It is June 1st and I am sure many of you are eagerly waiting for VMCAS to open for business. I know I was eager to begin my application as I thought it would give me a sense of accomplishment to write down my name, address, coursework, experiences, etc. I also mistakenly believed I would be able to complete the application easily, without any scrambling, a month before the deadline. Unfortunately, however, I never expected the summer to go by so quickly or to be submitting my application so close to the deadline.
My advice to avoid last-minute VMCAS panic:
Set realistic deadlines. You may think that you have it all under control, but our memories do fail sometimes and you do not want to be the applicant that realizes 24 hours before the deadline that he/she is missing a Letter of Recommendation or a transcript. Open up an Excel file and create a list of tasks you need to complete. Create two columns for due dates – one for the actual due date, and another for the deadline you are setting for yourself. For instance, Letters of Recommendation are due by October 2nd at noon (EST), but set a deadline of July 30th for yourself to avoid last-minute panic. Stagger the deadlines throughout the summer so as to prevent yourself from becoming overwhelmed. Items you may want to set deadlines for are:
- Ask for letters of recommendation
- Receive letters of recommendation. You’ll receive an email notification when someone submits their letter of recommendation online to VMCAS – until you receive that notification, you should set deadlines to politely remind the people you asked to provide those letters of recommendation about the deadline.
- 1st draft of Personal Statement – a draft you can send out to friends, family, vets, and professors for their feedback.
- Final draft of Personal Statement
- Order Transcripts
- Receive Transcripts
- Complete VMCAS. Always plan to have VMCAS completed at least 2 weeks prior to the deadline. If you are still in school, your classes will be needing your attention so I would recommend planning to complete VMCAS before your classes begin!
- Complete Supplemental Applications. Deadlines for supplemental applications vary from the VMCAS deadline to weeks or months after. Get a list together of all the supplemental application deadlines for the schools you plan to apply to and set realistic deadlines for them.
Start writing your personal statement. You don’t have to have it perfect the first time, just start writing! Get your thoughts down even if it is not organized into intro, body, and conclusion. When you get overwhelmed or lose material, step away and come back to it. Always save drafts to track your progress and just in case you decide that paragraph you deleted two revisions ago was worth keeping after all!
Request Letters of Recommendation and Transcripts EARLY. Remember that the completion of your application is not completely under your control. I cannot tell you how many stories I have heard regarding Letters of Recommendation that have failed to come through at the last minute. Or transcripts that get lost in transit. To be safe, always order extra transcripts and ask an additional person for a letter of recommendation in case one fails to come through for you.
Do the easy stuff first.. Go through and fill out the Applicant Information and Academic History in advance. It’s easy and relatively brainless (provided you requested your transcripts early!)
Use your resume and experiences log to complete the Experiences section. If you kept a log and have a resume, this should be no big deal! If you didn’t keep a log, don’t panic! You can still obtain the information necessary, but it will take more time, so plan for that with deadlines!
Don’t wait until the last minute to see if your personal statement fits. I know I’m not the only one that experienced difficulties saving my personal statement to VMCAS. Despite Microsoft Word’s claims that I was under the 5,000 character limit, VMCAS’s form insisted I was over. I ended up having to paste it into a .txt file and copying it from there, per the VMCAS hotline’s instructions, which worked, but that is not the kind of added stress you need as the deadline to submit is approaching.
Print and proofread. Proofread the entire statement! Or, if you’re lucky enough to have someone around who is willing to, have someone proofread it for you. You’ve read the application a few hundred times by now, so you’re bound to miss something!
Save the application to a PDF file before you submit. Not only is it good to have a copy of for your records, but you will probably need to review your application before you interview. And, though we prefer not to consider these things, should you not be accepted this year, it will make your like a lot easier in the next application cycle.
Submit early. Remember that the VMCAS server is notorious for massive congestion in the days and hours before the deadline. Although I submitted early, I can testify that the amount of time it takes to load pages increases significantly in the weeks before the deadline. Avoid the panic, submit early!