Quick And Dirty Suggestions for the Match

1. Establish a relationship with the program director at your institution (and additional mentors, when possible) for the specialty of your choosing to help you develop your plan for fourth year. He or she will help you determine:

  • Your competitiveness for the field
  • How many programs (and of what type) to apply to based on your academic and geographic needs
  • Other possible goals for fourth year to round out your application, which may include particular letters of recommendation to obtain, research needs, away rotations, etc.
  • The earlier you meet with the PD the better
  • Take their suggestions very seriously but always seek additional viewpoints when practical

2. Talk to as many people as you can to gather as much match “experience” as you can. Match experiences are highly variable and often passed down from generation to generation. Talk to residents, classmates, recent grads, etc. throughout the process. Take all advice seriously and with a full shaker of salt.

3. Update your CV and write your personal statement early. Write multiple drafts. Sit on them. Give yourself time to get it right.

4. Complete your application in a timely manner. For the NRMP (regular) match, that means your goal should be September 15. This really does matter and can make a huge difference both in the quantity and quality of the interviews you receive, as well as when you receive them during the process (which can make your scheduling much more flexible).

5. Apply to the appropriate number of programs for your specialty and competitiveness. Like college, it’s important to have a mix of reaches, reasonables, and safeties. It is much better to over-apply and cancel unneeded interviews than it is to under-apply, as it is much more difficult to obtain interviews later in the season if you are short.

  • Avg # of applications: 20-30 (up to 60ish for dermatology)
  • If you are applying to an advanced specialty (which includes most but not all radiology, radiation oncology, dermatology, ophthalmology, physical medicine & rehab, and some anesthesia and neurology), do not forget to apply to preliminary and/or transitional (PGY1/internship) programs.
  • Talk to as many people as you can (fellow students, residents, and faculty) to learn about programs. The internet can be helpful (sometimes) but is irritatingly insufficient. Forums, in particular, can also be a very stressful read.

6. Check your email constantly, including your spam folder, as interview invitations are almost always granted via email and often demand instantaneous responses in order to get desired dates. Do not hold onto invitations without responding. It’s an invitation, not a guarantee. If you are unsure, schedule the interview and then cancel in a timely manner (never no-show on the day of) or request to reschedule if necessary (politely).

7. Interview at the appropriate number of programs.

  • Avg # of interviews: 10-12 (ranking 12 virtually guarantees a match in most specialties)
  • Do not plan to enter the SOAP under any circumstances. There is no benefit to this “strategy.”
  • For advanced specialties: preliminary programs vary widely in competitiveness and intensity. Make sure to have a sufficient number of preliminary programs as well. There are often some categorical and “pseudo-categorical” programs that have internships more or less included with the advanced spot. Residents who under-interview for preliminary or transitional year (TY) programs may find themselves forced to scramble into preliminary surgery years (generally undesirable). Take getting an internship seriously.
  • If you receive less than 10 interviews by November then you may need a backup plan and should consult your advisor. You should go on at least 7 interviews.

8. Make your rank list. There is no gaming the system, just put your programs down in the order you actually want them. Rank every program you interview at unless you would literally rather not have a job than train there.

9. Inform programs of your intentions:

  • You may tell your number one (and only your number one) program that they are your very first choice.
  • Tell other programs of your interest. Do not lie. Statements like “very high on my list” are fine so long as they are true. These general statements are generally viewed as meaningless (because they generally are!).
  • Do not believe programs when they tell you nice things. Rank only as your dreams dictate, not based on any verbal or informal agreements.

10. Enjoy the matching process. Try not to stress.

  • You will be informed on the Monday of Match Week if you’ve matched (or not). This will include both prelim and advanced positions when applicable.
  • If you do not match, you will have the chance to enter the SOAP (formerly the ‘scramble’) match of unfilled positions. There are jobs out there, but the quantity and quality are highly variable, and one should never plan to enter the SOAP.

That’s a quick recap of fourth year, ERAS, the residency interview process, and the NRMP match.


John 02.25.17 Reply

Hello Ben,

Been reading various of your posts and it is always a pleasure to get some insight from you. I had a couple of concerns that I was hoping someone more insight can provide some input on. I am a Canadian IMG, studied in the Caribbeans. I also had a 2.5yr gap between MS2 & MS3 due to some financial problems. Now I am wondering how much of a realistic goal it is to apply to the 2018 match. I have been feeling very demoralized after hearing stories of students going un-matched and giving up on their career goals altogether. I do have good USMLE Step 1 & 2 scores (Above the mean). But this gap year and the fact that I will be needing a Visa sponsorship is proving to be mind numbing for me at times. What are your thoughts on this subject?


Ben 02.25.17 Reply

I’d argue that financial and time cost of interviewing is relatively small compared to the psychological and opportunity cost of not carrying out your original plan and wondering what if. A gap for financial reasons is presumably easier to explain than one due to a personal or moral failing etc, so I wouldn’t consider it a dealbreaker. You’re still a native-English speaking IMG. Most of you will match assuming you a pick a reasonable specialty and apply appropriately.

Michael 02.25.17

Hi Ben

I’m a similar situation to John except my Step 1 and 2 scores are at the mean or average, not above it, I’m Australian and I have no visa issues (due to marriage to an American). I’m hoping for internal medicine and happy to go anywhere in USA. However my partner is from Texas as I believe I read you may be as well? She would love to return. Any thoughts about matching in IM in Texas? From a quick glance at programs such as University of Texas Houston, University of Texas Medical Branch and University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, there seem to be some IMGs. But I would also be happy at a community program in case academic programs are too difficult to match for IMGs (according to what I’ve read on Student Doctor Network). My goal is to match into a subspecialty, but I’m not quite sure which (perhaps medical oncology).

Kind regards,


John 02.25.17

Thanks for the prompt reply, I hope to match into IM, and will definitely be applying broadly. Let’s hope the statistics work in my favour!

Ben 02.25.17

Texas has a lot of programs and spots scattered across the state with a wide spread of competitiveness. Not a bad place to want to be. Your accent will help during interviews, as will your ties to the state via your wife. Make sure that your adoptive Texan status makes it into your application (at least for the Texas programs).

Michael 02.25.17 Reply

Cheers, Ben, that’s very helpful. And I had been worried my Australian accent would stand out!

Sarah 10.23.20 Reply


I have applied to several categorical and preliminary positions at the same program. When offered an interview how do you know which spot it is for? Do residencies rank you twice for each position?

Ben 10.27.20 Reply

If you mean the same program, like prelim and categorical internal medicine, they would generally interview all people all at once anyway. Places don’t tend to have separate prelim and categorical interview days or anything. What you’re really doing there depends on what fields you’re really talking about. Prelim and categorical are separate spots in the match and separate rank lists.

For example, in internal medicine, prelim spots are essentially universally for people going on to advanced fields like derm, rads, etc, so it’s a very different kind of person interviewing for those spots than the categorical spots at the same program, which are actually for people going into the internal medicine.

In general surgery, however, it’s not uncommon for some candidates to interview for both and for the “best” candidates to match categorical and for others to be offered a consolation prelim year as a chance to prove themselves (but mostly to function as cheap labor).

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