Application Fever: Reviewing the Causes, Costs, and Cures for Residency Application Inflation

Cureus. 2021 Mar 10;13(3):e13804. doi: 10.7759/cureus.13804.


Over the past decade, the number of residency applications submitted per applicant has nearly doubled. This epidemic of "Application Fever" is expensive for applicants, burdensome for programs, and ultimately does not improve overall Match outcomes. In this review, we discuss the phenomenon of Application Fever, with a focus on contributing factors and costs of this behavior. Application Fever has its origins in the early 1990s. At that time, the number of residency applicants began to outpace the number of available positions. Because an applicant who applies to more residency programs has a greater probability of securing a residency position than an otherwise equivalent applicant who applies to fewer, "overapplication" became a dominant strategy and residency applicants began to apply to more residency programs each year. This trend was enhanced and enabled by the introduction of the Electronic Residency Application Service (ERAS). Although Application Fever is a rational decision for applicants, it imposes a substantial evaluative burden on program directors and necessitates the use of convenience screening metrics. We then briefly review potential solutions, including informational strategies, application limits, and marketplace incentives to reduce application numbers. Although a fixed cap on applications would reduce application numbers and facilitate a holistic selection process, greater transparency from residency programs regarding their selection criteria would be required to help applicants choose where to apply. To improve the residency application process for programs and applicants alike, we call upon the medical community to further study Application Fever and carefully consider solutions, including fixed application caps.

Keywords: eras; nrmp match; residency application.

Publication types

  • Review