7 Reasons Premeds Don’t Get Into Medical School

Session 121

Session 121

The medical school interview is one of the many reasons why pre-medical students fail to get into medical school. But that’s just one among many other reasons why premed students just can’t get that acceptance letter they’re aiming for. In this episode, Ryan tackles seven of them.

7 Reasons Why Premed Students Fail to Get In to Medical School:

  1. Poor MCAT score


  • Lack of respect for the MCAT
  • Failing to see how the MCAT is so much different from the rest
  • It takes a lot of prep

What you need to do:

  1. Poor GPA

  • The importance of delayed gratification
  • You cannot put off the hard stuff.
  • Study, study, study!
  • If you have a poor GPA, take the next step to strengthen your application.
  1. Late application

  • The #1 unexcusable reason!
  • If you apply late to medical school, you already failed the first medical school test.
  • Application is available a month before you can submit. Submit early.
  • The game of musical chairs – acceptance on a “rolling admissions” basis
  1. Failure to course-correct

  • Take a moment and figure where you are.
  • Reflect on your performance – What went well? What didn’t?
  • Figure out what to do to course-correct to get yourself back on track.
  • Your path to medical school is nowhere near perfect.
  1. Taking on too much, too soon

  • Your tendency to tackle everything (taking classes, shadowing, volunteering, research, etc.)
  • Undergrad classes are different from medical school classes
  • Your #1 Job: Learn how to be a student. Figure out the rest afterwards.
  • Don’t worry about shadowing, volunteering, research for now.
  1. Not doing the right extracurricular activities

  • No checklist to get into medical school
  • The importance of shadowing a physician for a quality amount of time
  • Understanding what it’s like to be a physician
  • Go out there and smell the patient
  1. Poor letters of recommendation

  • Just because you get a good grade from a teacher doesn’t mean they have the ability to write you a good letter of recommendation.
  • The importance of building relationships with your professors, research PI’s, advisors, and other people that influence your life.
  • Building strong mentorships

Links and Other Resources


Dr. Ryan Gray: The Premed Years, session number 121.

Hello and welcome to the Medical School Headquarters Podcast; where we believe that collaboration, not competition, is key to your premed success. I'm your host, Dr. Ryan Gray and in this podcast we share with you stories, encouragement and information that you need to know to help guide you on your path to becoming a physician.As you take this journey to medical school, one of the biggest hurdles is the medical school interview. Go to www.MedicalSchoolHQ.net/interviewprep and check out our thirteen part video series on how to excel at the medical school interview. This is a course that's been inside the academy now but is now available outside of the academy for you. Again, go to www.MedicalSchoolHQ.net/interviewprep to help you ace your medical school interview.

Now the medical school interview is one of the reasons why a premed student will fail to get into medical school; and that's why we have this separate course. There are a lot of other reasons that premed students fail to get that acceptance letter that they've been dreaming for, and when it comes to finding out if they're going to get into medical school. And we're going to cover that today. Actually I'm going to cover that today; this is going to be a solo show, it's just me. And bear with me, if you can hear it in my voice I have a little bit of a cold, it seems to be going around the office and obviously having a baby in the house it goes around daycare, and so I'll do the best I can to cover the material and I hope you get a ton of great information out of it as always.

So we're going to cover seven reasons- and there's way more than seven- seven reasons why premed students fail to get into medical school. So I think the easiest way to start is probably the most obvious, and that is a poor MCAT score. And it's not necessarily the poor score that fails to get premeds into medical school, it's the reason why the premed got a poor MCAT score.

Reason #1 – Poor MCAT Score

A poor MCAT score comes around for a couple different reasons. And it usually boils down to lack of respect, really, and we've talked about respecting the MCAT form where Teeny and I talked about it back in session thirty-something I believe. And it's one of those things where in talking to her and a lot of other premed students, as a premed student you are typically one of the brightest kids that went through high school and you've done pretty well in college. A lot of nontraditional students are listening thinking, ‘Oh that wasn't me. I struggled a ton.' And that's true, too. But at some point you figure it out and you start doing well. But the MCAT- as a premed student, you fail to see- you overlook how the MCAT is different than anything else you've ever done; and so you approach it the same way as you approach your classes. And that just doesn't work. Yes you'll hear stories of that student out there that didn't study for the MCAT, went and sat for it and took it and got a 34. There are those stories out there, people do get lucky, people are inherently geniuses and are able to do well in those kinds of tests. But for everybody else out there, myself included, the MCAT takes a lot of prep. Three, four, five months of prep. Typically I recommend a prep course whether it's Kaplan or Princeton Review, or tutoring- one on one tutoring like with Next Step Test Prep or any of these other reputable companies. If you have a question about those, you can ask me because I do my review, I do my homework on all of these companies. So you can ask me. M-Prep is another one that's a good one.

And so that is the number one thing. And now you're going to come back to me and say, ‘Well what score do I need?' And everybody wants to shoot for this magical thirty, and I've heard people want to shoot for 34 or higher; and that's great, the higher the better. My take has always been get the best score that you can get. If that's a 28, great. A 28 is a good score. If it's a 27, great that's what I got, a 27, it's a good score. A lot of it will depend on the breakdown of your scores too. And I'm sitting here talking 27, 30, whatever; obviously with the new MCAT the scores are much different and the averages are going to be up in the 500's. So ignore my 30's. So a lot of you will be shooting for 500's and that's awesome. But I think that the biggest thing is respect the MCAT, understand that it's like no other test out there, seek the help; don't try to take the MCAT all by yourself, go get help.

Reason #2 – Poor GPA

Alright, the second reason why a premed student doesn't get into medical school goes along with the first one. So the first one was poor MCAT score, the second one is a poor GPA. And we've talked about this before where a student doesn't- isn't able to delay gratification. Meaning when it's a Friday night and all of your friends are going to the movie or going to a bar and you're sitting there and you have a test on Monday, they're not premed and you are, and you decide, ‘you know what? I'm going to go hang out at the bar with my friends because it's college and that's what I do.' And guess what? Your grade suffers because of that. So if you're not able to delay that gratification, and I had a problem with this- not necessarily for grades but for the MCAT prep. But you can't automatically just choose the fun and easy stuff and put off the hard stuff, because it's the hard stuff- the studying for late nights, studying on a Friday, studying on Saturday and Sunday, that's going to put you over the top and give you the grades that you need and give you the MCAT score that you need to set you aside.

And for those that started off poorly, and are still trying to apply to medical school with poor grades or a poor MCAT score, they don't take it to that next step and go, ‘You know what? I have a poor GPA, I know I'm not a competitive applicant, what else can I do? Should I do a post-bacc? Should I do a special Master's program? Is there something else that I can do to help set me apart to strengthen my application?' So there's a lot of steps in there where students are missing out. And that's why I always talk about how when you look at the application numbers, there are a lot of students applying to medical school that probably shouldn't be, and so the numbers are a little bit skewed.

Reason #3 – Late Application

Alright, reason number three why a premed student doesn't get into medical school. And this is by far the number one, inexcusable reason. And that's a late application. I've talked about it a bunch before. There's a great video that I've watched of an NIH advisor teacher talking to a class of premed students and he said, ‘If you apply late to medical school, you've already failed your first medical school test.' The application instructions are available months before the test. The application is available a month before you can submit. Everything is there laid out for you, and yet you still can't submit early. That's red flag number one. But the biggest issue here is that it's a game of musical chairs, because most medical schools accept students on a rolling admissions basis. Meaning if you apply day one, every seat is available for you to occupy. If you apply day 100, there may only be 2% of the seats available at that point because students are applying, they're interviewing, and they're getting acceptances even before you've clicked ‘submit' on your application. So you're submitting an application for far fewer seats that are available, which means it's a lot more competitive. And we've heard Dr. [Inaudible 00:09:43] on the show talk before about how he has seen- he's on the admissions committee at Washington University. He's talked about how he has seen applications come in late that he would have loved to interview and possibly accept earlier in the application cycle; but because it was later he had to deny them an interview because it was just too competitive at that point. So please, please, please apply early.

Reason #4 – Not Course Correcting

Now the fourth reason why a premed student doesn't get into medical school is because they don't course correct. Now course correcting is taking a moment and figuring out where you are. At the end of a semester, at the end of a week, at the end of a month, at the end of a year. Take time to reflect on what just happened; did you do well in your class, did you do well on the finals, did you do well on the MCAT? Figure out what went well, what didn't go well, and figure out what you need to do to course correct to get back on track. Now course correct, if you haven't heard me talk about it before, if you think about a plane taking off from New York and flying to Los Angeles. Now when you look at this 40,000 foot view above the plane because the plane is flying at 40,000 feet. If you're above the plane and you're looking at it, it looks like a nice straight line from New York to Los Angeles that flies. But when you actually zoom in and look at a much closer view, like a week view or a semester view, or whatever it may be relative to related to your school year, you see a bunch of lines zigzagging back and forth across the country. Because that pilot in that plane gets pushed off course from winds or from something else. And the plane knows, ‘You know what? I'm a little off course. I need to correct course, I need to turn left a little bit, I need to turn right a little bit and get back on track.' And that happens hundreds of times during the flight. It's not as perfect as you think it may be. And your track and your path to medical school is going to be nowhere near as perfect as you had hoped it would be because there's just so many other external factors that go into you getting into medical school and the whole journey; whether you have a family member that gets ill or passes away, or you come into some financial issues, or you have a bad relationship, or whatever it may be, things come up that are going to throw you off your game and are going to cause you to need to reflect and course correct at the end of whatever period in your life you're at. So that's number four, don't course correct. You need to course correct.

Reason #5 – Taking on Too Much, Too Soon

Number five, reasons for premeds not getting in to medical school is taking on too much too soon. As a premed student you're hitting the ground running. You want to just tackle everything, you're excited to be on a college campus, you're a freshman, you're starting your journey to fulfill your dream- hopefully not your parents' dream of becoming a physician. And so you sign up for all the awesome classes, you sign up for all the great volunteer opportunities, you start to shadow, you're getting involved in research, and before you know it you're getting C's and D's in your classes because undergrad college classes are different than high school classes, just as medical school classes are different than undergrad classes. And your job, job number one as you hit the ground in college, is to learn how to be a student. Don't worry about volunteering, don't worry about shadowing, don't worry about research, not yet. Learn how to be a student, figure out the rest afterwards. You'll have plenty of time for quality shadowing, quality research and quality volunteering after a semester or two that's not going to hurt your application and it will help your application because your grades will be much better, and hopefully you'll be less burnt out. So don't take on too much too soon.

Reason #6 – Wrong Extracurricular Activities

Now when you start to take on stuff, one of the other issues that we run into, and problem number six is not doing the right extracurricular activities. As a premed student you may think there's a checklist that you need to accomplish to get into medical school. There is not. There's no checklist that if you check off all of these things, you're guaranteed a seat in medical school. That just doesn't exist, everybody is an individual, everybody tells a different story, there's no checklist. But there are some things that if you don't do, an admissions committee is going to be a little skeptical on whether or not you should get an acceptance letter from them. And one of these things is not shadowing. We hear this a ton; students not shadowing a physician. And one of the things that an admissions committee wants to see is that you know what it's like to be a physician. After you shadow a physician, you understand- and I'm talking shadowing for a quality amount of time, not just for four hours one week, and you're done. I'm talking about a prolonged period of time, you're this person's shadow following them around different environments; whether it's a hospital environment, an operating room, outpatient clinic. Whatever it may be, understanding what it's like to be a physician. What it's like to be frustrated and needing to talk to insurance companies, what it's like to be frustrated dealing with electronic medical records, what it's like to understand that the majority of your day is probably doing paperwork and administrative stuff and not just patient care. It's this insight that helps you craft your response when an interviewer asks you, ‘Why medicine? What is it about medicine that attracts you to it? Why do you want to be a physician?' If you don't have those experiences shadowing, then it's kind of hard to formulate those responses in your head, and formulate good responses that will satisfy an admissions committee's members. In response, it's an important thing. So you need to shadow, you need quality volunteering- clinical type volunteering. If you're not close enough to smell the patient, you're probably doing something wrong. So go out there and smell the patient.

My first volunteer experience was the wrong thing. I sat at an information desk at Shands Hospital in Gainesville, directing people to the elevators. That was not what I should have been doing, and shame on me for not seeking out the proper advice, but that's why I'm here today, to help you.

Reason #7 – Poor Letters of Recommendation

Reason number seven out of seven today- actually eight. I gave you a bonus tip about the interviews in the beginning. Again for interview help go to www.MedicalSchoolHQ.net/interviewprep. But number seven on this list is poor letter of recommendation. Now at the academy, our membership site, our group advising for premed students, we had a student during one of our latest office hours ask a question about how she should approach a teacher for a letter of recommendation. And she talked about the relationship that she had- or actually lack of relationship. She talked about how she did really well in his class- I think she got the best grade in the class, and because of that she wanted to get a letter of recommendation from this teacher. And my response to her was, ‘Why do you want a letter of recommendation from this teacher? Just because you get a good grade from a teacher doesn't mean they have the ability to write you a good letter of recommendation. Their letter of recommendation may say something like, ‘Ryan Gray was in my class. He got an A.' That's not a letter of recommendation, that's just a statement of fact and that's on your transcript. You need to build these relationships with professors and the research PI’s and advisors and other people that influence your life; you need to build these relationships and have mentorships, and let them know you and get to know you over a period of time. Don't just sneak in at the end of the semester and say, ‘Hey I'm premed, can you write me a letter of recommendation? Here's my resume and my personal statement.' That does not make a good persuasive, strong letter of recommendation. You need a relationship so that that teacher, that instructor, that PI can turn around and go, ‘You know what? I've known Ryan for four months now, he's dedicated, he talks about medicine a ton. I would love to have him treat my mom, my dad, my daughter, whoever it may be because I have that much faith in him as a physician in the future; you'd be a fool not to accept him.' Now that's a letter of recommendation, and one that you would hope you would get from a professor. I had a letter of recommendation from somebody that I shadowed, an orthopedic surgeon, and I think he probably was one of the reasons why I got into medical school the second time I applied. I hadn't shadowed him before I applied the first time, and then I was shadowing him in between applying the first time and the second time, and I think his letter of recommendation was probably one of the reasons that helped me get into medical school. I don't know it for a fact, but I just have this feeling. And I don't know why I say that but I just do. You need those relationships. You need to be upfront with teachers and say, ‘You know what? It's the first day of class, I'm Ryan, I'm premed, I'd love to get an awesome letter of recommendation from you at the end of the class. I hope to build a great relationship, friendship, whatever it may be.' I mean you don't have to use those words, you obviously don't want to be too corny about it, but it's okay to be upfront and say, ‘I'm premed and I'll hopefully be able to get a strong letter of recommendation from you at the end of the semester.'

So that is number seven on our list of reasons that premeds don't get into medical school. As I said before, there are a ton of reasons, other reasons, and we'll dig into those another time. But as you can tell my voice is getting ready to go, so I'm going to end it here. I hope those seven reasons were good for you, I hope they help you on your journey to get into medical school because obviously that is the ultimate goal.

Final Thoughts

If you haven't yet left us a rating and review go to www.MedicalSchoolHQ.net/iTunes where you can leave us one of those; a rating and a review, we would greatly appreciate it. We got three awesome reviews in over the last week. We had RArchibald say, ‘You must listen.' I love it, thank you RArchibald. He said, ‘Five stars is not enough.' He says, ‘I attribute some of my success in gaining admission to medical school to listening to this show.' That's awesome, thank you RArchibald.

We had RickyBot that says, ‘Invaluable. Currently in a DIY post-bacc program, and this podcast has been invaluable to my premed journey. Love the topics, and hope to join the academy once I start the application process next year.'

Now remember the academy is not just for the application process. We're there hopefully to prevent you from making mistakes that we have to cover up or pretty up when you apply. If you're interested in the academy go to www.JoinTheAcademy.net. Right now we're currently closed for new members, I'm not sure when we're going to reopen, but you can sign up to be on our wait list at www.JoinTheAcademy.net.

Our last review came from AnchoredSoul619 who says, ‘I wish I knew about this in my freshman year. Fourth year semi-traditional undergrad student found this podcast immensely helpful.' One of the things I loved at the end, this person, AnchoredSoul said, ‘I wanted to wait until I listened to every single episode out before leaving a rating. Half looking for something I could knock off a star for. I couldn't find a thing. Here's five stars because all 120 episodes thus far deserve it.' Thank you, AnchoredSoul. They also mentioned how they recommended the podcast to a couple of their friends. That's how we gain some steam in this whole game of helping students get into medical school; go tell some friends about this podcast. Go tell your classmates, go tell your premed advisors, go tell your teachers about this podcast. I would greatly appreciate it.

Alright again if you haven't left us a rating and review, www.MedicalSchoolHQ.net/iTunes. And as I'd mentioned earlier, preparing for the interview is probably one of the eighth- my secret step here, the eighth reason premeds don't get into medical school is they prepare for the interview poorly. Go to www.MedicalSchoolHQ.net/interviewprep to help you prepare for that ever exciting medical school interview.

Alright, that's it for this week. I hope you enjoyed it, got something out of it, and as always I hope you join us next time here at the Medical School Headquarters.

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