increase your odds of getting an interview and getting ranked in the United States.