What is SOAP and Why Should You Care?
Published on Mar 7, 2020. Updated on Mar 1, 2021.
SOAP® stands for the Supplemental Offer and Acceptance Program®. It’s part of Match Week, which occurs the third week of March every year. At the best of times, Match Week is a grueling process consisting of... waiting. And for many students who don't Match immediately, it comes with even more challenges. Read on to learn how to overcome perhaps the biggest challenge of all for many prospective residents: SOAP.
In a nutshell, the Supplemental Offer and Acceptance Program sets medical students who haven't Matched immediately up with residency programs who haven't filled their residency slots yet. In many ways, it's like speed dating—a series of rapid-fire interviews that could very well determine the next few years of your life.
In order to fully understand SOAP and why you should care, let’s start from the beginning...
What is the NRMP® Match?
The National Resident Matching Program® (NRMP) Main Residency Match® is a process of “matching” applicants with residency programs, and spans from September to the following March of every year.
Here’s a brief overview of the 2021 Match timeline (which actually started last year!):
June 8, 2020: Applicants begin registering on MyERAS® (Electronic Residency Application Service®) and get started with their applications for 2021.
September 1, 2020: ERAS® registration opens. Applicants can now begin to submit applications to residency programs.
October 2020–February 2021: Applicants interview with prospective programs.
March 3, 2021: Deadline to submit Rank Order Lists.
March 15, 2021: Applicants receive emails indicating their eligibility to participate in SOAP. (Receiving this email does not mean you didn’t match, so please don’t panic!)
March 18, 2021: At 8 AM ET, applicants learn if they matched, but not where. Partially or fully unmatched applicants, who are eligible, can participate in SOAP®. They only have a few hours to apply—at 3 PM ET, SOAP ends.
March 19, 2021: Match Day! Applicant match results are now available and applicants find out which residency programs they accepted them.
I didn’t Match. What should I do?On March 15, if you receive a report that you are a partially or fully unmatched applicant, don’t despair. The Friday before Match Week, be prepared just in case by checking you’re eligible to participate in SOAP®.
SOAP eligibility means:
You are registered for the Main Residency Match.
You are eligible to graduate medical education (GME) on July 1.
You are partially matched or fully unmatched on Monday of Match Week.
What is SOAP?
The SOAP is an opportunity for unmatched applicants to try to obtain an unfilled residency position. It consists of three rounds, each lasting two hours, during which unmatched candidates can reject or accept any offer you may receive.
Not every residency program is filled using the Match algorithm, so many programs choose to participate in SOAP. The NRMP will have a list of programs that you are eligible to apply to. You can complete as many as 45 applications in each round using AAMC’s ERAS. Programs will choose which applicants to interview and will send notifications by phone or email. Interviews will typically be done by phone, but programs are able to set their own process for interviewing applicants.
It’s important to note that applicants cannot contact any program unless the program initiates contact first. Based on interviews, programs create a preference list ranking the individuals they want to prioritize when filling open positions.
SOAP 2021 timeline
Here’s a timeline for SOAP during this year’s Match Week:
Monday, March 15, 11 AM EST: applicants find out if they matched, but not where. Students who did not match are eligible to enter SOAP.
Wednesday, March 17:
12 PM ET: round 1 of SOAP offers go out.
3 PM ET: round 2 of SOAP offers go out.
Thursday, March 18:
9 AM ET: round 3 of SOAP offers go out.
12 PM ET: round 4 of SOAP offers go out.
3 PM ET: SOAP applications close. Partially matched and unmatched applicants can begin reaching out to unfulfilled residency programs directly in a final attempt to secure a residency spot.
Friday, March 19: it’s Match Day! Students open their envelopes and finally learn where they’ll be pursuing their medical residency.
I did not receive an offer during SOAP. What now?
There will be programs that remain unfilled after the Match. Once SOAP ends, the NRMP will release a final list of unfilled programs which you can contact directly and inquire about their unfilled positions.
If you still don’t match, you have several options to improve your application chances for Match week 2022.
Regroup, reassess, and rewrite that personal statement
Look back on the application process and try to identify where things went wrong. Could you have been better-prepared for your interviews? How was your USMLE® Step 1 score? Did you limit yourself geographically, or focus too intently on one speciality, narrowing your options? Was it something as simple as a poorly-proofread personal statement?
Some of these questions have resolutions; others do not. When rewriting your personal statement next year, make sure to address your weaknesses head-on. Being confidently self-aware can make a huge difference when trying to convince program directors that you’re worthy to work with them.
Take USMLE® Step 3
Taking your final board exam is a productive way to spend your time in between Match periods, and, psychologically, it’s a good way to stay motivated and retain your sense of purpose. If your Step 1 score is lower than you’d like, taking Step 3 and scoring high can help you bridge that gap. Once you’ve taken Step 3, you’ll be eligible to apply for your state medical license, and it’ll give program directors one less thing to be uncertain about when you reapply next year.
If you’re an international medical graduate applying for residency in the US and you haven’t completed Step 3 yet, doing so will qualify you for an H1b visa for high-skilled workers, and you’ll also qualify for an ECFMG-sponsored J1 visa, which will allow you to participate in a physician exchange and gain valuable US clinical experience, further boosting your match chances in 2021.
Find work in a clinical setting
You need to be in a residency program to care for patients directly, but there’s still plenty of clinical work to be found if you didn’t match. You can scribe for a doctor, or reach out to your network to see if there are any research opportunities you can pursue—involvement in research can be a huge boost to your future applications. In general, this “in-between” time is also a great time to grow your network of medical professionals by attending conferences and events within your desired field.
However you choose to spend your time between matches, remember not to lose hope: there are plenty of opportunities for you to strengthen your application and grow professionally.