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This student has an unsteady trend and wants to know how they should move forward- here’s my advice for them.
Ask Dr. Gray: Premed Q&A is brought to you by Blueprint MCAT. Listen to this podcast episode with the player above, or keep reading for the highlights and takeaway points.
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[00:21] Question of the Day
Our student is pondering whether she needs to take an SMP or any other type of master’s program before applying to medical school given her undergrad GPA and a couple of other factors. She’s also wondering whether she should just kill the MCAT and gain some more experience and apply.
Now, this student’s undergraduate GPA is a 3.36 cumulative with a 3.13 science. She started out at a 3.0 and got up to a 3.62. Then COVID hit and she went back down to 3.3 for her last semester. That being said, she needs a postbac or SMP.
Her concern though is she already took all of the classes that would be on a postbac. And with the credits she has, it just wouldn’t move her GPA that much.
[01:47] The Goal of an SMP
The goal of an SMP is almost never to reach a certain GPA. The goal of an SMP is to be as close to a 4.0 as possible, for as long as possible. Even if your final cumulative GPA and your final science GPA number is a 3.0 and even if you have 1,000 credits, your denominator is so big. Hence, your GPA will never move. But the goal is still as close to 4.0 for as long as possible.
That means 30 to 40 credits, and sometimes 50 credits at a 4.0. That is what medical schools are looking for to show the difference between pre-postbac and post-postbac.
Medical schools do not just look at that final number and base their decision on that.
[03:44] The Benefits of an SMP
Now, it doesn’t matter what kind of master’s program you’re going to take. The one benefit that a special master’s program has, depending on which one you do, is that some of them are intertwined with the medical school. And if you do well there, it gives them confidence that you’re likely going to do fine.
Another benefit of an SMP is their linkage agreement with other schools. It may be an automatic interview or an automatic acceptance, depending on how you do GPA and MCAT-wise.
[04:39] The Next Steps
The first step is to look at undergraduate-level courses because medical schools like undergraduate GPA improvement better than a master’s program.
Now, if it has to be a master’s program because you truly think there are just no more classes for you to take or for financial reasons, then go for it. You just have to understand that some medical schools won’t like that as much. But if you apply broadly enough, it shouldn’t be a big issue.
[05:25] The Downfall of SMPs and Master’s Programs
[click_to_tweet tweet=”“The one downfall of SMP programs and master’s programs, specifically catering to prehealth students, is that they want an MCAT score.” https://medicalschoolhq.net/adg-169-do-i-need-a-smp-or-can-i-just-do-well-on-the-mcat/” quote=”“The one downfall of SMP programs and master’s programs, specifically catering to prehealth students, is that they want an MCAT score.””]
Now, this student is struggling to find a program that doesn’t require an MCAT score. And this is the game they all play when they say they are only going to give you a letter if you have a competitive GPA and a competitive MCAT score. That being said, there are lots of students who get in without any problem with much less than a 514.
It’s not bad to just take it. There’s no issue with you taking the test, getting a score that’s good enough to get into a program, and then retaking it once you have a better foundation to build on for a better score.
My issue, however, is that it costs much to take the test. And there’s no point other than to check a box that says you took the MCAT.
[08:53] Shadowing Tips
Our student says she didn’t have any shadowing experience through all of undergrad. And just recently, she set up some shadowing opportunities now that she has already graduated. Now, she’s wondering what she can do to make sure that she really wants to get into medical school.
Luckily, she’s doing a master’s program or something else so still has lots of time before she applies. She just has to continue getting as much time as she can get moving forward.
[click_to_tweet tweet=”‘Not a lot of people got shadowing experience during the pandemic – that’s a silver lining.’ https://medicalschoolhq.net/adg-169-do-i-need-a-smp-or-can-i-just-do-well-on-the-mcat/” quote=”‘Not a lot of people got shadowing experience during the pandemic – that’s a silver lining.'”]
[10:26] Finish the Postbac or SMP Before You Apply
Whatever program you go to, you have to finish the postbac before you apply. Too many students will do one semester of their SMP and then apply hoping that they can update schools with their progress later.
If you’re doing an SMP or postbac, the goal is to show that you’re academically capable. Hence, don’t apply to medical school until you have shown that on your transcript, which is basically when you’re done. This is going to add time to your timetable or calendar. But it’s the smartest way to do it.
[click_to_tweet tweet=”‘There’s no set timetable out there. So take your time, do what you need to do, have fun, soak it all in, and don’t worry that your path is not the traditional path.’ https://medicalschoolhq.net/adg-169-do-i-need-a-smp-or-can-i-just-do-well-on-the-mcat/” quote=”‘There’s no set timetable out there. So take your time, do what you need to do, have fun, soak it all in, and don’t worry that your path is not the traditional path.'”]
[12:22] What Counts as a Disadvantaged
You’re nontraditional if you don’t apply to medical school your junior year and start medical school right after you graduate from undergrad. That being said, nontraditional comes in many different flavors. That can also go into a disadvantaged essay on the application where you’ll have 1,325 characters to tell that story and give context to everything else on your journey.
The disadvantage essay gives context to the journey that you’ve been on. Even if you have perfect grades, you can still be disadvantaged. Even if you come from lots of money, you can be disadvantaged. And so, there’s no strict definition.
[click_to_tweet tweet=”‘The AAMC doesn’t limit who can mark themselves as disadvantaged.’ https://medicalschoolhq.net/adg-169-do-i-need-a-smp-or-can-i-just-do-well-on-the-mcat/” quote=”‘The AAMC doesn’t limit who can mark themselves as disadvantaged.'”]
[16:31] Final Thoughts
There are lots of paths and not all of them are going to be right or wrong for you. So just figure out what the best path is for you. And don’t worry about how it’s going to look on your application.
The goal is to show that you’re academically capable and ready for medical school. Get some clinical experience and shadowing to prove to yourself that this is what you want, and prove to medical schools that this is what you want. Put it all together in an application, and you go from there.
Finally, when it comes time to take your MCAT, go sign up for free at Blueprint MCAT.
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The Premed Playbook: Guide to the Medical School Personal Statement
The Premed Playbook: Guide to the Medical School Application Process
The Premed Playbook: Guide to the Medical School Interview