by Linda Abraham

During a recent teleseminar, I was asked to rank test score, GPA, experience, etc. by order of importance in admissions decisions. I ranked them, but after the seminar ended I kept thinking of situations in which the order I gave would have been wrong.

I realized that any attempt to rank elements of an application for all applicants is flawed, even for law and medical school, which are the most numbers-driven of the major admissions categories. Why? No element always outweighs all others. No score, essay, GPA, or experience will guarantee your admission at top schools. On the other hand, many scores, GPAs, experiences, and essays virtually guarantee rejection, certainly at top schools.

But there is at least a partial answer to the question I was posed: The most important element of your application is the weakest one. It can cause your rejection. It can keep you out. It is the factor that the rest of your application must overcome.

For example, when we moved into our current home, Laurie, the daughter of a new neighbor had just applied to medical school. Her mother confided one winter day that Laurie — with a mid-30’s MCAT, a similarly dazzling GPA at an Ivy League college, and truckloads of research experience — had only been waitlisted at several schools. Her impressive stats had not earned her an acceptance at even one of the top medical schools to which she had applied. I asked about clinical or volunteer experience, and her mother said that Laurie hadn’t had the time.


Lack of clinical exposure was the Achilles heel of her application. I encouraged Laurie to volunteer in a clinical setting or shadow a physician and then inform the schools that had wait-listed her of this new element in her experience. She did, and when I ran into her mother again on a beautiful spring morning walk, Laurie had been accepted at a leading medical school.

Implication for you: Put your best foot forward. Trumpet loudly and articulately your achievements and qualifications for your program. But also take the time to eliminate or reduce the impact of your weaknesses.

Linda Abraham,’s founder and president, has helped thousands of applicants develop successful admissions strategies and craft distinctive essays. In addition to advising clients and managing, she has written and lectured extensively on admissions. The Wall St. Journal, The New York Times, and BusinessWeek are among the publications that have sought Linda’s expertise.

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