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This premed wants to know where he can find guidance as a nontraditional student.
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.
The episodes in this podcast are recordings of our Facebook Live that we do at 3 pm Eastern on most weekdays. Check out our Facebook page and like the page to be notified. Also, listen to our other podcasts on MedEd Media. If you have any questions, call me at 617-410-6747.
[00:24] Question of the Day
“I am a nontraditional medical school applicant. I graduated a year ago from the College of William and Mary. It’s been a very sort of enlightening year because it was this sort of period of time that I needed to realize that I think I want to pursue medicine as a career.
Growing up, I never really had any exposure to medicine. I never had any inclination that I could possibly become a doctor. And so, I finally got a chance to work in healthcare. Being hands-on with patients, being surrounded by physicians, and seeing their role within a community were really inspiring. It motivated me to think about what I wanted to become and what I wanted to do with my life.
It inspired me to pursue medicine. And so now I’m in the application process. What would you recommend as an all-encompassing resource for nontraditional medical students who may be struggling to find direction?
I rushed head-on not knowing what to expect. Then, as I’m rushing in, everything’s been thrown in my face all at once. I didn’t realize that. I should have taken the MCAT in May so that I could apply in June. I didn’t realize that there was such a thing as secondaries. I just want to be more prepared.
This whole past year, I’ve been taking courses through the University of New England’s sort of Pre-Health Sciences. It’s a create-your-own postbac because I needed some prerequisites in order to apply to medical school.
I have a subpar undergraduate GPA. I wanted to show that I was capable of actually doing well in medical school. Now I’m studying for the MCAT. I have my MCAT on August 5. I am essentially done with AACOMAS and AMCAS applications, but I’m just waiting to submit them.
[03:52] Mappd’s Ultimate Goal
If you’re new to this process, I recommend using Mappd, a software platform that I’ve been working on for the last two years. This is the overarching goal of Mappd. As a company, we have advising services and all that fun stuff.
The Mappd app is a platform to allow anyone to get access to a roadmap based on when you plan on starting medical school, ideally.
For instance, if you’re hopefully taking the MCAT from September to April 2023 to 2024, you’re working on letters of recommendation and personal statements. Everything is in this roadmap as it is right now. Then we’ll have the ability to customize the roadmap with our own custom stuff and all that.
[05:56] When to Take the MCAT
As we’re recording this, it’s mid-July. You have AMCAS and AACOMAS done. But you’ve not submitted them yet. You’re taking the MCAT in August, but you could probably wait and apply next year.
There’s no harm in applying late to take the MCAT late – other than it costs money and time.
Most medical schools work off of rolling admissions. The later you turn in your application, the later your application is complete. It means that the MCAT score is not going to be back until September. At this point, medical schools are already starting to look at applications. As soon as you submit your application at this point (mid-July), you’ll start to get secondaries back.
And so, as a later applicant, you need to balance submitting your applications. The secondaries are going to start coming back and taking the MCAT. That’s why we recommend taking the MCAT before application season.'We always recommend taking the MCAT before application season so you can get it out of the way.'Click To Tweet
Applications take up a massive amount of time so you want to make sure it doesn’t get in the way of MCAT prep and MCAT prep doesn’t get in the way of applications. Ultimately, time is our limiting factor here.
[08:11] The One-Trick-Pony Game
Theoretically, you could submit your applications today and play the one-trick-pony game and just apply to one school. Submit and wait till you get your MCAT score back. And then apply to all the schools that you plan on applying to, assuming your score comes back where you want it to.
Then in between when you take the MCAT and when that score comes back, you should be working on secondaries as if you’re going to apply to all those schools.
If you apply today to AMCAS in mid-July, it will probably take five or six weeks for your application to be verified, if not a little bit longer. That’s fine because you’re not taking the MCAT for a while anyway.
If you apply to AACOMAS today, your application will most likely be verified in less than a week. But then again, you’re not going to get your MCAT score back so there’s really no point.
[09:34] The Risk-Benefit Equation
There are people that apply late, take the MCAT late, and still get into medical school. It’s a risk-benefit equation.
The risks are that you’re applying later and your application is completed later. Medical schools may be running out of spots to invite students for interviews. You may have a good application, but at that point in the cycle, it’s not good enough. Whereas a month or two before, it would have been good enough for an interview.'The medical school application is your first medical school test. And it's an open-book test... and applying late is failing your first med school test.'Click To Tweet
[11:11] Ways to Talk About Your Bump in the Road
Q: “I have an interesting trend in my GPA. I started off incredibly strong, I was a 4.0 student every semester. But I had a head injury. It was a big bump in the road, obviously. And my GPA from that point on was also a bumpy road. I’m curious, in my application, how do you contextualize spontaneous GPA trends in light of something traumatic? I’m not looking for sympathy, but I do want to explain this happened but I didn’t want it to happen.”
A: There are a couple of ways to go about it. One is to insert it into your personal statement. It depends on whether or not it belongs there. It depends on your philosophy of a personal statement. But you could put it in there. (Our student adds that it’s the reason he studied neuroscience so it’s the perfect place to talk about it in your personal statement.)
Another place where you could potentially put this is in the secondary statement if the medical school asks you about any sort of anomalies with grades.
If you’re applying to TMDSAS, they have a whole optional essay which would be a perfect opportunity for that.
You could also just wait and hope that medical schools will see that you’re academically capable enough, even with a little bit of a rocky road, and let them ask you during an interview.
[15:59] Poor GPA vs. Good MCAT Score
Q: How does a lower GPA look in light of a good MCAT score?
A: I don’t like thinking about things with an application in terms of “making up for.” Whether it’s a good MCAT score making up for a bad GPA or a good GPA, making up for a bad MCAT score, or great extracurricular activities making up for poor stats. They are all individual pieces of the pie that all matter.
Theoretically, depending on the school, they could have a rubric where they convert those into points. In this case, a high MCAT score can make up for a poor GPA. They could say that GPAs from 2.5 to 3.0 are worth three points. Everything is converted into numbers. And so, a higher MCAT score gives you a higher conversion. You can think about it that way. However, not every school uses rubrics. And so, you don’t want to think of this that way.“Get the highest GPA possible and the highest MCAT score possible – and higher always helps.”Click To Tweet
[19:04] MD vs. DO Schools
The average MCAT score of matriculants for MD schools is around 511. The average MCAT score for matriculants to DO schools is closer to 504 or 505. And so, they look at that and think it’s easier to get into a DO school. You don’t have to be as good of a student. They’re right in some ways, but they’re wrong in other ways.“Just because you have a lower MCAT score doesn't mean you're a worse student. It just means you got a lower MCAT score.”Click To Tweet
The MCAT is a beast. DO schools looked favorably at nontraditional students. In fact, they used to allow grade replacement. If you took a class, got an F, then took the class again, and got an A, the DO calculation for your grades wouldn’t count the F.
They want people who are going to have those rich histories of resilience, perseverance, and overcoming adversities. And so, historically, DO schools look for something different.
The MD market has the perfect 4.0 and 528 students cornered. And that’s just kind of the niche that they carved out for themselves, as they were gaining popularity.
Technically, it was harder to get into DO schools just by the acceptance rate. That’s the number of applicants versus the number of acceptances because there are a lot fewer DO spots than there are MD spots in this country.
The data support that you can be accepted to a DO school with lower stats. But that doesn’t mean you’re the worst student. That just probably means that you have some journey behind those stats that maybe the DO schools like a little bit more.
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The Premed Playbook: Guide to the Medical School Interview