More Classes or MCAT Prep? How Should You Focus Your Time?

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OPM 245: More Classes or MCAT Prep? How Should You Focus Your Time?

Session 245

Which is better – taking more science courses or spending more time prepping for the MCAT? With a GPA below 3.0, should you take more classes or focus on the MCAT?

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Listen to this podcast episode with the player above, or keep reading for the highlights and takeaway points.

[01:29] OldPreMeds Question of the Week

“I am a non-traditional student with a bachelor’s and a cumulative GPA of 2.7. I started to do a DIY post-bac and I have completed all the Med School prereqs, including Biochem, but not the recommended extras like Genetics and Microbiology. 

For the postbac I have completed 32 credits hours with a 3.9 GPA, which brings my cumulative GPA to 2.90. To bring that up to 3.0 for the 2021 application cycle I would need to take 14 credits during the fall and 14 credits during the spring. I do have a full-time job that I cannot quit until I get accepted into Medical school, which means if I take 14 credits per semester that would leave very little time to study for the MCAT.

My question: what would be a better use of my limited free time, take fewer credits per semester and study for the MCAT, potentially getting a higher score and apply to medical school with a 2.9ish GPA or aim for the 3.0 GPA and a potentially lower MCAT score?”  

[02:36] You’ve Got 3 Options!

It’s a very common struggle that nontraditional students have, especially. You have so many credit hours that those extra classes don’t make a dent. And this student with a 3.9 GPA over the last 32 credit hours in a postbac has done great. But they still need 28 more credits to get up to a 3.0.

Now, I think there are a lot of things to think about here in terms of applying to medical school in terms of which is the better route. The student really answered the question for themselves, basically saying, they work a full-time job. 

There are three possible options here: either take more classes or study for the MCAT. And where they answered the question for themselves was saying that the MCAT score is important.

The third option here is to focus on those next 28 credits. Then they get a 4.0 in those, finishing with 50 credits at close to a 3.95 GPA. And then they study for the MCAT. That would delay the application cycle, obviously.

[04:32] The Arbitrary Timeline

A lot of people when they get to this stage of the game, especially nontraditional students, have this usually arbitrary deadline in their minds. They think they have to apply by this date and it is completely arbitrary. 

'There's nothing that literally says you have to apply by this date.'Click To Tweet

Nothing in the application is saying you have to apply by this date. So take a step back and actually think about that. Who is forcing you to apply in 2021? Probably nobody.

[05:34] One More Option!

32 credit hours is impressive. On the Ask the Dean podcast of, Dr. Scott Wright, a former director of admissions at UT Southwestern Medical School and a former executive director at TMDSAS, says that 45 credit hours of really solid work is great.

The difference between 32 and 45 is another semester of a full-course load. You can probably just do one semester of a full-course load, and then study for the MCAT. So that’s the fourth option. That’s halfway in between doing half a semester and getting those 14 credit hours, and then studying for the MCAT instead of taking those extra 14 credit hours.

[06:33] Taking Credit Hours vs. Studying for the MCAT

'Prioritize the MCAT as much as possible.'Click To Tweet

The MCAT is a beast. Most students hate it. It’s going to take a lot more work usually than you expect it to. So you don’t want to be taking those 28 credit hours and study less for the MCAT.

You could have 32 credit hours with an upward trend or have one more semester and get it up to 46 credit hours. Either way, you have to focus on the MCAT.

[07:27] Another Look at the Timeline

There are several different options here.

Option #1: Take the full-course load and you’re working full time, and you half-assed the MCAT. Then you don’t do well on the MCAT and that could hurt your application. So this one’s out the window.

Option #2: Do 14 hours on the first semester then don’t do the second semester of classes, assuming the timeline works out so you can focus on the MCAT and apply.

A risk gets thrown into that if you were planning on doing 14 credit hours in the spring, and then 14 credit hours in the fall because those 14 credit hours in the fall don’t really count on your application. You’re going to get them before you are potentially accepted and matriculate into medical school. But those aren’t on your application. So, those are useless hours. 

“A lot of students try to play this game, where they're banking on the classes that they're going to take after submitting an application.”Click To Tweet

Option #3: Now, if it was just the spring and then fall of 2021, and if you do just the 14 credit hours in the spring of 2020. Those classes typically end around May and then potentially you can start studying for the MCAT.

[09:33] Focus on Everything Else

Think about everything that goes into an application – your personal statement, extracurriculars, tracking down letters of recommendation, making sure transcripts are handled, starting to write secondary essays.

While you’re doing all of that, you’re also working on your schoolwork and making sure that doesn’t slip. So you’re working through the finals. You’re still working on application stuff and then you transition into MCAT stuff. It is a ton of stuff to be handling all once.

[10:02] Final Thoughts

Don’t deprioritize the MCAT because the MCAT is going to be able to open more doors for you that your GPA has closed.

“A strong MCAT doesn't counterbalance a lower GPA, it just helps with the total application and shows your achievement.” Click To Tweet

So what you’ve already done with 32 hours at a 3.9 GPA is fantastic. Whether it’s good enough is the question that you won’t have an answer to until you apply.


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