Applicants face a lot of issues when searching for available residency programs through websites or directories. Some of these issues include inconsistency or outdated information. Aside from these two, there is one crucial piece that is not covered by the sources for the candidates to make the best program application decisions. The missing factor is called program preferences.
What are program preferences?
Program guidelines that are less stringent than other full program requirements fall under program preferences. This implies that program directors may overlook specific weaknesses in an application after validation of other strong aspects.
As you may know, some aspects of the residency application process may be flexible. The residency program may be made of people who can change their minds at any point in time and be flexible with you if you have an excellent letter of recommendation or a compelling personal statement.
Most sources do not include program preferences. Therefore, you will have to contact them directly to find out if there is some leniency in their requirements.
Each criterion is affected differently by preferences. For instance, if there is a preference for US clinical experience, it doesn't mean you must have it, but it would be an added advantage to you if you did. If there is a preference for a particular time since graduation cut off, the program will consider candidates above the cut off date. Also, the preference of amount of time since graduation is reasonable (within 2-3 years).
If there is a preference for USMLE Step 2 CS or ECFMG certification at the time of applying, you may still apply because you will have ample options and time to complete your exam and get the ECFMG certification.
Should I apply to programs with preferences?
There is some level of risk attached to applying for programs with preferences. However, when it comes to residency, you have a higher chance of being called to interviews when you apply for many programs simultaneously.