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Frequently Asked Questions by Premeds

About Majors | Grades | Letters of Recommendation | MCAT | Primary Application | Secondary Application | Interview | Getting into Medical School


Majors

What is the best major for medical school?

There is none. A huge misconception is that a student must major in a science discipline to get into medical school; this is as far from the truth as you can get. Medical schools do not give any preference into what you major in.

Medical schools have required science classes that you must take to apply to medical schools. These courses generally include biology, chemistry, mathematics, and physics. Apart from these courses, you are not required to take any other specific classes. So whether you major in biology, economics or history, you can apply to medical school as long as you meet the requirements.

Our advice is that you major in something that you like and excel at. The reason is because medical schools care more about how you did in the courses you took, then about what courses you took. If you like something and are good at it, you probably will do well in it.

One word of caution though is that medical schools see two different GPAs: science GPA and overall GPA. Overall GPA takes into account all of your courses while science GPA considers only the science classes you have taken. Science GPA matters more than overall GPA though overall GPA is still important. So if you are going to major in a non-science discipline, make sure to do well in all your required science classes because those are the only classes that will make up the science GPA.

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Do I need to finish all my prerequisites before I apply to medical school?

No you can apply to medical school before you finish all your required classes. You simply need to finish all your prerequisite classes before you actually start medical school.

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Do I have to major in science discipline to get into medical school?

No, you do not have to major in a science to go to medical school. This is one of the biggest misconceptions among pre-meds. Majoring in a science does not increase or decrease your chances at obtaining admissions into medical school. Medical schools care deeply about the grades you received in the classes you took. Apart from the science classes required to apply to medical school, medical schools do not state you have to take more science classes.

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Will a double major help for medical school?

It really depends. Remember that the two most important factors for getting into medical school are GPA and MCAT score. Having a double major will not increase either of these factors.

What can help is if your double major paints a better picture of you as an applicant. For example, if you double major in a science and a humanities discipline, it can make medical schools believe you are a more well-rounded student then let’s say, someone who is just a science major. A well-rounded student is something all medical schools want. It also makes you unique because few pre-med students are double majors. Medical schools like unique students because it adds to the diversity of their student population. Lastly, it can make you seem more academically prepared than your peers. Medical schools need to know if you can handle the course load of medical school before they accept you.

However, having a double major will not help leverage a lower GPA and/or a lower MCAT score. In fact, medical schools will probably question your motive for having a double major if you have low academic scores. They will wonder why you did not just major in one discipline if you could not handle two. It is much more likely for medical schools accept an applicant who has a high GPA with one major, then an applicant with a lower GPA but two majors.

Our advice is that you ask yourself one important question before you decide to double major: Do you think your GPA and your MCAT scores are going to be lower due to the course load of a double major? If you answer yes, it is probably best you stick to one major. The benefit of having a double major will not be worth the cost of having a lower GPA and/or lower MCAT score. However, if you think your academic scores will not suffer, you can double major because it can only help your application.

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Grades

Should I drop pre-med if I am doing poorly academically?

There is no right answer to this question because each situation is different. If you are a senior and you have a 2.5 GPA, it would be wise to consider other career options. However, if you are a freshman or sophomore and you have a 3.0-3.5 GPA, there is still hope (the higher the GPA, the greater the hope). If you are a first year student, do not be discouraged by one bad semester or quarter.

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Do grades from studying abroad count towards my GPA?

Grades from any institution after high school will be counted. Thus, your grades from studying abroad will be counted as well. However, do not take medical school prerequisite classes abroad. Medical schools do not accept premedical classes taken abroad unless they directly translate through your university.

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What is the BCPM GPA?

“]BCPM stands for Biology, Chemistry, Physics, and Math. This is how the Association of American Medical Colleges refers to “science GPA.” It is synonymous to the “science GPA.” The Association of American Medical Colleges is the organization that provides the American Medical College Application Service. This service is used by almost all MD medical schools.

Here are the type of classes that count towards your BCPM GPA:

Biology (BIOL)
-Anatomy
-Biology
-Biophysics
-Biotechnology
-Botany
-Cell Biology
-Ecology
-Entomology
-Genetics
-Histology
-Immunology
-Microbiology
-Molecular Biology
-Neuroscience
-Physiology
-Zoology

Chemistry (CHEM)
-Biochemistry
-Chemistry
-Physical Chemistry
-Thermodynamics

Mathematics (MATH)
-Applied Mathematics
-Biostatistics
-Mathematics
-Statistics

Physics (PHYS)
-Astronomy
-Physics

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What is more important: science or overall GPA?

Science GPA is more important because it is a better indicator of how well a student will be able to handle the science classes at medical school. However, the overall GPA is still important and should not be taken lightly. If you have an extremely high science GPA, but a low overall GPA, it will raise some red flags to medical school admissions committees.

Also remember that GPA is not the only factor that medical schools will look at. Another important factor for medical schools is your MCAT score.

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Is “+” and “-” weighed differently?

Yes, a “+” grade and a “-“ grade are weighed differently by medical schools even if your particular undergraduate institution may not. In most cases, the GPA that is reported on your college transcript is going to be slightly different than the GPA that is reported to the medical schools you apply to. Note that an A+ is given a value of 4.0, which is equivalent to an A.

A 4
A- 3.7
B+ 3.3
B 3
B- 2.7
C+ 2.3
C 2
C- 1.7
D+ 1.3
D 1
D- 0.7
F 0.0

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Is a withdrawn class included in medical school GPA? Is a Pass/Fail class?

No, a withdrawn class will not be included in your medical school GPA. However, you should not make a habit of getting them because it can hurt your medical school application.
To learn more, read more about medical school and withdrawals.

Also, a Pass/Fail class is not included in your medical school GPA regardless of whether or not you passed or failed the class.

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Can you get into medical school if you have a W?

Yes, you can get into medical school if you have a withdrawal, or ‘W.’ However, it definitely does not help your medical school application. There is no set policy on how a ‘W’ will hurt your chances, but most medical schools will say that having one ‘W’ is not going to matter all that much.

Also, you must remember that medical schools view each applicant holistically. If you have one ‘W’ in your first quarter of freshmen year, it probably will not matter all that much. However, if you make a habit of getting ‘W’s, medical schools might not think you are academically prepared for medical school. To learn more about Withdrawals, read Fact or Myth About the W.

Contrary to popular belief, a ‘W’ is not included in your medical school GPA in any way.

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If I retake a class, is my old grade replaced?

No, this is a big misconception among pre-med students. For all medical schools under the Association of American Medical Colleges (which is almost all MD medical schools), ALL classes taken for a letter grade will be counted in the GPA that medical schools will see. For example, if you received a F in organic chemistry and then retook it and got an A, medical schools will count the F and the A in your final GPA.

Some students believe it is a good strategy to purposely fail a class if they no longer have a chance at getting a good grade. Please do not follow this advice.

DO medical schools have a different policy. They will only count the last instance of a repeated course.

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Can you get into medical school if you failed a class?

Theoretically, yes. However, it definitely is not going to help your medical school application. Getting into even one medical school these days are extremely difficult. Those who get into medical school have competitive GPAs and MCAT scores. If you have failed a class, it will undoubtedly affect your GPA.

One big misconception is that if you failed a class, you can retake it and replace the old grade. This is generally false. Even if your undergraduate college says that your new grade will replace the old grade, most (if not all) MD medical schools will not follow this policy. However, DO schools may only count the last instance of a repeated course; they will see the failed class regardless.

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What GPA do you need for medical school?

Many medical schools require that you have at least a 3.0 minimum GPA to even apply to medical school. However, you probably need at least a 3.5 GPA to be competitive for most (if not all) medical schools. According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, only 40% of all applicants who have a GPA between 3.4 and 3.6 get accepted into a medical school. In other words, 60% of applicants who have a GPA between 3.4 and 3.6 do not get into a single medical school. For those who have a GPA between 3.6 and 3.8, the chances of getting into a medical school increase to 55%. 72% of applicants with a GPA greater or equal to 3.8 get accepted into medical school. To see a detailed report, visit AAMC’s report on MCAT and GPA for Applicants.

Conclusion? It is hard to get into medical school. If you do not have a high GPA, your chances are slim. Even if you do have a high GPA, you are not guaranteed a place in a medical school. However, note that GPA is not the only factor that medical schools consider. Another major factor in the medical school admissions process is the MCAT. If you do not have a desirable GPA, you can help yourself by preparing well for the MCAT. But you still cannot undermine the importance of the GPA.

Other important factors for medical schools include letters of recommendations, extracurricular activities, personal statement, and leadership potential among others.

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Letters of Recommendation

How many letters of recommendation should I get for medical school?

Most medical schools require a minimum of two letters from science professors and 1 letter from a non-science professor. If your school has an undergraduate premedical committee, it is best to have them write a letter for you as well. Although the minimum requirement is usually 3 letters (if your school does not have a premedical committee), generally it is best to have 4-8 letters. Also keep in mind that these are general rules. Be sure to check each school’s individual letter requirements.

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Whom should I ask for letters of recommendation?

You must get two letters from science professors and 1 letter from a non-science professor. This is a requirement. If you shadowed or worked with a physician, getting a letter from him or her is helpful. If you have research experience, a letter from your Principal Investigator (PI) is highly recommended. You can also get letters from former employers, volunteer supervisor, or any other extracurricular supervisor.

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Can a teaching assistant write my letter?

Generally medical schools do not accept letters written by teaching assistants (TAs). You want professors to write your letters just to be safe. However, your TA can write you a letter if your professor signs or co-signs it. This is a good option if you have a great relationship with your TA.

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Where do I store my letters of recommendation?

Most schools provide a letter storage service via their career center or some other resource. There are also online letter holding services such as Interfolio. You can ask your letter writers to send the letter directly to the service or upload it whenever they are ready. The letters must be signed and should have an official letterhead. Acceptable letters are then the letters uploaded into the service. You will be able use these letters later on when you actually apply to medical school. These services are secure and they will not allow you to read the letter beforehand.These services are helpful because you can upload letters anytime and they are safely stored. Then you can use the letters when you need them. This prevents any last minute scrambling to turn in letters for your application.

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Interfolio

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How and when can I submit letters of recommendation to AMCAS?

You can begin submitting letters to AMCAS as soon as the application opens in May. Before you mail a letter to AMCAS, you must create an entry for that letter in your AMCAS application. To create an entry, you will have to tell AMCAS who the letter writer is and name that letter. AMCAS will then give the letter an ID number. When you send your letters, the letters must have both your AMCAS ID number and letter ID number. If you are using a letter service from your school or Interfolio, there are special instructions you must follow since you do not have access to go and modify those previously stored letters. Be sure you know how your letter service works before sending letters to AMCAS through the service. One important thing to know is that you can create and submit letters any time during your primary application. This includes before you submit, after you submit, and after your application is verified. This is one of the few parts of the application that you can actually edit after submission.

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Do all MD schools use the AMCAS letter service?

No. Not all schools use AMCAS for their application or the letter service. The following schools do not participate in AMCAS:

Texas A&M University System Health Science Center College of Medicine
Texas Tech University Health Science Center School of Medicine
Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center, El Paso, Paul L. Foster School of Medicine
University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas Southwestern Medical School
University of Texas Medical School at Galveston
University of Texas School of Medicine at Houston
University of Texas School of Medicine at San Antonio.

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Do I need to assign letters of recommendation to each school before I turn in my primary AMCAS application?

No you do not. This is one of the few parts of the application that you can alter later. Once your letters are ready to go, you can start assigning them to different schools. However, once you assign a letter to a school and submit your application again, you cannot undo it.

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Do I need to waive my right to see the letters?

Technically no, but it is recommended. The letters may not hold as much weight if you have not waived your right. You should waive your right to give yourself the best chance to benefit from the letter. If you know the letter writer well enough, you can generally assume that he or she will not hurt you with the letter. You may want to consider asking your letter writer whether he/she would be willing to support your candidacy to medical school with a strong letter when you make the initial request.

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What do I do if my letter writer is late?

You should gently remind him/her via email or in person that you need the letter by a certain date. In general, you can thank your letter writers in advance for the letters that they are writing and this should remind them. If your letter writers are unresponsive, start thinking about other people who could write you a letter. You can store up to ten letters on AMCAS and you do not need to use every one of them. Generally, you cannot have too many letters so get as many strong letters as you can.

Is there anything else about letters of recommendation that I should know?
If you have any other questions, you can go directly to AAMC and look at the letter of recommendation FAQs.

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MCAT

Should I retake the MCAT?

The answer to this question is different for each person. Here are some questions you should ask yourself before you retake the MCAT. Also, if you are considering retaking, here are some example situations that might be helpful. To receive an answer more specific to your situation, you can ask a question using our ASK! function. You can also discuss your situation with a career or pre-med counselor, mentor, or other experienced pre-meds.

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Which MCAT score is considered if I retake?

This varies by school. Some medical schools take the average score. Some schools look at the most recent score. Others take the highest composite score. Nevertheless, it is important to know that if you have taken multiple exams, the schools you apply to will have access to all those scores. If you are taking the MCAT more than once, try to make sure that there is a large gap between your two scores. In the eyes of the admissions committee, a jump from 30 to 36 is more impressive than a jump from 35 to 36.

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What should I expect on test day?

Make sure you are early to your exam. You do not want to cause yourself additional stress by being late.

Here is the MCAT exam overview for 2013 according to AAMC:

Section # of Questions Time Allotted
Tutorial (optional) 10 minutes
Examinee Agreement 10 minutes
Physical Sciences 52 70 minutes
Break (optional) 10 minutes
Verbal Reasoning 40 60 minutes
Break (optional) 10 minutes
Biological Sciences 52 70 minutes
Void Question 5 minutes
Break (optional) 10 minutes
Trial section (optional) 32 45 minutes
Satisfaction Survey (optional) 12 10 minutes

Total Content time 4 hours and 5 minutes
Total “Seated” time Approx. 5 hours and 10 minutes

In 2013, there will be no writing section. It has been replaced with a voluntary trial section. No one will know how well you did on this section besides you. It will not affect your score at all.

All this information can be found on AAMC.

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When does my MCAT score expire?

Your score does not expire on AAMC. However, schools typically do not accept scores that are older than three or four years old. Each school can vary so make sure you do your research before you apply.

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How much does the MCAT cost?

In 2013, regular MCAT registration is $270. Late registration costs an additional $75. If you need to reschedule your date or change the location of your test center, you will have to pay an additional $90 for each service.

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How many times should I take the MCAT?

Technically, you can take the MCAT as often as you would like. You can only take the test three times every calendar year. However, we would not recommend taking the MCAT more than three times total. The fewer times you take the MCAT, the better.

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Can I register for two tests at one time?

Unfortunately no. You will have to wait until after your exam is over before you sign up again.

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What is the best MCAT prep course?

There is no real answer to this question. Different companies have different strengths and weaknesses. Even within the same company, each location may vary in quality of teaching. In general, most prep companies are at least decent but make sure you do your research before enrolling in any class.

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What is the best way to prepare for the MCAT?

The answer to this question will be different for each person. There are two main ways to prepare:

1. Self review
This involves creating or using a pre-set study plan. You will have to buy review books and practice tests on your own. This option is generally for people who are good self-studiers. It is obviously the cheapest option because you do not have to spend money on a prep course. Nevertheless, people who lack the discipline and time management skills should avoid this route.

2. Commercial Prep Course
Most students use this option, enrolling in either a live or online class. The prep course provides you with all the material you will need to prepare including review books, their practice tests, AAMC practice tests and teachers for subjects. These courses are generally very well organized and have a set schedule for you to follow. This option is best if you successfully follow the schedule the course provides. The course keeps you focused and organized. Keep in mind just attending classes is not enough to ensure a good score. Students typically must study 3-6 hours outside of class in order to score well.
Prep courses typically cost $1600-$2000. Make sure you look for discounts online prior to enrolling. You can usually save $200-$300 by enrolling early or using a coupon code.

*Note: Prep courses have their own practice tests that are supposed to mimic the real MCAT. Nevertheless, they usually overestimate or underestimate your score. Take these tests with a grain of salt and trust the actual practice AAMC tests.

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What do I need to know about voiding my exam?

On the test day, after you finish your exam, you will be asked whether you want to void your exam or not. If you void your exam, it is basically the same thing as never having taken that test in the first place. Schools will not know you voided an exam. You will not be given a score nor receive a refund.

Most test takers do not feel confident about their scores after they finish their exams. If you have been scoring well on your practice exams, you should avoid the temptation to void your exam. It is normal to feel like you did not do well. However, if you know you did horribly (usually because you froze during the test or did not answer multiple questions), it is a good idea to void.

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Can I use a calculator for the MCAT?

No, all calculations must be done by hand. Therefore, do not use a calculator while you are studying.

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Is there a guessing penalty on the MCAT?

There is no guessing penalty. Test takers are encouraged to put an answer for every question.

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How is the MCAT scored?

Each section is scored from 1 to 15 with 15 being the highest. Thus the highest possible score is 45. Your score is calculated based on the number of correct answers in each section and how you did relative to everyone else who took the exam (curve).

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When should I take the MCAT?

Applicants typically take the MCAT after they have finished their prerequisite classes for medical school because these classes usually cover most of the material on the actual MCAT. This means that students are typically taking the MCAT after their sophomore or junior year of college. It is important to remember that schools usually do not accept scores that are older than two or three years (depending on the school). A good general rule is to take the MCAT one year before you apply. For example, if you want to apply after your junior year of college, it is recommended to take the MCAT the summer after your sophomore year.

You can still take the MCAT in January, March, April, or June of the year that you apply, but that will require you to study while you are taking normal courses. This can hurt your academic GPA as well as MCAT performance if you do not balance your time properly. If you want to take the test in July, August, or September of your application year, keep in mind that your application will not be early. For most applicants, taking a mid-to-late summer MCAT will hurt their applications because most medical students accept students on a rolling basis.

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How often is the MCAT administered?

The MCAT is offered in January, March, April, May, June, July, August and September. There are multiple test dates in each month. Since the exact test dates vary year to year, it is important to know what test dates are offered each year. Refer to the to find out exact dates.

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Do MCAT subscores matter?

It depends on how well you did on your exam. For example, there is not much of a difference between an applicant who had a breakdown of 11 BS, 13 PS, and 10 VR and an applicant with 13BS, 10 PS, and 11VR because both applicants did well on the exam regardless of the subscore. If your scores are lower, however, the discrepancies between your subscores become magnified. There is a big difference between an applicant with a score breakdown of 11 BS, 11 PS, and 5 VR and an applicant with 9 BS, 9PS, and 9 VR. Typically, you want a relatively even distribution. Also, in general, you do not want to score lower than an 8 in any one section.

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What is a good MCAT score?

Currently the average MCAT of students who actually matriculate at medical school is 31. 31 is roughly 83rd percentile. Nevertheless, keep in mind that this is an average. Applicants with scores greater than 31 get rejected and applicants with scores less than 31 get accepted. Generally a 33 is a safe score while anything above 35 would be considered a great score. Keep in mind that the lower your GPA is, the higher you need your MCAT score to be.

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Where can I find a content outline for the MCAT?

You can find a comprehensive content outline on AAMC.

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Should I take all prerequisite classes before MCAT?
There is no set answer to this question. Taking all your prerequisite classes prior to the MCAT is definitely an advantage because then most of the material on the MCAT will be review. Nevertheless, you can learn the material fresh through a MCAT course or by self-studying. It is your preference, but MCAT takers typically take the MCAT after they finish their medical school prerequisites.

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How many sections are on the MCAT?

There are currently 3 sections on the MCAT: Physical Sciences, Biological Sciences, and Verbal Reasoning. There will be changes to the MCAT in 2015.

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Do I need to take the MCAT for medical school?

Almost every medical student has taken the MCAT, which stands for Medical College Admission Test. It is the standardized test required to apply to medical schools. However, there may be rare cases when a student can get into medical school without taking the MCAT. Note that these cases are rare and that you are most likely going to have to take it.

To learn more about the MCAT, view AAMC’s page on the MCAT.

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Primary Application

Where do I enter my extracurricular activities?

You enter your extracurricular activities in the Work/Activities section. For each activity, you will need to fill out:

1. Experience Type
2. Experience Name
3. Experience Dates
4. Average Hours/Week
5. Organization Name
6. Country/City
7. Experience Description

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What do I write about in my personal statement?

According to AAMC, the personal statement is an opportunity to distinguish yourself from other applicants. The character limit 5300 characters including spaces. Here are the questions to consider while writing this essay:

• Why have you selected the field of medicine?
• What motivates you to learn more about medicine?
• What do you want medical schools to know about you that has not been disclosed in other sections of the application?

You can include additional information such as:

• Special hardships, challenges, or obstacles that may have influenced your educational pursuits.
• Commentary on significant fluctuations in your academic record that are not explained elsewhere in your application.

Here are some additional personal statement tips.
If you are applying MD/PhD, two additional essays are required. The MD/PhD essay is used to state reasons for pursuing the combined MD/PhD degree. The character limit is 3000. The significant research experience essay is used to describe any significant research experiences you have had. You must specify your research supervisor’s name and affiliation, the duration of the experience, the nature of the problem studied, and your contributions to the project. The character limit for this essay is 10,000.

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What sections are in the AMCAS application?

The main sections are:

1. Identifying information
2. Schools attended
3. Biographical information
4. Course Work
5. Work/Activities
6. Letters of Evaluation
7. Medical schools
8. Essay(s)
9. Standardized tests
There are more in-depth descriptions on AAMC.

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Secondary Application

What is a secondary or supplementary application?

After your designated medical schools receive your primary application, each school will send you a secondary application. That means if you applied to 20 schools, you will be filling out 20 separate secondary applications. Most schools automatically send you an application but some schools screen applicants pre-secondary. The questions vary tremendously from school to school. The purpose of the secondary application is to extract more information from the applicant. This is another great opportunity for you, the applicant, to stand out.

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How quickly should I turn in my secondary?

Generally it is best to turn in the secondary at least within two weeks after you received it. If the school gives you a submission deadline, try to submit at least two or three days before that deadline. You can imagine that it is extremely difficult and time-consuming to fill out each secondary application. Balance your time and figure out your priorities. Even though you would like to put forth your best effort for each application, focus more on the schools you really would like to go to. Submitting sooner is good but you do not want to rush this process. Do not sacrifice quality for the sake of turning in your application quickly.

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What are some common secondary application topics?

There are many difficult secondary application questions but here are some common ones:

Why do you want to attend X school?
Describe yourself (autobiographical).
What fields of medicine are you interested in and why?
Describe a personal challenge and how you over came it.
What makes you distinct? How will you add to the diversity of our school?
What challenges do you foresee as you pursue a medical career?
Describe an important experience. Why was it important?
If you are taking time off after college, what are you doing? Why?
What would you do in X situation?
What is your greatest achievement?
What is your greatest non-academic achievement?
How will our school help you achieve your goals?
How do you cope?
Where do you see yourself in ten years?
Describe any elements of your application that might be concerning to the Admissions Committee.
Optional information: If this section is given, consider responding by answering the “why our school” question (unless that question is already given). You can also include any significant experiences that you have had since turning in your primary application. It is always best to write something in this section even though it is technically optional.

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Interviews

What should I do after the interview?

At the end of your actual interview, if you are interviewing one-on-one, ask for your interviewer’s business card or contact information. You will want to send them a nice note (usually a handwritten card) thanking them for their time. When writing your card, try to remember specific details about them and mention these details in your card. For example, if they mentioned that they are doing research in a certain field, you can say something like, “I hope everything goes well with XYZ project”.

It is also good to have your interviewer’s contact information just in case you want to send them any updates. They could potentially serve as your advocate to the admissions committee. You can ask them questions via email but be sure not to annoy them.

After the majority of your interviews are over, if you have one school that you really want to attend, it would be wise to send a letter of intent. This is to inform one specific school that it is your top choice for medical school. You can also send update letters to each of the schools you interviewed at to highlight more recent significant activities or accomplishments.

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What should I wear to the interview?

The dress code is business attire. For men, that means a suit and tie. Business attire is a little bit more complex for women. A suit is still safe but women can also wear skirts that look professional. Here are some additional dressing tips for women.

In general, it is best to wear conservative colors. You don’t want to wear eccentric colors. Black, gray, or navy blue is best. Avoid striped or polka dotted shirts. Solid colored dress shirts or blouses are best.

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What are the different interview formats?

Traditional Interview
This is the typical one-one-one interview. Interviewers are either medical students or faculty. Most schools have you interview with a student and a faculty member for 20-30 minutes each. Nevertheless, interviews can range anywhere from 20 minutes to one hour. Be sure to quickly respond to your interviewers unique style. Some may want to have a casual conversation while others ask question after question. There is a lot of variability in the traditional interview but just be sure you are comfortable talking about yourself.

Group or panel interview
This type of interview usually consists of one (you) to four interviewees and two to four interviewers. Again, the interviewers are either medical students or faculty. If you are the only person interviewing in front of a panel, they will take turns asking you various questions. If you are interviewing with others, the interviewers will take turns asking each of you different questions. Sometimes they may make you work together to figure out a problem. The content of a group interview usually depends on each school and so it can be hard to predict.

Multiple Mini Interview (MMI)
This type of interview, which was originally developed in Canada, is a more recent development. More and more schools are adopting this method because they believe it is fairer and objective. The MMI consists of about eight stations through which the interviewee rotates. You will be given a different scenario or question in each station. You may be asked to role-play with your interviewer or another application or answer a question. Sometimes you are required to work in a team to figure out a problem. You will be given a couple of minutes to read over each exercise and prepare your response. The different scenarios and questions in the MMI are designed to evaluate your personality, communication skills, values, ethics, and your reactions to problems. Once again, each school does the MMI differently and there really isn’t much you can do to prepare for it. Some admissions committee officers say the closest thing to an MMI is speed dating.

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How should I prepare for an interview?

1. Have a long list of potential interview questions typed out and answers to each of them.

Here are some example questions:
PDr’s must know medical school interview questions
Harvard Med Girl’s practice interview questions

2. Videotape yourself doing a full interview
Pretend like it’s the real thing and do it. You’ll find some interview habits that you may want to change.

3. Do mock interviews and receive feedback
Ask friends, parents, professors, mentors, career counselors, etc. If they are unfamiliar with the process, give them a list of potential questions they can ask.

4. Read about various topics but especially medical
Being well read will help you think on your feet and relate to your interviewer on different levels. Subscribe to the New England Journal of Medicine, read the New York Times, and/or read various books of different subjects. The more you know, the more you can talk about. Keep up with local news and be comfortable with your knowledge base. This will help you be confident which is very crucial.

5. Relax and be humble
You do not want to be really nervous for an interview. The interview is important, but it is not the end of the world. Do your best to prepare properly and the rest is out of your hands. Also, during your interview day, be humble. Arrogance or cockiness will turn off your interviewer. Be teachable and willing to both talk and listen.

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How important is the interview for medical school?

The interview is very important for medical school. In fact, the interview is the very reason why a lot of qualified applicants (on paper) do not get accepted into medical school. To put it simply, this is how medical schools generally work.

Medical schools consider GPA, MCAT, letters of recommendations, personal statements, extracurricular activities, etc to determine whether an applicant is invited to an interview. It is hard to get to get an interview at medical schools. If you get an interview at a medical school, you are more than half way there to getting accepted. Medical schools only accept a small percentage of students for the interview process.

Everyone who gets invited for an interview is considered a qualified applicant by that particular medical school. Generally, everyone is now in the same boat. Now your performance on the interview is generally more important than how you “look on paper.” Unfortunately, if you are horrible at interviews, it will be hard for you to get accepted into medical school even if you have perfect scores. It makes sense though since you need to be able articulate things to patients as a doctor.

Do not underestimate the importance of an interview. If your college offers mock interviews, make sure to take advantage of them.

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Getting into Medical School

What is a letter of intent? How do I write a letter of intent?

If you want to inform a certain medical school that they are your top choice, you must write (now usually through email) them a letter of intent. The letter of intent is important because medical schools want to accept applicants that will actually attend their school. If they know that they are your top choice, they are more likely to accept you.

This letter should communicate why you want to attend that school and why you would be a good fit. It should be formal, specific, and direct. This letter cannot be generic. You can write letters of intent to multiple schools if necessary If you have any advocates such as a premed advisor, professor, mentor, research PI, or physician who is willing to call the school or send a letter to the admissions office, that is helpful as well. If you want step by step instructions, please read the following article “How Do I Write a Letter of Intent?

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Example Letter of Intent

Do you have an example letter of intent?
Yes we do. Here is an example of a letter of intent.

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What happens if I get waitlisted?

Every school’s waitlist policy is a little different. Nevertheless, if you are waitlisted, do not lose hope. Waitlist does not mean rejection. At some schools, as low as 10% of the students who matriculate are accepted off the waitlist. At other schools, as high as 50-60% of the students who matriculate are accepted off the waitlist.

In general, the higher ranked schools have less wait list movement while the mid to lower tier schools have tremendous waitlist movement. This is because less people withdraw from higher ranked schools. And these same applicants who were accepted at a higher ranked schools are withdrawing from other lower ranked schools. For example, Harvard has very little waitlist movement because most of the people who are accepted to Harvard actually choose to go to Harvard.

Although it is considered a “waitlist”, you do not want to simply wait around for a school to accept you. It is important to maintain contact with the schools you are waitlisted at, especially if any of these schools are your top choices. Do not let them forget you.

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How long do I have to wait to hear back?

The answer to this depends on each school. Most schools have rolling admissions but some schools do not. And the response time post interview is different for each school. Some dates to remember are:

October 15th–The first day that acceptances can be sent out
March 30th-The date when all MD schools are recommended to accept at least the number of students that will be in the upcoming year’s class
May 15th-The date when all applicants must choose one school out of multiple acceptances. This is when most of the waitlist movement begins.

How many extracurricular activities should I enter?
You can enter up to 15 experiences but you only want to include significant experiences. Do not include information just to fill up all 15 spots. Medical schools prefer quality than quantity.

In the Works/Activities section, you may also identify up to 3 most meaningful experiences out of the 15 possible experiences. When you designate an experience as a meaningful, you will be given an additional 1325 characters to explain why. In this section, include how the activity helped you grow, what impact you made, and why it was important to you.

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How many schools should I apply to?

This will depend on how competitive of an applicant you are. If you are a very competitive applicant, who has a high GPA, MCAT, and significant extracurricular achievements, you may only need to apply to 15 schools (mainly top tier schools). Most medical students, however, will need to apply to 20-30 schools in order to improve their chances at matriculating. If you are right at the average GPA and MCAT of matriculants (3.6 and 31), then you should probably apply to 30 schools. The more competitive of an applicant you are, the less schools you need to apply to.

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How do I decide what schools to apply to?

There are many factors you should consider when deciding what schools to apply for. Here is a list roughly in order of importance:

1. Would you be a competitive applicant at that school?
This is by far the most important thing to consider. It is common practice to look at the median GPA and MCAT of the matriculants of the school you want to apply to and see how you compare to them. Generally, you want to either be just below, right at, or above the median. You can use the chance predictor, US News medical school guide or AAMC’s MSAR to look at the statistics of different medical school.

2. Where would you want to live?
Four years may not be that long but it is still a significant amount of time. Where you live can play a big factor on your quality of life and happiness. Keep in mind that many students do their residencies in the state in which they went to medical school.

3. Financial considerations
Medical school is very expensive. If you don’t get any financial aid, you may be in tremendous debt when you graduate. Therefore, the price of the school’s tuition and the cost of living is very important. Do you go to a cheaper state school over a more prestigious private school? Are the schools you are applying to incredibly expensive? The tuition differences may not seem too big but they add up after four years and interest.

4. How do the medical school’s students match?
As a medical school applicant, you may not really know how the match system works. However, you do know that you want to go to a school in which the students match well. Schools give statistics about their match rates. Although they are somewhat biased, the match rate statistics are worth taking a look at. Also, if you want to do your residency in a certain city or state, take a look at each school’s match list and see if students match to those areas. If there is a specific specialty you want to go to, perhaps the medical school you want to apply to matches a lot of students into that specialty. You want to make sure that you are putting yourself into a position of getting into a residency that you want.

5. How do you learn best?
Although there is a national standard that all medical schools near to adhere to, every school teaches differently. Look at each school’s curriculum and see how they teach. Some schools may emphasize small group learning. Other schools may be more focused on lectures. There are differences in the quality of facilities that may affect your education. If you know how you learn best, it is good to apply to schools that play to your strengths.

6. What is the school’s grading system?
Medical schools have different grading systems. Some are true pass/fail for the first two years, others are honors, high pass, pass, low pass (essentially a letter grade system), while others use letter grade systems. Some schools have internal rankings. Others don’t. Schools that are true pass/fail tend to be less competitive. This means that students are more collaborative (less cutthroat). If all this is important to you, make sure you have a good idea of the different grading systems each school has.

7. What are your special interests?
Schools have different strengths. Some are better at research while others focus more on primary care. Schools have various programs that enable you to pursue special interests such as global medicine, primary care, specific research, academic medicine and so forth. If you want to do primary care, you would want to look at schools that have a strong emphasis on primary care. If you are interested in research, look at schools that have programs that empower students to pursue research endeavors.

8. What is the school’s vision and mission?
Schools generally have similar vision and mission statements. Nevertheless, there are subtle differences between each school that may make a difference. Carefully read what each school is about and see if they resonate with you.

Where can I find more information?
If you have any other questions, you can go directly to AAMC. If you have any school-specific questions, it is highly suggested that you contact medical school admissions offices directly.

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Does your ethnicity matter for medical school?

Medical schools want to prepare doctors to serve a diverse population. Therefore your ethnicity does make a difference for medical school.

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What are medical schools looking for?

Medical schools look for students that display six basic core competencies:

1. The diligence and intellectual capacity to succeed in an intense medical school curriculum and board examinations.

2. An understanding of the physician’s role in healthcare and physician-patient relationship.

3. The ability to communicate effectively and compassionately.

4. Good moral character.

5. An understanding of hypothesis-driven research.

6. Ability to lead and innovate.

These competencies are recorded from the US News & World Report Medical School Research rankings. The first four competencies are almost always required for medical school admissions, while numbers five and six are sought after by schools that place a high emphasis on research and leadership.

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Can I apply to medical school from community college?

You most likely should not. Medical schools usually recommend applicants to not take science classes at a community college. Therefore, if you have taken all your classes at a community college, it will not look good. To have a legitimate shot at medical school, you should consider transferring to a four year university.

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Can I apply to medical school straight from high school?

Sort of. High school students can apply to BS/MD programs. If accepted, students will embark on a program that lets them go straight to medical school after obtaining a Bachelor’s degree without applying to medical school. The length of these programs varies; some are six years, some are seven, and others are eight.

For high school students who know that they want to pursue medicine, this is a great option. They do not have to worry about whether they will get accepted into medical school or not, and in some cases may not have to take the MCAT exam.

However, the transition into the MD program is in most cases provisional. Students must keep a certain GPA while they pursue their bachelor’s, stay out of criminal activity, etc.

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What is early decision?

Many medical schools participate in the early decision program. Each applicant can only apply to one medical school through the early decision program. If you are applying to a school through this program, the deadline is much earlier than if you were to apply normally. You are also told of your admissions decision very early, usually by October 1st. If you are accepted into the medical school, you must attend that medical school.

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Why should a student apply through an early decision program?

If you are accepted, then you do not have to worry about applying to other medical schools. You will be stress free because you would know what medical school you will attend next year. If you do not get accepted, you will apply normally like everyone else. Applying early can never hurt you, it can only help you.

The only word of caution is that you must make sure that the school that you apply through early decision is a school that you want to attend. Remember, if you get accepted, you must attend that school.

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When should I apply to medical school?

Most medical schools open applications in June every year. Applications are reviewed on a rolling basis.

We recommend that all applicants try to apply as early as possible. In other words, apply during June. That means that you must be diligent with your MCAT scores, letters of recommendations, personal statements, etc. Medical schools can be slightly more lenient to students who apply early on in the cycle.

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How do I apply to medical school?

Most US M.D. medical schools participate in the AMCAS, or the American Medical College Application Service. Using this service, you can apply to almost all M.D. medical schools with one application. In other words, you fill out the AMCAS, and check off which schools you want AMCAS to send your application. Every US M.D. school outside of Texas participates in this service. Only some medical schools in Texas use this service. Learn more about the AMCAS.

US D.O. medical schools participate in the AACOMAS, which is the D.O. equivalent of the AMCAS. Again, you fill out toe AACOMAS and choose which schools to send the application out to. Learn more about theAACOMAS.

Medical schools outside of the US might have different application processes.

Note that medical schools have primary applications and secondary applications. The AMCAS and AACOMAS are used only for the primary applications. After respective schools receive a student’s primary application through these services, schools will send out a secondary application specific for that particular school.

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What age should I apply to medical school?

There is no set rule on when you should apply to medical school. Some people apply as early as 20 and others apply as late as 50. You should apply to medical school when you feel that your application is competitive and that you feel you are ready for the challenges of being a medical student.

Note that statistically, the longer out of college an applicant is, the higher their chances are of gaining admissions into a medical school. However, this is not because medical schools favor old applicants. It is because older applicants generally have more life experiences that make them a better fit for medical school. The average age of students entering medical school is 24 or 25.

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What are post-bac programs?

In essence, post-bac, in the medical community, means any program or classes that you take after graduating from undergrad for the purpose of getting into medical schools.

The reason there is confusion over the term is because there are many different types of post-bac programs.

According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, there are four types of post-bac programs within the medical community.

1.Career-Changers: These types of program are for those who did not initially want to become a doctor in undergrad. Oftentimes, the people who apply to these programs are working professionals who now desire to become physicians. To apply to these programs, you usually cannot have taken a lot of the required science courses for medical school.

2.Academic Record-Enhancers: These types of program are for those who wish to strengthen their medical school resume. They are for students who have completed or almost completed all of their prerequisites for medical school, but their statistics is not as strong as they desire. They can take classes in these types of post-bac programs to attempt to raise their GPA, gain more clinical experience, etc.

3.Groups Under-represented in Medicine: These types of program exist to help under-represented groups gain admissions into medical school.

4.Economically or Educationally Disadvantaged Students: These types of program exist to help disadvantaged students gain admissions into medical school.

To learn about the exact programs that are may be available for you, visit AAMC’s page regarding post-bac programs.

Does undergraduate institution affect medical school admissions?
If it does, it matters very little. Some medical schools will say they give little preference to undergraduate college and others say they give no preference. Of course it is more impressive for a student to have a 4.0 from Harvard then a 4.0 from a small town college, but generally, where you attend undergrad does not largely affect medical school admissions.

Regardless of your college choice, GPA (overall and science) and MCAT score are the two most important factors. Medical schools will almost always take a student from a small college with a high GPA over a student from an Ivy League with a low GPA.

As a pre-med, you should not think too much about the college you attend, but how you do at the college that you chose.

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