Answering Your Burning Questions from Our Facebook Hangout!

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Session 358

Today’s topics include disadvantaged status, the MD/PhD, MCAT stress, and more! We’re answering some questions taken from the Medical School HQ Facebook Hangout. If you haven’t yet, join this group of collaborative students.

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

[03:24] Disadvantaged Essay Checkbox

Q: What is the “disadvantaged essay” checkbox in the application?

A: “Disadvantaged” on the AMCAS application is very vague if you look at the definition of what a disadvantaged student is.

Basically, the definition refers to someone who’s part of a government assistance program or if you’re from a medically underserved area. But really, the definition is up to you if you feel like your life situation was at a disadvantage for any reason.

Q: Does the disadvantaged essay checkbox pertain to your current or past situation?

A: It’s both. If you were raised back at a time you were very disadvantaged, then that counts.

'Any part of your journey that is disadvantaged will affect your future especially early on when you were first being molded into the human being that you are now.'Click To Tweet

[05:33] Is a Nursing Degree Nontrad?

Q: Is a nursing degree considered nontraditional if you completed the prereqs after you graduated?

A: It doesn’t matter what your degree was. Nontraditional or traditional is not part of the equation.

'It doesn't matter what your degree is as long as you do the prereqs for the schools that you're applying to.'Click To Tweet

[Related episode: ICU Nurse Turned Medical Student Shares Her Journey]

[06:00] Publications and Research for Nontrads

Q: For nontraditional midlife career changers, are publications and research really good or does it work against? Also for an application cycle, can you apply for a MD/Ph.D. and later switch to only MD if you change your mind for whatever reason?

A: When you’re applying for MD/Ph.D., you can apply MD/Ph.D. to some programs and MD only to other programs. It’s up to you. Once you apply to MD/Ph.D., that’s what you applied to as. So I don’t think you can switch to MD only.

In terms of research or publications, nothing would really work against you. If you’re applying for MD/Ph.D., then you need research 1000%. But if you’re applying just for MD, you don’t have to have research nor publications.

'Research is important to highlight your curiosity and your ability to think critically but you can show that in other ways as well.'Click To Tweet

[Related episode: Do I Really Need to do Research as a Nontrad Premed?]

[07:40] Out-of-State Applicants

Q: How do you stand out as an out-of-state applicant?

A: Stellar stats is how you stand out as an out-of-state applicant because that’s what schools are going to look at. Some of the public instate schools only accept out-of-state applicants with super stellar stats. And they will even tell you that.

More importantly, tell a good story. If you can, highlight why you chose the school very specifically in the secondary applications. Talk about your ties to the state.

'Your story matters.'Click To Tweet

[08:55] Full-Time vs Part-Time Postbac

Q: Is there any benefit admissions-wise to do a full-time postbac or a part-time postbac? 

A: There may be some schools that will question why you didn’t do it full-time and why you still continued to work. But there will also be plenty of schools that will look at your application and think you did an amazing job.

'The goal is to be as close to a 4.0 as possible in a part-time or full-time postbac.'Click To Tweet

If you’re only taking one class every semester, that is a different question as to why you’re not doing more. This is especially if you’re using the postbac to prove your academic abilities. So be just be careful.

[Related episode: Almost Everything You Need to Know About Postbac Programs]

[10:00] Handling Naysayers and Doubters

Q: What do I say to people who tell me, “if you can’t handle the stress of studying for the MCAT, how are you going to handle the stress of being in med school?”

A: Shut those people out. In every part of this journey, you’re going to have doubters. Every part of your life, you will have people in your ears telling you that you shouldn’t be doing this. They tell you you’re not good enough, that you should settle, and that you should do something else.

But just move on with your day and get back to studying. There’s nothing else to tell them.

'Studying for the MCAT is hard, stressful, and grueling. Medical school is really hard but also super fun!'Click To Tweet

[11:00] Writing a Personal Statement

Q: How do you explain your struggles in your personal statement without making some “bad” or “wanting” pity? I have a pretty interesting story but don’t know how to convey it on paper the way the reader can fully understand it.

A: Please check out my book, The Premed Playbook: Gude to the Medical School Personal Statement. You may use this to help you in writing your personal statement. That being said, you have to tell your story. Be careful with talking about struggles in the personal statement. It actually depends on why you’re trying to bring it up. In my book, I talk about red flags, when to bring them up and when not to, and how to do that.

'The core of the personal statement is why do you want to be a doctor? Try to focus on that as much as possible.'Click To Tweet

[Related episode: How to Start Brainstorming Your Personal Statement Draft?]

[11:50] Income

Q: Do medical schools typically take into account the applicant’s ability to cover tuition in the admissions process? Are they apt to favor affluent families?

A: They don’t and they shouldn’t. In your application, there is a spot to put your parents’ income but you don’t have to answer that.

[12:13] Are You a Good Fit?

Q: How can you make sure you’re a good fit to a school if their mission statement is super generic?

A: Keep digging and doing research. Reach out to them. Whether you’re a fit to a school is a great question to ask.

'Students just look at MCAT and GPA and pick their schools based on that. But it's so much more.'Click To Tweet

[12:40] Dealing with Failures

Q: How do you deal with knowing you may fail in your journey?

A: You keep going. We may all fail at some point. But it depends on how you define failure. In my mind failure is giving up. But if you fail on a subject and retake it and get a C, that’s not failing. That’s just a part of the journey.

[Related episode: What Happens If I’m Worried About Failing?]

[13:13] Top Mistakes Students Make

Q: What are the top mistakes students make during their premed years?

A: Listen to the different episodes on this podcast as we talk about all of those mistakes. Listen to Episode 356, where I discussed the biggest mistake students make.

[13:45] Fitting in Extracurriculars

Q: What the best way to balance extracurriculars like volunteering and clinical experience with being a fulltime student as well as working?

A: The biggest obstacle is that students think that you have to do full-time shadowing, volunteering, or clinical experience. If you look at it time-wise, if you’re able to put in 5 hours a month for two years, that’s already 120 hours.

There are plenty of opportunities where you can fit in a Saturday once a week or once every other week or once a month. So think about where you can fit in 4-5 hours a week in total versus 20 hours a week in total.

'There's plenty of time to fit it in. You don't have to accumulate 20 hours a week doing all of your extra activities.'Click To Tweet

[Related episode: 5 Common Mistakes Premeds Make with Extracurriculars]

[15:22] Is Clinical Job Required?

Q: Do you have to work in a clinical job during your premed years?

A: Absolutely, not. There are plenty of great clinical jobs but you do not have to work in a clinical job during your premed years. You need clinical experience though.

[15:45] Having Children During Med School

Q: Is having children while in medical school realistic?

A: It is 1000% realistic. I’ve covered several episodes talking to medical students who are moms. So be sure to browse through those.

[Related episode: Medical School Mom – Prioritizing Family, School and More]

[16:10] Application Renovation

Q: What if your application appears to have no real faults and you still don’t get interviews?

A: You apply for so we can break down your application and figure it out.

'If it appears that it has no real faults, then appearances are deceiving.'Click To Tweet

[16:35] International Applicants

Q: What level of competitive application should an Asian applicant be to be considered for instate and out-of-state schools considering they have good grades and average ECs.?

A: Everyone should have a great application. Not just because you’re Asian doesn’t mean you need a better application.

[17:11] Not Hearing Back for Interviews

Q: When in a current cycle should you start preparing to apply for the next if you haven’t started hearing back for interviews, etc.?

A: The typical application timeline is to apply in May-June-July for medical school starting the next cycle.

'If you don't start hearing about interviews by the beginning of December, then start being concerned.'Click To Tweet

[17:45] Best Application Support

Q: As a nontraditional career-changer in a postbac program, what is the best to focus on in terms of application support – volunteering, research, clinical experience, etc. in such a short period of time compared to full four years of undergrad? Since primary focus is keeping grades exemplary with potentially still a part-time or full-time job taking up valuable time.

A: It’s hard to do a postbac and trying to squeeze it all in. You potentially may have to take a gap year to do the extra stuff.

'If you haven't gotten any clinical experience or not doing shadowing, you may take an extra year to do that and then apply to build up that resume.'Click To Tweet

[19:05] Is Shadowing Important?

Q: How important is shadowing? For those of us who work in a clinical setting fulltime and have classes, will it harm us not to find shadowing? If so, to what extent?

A:  It’s very important. Nurses who don’t shadow is a red flag. You need to shadow. You don’t need a ton. If you can get 5 hours of shadowing a month, that’s great. Stay tuned for

'If you work in a clinical setting, it's great – but you're not seeing a full picture.'Click To Tweet

[Related episode: How Should I Prepare For My First Shadowing Experience]

[19:47] Activities Section on the Application

Q: How best can I integrate 25 years of clinical work into my application? There’s no place to upload my resume.

A: There’s an “Activities” section where all of that information will go.

[20:00] Preventive Health Science for Undergrad

Q: I’ve heard that Nutrition & Dietitics is often looked down upon as an undergrad degree by med schools/professional schools. Why is this when medicine should be based on preventive health? Dietetics still has all the prereqs science. 

A: A lot of students think they can take Nursing as a premed major and then apply to medical school. A lot of times, science classes that go with nursing (and this may be true with Nutrition too) but those science classes aren’t the right prereqs. So that’s potentially what you’re hearing as to why it’s “looked down” upon.

All that being said, I don’t think it shouldn’t be looked down upon at all. Understanding of nutrition very important for physicians.

'It's not necessarily the degree that's looked down upon. It's potentially the fact that the classes that go with the degree aren't the right science classes.'Click To Tweet

[21:35] Dealing with Impostor’s Syndrome

Q: How should premed students deal with feelings of extreme inadequacy and fear of failing?

A: Inadequacy comes with a territory called impostor’s syndrome. Listen to Episode 269 where I talked with MamaDoctorJones about impostor’s syndrome.

[22:00] When to Apply When You’re Cleaning Up Grades

Q: When trying to clean up your grades, how do you know when the right time is to apply? 

A: It’s hard to figure out but remember that the upward trend is very important. You should at least cross the 3.0 threshold for both science and cumulative GPA. Then it would probably take a year as a general rule of thumb to have that solid upward trend.

'Upward trend is very important.'Click To Tweet

[22:45] Paying for MCAT Prep Materials

Q: What’s the best way to pay for MCAT materials or programs?

A: Go listen to The MCAT Podcast and the MCAT CARS Podcast. Understand that you don’t have to spend a ton of money for your MCAT prep.

[23:30] Online Prereqs

Q: Is it okay to take online classes whether prereq or not? If it’s a prereq the lab would be in-person? Or should we avoid all online classes?

A: As a general rule of thumb, avoid online prereqs. Just avoid them even though there are some schools that will accept them.

[24:11] Day-to-Day Life as a Faculty

Q: What does your day-to-day look like as a faculty at CU?

A: My day-to-day doesn’t look like anything at CU. I go in whenever they need me. or have I have time and I can volunteer. Most faculty members are unpaid teaching positions.

I talk for the CU Wilderness Medicine Course which happens 3-5 times a year. It just depends on my available time.

[24:48] Medical Schools with Both DO and MD Programs

Q: If a school has a DO and MD program, is it wise to just use one of the programs to apply to or is it okay to apply to both?

A: Apply to both. There are only two schools that have these – Michigan State University and Nova Southeastern.

[25:11] Early Decision

Q: Is it a good idea to apply for early admissions since you would miss out on the beginning of the admissions process for all other schools?

A: I do not recommend Early Decision for most students. It’s a risk. If you aren’t accepted, it’s usually at the end of September where you’re going to be notified of that. Then you can typically enter the general application field. And you’re late at this point.

You still need good stats and you have to have a very good reason for applying for an early decision to the program.

'It's a risk.'Click To Tweet

[26:18] Financing Applications Through Credit Card

Q: How do people finance applications? Are loans a good option, accruing credit card debt?

A: A lot of students will do 0% credit cards. Those are great options if you can get a high enough credit limit to afford all of the applications. Go to if you want to get an estimate of what applications will cost.

[26:50] Balancing Work and School

Everyone is going to be individualized as far as the classes you’re taking and the workload you have, family responsibilities, etc. You have to find what works for you. If that means you need to work less and you can then great. But if you need the money, that means you need to take fewer classes.

Everything has to be balanced out. Approach it with an understanding that your grades are important. You don’t want to sacrifice that just because you wanted to work and go to school at the same time.

'You have to find what works for you.'Click To Tweet


Medical School HQ Facebook Hangout

The Premed Playbook: Gude to the Medical School Personal Statement

Episode 356 on the biggest mistake students make in their application

Episode 269 on Imposter’s Syndrome

The MCAT Podcast


CU Wilderness Medicine Course