Your Premed Questions Answered: MCAT, Step 1, and More!

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PMY 452: Your Premed Questions Answered: MCAT, Step 1, and More!

Session 452

This week, I talked with some of you to answer your questions about GPA, research, extracurricular, gap years, how to show your academic capabilities, and more! These are questions we’ve gotten from Instagram Live. If you haven’t yet, follow me on @medicalschoolhq.

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.

[00:43] The MCAT Minute

The MCAT Minute is brought to you by Blueprint MCAT.

There are so many variables that go into this process. You have your GPA, your GPA trend, your extracurricular activities. You also have your reflection of who you are as a person, and why you’re doing this, which is what the application and interview is all about.

'The MCAT is just one variable when it comes to applying to medical school.'Click To Tweet

Then there’s that “luck,” which is that normal chance that happens in life of who’s reviewing what application and what they think that day. And if they’re in a good mood or a bad mood. There’s a lot of chance that goes into this process, and the best thing you can do is maximize your score as much as possible. G

For more MCAT prep help, go check out Blueprint MCAT and sign up for a free account to get all of their free stuff.

[04:47] Thoughts on Step 2 Scoring

I don’t agree with Step 2 staying scored, but my assumption is that all of the wait for  Step 1 is just going to move to Step 2. And in theory, nothing will change. Step 2 will just be the test that has all the weight. Now, outside of just theory, that makes it much more stressful for medical students. Because if they don’t do as well as they wanted on Step 1, Step 2 was there as a potential backup.

Now, not every residency program looked at Step 2 and they only cared about Step 1. It was there as a potential backup. So that if you didn’t do well in Step 1, you go and crush Step 2. But now all of the weight is going to be on Step 2. 

'Step 1 is going to be pass/fail. Step 2 is still scored. And so all of the weight is going to be on Step 2 without a backup.'Click To Tweet

Remember that if you pass the board tests, you don’t get to take it again. Unlike the MCAT, if you’re not happy with your tests on the MCAT then you can just take it again for up to seven times. For the boards, if you pass, you’re done. You can no longer take it again just because you don’t like your score.

[06:26] Tips for Virtual Med Interviews

Make sure you have a strong internet connection or WiFi. Have good lighting. Sit in front of a window to get nice natural light on you.

Don’t stare at the camera the whole time. Because when I’m staring at the camera, I can’t see you. And human interaction is looking at your face and looking at your facial expressions as I’m talking to see what is resonating, what you like, or what you don’t like. So glance at the camera every once in a while, but then look back down at the person’s face.

Obviously, be careful just like you would in normal interview stuff. Be careful with hand gestures because it can get distracting. Try to be in a solid seat, not a rotating seat or any sort of rocking seat. Because students tend to get fidgety on those things.

[08:10] When to Take the MCAT

If you’re applying next cycle, there’s no harm in doing it this year, other than rushing it just to take it this year.

[08:29] How the HPSP Works

It works by getting into medical school, applying for a scholarship and accepting it or not. Ideally, you’re talking to a recruiter beforehand so that you know everything beforehand about the Army, Navy, Air Force, Public Health.

The VA now offers an HPSP scholarship so it may be a valuable option for many people because you don’t have to deploy working for the VA. They pay for medical school. They give you a monthly stipend. They pay for your fees. And then you just serve on the other end.

[09:42] Overcoming a 3.4 GPA

Q: My GPA, unfortunately is low with a 3.43 cumulative 3.33 science but my last two years of full science work were consistent 3.9’s. Am I okay to just focus on the MCAT?

A: You don’t have to have perfect stats. The most important part of this question is that your last two years of full science work were consistent 3.9’s. Your GPA is fine so you can just focus on the MCAT. Because in those last two years, you have shown that you’ve overcome your struggles early on.

'The whole point of this process isn't to be perfect. It's to show that you can overcome if you've struggled.'Click To Tweet

[10:56] W on the Master’s

Q: If I took a master’s degree but withdrew, do I have to disclose it on AMCAS and send them a transcript from the school?

A: Read the instruction manual for all of the application services. AMCAS says that if you’ve stepped foot in a classroom, then you should report it and request transcripts.

[12:01] Secondaries, Transfer Credits, and More!

Q: Can I pre write secondaries by studying for the MCAT? 

A: Yes, of course. I recommend it.

Q: For the HPSP scholarship, do you have to go into active duty? 

A: Yes, that’s the whole point of the scholarship.

Q: Is it possible to apply to both MD and DO at the same time?

A: Yes, you combine an MD, DO, and TMDSAS.

Q: I’m almost ready, submit, but I’m scared.

A: It’s normal to be scared. You put yourself out there. You spent months and months working on your application, pouring your heart out, and hopefully telling your story on why you want to be a physician.

“You get to this point of clicking Submit knowing that basically, the rest of your journey is no longer in your hands and that is scary. But a lot of life is that way.”Click To Tweet

Q: Do schools send out secondaries even though I don’t retake the MCAT in July?

A: Most likely, most schools will send secondaries without your MCAT score or without your MCAT repeat score. Because most schools don’t screen based on MCAT.

Q: If I’ve taken Community College thinking I was going to transfer credits but eventually did not transfer, do I have to put those classes on the application?

A: Yes, every class goes on the application from the original place you took it. So even if those credits transferred to your main institution, you would still put them in as the Community College and request a transcript from the community college.

'Read the instruction manuals. They tell you all this information. So don't make any mistakes.'Click To Tweet

[14:58] Read the Manual! (Plus Topics on Virtual Scribing and Combining Activities)

Q: What do you think about virtual medical scribe positions in terms of clinical experience?

A: I’m not a fan of them. But if they’re all you can get, it’s potentially better than nothing. But for clinical experience, it’s just not super great.

I would 1,000% recommend that you go get real scribing, in-person experience now. This depends on what your limitations are, what your exposure risks are, people who live with you,. There are obviously different situations for everyone.

Q: If all your spots on AMCAS filled, do you think it would be okay to combine shorter-term volunteer activities?

A: You can combine activities based on impact versus anything else. And so, if they’re short-term and there’s not a ton of impact, then you could potentially do that.

Q: I did a postbac to put my GPA up. My science GPA is higher than undergrad. I was the high school valedictorian, but life happened and I have a 2.5 or so for cumulative science. Cumulative science GPA is a 3.5.

A: If that’s all you can do, and if you’ve done the math, and it’s like 100 plus more credits to get to where you need to go, then it’s probably not worth it. You’ll just have to roll the dice and, hopefully, get where you need to go.

Q: What number of hours should I indicate for publications if there’s none?

A: Zero perfectly fine.

Q: Can neuroscience classes be calculated in your science GPA? I’m a neuroscience major with psychology. 

A: Again, read the instruction manual and check out the AMCAS Course Classification Guide.

[17:22] 3.7 GPA with Little Clinical Experience

Q: I’m struggling on something, especially due to COVID. Before COVID, I had a research position lined up and a volunteer position out of hospital lined up as well. And due to COVID, I wasn’t allowed to do anything. The labs are still closed in the hospital and they’re starting to open up. So I applied again and I’m hoping to get in and get accepted again, hopefully. 

What I’m freaking out about is that I’m a senior and I don’t have any research experience. And I have very little clinical and no shadowing experience except for virtual

But honestly, I wouldn’t consider virtual shadowing real shadowing in my opinion. Some medical schools are saying that it could count as real shadowing, some are little in between. I’m just curious as to what I should do as a senior. 

My GPA is a 3.7 right now and a 3.4 science GPA. The trend definitely increased. 

I was not doing well in my biology classes freshman year. Everything’s new. I just transferred into a new college. It was a lot more rigorous than my previous college. That part was very hectic for me and I got a C plus in both. Then later on, I managed to get an A in organic chem, then went down to a B for organic chem 2. But everything else was an upward trend with A’s and everything else.” 

A: Spend as much time as you can with your clinical experiences and get as many in-person experiences as you can. And I would 1,000% put virtual shadowing. The far majority of schools have said they’re going to accept it because there’s no alternative unfortunately. So put it on your application with the rest of your shadowing.

In terms of taking a gap year, you can probably get what you need between now and the 2022 application cycle and apply. The only issue is you don’t want to make it seem like you’re just checking off a checklist. With COVID it’s going to look like you’re checking off a check because there’s been this huge gap. So don’t worry about that.

Our student also adds to say that she’s planning on taking an SMP program to at least make up for her science courses. But I don’t think that’s necessary and waste $50,000 on an SMP program.

All this student needs to do now is just get experience. She has put in the work. A 3.7 is  a great GPA, and 3.4 science GPA is a little bit lower than ideal. But if there’s a nice upward trend in the last two years, then it’s going to be fine.


Q: Do medical schools factor in the GPA of a failed class?

A: Unfortunately, failed classes count as 0.0 GPA.

Q: Should I submit to one school or all schools? I’m taking a June 30 MCAT. Will schools screen me out based on a crappy MCAT from four years ago?

A: They will see that you are taking the MCAT again, and that you have a pending score. I recommend you apply to one school. Then when you get your score back, add the other schools assuming your score is where you want it to be. And make sure that you’re pre-writing those secondaries as if you’re going to apply to all the schools later.


Q: I graduated in 2019. I’ve been working as an EMT in San Diego’s 901 system. Since then, I am planning on applying next cycle. I graduated with about not the greatest 3.4 overall GPA and then about a 3.0 science GPA but they do have upward trends. And then towards the last couple years, I was getting like 3.84 and 4.0’s each semester. I have not taken the MCAT yet. That’s been the one obstacle, but I do have considerable research experience as well as human rights and civil rights extracurriculars that I’ve been doing for several years. I just applied to be a trauma tech at UC San Diego.

Do you think it would be worth it to do a postbac or an SMP or if I should just try to take extra science courses to get the GPA up?

A: Most students overestimate. You probably should take some more classes. Ideally you’re in the 30 to 50 credit range of getting 3.8ish as close to a 4.0 as possible to, to show that strong upward trend.

'The far majority of students don't need the intense nature of a formal postbac.'Click To Tweet

Taking a postbac really depends on your specific situation, where your location is, where you can take classes, and the classes offered. Think of taking upper division classes like genetics that maybe you haven’t taken before to really show your capabilities there.

It’s ideal to take it at a four-year institution but if it’s at a community college because of your work schedule and financial situations, it will most likely be fine.

[26:52] Advocate for Yourself

Stop discounting your individual stories and be diligent in your research when applying to schools. Talk to the schools, a phone call or visit is a lot cheaper than an SMP or failed cycle.

“Advocate for yourself and reach out to schools. Many of them will probably be annoyed by you. But there are a lot of schools out there that will take the time to help you.” Click To Tweet

Ideally, reach out to schools way before you’re applying because schools will have different rules of engagement for pre-applicants versus applicants. Once you are an applicant or in the application cycle, their ability to interact with you is going to be minimal.

[27:54] How to Be Competitive

Q: “I graduated from USC with my neuroscience degree. I was the one with the 3.43 cumulative and the 3.33 science GPA. It was 54 credits of a consistent 3.9. And in my last semester, I didn’t overload and I did 21 credit hours. So six out of eight of those were upper science classes. 

I’ve unfortunately gotten like a C in every chemistry class I took. But I took Orgo 2 and got a B in it. So I guess that kind of shows that I progressed in a way. 

I’m applying for the next cycle. I haven’t taken my MCAT yet. With that upward trend, and I still have experiences like  volunteering, shadowing, etc., I also work as a unit clerk. Would I still be competitive? Or could I get into an MD school instead of just DO schools? 

A: I don’t like differentiating MD versus DO in terms of grades and MCAT scores. The truth is, if you actually look at the data, it’s more competitive, at least historically, to get into DO schools. Stat-wise, the stats are lower because they have again, historically looked at other variables. But they’re getting more and more competitive every year because there are plenty of students who understand all of the work that goes into getting into medical school.

“Every medical school will have a different process for how they do this with graphs and charts and everything else.” Click To Tweet

This is one of the reasons we have Mappd, where you can go and log all of your hours and courses and everything. It’s because that’s how medical schools look at things as well. They’re going to see that you struggled early, and that you increased over time, and your last 50-ish credit hours are great. And that tells a very different story than just you saying that you got a 3.4.

[33:03] Most Meaningful Experience

Tell your story. Pick whichever one you feel will be best to tell your story and whatever part really resonates with you. It doesn’t have to be clinical experience. So it can be whichever one you feel is more appropriate. It has to be based on your truth.

[34:46] From 509 to 503 MCAT Scores!

Q: I have a 3.6 cumulative GPA and 3.6 science with upward trends for both two years. I have experience as a scribe and other things. I took the MCAT twice 509 on the first, and 503 on the second.

A: I recommend retaking the MCAT. You should have kept the 509 because it was already a good score. Unfortunately, you would have to probably retake it because 503 is going to sting.

Every medical school is going to be a little bit different – whether they take the highest, or do they take the most recent, etc. You could potentially reach out to your top choice schools and lay out your situation and see what they say.

Q: Should I keep a 505?

A: A 505 is a decent score. It’s not amazing or outstanding. You’re gonna have to you’re going to have to make that decision.

[36:56] Career-Changer: How to Not Be Negative About My Previous Career

Q: How do I write about leaving one medical related field who wants to become a physician without sending a negative message about my current career? I’m an OT.

A: The goal is to talk about why you want to be a doctor and not why you don’t want to be a OT. And so, as you write, at least the style that I talked about in The Premed Playbook: Guide to the Medical School Personal Statement is to talk about your seed.

If your seed is going to lead to occupational therapy. And then for you, you’re going to have a pivot point, when did you realize that you needed to be a physician? And then how have you confirmed that you want it to be a physician?

As long as you focus on the activities that lead you to want to be a doctor, then it shouldn’t have to be negative at all.

[38:17] Talking About Research and Activities

Q: I actually did a BA MA in biotech, and I actually got to do an internship for one of my courses. It was great, but it was a little bit odd. Should I put it on the application?

A: Tell whatever story you can tell as best as possible. And if schools are going to ask an interview and ask more about this research, then just tell the truth that you were more involved on the periphery.

But you should still understand what the goal of their research was so you could still talk about it, even when you don’t have a deep understanding of everything that they were doing.

Q: Do you recommend listing publications or documenting them as separate activities? 

A: I would just list them.

Q: Is working in an HIV clinic and research laboratory count as research experience?

A: It depends on what you’re doing, but potentially.

Q: What would be enough hours for clinical experience?

A: Don’t have this mentality that you already have 200 hours so you’re good. You have to have consistent clinical experience. You don’t want to look like you’re just checking off a box.

[43:51] Outcomes: Waitlisted and Rejected

Q: I applied this past cycle and was unsuccessful. Should I apply for this cycle or wait another year? 

A: I have a section on the The Premed Playbook: Guide to the Medical School Application Process called Outcomes about being waitlisted, rejections, and reapplying.

If you’ve been waitlisted, that means you’ve been interviewed. And maybe you need to work on your interview skills, in which case you can apply this cycle, work on your interview skills more, and hopefully, do better.

You may lack clinical experience. I’ve seen plenty of students get interviews with really strong stats and not enough experiences to be able to talk about why they want to be a doctor.

Then you may need clinical experiences  then you probably should wait to apply. So it really depends on each and everyone’s specific situation whether or not they should apply right away or wait a little bit.



Meded Media


The Premed Playbook: Guide to the Medical School Personal Statement

The Premed Playbook: Guide to the Medical School Application Process

The Premed Playbook: Guide to the Medical School Interview

AMCAS Course Classification Guide