In our first Clubhouse Q&A, students from all kinds of backgrounds asked questions about this coming application cycle, GPA trends, prereqs, MCAT, and more! And joining me today are Mappd co-founder Rachel Grubbs, and VP of Academic Advising, Dr. Scott Wright.
For more podcast resources to help you along your journey to medical school and beyond, check out Meded Media. And if you haven’t yet, please check out Mappd. It is the roadmap to medical school. It’s a platform that helps premed students track everything to help them reflect on everything they’re doing.
Mappd can help you track all of your courses, your MCAT scores. And even now, you can start working on your personal statement, extracurriculars, etc. You can also add your premed advisor from your university and grant them read-only access to all of your data to improve your communication with your advisor.
Listen to this podcast episode with the player above, or keep reading for the highlights and takeaway points.
[06:50] Application Timeline
Q: In terms of the application process in May and June, what should students be thinking about if they’re applying this cycle?
A: If you’re applying this coming cycle if you haven’t taken the MCAT, and you plan to take it in the spring or early summer, then that’s a chief concern. Scott usually suggests that students start working on their personal statement in January and oftentimes, students oftentimes struggle with how to wrap this around their head.
To begin with, we recommend you read the book The Premed Playbook: Guide to the Medical School Personal Statement. This will give you a good overview of what the personal statement is all about. Then hopefully, by mid-February to early March, students will have a good draft, if not a final draft, of their personal statement.
Then they can start asking for letters of recommendation. In the spring, identify who you want to ask for letters of recommendation from and begin to let them know you’re going to be asking them.
You can give the letter writer a copy of the AAMC letter of recommendation guidelines document. It’s like a little brochure type of thing that basically tells them how to write an appropriate letter for medical school, what it should include, and how to go about doing that. It’s a downloadable PDF that you can email to your letter writer along with your resume and a copy of your personal statement.'What you can begin doing this spring is preparing those letter writers for the facts that you're going to be asking them and then also getting the information to them.'Click To Tweet
[10:39] Rewriting a Personal Statement and Retaking the MCAT
Q: I had already prepared my personal statement pretty much way before COVID started. I probably won’t put an application till the next cycle, should I probably reconstruct my personal statement? I don’t want to turn in something as if nothing happened during a pandemic. So should I start over and include that in my personal statement somehow? Or would it be fine the way I have it now? Second, how should I go by starting over with studying for the MCAT because I want my score to be a little better competitive than what it was?
A: The personal statement really is about telling your story and your journey into medicine – where that started for you, how it occurred, how it played out, and the things you found meaningful in that process of discovering you want to be a physician. It talks about why you want to do that and what that’s all about for you. So a lot of that story is going to be pretty clear.“The personal statement really is about telling your story and your journey into medicine.”Click To Tweet
So you can probably just keep it the way it is for now. Don’t spend any more time with your personal statement. And by this time next year, you’re going to have another year under your belt. And it could be that there will be events that will happen to you that you’re going to want to put in your personal statement. And so for now, stay with what you’ve got. Let it sit and then this time next year, you can pick it back up and see if you’re still comfortable with it. And if there are any new things that you want to add to it.
In terms of the MCAT, if you were scoring at your goal score on practice tests, then you probably can do that again if you have a better test day. And because it’s been nearly a year by the time you take the exam, you probably are going to have to some degree just start over. You have probably lost some of that content you had worked hard on.
See if you can take a diagnostic test to help you distinguish a content gap from a critical reading and critical thinking gap. If there’s content that you’re pretty solid on, you don’t want to spend eight hours reviewing that chapter. And if you get an 80% on it, you could probably move on. Think about prioritizing your time that way. And then because you have some anxiety with your testing, really deep dive into your situation to be able to get into specifics.'Do everything you can to simulate the real testing experience.'Click To Tweet
[19:55] Applying with Just the MCAT Score (No Prereqs, No Shadowing, & No In-Person Clinical Experience)
Q: I’m one of the older premeds and I spent the last eight years mainly working and volunteering in Asia. I’ve been practicing for the MCAT and planning on applying this cycle. Because I came from a different background, I never took my science prerequisites. And when I started studying for the MCAT, I basically just self-studied and self-taught myself the content using different free resources out there.
As of now, I’m taking my sixth practice MCAT and I’m scoring around 518. In the summer or fall, I’m planning on taking my science prerequisite courses. But I wanted to apply without them and with just my MCAT score. Hopefully, I can score around where I am on the practice exams, but without the actual prerequisites done. And also, in addition to that, I came back to the states last year, right before COVID started.
And so, I haven’t had any opportunities to get actually any in-person shadowing or clinical experience in the States. I do have some experience when I was in China, doing some clinical volunteering work there, but nothing stateside. So if I were to apply this year, it will be applying basically with just my current academic record, and my MCAT score, without any clinical in-person experience outside of the virtual shadowing that Dr. Grey provides.
This also leads into the whole letters of recommendation question. I don’t have any clinical experience here that I could ask a physician for a letter of recommendation or a science professor because I haven’t taken any science prerequisite courses. So I’m wondering what your advice would be for me. Should I wait another year and try to get those things done? Or would it be okay to apply the cycle?
A: We recommend you should wait a year. If you have a strong MCAT score and if you have no background in a science classroom, then that’s going to be a red flag. Some medical schools would even think that’s a big issue for you.
You then have to have those classes before you matriculate at medical school. For instance, Chemistry is the thing that really delays things. Because if you’re going to do one semester of organic chemistry, and a semester of biochemistry, and trying to get all of that done along with biology and physics in one academic year is a little unrealistic.
The second issue is the clinical stuff you did in China. One of the things they’re going to be looking at is that you’re going to medical school in the U.S. You’re going to be doing a residency, and you’re going to be doing clinical stuff in the U.S. And if you have no experience in the U.S. healthcare system with U.S. doctors, then that could also be a pretty big red flag for medical schools.“If you have no experience in the U.S. healthcare system with U.S. doctors, then that could also be a pretty big red flag for medical schools.”Click To Tweet
And so, depending on whether you can fit all those prerequisite classes into one academic year, pushing back your application will make you a better applicant next year.
There’s this whole myth around the clinical experience and shadowing being required for the schools. But it’s really required for you so that you’re not making a $200,000 mistake on a medical school. So take some time off and get that clinical experience under your belt to prove to yourself that this is what you want. And then that will come through in your personal statement and in all of your essays and interview.
[26:50] Old Premed Classes
Q: I’m a nontraditional student and my prereqs are more than 10 years old. Even though I did get a master’s in biomedical sciences recently in 2018, I still feel like my classes like physics and chemistry classes are old. Should I be consigned with regards to applying with those? I do have a lot of clinical experience because I’m an RN right now. And I’ve been a nurse for 10 years so I’m good with that. But I’m just concerned with how old my premed classes are. My science GPA is 3.8. It’s my second time taking the MCAT because my first one was terrible.
A: This could be a little bit of a concern for medical schools if you’re been out of the classroom for so long. And so that’s going to be 5 years from the time you were last in the classroom until you matriculated into medical school.
Scott recommends doing a couple of upper-level biological science classes at your local college or university. And that’s going to tell medical schools that you still have the ability to sit in the classroom and do well. And the admissions officers are a little bit leery of somebody if it’s been that long since they’ve been in the classroom. Even if you have to branch out into neuroscience in order to get some classes that you haven’t had before. But if you were able to pick those at a school like UT Austin, you’ll be able to find something.
Whether to apply this year or not actually depends on your MCAT score. So let the MCAT dictate that a little bit. If there’s not a pretty notable improvement over that score that you got, then delaying a year might be wise.
[33:06] An Extremely Nontraditional Student
Q: I am a very nontraditional student. I just recently graduated from my university. And I graduated with a sociology major. However, I changed my major from Biomedical Laboratory Sciences to Sociology in my second year of college due to my GPA. I was going through a lot of things at the time, and my GPA was plummeting. So I changed that to Sociology to try something new, and then also save it.
And then over the course of time, I wasn’t necessarily sure if I wanted to pursue medicine. But then once I started shadowing, I started getting back into the groove of things. I started retaking a few of the science courses that I already took. I didn’t take all the science prereqs but I took probably three or four. So I graduated with my sociology degree. And so, I’m an extremely nontraditional student and I would be considered a career changer.
I am looking to apply to a few postbac programs to complete my prerequisites, and then also gain some more experience and prepare for the MCAT.
I’m currently writing my personal statement. But I feel like I have multiple why’s. And a lot of them are not relative to each other, but they all kind of work towards a common goal of wanting to become a doctor. And that’s the reason I’m allowing myself to procrastinate writing this personal statement because I just don’t know how to necessarily structure it.
A: First, check out my book, The Premed Playbook: Guide to the Medical School Personal Statement.
The whole goal is around why you want to be a physician so you’re on the right track there. In terms of having multiple why’s, it’s all about finding that seed, which are the moments where you were intrigued enough to check out this health care thing. They could be common things such as personal illness, personal injury, family illness, family injury, etc.
And then what you do from there is then help highlight some of those experiences where you are confirming to yourself that this is what you want. Highlight those experiences to show the reader who you are and why you’re doing this. This is to confirm to yourself and confirm to them that this is what you want.
[38:20] Low GPA with Upward Trend
Q: I graduated with a low GPA. It was very low. And then once I got to the end of my undergrad experience, it was a miraculous one as there was definitely an extreme upward trend. So I have that under my belt. However, I can’t get the concept of the low GPA out of my headspace.
I also have shadowing experiences. And right now, I am currently volunteering in a hospital where I do patient transport. I also psych myself out as far as whether or not I have enough clinical experience. My question is what are some things that I should focus on to offset the low GPA from my undergrad experiences?
I don’t want my undergraduate GPA to prevent me from gaining interview acceptances. I know as far as clinical experiences, I can always gain some and I am gaining some right now. What are some moves that I can make from now until I’m ready to apply?
A:“Having an upward trend is a good start and medical schools will notice that.”Click To Tweet
Your postbac GPA is going to be crucial because it sounds like the upward trend you’re talking about is primarily, if not exclusively, in the non-science classes.
Medical schools are going to want to see your postback experience. This will confirm that that the level of excellence when you were taking them by the end of college is the same as your postbac classes in the science classroom. If you crush a postbac program and really do super well in it, and have that upward trend, they’re going to pay attention to that.
The MCAT score is also going to help confirm in the minds of the admissions committees that your upward trend is a real thing. And they’re going to take notice of that.