Today is a fantastic Q&A session with students on IG Live. We had many guests come on with great questions seeking answers to their biggest premed fears.
Ready to share your story with the world? If you want to be on any of our shows, Application Renovation, Mission Accepted, or Ask. Dr. Gray, go to medicalschoolhq.net/apply. 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.
[03:30] Best Interview Tip
“Be yourself. It’s a conversation then treat it like a conversation.”
Too many people overthink the medical school interview. And so, when going on your interviews, treat it like a conversation like you’re just meeting a friend for a coffee.
[04:19] Taking the MCAT Twice
Q: I did take the MCAT twice. I applied to a Kentucky school and they’re sitting at a 506 average. I did my interview. It went well. I’m supposed to hear about it this week. I’m also a Kentucky resident. My GPA is higher than their average. So what do you think I should expect?
A: Expect they like you well enough to interview you. And the rest is is really up to them. Unfortunately, there’s no formula. There’s no equation to tell people here’s what’s going to happen.
There are so many variables in your application. There’s your MCAT, your GPA, your extracurriculars, your letters of recommendation, and your interview. And you got an interview, so now you just have to wait. That’s all there is to it.
[07:27] Where to Do Postbac Classes
Q: Somebody had told me that I have to do my postbac at my undergrad institution, just so that it can match up. Is that accurate?
A: Dr. Scott Wright, the VP of academic advising at Mappd typically says the opposite. And that you should go somewhere else. so that you’re not just taking the same classes. Then you can show that you can do well outside of retaking classes.
“At the end of the day, there are no rules when it comes to where you do your postbac and what classes to take.”
The goal of doing a postbac, if you’re doing it because you need to improve your grades, is to show that you are academically capable of doing well in medical school. And that means getting as close to a 4.0 as possible for as long as possible.
Unfortunately, some postbac program require the MCAT as their way to weed out people they think are not going to do well. But the whole goal of going to a postbac program, especially if you’re needing to improve your grades is to build better and more robust study habits. It’s to understand the material better and build a bigger foundation of that material so you can do well on the MCAT. So it doesn’t really make sense that these postbac programs have such a requirement.
That being said, there are also plenty of programs out there that don’t require an MCAT. So be sure to look into those.
[10:35] Don’t Look at the Median MCAT Score
Q: I took my MCAT three times and got 505 on the last one. I applied to the University of Nebraska Medical Center. I have an interview next week. My MCAT is 10 points below their average which is a 515. Do you have any advice on the interview?
A: They invited you knowing your MCAT and they invited you for a reason. This is why I despise looking at stats when it comes to applying to medical schools. Because the MSAR only tells you the students from what that school accepted. It shows you the median and the different percentiles.
Now, when students use the MSAR to pick schools, they self-select into schools with stats that match theirs. If you look at the percentiles, there are actually many more students getting into medical school way below the 85th percentile. Don’t look at the median MCAT score and compare it to yourself.
“The MCAT is just one part of the application. They invited you for an interview because they liked your application.”
So in the interview, you don’t have to mention it. You don’t have to justify it. If they ask you about it, talk about where you think you went wrong. Prepare the best for your interview. And don’t worry about having an MCAT score 10 points lower than their median.
[14:51] How to Answer Ethical Questions
Q: I’m reading your book for the interview and your ethical questions scare me. For instance, what should you say to a father whose son accidentally died due to the medication you gave?
A: Many students go to the interview with the wrong mindset of what they’re supposed to say. But you’re a premed student so you’re not expected to know what a doctor is supposed to do in that situation.
What they’re looking for here is how well can you portray empathy. That is how you master the medical school interview – just be yourself.
“The medical school interview is a communication test.”
[17:32] Clinical Hours and Volunteer Hours
Q: I’m an EMT and I have about 3,000 clinical hours to this point. I’m curious about volunteer hours and I cranked out about 600 this past summer. I don’t plan on applying for another two to three years. Would it seem like a bad thing if I just stick with those 600 and that’s it? Are clinical volunteer hours that important?
A: It’s one of the lesser important things when it comes to an application. That being said, schools will not have a huge issue if you do that. It potentially will look like you’re checking a box. But again, it’s one activity in a sea of all of your activities.
So if you’re an EMT, if you continue to do that, great. Because you are showing consistency in your activities. So worry less about your 600 hours being non-clinical. Worry more if it was 600 of clinical and that’s it. And there’s no consistency because then, what you’re doing is you’re just checking off the box.
If you can go and volunteer once a month once every couple of months at the soup kitchen, great. But if not, that’s okay, too.
In terms of “clinical volunteer hours,” this is where a lot of confusion happens. Because volunteering can be clinical and non-clinical. AMCAS breaks it down into volunteer-clinical, volunteer-non clinical, paid-clinical, and paid-non clinical. You are not given bonus points because your clinical is volunteer versus paid. And so, if you have paid EMT experience, great. You don’t need a volunteer clinical experience on top of that.
[21:26] Applied to Only One School
Q: I only applied to one school. I wanted to do an early decision. But my application was verified one day after the early decision cut off. I’m dedicated to the school that if I didn’t get in this cycle, I would take a gap year and reapply because I want to go so badly. I have an interview in a few weeks there. Should I bring up that I only applied there and I’m so committed to the school or is that a bad move?
A: Let the interviewer lead. It’s a dance. They lead, you follow. Don’t just jam in your agenda into an interview. A lot of people have their reasons for why they’re very limited in where they want to apply to medical school. And so, it wouldn’t hurt her to mention that.
[24:24] A Super Nontraditional Student Lacking Volunteer Hours
Q: I’m a super nontraditional student. I’m also a mom and I work as a CMA right now. I’m also in school and I don’t have that many hours to dedicate to a bunch of volunteer hours. Would that be frowned upon when I do get ready to apply?
A: Focus on what you need to focus on and do the best that you can do. Always think about grades and a good MCAT score above everything else. Because those are the two easiest things to prove that you’re not ready for medical school.
“You need good grades, you need a decent MCAT score, to prove to medical schools that you’re academically capable of doing well in medical school and in passing the boards.”
On top of that, you need some clinical experience because you need to prove to yourself that you like being around patients a lot. You need to do some shadowing so you can prove to yourself that you understand what the life of a doctor looks like.
There are some schools where they really value nonclinical volunteering. And if you don’t do it, you might not have a chance at that school. But that’s okay. There are 199 other schools out there.
[26:30] Explaining a Dip in Your Scores
Q: During this whole COVID thing, my high grade just went extremely low. My son was home a lot and it was really bad. I’m just wondering how to be honest about it because there was something going on?
A: Medical schools obviously know this stuff was going on. And so it just depends on the types of questions that are asked. And usually, they would ask this in the secondary application.
Think about writing a disadvantaged essay, which is very open to interpretation on you want to classify yourself as disadvantaged.
And so, if you’re a mom or a single mom, whatever it is, and you got a kid at home, then your time to commit to school is going to be different than a “typical” premed student. Then maybe you want to consider yourself disadvantaged.
But if you don’t want to mark yourself disadvantaged, there are usually lots of secondary essay prompts that will give you an opportunity to talk about those things.
[29:19] How to Make Your Previous Career Stand Out in Your Application
Q: I was in the Navy for four years. Because it was a completely different job than going into this field, I just want to know how to incorporate that?
A: You don’t need to worry about that. In your application, obviously, check off that you’re a veteran, and honorably discharged. Then put that you were in the Navy on your activity list. Then in your description, talk about the impact that it had on you. You do not have to tie random stuff into how it’s going to help you be a good doctor.
Just being in the military, the far majority of people reviewing your application will understand the commitment, teamwork, communication skills, and dedication that it takes to be in the military.
And all of those things on their own will help you stand out without you writing how being in the military helped you with your communication skills, hence, it’s going to help you as a doctor. And this is how a lot of students write their extracurricular activity descriptions but I personally think it’s the wrong way to do it. Because it doesn’t show me who you are. It shows me who you think I need you to be.
[33:01] Do You Need Shadowing When You’ve Got a Clinical Job?
Q: I am nontraditional. I am 37. And I am a junior for my undergrad. Right now, I have a 3.5 GPA and a 3.6 for science. I think I’m doing okay there with upward trends. I have been trying to make sure because I didn’t do great in biology my first semester. I was a paramedic and I also worked as a nursing assistant. Do you suggest that I shadow as well?
A: Just shadow a little bit. You don’t need to have hundreds of hours of shadowing. But if you can get a shadowing day every month or two, great.
[34:27] Leaving Off a Nonclinical Job on Your Application
Q: Also, I was an event designer in Chicago for about eight to nine years. Is this something I just leave off with the application?
A: Absolutely, not. Don’t think about how you’re going to look good on the application. Having different interests gives context to your whole application.
Again, you don’t have to tie it to how it’s going to prepare you to be a good doctor. Just talk about the impact that it had and what you loved the most about it. Talk about impact in terms of the number of people that came to your events or how much money was raised for the events.
And that tells medical schools so much more about you than the fact that you were just a CNA or that you shadowed or whatever else. So absolutely do not leave it off of your application.
[36:58] Worried About Age
Q: I’m 37 and I’m really nervous that people are going to say I’m too old.
A: If you’re super interested in the schools, reach out to them now as a non-applicant. Tell them how you’re nontraditional. Don’t focus on your age so much. That’s not an issue.
Now, that becomes a little bit more of an issue when it comes to applying to residencies. Because the residency directors may be concerned that you’re not going to be able to hang for 80-90 hours a week because you’re old.
But lots of nontraditional students in their 30s and 40s, and even in their 50s go to medical school and complete residency without a problem. So take that out of your head.
[41:39] Figuring Out the MCAT Timeline
Q: I just started my formal postbac program and will finish at the end of April in 2023. If I want to apply for the cycle that would be opening up in that May, when will I take my MCAT?
A: Theoretically, if you graduate, April 23, you could start medical school and in July or August of 2023. This student says she graduated from nursing school but only took four classes that did not go towards the prereqs. Then she could take the MCAT by April of 2023.
Remember, you can submit your application without an MCAT score. So if you’re feeling too much pressure, and you’re not going to get it done, and you need to push it back until May or June, that’s okay, too. I would still recommend getting in your application by June through July so you’re earlier on there.
Our student is also worried about her low GPA. Unfortunately, every school is going to do something different. They will have all of the data points. And if it’s part of their process, they will be able to see the upward trend. There are other schools out there that only look at the last 20 or 30 hours to determine what your GPA is and to determine what your academic capability is.
A 3.4 with a super-strong upward trend shows academic capability. It’s not a great GPA. It’s not super sexy 4.0. But it shows academic capability. And at the end of the day, it’s it’s up to the medical schools and their admissions process to determine how they’re going to pick apart all of the data points.
[49:54] Confused About Applying This Cycle
Q: I’m an FSU graduate and I graduated this past May with my Master’s in biomedical engineering. I did undergrad as a chemical engineer. I come from a family of healthcare providers. Throughout this process, I started studying last year and I feel like I’m being on my own pretty much for it because they didn’t practice here. They all have a different background on how they came to America and did the whole process again so they’re not familiar with how this system works in terms of MCAT.
My undergrad was a 2.39 as a chemical engineer and then my biomedical engineering degree master’s was a 3.8. Then I just got my MCAT score back and got a 502. What do you think I should do?
A: This student adds that her parent is already convincing her to apply this cycle when she doesn’t feel she’s ready.
If you still don’t have your personal statement ready, then you can’t apply just yet. Go get a better MCAT score if you can. Figure out what went wrong this first time and improve on that score. You did super well in your masters. Your undergraduate GPA is not super stellar. But your master’s is great. So go get a better MCAT score and apply to the schools that you want to apply to.
[55:21] Dealign with Not Enough Clinical Experience
Q: I am going to be graduating this December 2021. These past two years of undergrad, I’ve been really focused on my grades trying to survive my premed years with rigorous classes. I did volunteer and I did tutor. I haven’t done that much clinical experience. But I do hope that once I graduate this December, I’ll actually have a job. Is it going to affect my application?
A: Paid volunteer does not matter. Clinical experience doesn’t matter. One type of clinical experience is not better than another paid versus volunteer. If you’ve been volunteering at a clinic, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a clinical experience. It depends on what you’re doing. But if you’ve been volunteering and getting clinical experience, that 1,000% counts.
Q: I’m a junior undergrad. I had something lined up when I came back for winter break back home for a volunteering experience. But then COVID happened in March, and that just didn’t happen. And so on campus, I had a volunteering experience, but I haven’t really been very adamant about going. Because it’s one of the only hospitals in the city that accepts volunteers, there are so many people. And there’s only one department open where it’s restocking PPE. And when I go, there’s never anything to do. And I’m just worried because I want to have meaningful, like volunteering experiences.
A: If it’s not a good experience for you and you’re not happy doing it, then don’t do it and go find something else.
[01:05:39] Studying Abroad
Q: How is studying abroad going to look like on the medical school application?
A: It doesn’t matter. Go do what you want to do. Premeds pretty much feel like they should worry about everything. That’s just not the case. If that’s what you want to do, go do it. And the experiences that you’ll have will be wonderful. And you’ll be able to write about them and talk about them and you’ll be fine.
[01:07:24] Red Flag Questions
Q: Is it a red flag if you ask about mental health services, or what does the school do if a student does fail?
A: I wouldn’t say it’s wrong. Unfortunately, it’s human nature to wonder why are you asking that? Are you concerned about that? Are you worried you’re going to fail? And medical schools want confident people.
Remember that the interviewers at medical schools are a broad swath of that community there. They could be lawyers, nurses, or faculty in the community. They could be physicians or professors who work at the hospital as part of the faculty of the medical school. And so, they’re not entrenched into the medical school curriculum and all the resources.
And so, I don’t recommend asking very specific questions to interviewers. Instead, ask opinion-based questions such as – what’s your favorite thing about the school that nobody knows about? This helps you understand the school better.
“There are lots of opportunities to ask questions where you don’t have to get super nitty-gritty.”