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Non-Traditional Students, Know Your Worth

Advantages to being a non-traditional student in medical school

What you would contribute to your medical school? Let me count the ways. You know more than you think you do.

As a non-traditional applicant, you’ve lived longer than the average med school applicant, perhaps seen more of the world, and maybe thought more about what it is you want to contribute to the world you’ve seen. Take this to heart.

According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, the mean age of students entering medical school is 24 years, and matriculants over the age of 31 comprise less than 4 percent of new students.

Yes, non-traditional students make up a small percentage of a medical school’s student body. However, their age varied and rich contributions are not only much harder to quantify, but also more likely to contribute more than the number suggests.

As a non-traditional applicant, you bring a richness life-diversity to the application process that many cannot. You may have double majored in philosophy and anthropology. You may have lived in Spain for a year. You may have a young child at home. You may have spent time on the Appalachian Trail, or you may have worked for 10 years in a law firm.

All of this might make you ask, “How do I possibly fit in to the medical school mold?” By being yourself. As you write your essay, celebrate yourself. Celebrate your life’s journey and envision arriving as a first-year student at your top choice medical school. (Fingers crossed!)

Picture yourself learning, studying, asking questions, and contributing the insights you have gained in your life travels, even if you’ve never left home.

Without a doubt, your philosophy major has trained you in the art of contemplating issues of existence, life, and death. If you were lucky enough, your time living in Spain taught you to embrace a new culture, learn a new transportation system, and to solve problems in a different language. How can you bring those lessons to your medical school essay and interview? Your time on the Appalachian trail gave you the opportunity to reflect on the sanctity of the environment and self-sufficiency.

Bring that wisdom to your essay. Parenting a young child undoubtedly requires that you multitask while caring for another. Surely this applies to medical school and a career as a physician.

With this wealth of life experience behind you–part of you–you would certainly enrich the life of your future patients, for we gain the capacity for empathy from soaking up life around us. When I matriculated as a non-traditional first-year medical student, I was exhilarated not only by the diversity of my peers in terms of their ethnic and academic backgrounds, but also their individual interests and outlooks. I enjoyed not only learning from them, but also adding my own expertise to the conversation; as a more mature student, I had the benefit of added life experience that often helped in class discussions.

After 2 years of participation in school-wide government, I ran for Medical Council President and won, serving in my third and fourth years. I have always felt that my life experience gave me the confidence to get so involved in medical school, and I’m quite sure it would have been harder for me to do so as a “traditional” student. So now that you’ve decided to apply to medical school as a non-traditional applicant, go for it.

Parenting a young child undoubtedly requires that you multitask while caring for another. Surely this applies to medical school and a career as a physician.

It’s OK that you didn’t major in Biology. It’s fine that you didn’t know you wanted to be a doctor when you were in kindergarten. You do now. Make that known. Celebrate yourself. Translate your worth. Know the value of your non-traditional self and be able to communicate this value. Medicine needs a person like you.

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