• How to Use Signaling, Past Experience, and Geographic Preference in Residency Applications

    Medical students and graduates matching in 2024 and beyond have a chance to provide a more comprehensive view of themselves and their passions, helping program directors perform a true holistic review.

    The Electronic Residency Application Service® (ERAS®), run by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), is giving its application a facelift with three big changes for family medicine:

    1. Program signals. During the application process, applicants can signal up to five family medicine residency programs to show their enthusiasm in matching there. 
    2. Past experiences. Applicants have the opportunity to highlight up to five meaningful life experiences that complement other parts of their application.
    3. Geographic and setting preferences. Location interest features allow applicants to indicate preferred training regions and/or community settings in their applications. 

    How do program signals work?

    Applicants can choose up to five family medicine residency programs to signal at the time of application. These application signals are an indicator to residency programs that the applicant has a strong interest in or preference for their program. Signals help to showcase candidates who are very serious about a certain residency program.

    • Only applicants can send program signals.Residency programs do not send program signals to applicants. 
    • The use of program signals is optional for applicants.
    • Acceptance of program signals is optional for programs.
    • Programs will only see whether their program was signaled by an applicant.
    • Programs will not be able to see where other signals were sent by an applicant.
    • Programs will not be able to see whether an applicant declined the use of signals altogether.

    How can I use my signals to increase my chances of being offered an interview at a program?

    To strengthen the power of applicant signals, students are strongly encouraged to connect with programs of interest in person at the AAFP National Conference of Family Medicine Residents and Medical Students.

    The AAMC suggests that when deciding where to signal, applicants consider:

    • Strength of their application,
    • Ultimate career goals, 
    • Personal circumstances,
    • Mission and goals of the programs to which they’re applying,
    • Advice of faculty and resident mentors

    Applying in more than one specialty

    Each specialty defines its own number of signals, so candidates applying to more than one specialty may send signals separately for each specialty. Candidates applying to family medicine residencies may send five signals for family medicine. 

    What should I include in past experiences?

    The past experiences section allows applicants to capture and define/categorize up to ten meaningful life experiences that complement other parts of their application. Residency programs can sort entries in this section as they screen applicants. 

    • Applicants can designate up to ten meaningful experiences and provide short descriptions for each experience
    • Of those ten experiences, up to three can be identified as most meaningful, and applicants can include short descriptions of the reason for assigning this designation.
    • Applicants can designate “experience types” with descriptive information (such as research, volunteer work, education/training, military service).
    • Applicants can showcase mission-focused characteristics of their experiences (such as rural focus, key characteristics)
    • Applicants may also describe an “impactful experience” such as a challenge or hardship that influenced their journey to residency. The AAMC suggests impactful experiences include family background, financial background, community setting, educational or life experiences, and are intended for applicants who have overcome major challenges.

    How do I indicate geographic and setting preferences in my residency application?

    Geographic preferences allow applicants the option to indicate a preference for up to three U.S. census geographic divisions.

    Setting preferences allow an applicant to indicate preferences for training in an urban, urban/suburban, suburban, suburban/rural, or rural setting.

    Applicants can include a description as to why each geographic and/or setting selection was made. Applicants also have the option to indicate “no preference” for geographic divisions or training setting and explain this response.

    Programs not in an applicant’s selected region will not be able to determine if an applicant indicated a preference or chose to skip the question. They will be able to see if an applicant choose “no preference” and any information the applicant shared about this reason.

    Programs will be able to view the applicant’s setting preferences.

    Filters for permanent address

    Programs will have the ability to filter by an applicant's county, state, city, postal code, and setting starting in 2024. Applicants may wish to choose a permanent address that best aligns with their geographic interests.

    The AAMC provides additional guidance for using geographic and setting preference tools in its Supplemental ERAS Application Guide, including guidance based on the experiences of applicants and programs that piloted the supplemental application tools prior to the 2024 Match cycle.

    How are family medicine applicants using these features?

    Signaling, past experience, and preference changes have been piloted with some medical specialties in the Match's recent years but have not been used for family medicine residency applications before the 2023-2024 cycle.

    Results from MyERAS Signaling Pilot

    Preliminary data collected from testing the new processes in other specialties indicate that:

    • Most applicants used program signals, and most programs accepted signals.
    • Of the applicants who indicated a geographic preference:
      • Program signals and geographic preferences tended to align.
      • Geographic preferences also tended to align with applicants’ permanent address.
      • Program signals were not equally distributed among programs, as 10% of programs received 20%-30% of signals. This means that some programs may receive many signals and not find them as useful.
      • Conventional guidance has pointed toward signaling a diverse pool of programs to reduce the likelihood of all signals being “lost” by popular/competitive programs. 

    Where can I learn more about the AAMC pilot and results?

    Applicants can find and review detailed information about using ERAS through the AAMC’s ERAS Tools and Worksheets for Residency Applicants.