Residency Applicants: 5 Tips for Building your NRMP Rank Order List

It’s February, which means that residency interview season is over. Now, applicants around the country are building and submitting their NRMP Rank Order Lists.  These lists, submitted electronically through the NRMP R3 System, are an opportunity for residency candidates to rank the programs at which they interviewed in their order of preference. Residency programs do the same with their candidates. After this, a Nobel prize-winning algorithm matches candidates with programs based on these two lists. Candidates find out if they have matched on the third Monday in March. They find out where on the third Friday of March, MATCH DAY!

This high-stakes process is full of excitement and begins with creating NRMP Rank Order Lists. It’s critical that all candidates understand the intricacies and innerworkings of this process so that they can use it to their greatest advantage. To that end, here are Team Thalamus’s top 5 tips for building your NRMP Rank Order List.

5) Remember that ERAS and the NRMP are not the same organization.


Applications are submitted through the Electronic Residency Application Service (ERAS) and released to residency programs beginning September 15th. Candidates pay fees to ERAS on a per-program basis to be considered. Then, the program director, program coordinator and/or other program leadership review applications to determine which candidates to invite for an interview for further consideration.  


The National Residency Matching Program (NRMP) is the organization committed to organizing and managing the main residency match (and the majority of fellowship matches). 

4) Register for the NRMP Match!

Because ERAS and the NRMP are separate organizations, candidates must register to participate in the NRMP Match! If you do not register for both, even if you pay for and go through the entire ERAS process, you will not be eligible to match. You will not be able to rank programs and programs will not be able to rank you. The NRMP provides detailed guidelines for registration.   

The main residency match registration opens September 15th in the NRMP R3 system and costs $85.  The NRMP standard registration deadline is November 30th (2019), after which there is an additional $50 late fee applied. The overall NRMP timeline and match fees information are helpful resources.  Rank lists must be submitted and certified by February 26th (2020) at 9pm EST!

To simplify the process, Team Thalamus created a combined calendar including all important dates for the residency application and match processes.

3) Do not rank programs you don’t want to attend.

You might be thinking, “Wait a minute, I thought that I should rank all the programs where I interviewed! “ However, while ranking all programs where you interviewed optimizes your probability of matching, it’s likely that at least one (or more) residency programs didn’t feel like a good fit for any number of reasons. 

When you build your rank list, be honest with yourself.  Ask yourself, “Can I imagine spending the next 3 to 7 years of my life there?  Could I end up somewhere more desirable through the Supplemental Offer Acceptance Program (SOAP) or by vying for an unmatched position?” There are some matches worse than not matching at all.

While there are many great training programs in the US, not every residency program is ideal for you in the same way that not every applicant is ideal for all programs. This is why you just went through a months-long interview season, isn’t it?  The residency match is a binding contract, and if you match at a program, you are obligated to begin training there on July  1st. Because of this, make sure to avoid matches that you know won’t work by not ranking them in the first place.

2) Maximize your contiguous ranks to have a higher chance of matching.

This is intuitive – the longer a rank list is, the more institutions in play and, therefore, your chance of a successful match is maximized. Of course, stronger candidates tend to receive more interviews, and therefore, have more options when building their rank order lists. Perceived stronger candidates are also usually ranked higher on a given program’s rank list, further increasing their chances of matching.  

According to NRMP data, the average length of a rank order list for successfully-matched candidates across all specialties is 11.22 programs. This is the highest average length to date. Conversely, the average length for candidates that did not match was 4.21 programs.  

Main point: Rank as many programs as possible to ensure your highest chance of match.

1) Rank your top program first!

This can’t be stated strongly enough. The match algorithm is candidate-proposing, which essentially means that it favors the applicants’ choices. A program’s list is the second factor. This means that you should not rank programs based on where you think you are most likely to get in. If you do, you are putting yourself at a significant disadvantage! Be bold and put your top choice as #1, the next as #2, and so on! If you want to learn more about the match algorithm, the NRMP has a great video explaining the match process. 

There you have it-  5 tips for building your NRMP rank order list. Thalamus wishes you the best of luck in the upcoming match! We’re looking forward to meeting the next generation of physicians. 

Thalamus streamlines the residency interview process (and beyond). We work with 85%+ of all candidates matching each year and hundreds of programs across 70+ specialties. If you want to learn more about Thalamus, contact us at or request a demo.