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Demystifying Your Match Rank List

By Kristin Watson, Pharm.D., BCPS-AQ Cardiology; Sandeep Devabhakthuni, BCPS-AQ Cardiology; and Zachary R. Noel, Pharm.D., BCPS

Published with permission by University of Maryland School of Pharmacy.

Match Day is one of our favorite days of the year! The excitement and anticipation from students, residents, preceptors, and directors is palpable. However, we know that the days leading up to submitting one’s Match list and waiting for the results can be full of different emotions for candidates — joy, angst, anticipation, and stress. The following are suggestions that we provide to candidates who ask for advice on creating the perfect Match list.

The list is yours and only yours!
This is our number one tip to candidates. Only you can determine which programs will support you in meeting your goals. Only you can determine where you feel you will belong for the next year (or possibly two). Please do not rank your list according to how you feel programs will rank you. This will not increase your odds of matching. Rank your programs in true preference order. The matching algorithm places priority on matching candidates based on their preferences. We also discourage ranking programs that are not a good fit for you. You have worked incredibly hard to get to this point in your life. Now is not the time to settle on a place where you will not be happy.

Develop your lists of “wants” and “would be nice” to have in a program.
By now, you should have created a list of your professional goals for the next one to three years, or maybe you even have a three-to-five-year plan ready. Determine what type of residency experiences (e.g., clinical rotations, teaching opportunities, presentations) you would like to have to enable you to fulfill your goals. Candidates should also consider the type of mentorship and guidance that they would like to have. How do the programs compare? The best fit for you is not going to be the same as the next candidate, and there is nothing wrong with that. If you are struggling to distinguish one program from another, we encourage the use of visuals such as a pros and cons list to help you as you process each program.

Remember that each and every program is unique and may offer valuable opportunities that you were not initially considering. Additionally, it is important to know that every experience afforded in residency is going to help you grow.

Recall interactions with current residents, preceptors, and the program director.
What was your initial reaction when you went on your interview? Did you feel like it was a place where you belonged? Are the current residents happy and fulfilled? Does the culture of the institution or pharmacy align with your personal values and goals? Did you feel that you would be offered the type of support and feedback that you will need?

There will always be a mix of personalities at each program; however, you want to ensure that you will feel comfortable. Residency training should be one of the most wonderful experiences of your career. You are going to soar to new heights that you never would have imagined. Each of us cherished our training, and this is largely because of our co-residents, preceptors, and directors. Your residency program director will be one of the most important people in your life for the next year. The connections that you make in residency will follow you throughout your career.

Do additional investigative work.
You may find yourself in the position where you do not feel you have all the information needed to make an informed decision. Maybe you forgot to ask a question during your interview, or perhaps your interests have changed and you would like to know more about a postgraduate year 2 program’s early commitment process. Rest assured that it is okay to reach out to the program and ask these questions. We also encourage students to be resourceful. Is there a former classmate at a program that you are interested in? Do you have a mentor who has experience at a former institution where you are applying? Do not be afraid to tap into these resources to gain additional insight. 

Talk to and include your support system in the decision-making process.
Family and friends were most likely instrumental in getting you to this point in your education, so do not be afraid to include them in this process. Although they cannot create your rank list for you, they know you better than anyone else and may be able to provide words of wisdom or foresight that is just what you need to hear to help you finalize your decisions. You may also consider reaching out to mentors you have had throughout pharmacy school for guidance and affirmation.

Go with your gut.
If you are like us, you will probably get to the point where you are stuck between who you will rank number one and two. If you are lacking complete clarity on this, it’s okay! Most students do not know with 100% certainty who they would like to rank as number one. At the end of the day, if you find yourself in this situation, go with your gut instinct and rank the programs that way. Remember that when you are struggling with both choices, you will likely be happy with either of them.

Be sure to check out the “Matching Algorithm” article that is available on the National Matching Services website at: https://www.natmatch.com/ashprmp/aboutalg.html. You can find an excellent overview of common misconceptions about the Match here.