When researching residency programs on their websites or public databases, beyond often being outdated or inconsistent, there is one crucial piece these sources are missing for residency candidates to make the best program application decisions. What these sources are missing are what’s called program preferences.
What are Program Preferences?
A residency program preference is a program requirement criteria that the program has some leniency and is not as strictly filtered like a full program requirement. This means a program may have some leniency with one or more criteria and they may be willing to overlook that criteria if the rest of a candidate’s application is strong.
As some residency candidates know, many aspects of the residency application process are not always clear cut or set in stone. Each and every residency program is made up of people who can change their minds or be more flexible if a candidate presents an interesting Personal Statement or impressive Letters of Recommendation.
However, these other sources are just not equipped to provide information about program preferences. Program websites (more often than not) do not add language to indicate there is some leniency for their requirements unless you call them to hear their tone. Public databases don’t even have a space to list preferences.
This is why Match A Resident incorporated program preferences into the program requirements database and criteria gathering methods in order to give residents a more inclusive experience (while still excluding unrealistic or incompatible programs).
How do you know a criteria is a preference?
When speaking with Program Coordinators, if the coordinator says something like:
“Well, we like to see…”
“It’s good to have…”
“Many of our candidates have…”
Then, this tips our Update Agent to ask further questions to verify a criteria is a preference and not a strictly filtered requirement.
How should I interpret preferences?
Preferences affect each criteria differently. For example, if US Clinical Experience is preferred, this typically means you do not have to have it, but it will give you an edge when applying to that program.
If a certain Time Since Graduation cut off is preferred, this is a good sign that a program will consider those above the cut off as long as they don’t have too much of a professional work experience gap. Additional filtering has also been added to Time Since Graduation preferences to keep them reasonable (within 2-3 years).
If the USMLE Step 2 CS or ECFMG Certification is preferred at the time of application, this means that you don’t necessarily have to have them, which give you more options and more time to complete your exam or full ECFMG Certification.
What about USMLE Exam Score cut offs?
When it comes to USMLE score cut offs, Match A Resident has implemented a special way of filtering called Flexibility. Typically, there is less leniency when it comes to USMLE scores, so Flexibility will show the residency programs with less strict score cut offs within a 5-point margin.
For example, in the program criteria shown above, the USMLE criteria is 210, Flexible, which means those with USMLE scores of 205 will still be able to see this program and consider it for the application.
Should I apply to programs with preferences?
Applying to programs with preferences does have some level of risk, but when it comes to residency, the more programs you apply to the more chances you are giving yourself to receive an interview.
Just know, in a Match A Resident Customized List, any program with a strict requirement you do not fulfill will not be on your list. But, we built our system to be inclusive to make sure candidates are not losing out on any program they have potential to Match with as no residency candidate should narrow their program choices too much if they hope to Match.
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