A Common Problem in Premed Advising…
Should your premed advisor be telling you that you can’t or shouldn’t apply to medical school?
I was in a phone call with a student I’m working with and he said his premed advisors told him that if he didn’t get a 510 on the MCAT, he shouldn’t apply to medical school this year. We were talking about applying to Harvard and so I took this in the context of not applying to Harvard. But he corrected me saying the advisors meant not applying to any school for that matter. And so I wanted to bring that conversation into our episode today to discuss the role of the premed advisor.
[02:48] Our History with Bad Premed Advisors
I went to the University of Florida, a very large state school that typically puts out the most matriculants into medical school every year. My premed advisor told me not to apply to medical school not because of my grades, MCAT score or volunteering or shadowing, but because I was a white male. Needless to say, I didn’t utilize their services very much after that.
Allison had a different yet similar experience with her premed advisor going through her undergrad in Canada. She saw her only once because the help she gave her was not helpful. Getting into a medical school in Canada is extremely difficult so premed advisors have this idea that everyone should have some kind of plan B because most people are not going to get in. And most people don’t get in. She basically had friends who ended up going to nursing school because they applied to medical school once and couldn’t get in, even applying three times to the same school and didn’t get in. Plus the fact that there are only about seventeen medical schools in Canada so it’s highly competitive. So when Allison went to her advisor and said she wanted to go to medical school, she asked her what her plan B was and that was the only thing she wanted to talk about.
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Allison thinks that what her premed advisor should have done was to encourage her to apply to medical school, to tell her honestly that getting to medical school in Canada is extremely competitive and difficult, and to ask her how she can support her in pursuing what she wanted to do. Adversely, Allison got zero encouragement and it was all plan B. It was a dismay considering she wasn’t there to do the job Allison felt she was there to do.
[06:10] What Does Premed Advising Really Mean?
“Advising” refers to an act offering suggestions about the best course of action to someone. Extending it to an academic advisor, it’s about offering the best course of action based on what the student wants to become. It may not necessarily be possible, but they will give you the best advice possible.
In my opinion, the advisors stepped over the lines of what they should be doing which is to offer advice based on what you want and being the person who is the gatekeeper to medical schools.
Basically, your premed advisors are there being the eyes and ears based on your school and your location. They know the teachers, they know everything. Having somebody locally that you can go to and sit in there office and have conversations with is beneficial. So don’t avoid them because of what we’re saying on this podcast. Rather, pay attention to what they’re talking about and the advice they’re giving you. And if they’re give you some of this information, maybe look elsewhere.
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[08:14] If You Have a Bad Premed Advisor: Seek Other Resources
Allison did not get any help from her school. She looked up online as much she could and just worked hard. She ended up looking AMCAS online and trying to look at the individual school she was applying to. She didn’t have any premed advisor essentially nor did she go to a school where there was a committee that did a letter. For her, everything was very individualized. Ultimately, she got advice from other people she knew were applying. She didn’t know anybody that was already in medical school but she knew somebody that had gone through the process and this was helpful.
I pretty much did the same thing where I had a core group of friends in undergrad and we just put together the information as best we could. I still didn’t do it right since I didn’t get into medical school the first time I applied as I was missing proper shadowing and clinical experience, which were stuff that I would have known if I had gone to my advisor more but I stopped going to her because of the advice she originally gave me.
[09:40] How Marketing Holds Back Prehealth Advising Offices
The information your advisor gives should help you with your decision to going to medical school. The role of the advisor is to guide you, not stop you. So when you hear an advisor telling you not to apply to medical school if you get lower than 510, ignore that information because it’s not based on any data.
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A lot of premed offices will keep track of the students they advise and who gets into medical school and who doesn’t. They use that data and put it on their website to brag about how 95% of their undergrad premeds got into medical school. By telling a student not to apply to if you have less than a 510, that obviously helps the premed office with their stats if they’re keeping stats which a lot of them do. So this ends up being a marketing technique for the undergrad institution. But just because you got less than a 510 doesn’t mean you’re not going to get into medical school.
[11:25] The Role of the Premed Advisor
The role of the advisors is not to tell you that you’re not going to get into medical school. That’s the medical school’s job so let the medical school tell you no, not them. Your advisors are there to help you.
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The role of the advisor is to give you the best recommendations. They could be brutally honest with you and tell you it’s going to be freaking hard and that you’re probably not going to get into medical school but if you still feel like you want to apply, here are the best things to do moving forward or here’s how you can strengthen your application. Or they have that conversation of having a shot at becoming a physician and getting into medical school but just delaying your application for a year for you to take courses, repeat the MCAT, and get the necessary experience. Sadly, a lot of students are hearing from their advisors that they have no chance of getting into medical school.
Meanwhile, many students listening to this podcast are nontraditional students and many of them have been told they can never get into medical school and yet they’re in their postbac, getting great grades, studying for the MCAT and getting great MCAT scores, and they’re applying to medical school and getting in.
[13:25] The Magic 510? What Bad Advising Looks Like
Here’s another email I got from another student I’m working with in the middle of application. He’s in the process writing secondary applications and after speaking with the Dean of Admissions at a medical school, he was told his MCAT score of 504 and a cumulative GPA of 3.0 due to his past course work will keep him from hearing from any schools. The dean instead recommended him to apply to Texas which has an academic fresh start program where they erase your previous grades and you get to restart, retake all the prereqs, and retake the MCAT with the intention of scoring a 510.
Based on the student’s actual data, his overall GPA is 3.06. It’s not very good. Then looking at his overall BCPM GPA , it’s 3.58. BCPM is your science which stands for Biology, Chemistry, Physics, and Math. His undergrad GPA is less than a 3 and this was what hurt him. His grad school GPA is 3.86 which is great. MCAT score is 504 is not great but it’s okay and it’s just one piece.
[15:29] The MCAT Is Just One Piece of Your Application
Allison’s advice to this student is to go ahead and apply. The worst case scenario is that he doesn’t get in and he can try to repeat the MCAT. But the MCAT score alone should not keep him from applying.
I want to add that a 504 versus a 510 is a decent jump up but there are plenty of students who get into medical school with a 504. Looking at the AAMC Applicants and Matriculants data, Table A-23 shows the grid of MCAT scores and GPAs. Looking at this student’s MCAT score and GPA, it’s not the best information as there were 65 students accepted out of 329 applicants that matched a 502-505 MCAT score and a 3.00-3.19 at an acceptance rate of 20%. Although not great, one out of five is still pretty good.
This is one of the reasons I hate looking at MCAT scores and GPAs where you’re applying to medical school. This applicant has an amazing backstory that will work for him when he applies to medical school. He has a great personal statement and he’s going to be able to do very well. He will be one of those students that will get a second look from a school because of that backstory, because he had a strong graduate GPA, because he picked himself up from a prior poor start to medical school. For example, people said Tim Tebow couldn’t go pro coming out of college but he did. And his response? “It only takes one.” He was drafted and the rest is history. Now, he is a minor league baseball player.
In response to this student’s email, I told him to apply. This is one perspective from one dean. There are plenty of other schools out there that will take into account the rest of his story that will overlook his previous undergrad GPA, will look at everything else, and give him a chance.
Allison concurs with me on this further saying that one opinion is just one opinion so what they say is not solid gold and the only thing that matters. So one admissions officer does not speak for all admissions officers in the country. Besides, this should be part of the discussion with your advisor. You’re allowed to disagree with your advisor and a good advisor will take that into account and still help.
[19:12] Did Your Premed Advisor Crush Your Confidence?
Some undergrad schools will keep track of data and not help students that have low GPA or MCAT score. It’s the same thing with committee letters. They will look at a student and say they didn’t meet the MCAT cutoff to be given the committee letter. It’s understandable that resources are limited but that’s not an excuse for leaving a student out in the dark. That’s as good as telling that you’re not getting any help and you’re not getting into medical school and this definitely negatively impacts your confidence. It tells you’re not good enough and you should go have a plan B. That’s terrible.
When I first had this conversation with a student last week, I jumped on Facebook Live. Some of the comments there said their advisors are doing this. One student said that’s how it is with committee letters and you have to have a 3.5 or they won’t help you. Another student said this type of “advice” was what kept him from applying as an undergrad. Now, she’s a nontrad student and has taken some time off when she could have gotten into school during the normal time frame.
If you’re getting this type of advice, take it with a grain of salt. Seek other opinions, not Student Doctor Network. Go to the Hangout Group or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Talk to another advisor, if possible, in the same office. Talk to a biology or chemistry teacher or somebody else who may have some information or someone who’s been dealing with premed students for a while. The worst thing you can do is take the advice from one person and internalize it and give up on your dreams and this is exactly what you don’t want to do. Their goal is not to tell you no. Let the medical schools tell you no.
[22:50] How to Deal with Having a Bad Premed Advisor
Allison gives this analogy with lawyers like if you go to a lawyer and you try to win a case, the lawyer is not going to not take your case because they want your cash or even if they know you’re going to lose if you’re the plaintiff. This makes her think about what incentive premed advisors have. If they were paid to do that kind of work then they would not be saying no to you.
The moral of the story is do not avoid your premed advisor but use them to the best of your ability and to the best of their ability. But if you’re getting the type of advice that says you can’t get into medical school, those words should not be coming out of your premed advisor’s mouth. In that case, seek help elsewhere. Seek other opinions or speak up and tell them you disagree and ask how they’re going to help you.
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I will soon be reaching out to a premed advisor who gave a talk at the recent Premed Advisor Conference I was at. She got on this tangent of the role of a premed advisor. She used to be the Dean of Admissions at a medical school so she knows. Her perspective is that it’s not her job to say no. Her perspective is that you shouldn’t be saying no to students. You need to be honest with them but not say no. She also talked about how other advisors insist it’s their job to say no.
Lastly, utilize your premed advisor to the best of your ability but those words that you can’t or shouldn’t or won’t should not be coming out of their mouth when it comes to your chances of getting into medical school. Your chances are always greater than zero percent when applying, zero percent if you don’t apply. Good luck on your journey and hang in there!
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