So, luckily, on Monday, March 14th, I got a one-liner email (with the ridiculous subject of "Did I match?") that said "Congratulations! You have matched." But not everyone was as fortunate. The people who don't match, if they want to find a position for the next year, have to go through "the scramble", and it really is a scramble. I helped out someone with the scramble and thought I'd share (or more like remember it for myself by putting it here). Here's the timeline:
March 14th 6:30 PM - meeting with the dean of students. Very somber mood in the room. Some are near tears, others are angry, others are happy that they only have to worry about a prelim year and others (like me, who have matched and were there only to help) are trying not to look people in the eye. The dean goes through the process. Seems like a very involved procedure that depends on timing. Hard to know what'll happen at 10 AM the next day.
March 15th 9:30 AM - the dean hands out the list of residencies that had open spots after the match. The number of spots range from 1 in very competitive fields to hundreds for the preliminary surgery year. They're separated by specialty and by state. Everyone had 30 minutes to plan where they will call first. I helped my friend indicate which programs she is interested in on the centralized match website.
March 15th 10 AM - The scramble officially begins. We hit submit on the computer and simultaneously call places that aren't participating in the computer system. The computer system was very slow, so in about 5 minutes, gave up the computer and went to calling everyone. Calls went one of three ways: 1) Busy signal, 2) Answering machine or 3) actual person responds. If a person responds, we rattled off a prepared one-liner about who we are and what we want and asked what they need to consider us. The response was either to take our phone number and say they'll get back to us or (a few times) actually start a mini-interview.
March 15th 11:30ish AM - All the states my colleague wanted to match to were contacted, one promising phone interview was done, but no response yet. We started calling the less desirable locations (while redialing places that hadn't gotten back to us - and accidentally calling some places that already took our name down).
March 15th 12:00 PM - Got a phone interview (5 min) at a decent program in a not-so-great location. They want information faxed... quickly faxed over something like 15 pages.
March 15th 12:45 PM - Decent program gives my colleague an offer! Quickly look over the curriculum and location (seems like a decent part of the not-so-great city and the curriculum is actually pretty nice).
March 15th 12:50 PM - Accept the offer.
March 15th 1:00 PM - Still calling places while waiting for the contract to get faxed over.
March 15th 1:30 PM - Contract is in, it's signed and faxed back. It's official!
March 17th 11:00 AM - Go through the match and pretend to be surprised when you open the envelope.
Whew! It's a rush, but it's a mess. Students at our school was lucky because the dean had paper printouts of the open spots. Apparently, the centralized computer program was down, so many students across the country did not have access to the list until hours later. Some in this situation just cold called every program. Eventually, people were able to get a list emailed to them from the matching program. By then many of the more desirable open spots were taken.
It's a terrible system, but luckily, from what I've heard, it'll be more civilized next year. I believe they'll have mini-matches where, in a calm manner, students can research and take their time applying to programs and, just like the normal match, rank the programs they're interested in and the programs do the same. Later in the day another "match algorithm" is run and students get matched. Any that are left over go through a second round of it.