Q&A on Applications, Clinical Experience, MCAT, and More!

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PMY 444: Q&A on Applications, Clinical Experience, MCAT, and More!

Session 444

Students asked loads of questions on many topics. We talked about COVID, if there is a perfect major as a premed, submitting an app without an MCAT, and more!

For more podcast resources to help you with your medical school journey and beyond, check out Meded Media.

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

[05:02] Is a 503 MCAT Good Enough?

Q: Is 503 good enough for DO? 

A: It really depends. There’s a lot of things that go into the application process. And so, one thing doesn’t make or break your application.

'The application process is a lot of things. Its grades, its MCAT. Its extracurriculars, its personal statement, it's letters of recommendation, it's all of this stuff.'Click To Tweet

The average for DO matriculants is 504. So 503 could be good enough for MD schools as well. And it just depends on the school.

[05:53] Activity Descriptions, Picking Majors, and Prereqs

Q: How do I write activity descriptions for things? I won’t start until after I submit my app, but is it important to my app? 

A: For TMDSAS, you can have future activities on your application. But AMCAS and AACOMAS don’t allow it so you shouldn’t put future activities on your application.

Q: What should I be doing during the summer before my freshman year to best use my time?

A: Nothing. Just hang out and have fun.

Q: What is the perfect major to score the best in the MCAT? 

A: It doesn’t matter. The AAMC breaks down majors for MCAT success. The MCAT breaks down majors for MCAT success. But at the end of the day, do well in your core science classes, build that foundation, and learn how to be a good student. Be a really good critical thinker. Some good liberal arts classes would work well for you.

Q: Re-applicant taking the MCAT in July waits to submit or submit to throwaway.

A: I would never recommend submitting to a throwaway. Submit to a school that you want to go to. Don’t waste anyone’s time or money. Submit to a school  and submit early. Medical schools will see that you’re still taking a test and still waiting on a score. And they’ll wait to review your application until then.

Q: Do you think it’s necessary that biochem is finished before taking the MCAT?

A: Biochemistry is very heavy on the MCAT. Understand that you’re going to have to self study a bunch.

Q: Do I write about my MS degree in my personal statement? 

A: Check out my books, The Premed Playbook: Guide to the Medical School Application Process and The Premed Playbook: Guide to the Medical School Personal Statement. They’re all about what you should be writing about in your personal statement. And your degree is not one of them.

[09:48] MCAT Prep, Secondaries, Prereqs Completion, and Post-dated Letters of Recommendation

Q: I want to apply in June 2022. If I start getting clinical hours now, is that fine? Or does it look bad? 

A: Well, now is the best time. There’s an old saying that the best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago, the second best time is today. Start now.

Q: What is the best way to deal with a hard semester studying for the MCAT if it can’t be avoided?

A: Just understand that MCAT and school are going to be your life for the semesters, and be okay with that. Maybe you need to take a night off every few weeks to relax and hang out with friends. But it’s going to be a lot of studying.

Q: After applications are transmitted, how soon after are secondary sent out?

A: It depends on the schools whether they screen or not. But typically, as soon as your application is available to the schools, it should be a very quick turnaround for the secondary applications for most schools.

Q: Will medical schools consider my application incomplete if I haven’t completed a prereq class, but I’m taking it in the Fall?

A: For the far majority of schools, you don’t need prereqs to apply to be interviewed to be accepted.” Prereqs just have to be completed prior to matriculation.

'For the far majority of schools, you don't need prereqs to apply to be interviewed to be accepted. Prereqs just have to be completed prior to matriculation.'Click To Tweet

Q: A year in advance – is that too soon for requesting letters of recommendation?

A: It’s never too soon to make it known that you want to request a letter of recommendation. But I think it’s too soon to actually request it unless they’re going to have it post dated. This means that your letters of recommendation are dated the year that you are going to apply to medical school. So if you’re applying in 2023, to start in 2024, your letters of recommendations are dated after January 1, 2023.

[13:15] Clinical Experience, Shadowing, & Primary App Basics

Q: What is a better clinical experience scribing, NA, or clinical research?

A: Do whatever you want to do and whatever you can make the most of with the pandemic.

Q: How do I go about shadowing doctors?

A: You need to keep on calling and asking.

Q: Can I shadow multiple doctors at multiple clinics? 

A: Well, of course you can. That’s the best-case scenario.

Q: Do you choose what schools get which letter recommendation?

A:  This is true for AMCAS. You can upload 20 letters of recommendation and then pick and choose where those letters go. For AACOMAS and TMDSAS, you cannot pick. They will send all the letters to all the schools.

Q: Can you put a shadowing in your application?

A: Absolutely. You should be putting shadowing on your application.

Q: Can you send your primary app without the final letter of recommendation? 

A: Yes. The only thing to be able to submit your primary application is your personal statement finalized as well as your extracurricular activities and descriptions. Your school list does not have to be finalized. You just have to have one school. Your letters of recommendation do not have to be finalized. All of your grades have to be in as well.

Q: Is clinical experience from before college bad for activities? 

A: Yes. The general rule of thumb is do not put pre college stuff on your application. Don’t put anything pre high school graduation on your application.

[17:45] MCAT Scores, GPA & Grades

Q: Do you need to have your MCAT score in before the primaries or secondary? 

A: After is fine. Submit, submit, submit.

Q: Does an A- and A+ affect your GPA on the application?

A: Go sign up for a free two-week trial of Mappd, where you can put in all of your grades. And it will calculate your GPA for AMCAS and AACOMAS plus and minus count. An A is a 4.0 and A+ is a 4.0. So the A+ and A are the same. And A- is a 3.7. A B+ is a 3.5. A B is a three, and a B- is a 2.7. TMDSAS doesn’t care about plus or minus.

Q: Is it a red flag to take to retake the class more than once? 

A: If you need to retake it, retake it.

Q: How realistic is it to get into med school if you’re planning on graduating in three years? 

A: Being too young is sometimes an issue for some schools. But you’ll be alright.

Q: A 3.1 isn’t a great GPA but will two minors and a gap year for a postbac be enough to bring it up?

A: Minors do not matter. If your goal is to go to medical school, don’t waste your time with getting a minor.

“Too many of you are sacrificing your grades to double major and to get minors. That's all a waste of time.”Click To Tweet

Q: Advice for full-time military part-time postbac, and also volunteering prioritizing hours. 

A: Well, obviously you’re in the military, and that’s your first priority. It’s just a matter of making sure that your grades are good. That should be the number one priority. It’s much harder to overcome bad grades than it is to take a gap year and get more clinical experience and shadowing and volunteering and stuff.

Q: How do we tell a story with an experience in a research lab? 

A: Tell a story and show your impact. But sometimes, you just can’t tell a story. What did it mean to you? But sometimes you don’t have that and you don’t have a story and that’s okay.

[23:26] Individual Letters vs. Committee Letter

Q: “My school does the letter packet. And I have five letters of recommendation. And I am anticipating the committee interview letter. Now with some schools, they have a maximum of three letters that they accept. How do I go about submitting the letters of recommendation when I have a packet of five?”

A: Ask yourself if you really need these extra letters. What is there that is just above and beyond that? I would possibly submit them individually instead of the letter packet.You probably went above and beyond getting all of the individual letters. But because you have your committee letter, that’s all you need to submit.

[25:03] Specialty of Interest, Master’s Degrees,

Q: Is it bad to have one main specialty of interest when entering medical school?

A: It’s not bad. 75% of students change their mind. So you may go in with one idea and come out with another. Just be very open minded. The personal statement should be specialty agnostic. At least it’s recommended that it be specialty agnostic because students change their mind.

“75% of students change their mind. So you may go in with one idea and come out with another. Just be very open minded.”Click To Tweet

Q: Can you talk about letters a bit more? Everything I read just confuses me. 

A: The far majority of schools will say that if you have a committee letter, that trumps everything. And then they’ll have this list of requirements if you don’t have a committee letter. They may say they don’t require anything, or send three letters, or send a maximum of six or five.

Q: How to reflect on a partial master’s degree on my application. My master’s degree was in systems engineering. So it’s completely unrelated. 

A: You don’t reflect on it at all. Too many of you are so focused on ‘how do I focus on this degree? How do I focus on this major? How do I focus on this minor’ None of that matters. For your personal statement – why do you want to be a doctor? For your activities, show everything you’ve done. For secondaries, answer the question they asked you. And that’s it.

Q: What can someone in high school do to increase chances of medical school?

A: Nothing, just learn to be a good student.

Q: When describing job shadowing and patient exposure on the application? How much detail should we share? Do we share what we learned? 

A: I typically don’t like “this is what I learned statements.” I prefer that the reflection be around what it meant to you.

[32:43] Talking About Osteopathic Medicine in Your Personal Statement

Q: Do I have to talk about Osteopathic Medicine in my personal statement?

A: No, you do not. AACOMAS, the application service for DO schools used to have a 800-character difference compared to MD schools for AMCAS. It’s 4500 characters compared to 5300 for AMCAS. And two years ago, they changed it to 5300 characters.

So in your secondary applications for osteopathic schools, you will get questions like why are you interested in osteopathic medicine? That’s where that will come from. The personal statement is still very much about why you want to be a doctor.

“The biggest mistake students make with the osteopathic application is they just throw in the words ‘osteopathic physician’ everywhere.”Click To Tweet

[33:34] Applying to 1 School vs. Applying Broadly

Q: If you aren’t confident in your GPA, should you apply to one school or apply broadly?

A: The one school trick has nothing to do with GPA. It has everything to do with when you’re taking your MCAT. And when you are concerned about your MCAT score.

If you aren’t confident in your GPA, there are lots of questions that need to be asked. 

Well, number one, is your GPA bad or are you just not confident in it? If you go look at the MSAR, it seems like every school has a median GPA of like 3.7 or 3.8. So everyone typically feels inadequate or not confident in their GPA.

But you may have a 3.5. But what is a 3.5? It’s not terrible. It’s a good GPA. But what’s the story behind your 3.5? Do you have a 3.0, 3.0, 4.0 and a 402? Do you have a mix of those things that make a 3.5?

“Upward trends are very important. So the final GPA number doesn't tell me anything. It's the story behind that that really, really matters.”Click To Tweet


Q: If we are receiving a committee letter packet, do we ask the school to send it to Interfolio?

A: You don’t have to use Interfolio. The application services have their own way to upload letters and that’s probably what your committee letter will do.

Q: Clinical experience suggestion, do what you want?

A: Outside of CNA, EMT, it’s whatever you want – phlebotomy, medical assistant, you can do it all.

Q: I have a 394 GPA but I’m fine. I’m not feeling confident about the MCAT I took last week. Way lower than average MCAT has put me at a disadvantage, even though my GPA is high.

A: Don’t look at GPA and MCAT on the opposite ends of a scale that one balances out the other. High MCATs always help. Low MCAT scores hurt. High GPA is good, low GPA is bad.

Q: Do you recommend submitting to all schools before receiving your MCAT score?

A: It depends on your confidence level and what you’re going to get. If you feel confident in your practice scores, go right ahead. If you don’t feel confident, apply to one and then submit the other ones later. The difference would be that you only submit to one just to get in line to get verified that you are working on secondary essays as if you were applying to all 20 schools or whatever it is.

[37:33] Tanking GPA on Purpose?

Q: Should we purposely tank our GPA early so we can get an upward trend? 

A: That is the stupidest thing to say that you’re going to do terrible to prove that you can do better. How about you just get a 4.0 GPA all along?

Everyone is always looking for the gimmick or scheme. Just get good grades. It is hard to get good grades, but don’t play stupid games.

[40:27] The Importance of Clinical Experiences

Q: Is clinical experience from 10 years ago okay?

A: Clinical experience is the most important aspect of an application to prove to yourself first and foremost that you want to be a doctor. And then in your applications, you are proving to the medical schools that you want to be a doctor. Not that you think you’re going to be a good doctor or that you have all the skills necessary to be a doctor. But why do you want to be a doctor? And that’s where clinical experience comes into play.

Now, you may have gotten 3000 hours 10 years ago, and you think you now know you want to be a doctor. But medical schools are going to really question you.

Q: Front desk as clinical experience. I’m exposed to patients. Any thoughts? 

A: No. Working as a front desk person is administration, not clinical experience. Clinical experience is interacting with patients in a more clinical way.

[43:13] Personal Statement and Other Essays

Q: What is the difference between an MD and a DO personal statement?

A: There’s no difference. Submit the same one.

Q: Do I need to discuss my gap years and why I wasn’t able to gain more clinical experience or just talk about my experience and leave that alone? 

A: It really depends.

Q: AACOMAS has a COVID-19 impact question. Should we all respond to this question or only if there’s a specific way we were impacted? 

A: I believe that most optional essays should be required. So I would think about something to put there.

Q: I just got hired as a private practice but it won’t start until after I submit my apps. Can I still put this in my activity section? 

A: I would not. The activity section is for things that you have done, not things you will be doing. Except for TMDSAS because they have a future activities section and category.


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The Premed Playbook: Guide to the Medical School Application Process

The Premed Playbook: Guide to the Medical School Personal Statement