This week, we’re sharing a great episode of Ask The Dean, showing the value of different points of view when it comes to premed advice.
Joining me are Mappd co-founder Rachel Grubbs, Dr. Scott Wright, our VP of Academic Advising, and Varinia Grannum, our Mappd Admissions Advisor. Scott is the former director of admissions at UT Southwestern and the former executive director of TMDSAS. Rachel has 20 years of experience in the premed test prep world. And Varinia is the former Assistant Dean of Pre-health and STEM advising at Hofstra University.
For more podcast resources to help you with your medical school journey and beyond, check out Meded Media. Check out medicalschoolhq.net/apply and check out which different YouTube and podcast series you can apply to be on.
Listen to this podcast episode with the player above, or keep reading for the highlights and takeaway points.
[04:44] Applying Early
Timing is crucial. If you’re able to submit your application early, you can then take advantage of all the available interview slots.'As schools make decisions on who they're going to interview, those interview slots begin to go away, there are a finite number of interview slots.'Click To Tweet
The rolling admissions process is like a giant game of musical chairs. Except that, in musical chairs, there’s always an n-1 number of chairs, “n” being the number of players. Whereas in the medical school admissions process, the number of chairs is ever diminishing, but the number of players is ever increasing. And so it’s not a fun game at that point.
And so, even if you’re waiting for that MCAT score, or waiting to take the MCAT, submit your application just to at least one school.
[06:48] Going to Medical School is a Choice
Q: Ph.D. students have stipends and mid-care schools usually allow flexibility to work during schooling. It seems like med students are penalized with loans as the only option. What can people do if they have families to support or want to start families during medical school?
A: I wouldn’t call it a penalty but it’s offering you the ability to pay for something that you couldn’t otherwise pay for. Rachel clarifies the student is wondering why medical students only get loans, while other scientific and health care students have the option to get stipends or work during school.
If you’re an MD/Ph.D. student, the NIH has funds set aside for that type of research. Unfortunately, it’s a supply and demand thing. There’s plenty of people who want to go to medical school that are willing to go not just because they’re getting money.
Ultimately, you have to make choices and you’re going to have to make sacrifices and there are going to have some trade-offs. Some of those are taking out loans and you’re going to repay those over a period of time. And some of them may mean having to delay starting a family until you get out of medical school, although you don’t have to.'You're going to have to make hard decisions throughout the whole process. And you're not going to get supported and applauded and patted on the back at every step of the way.'Click To Tweet
The skyrocketing cost of higher education in this country in both undergrad and medical school is far outpacing anything. Not to mention, the debts they end up with once they graduate.
As a society, we have put education up on a pedestal, when the far majority of people should be going to a trade school or doing something else. And so, as a parent, you need to be aware of what your child wants to do, and you, as a kid, need to understand what you want to do.
[14:10] Listing Clinical vs. Nonclinical Experience
Q: Do you feel that medical scheduling, with no direct patient care but closely working with physicians and developing relationships with patients, is a clinical experience?
A: No. On Mappd, we have put together a matrix, showing how each of the application services categorizes experiences. Insofar as AMCAS is concerned, AMCAS differentiates medical-clinical experience, paid or volunteer, and shadowing experience. So there are three kinds of activities on AMCAS that a student could potentially put as working with patients, working with doctors, whether you’re paid or volunteer. And so, a lot of the language that we use on Mappd fits AMCAS since the far majority of students apply to AMCAS schools.
Now, TMDSAS, CASPA (for PA), and AACOMAS use a different language specifically a very generic broad term called healthcare experience. And what you’re doing as a scheduler is healthcare experience. And so for AMCAS, you could mark that as non-clinical, paid or unpaid, depending on what it is. But on TMDSAS, CASPA, or AACMAS, it’s a healthcare experience.
Rachel expounds on this, saying that AMCAS makes a very big distinction between work that is specifically clinical. Their definition of clinical is like working with patients in a way related to that patient’s health. So it’s not just doing admin entry or an intake.
AMCAS also wants to see a separate time for shadowing. So the time you’re observing physicians from when you’re personally getting clinical experience is different from observing clinical experience. But for DO schools and Texas schools, all those three all fall under healthcare. So when you’re applying to a DO school or Texas, you’re just calling that healthcare experience. But when you’re applying to an MD school, you’re going to make that big distinction.
There’s also room for a community service that isn’t medical, and then there’s work that is paid and is not healthcare-related. There’s just a lot more nuance with AMCAS.
[18:57] Lab Tech and Patient Transport: Clinical Experience or Not?
Q: Does working as a plasma lab technician, count as clinical experience? I’ve seen mixed feedback about whether the plasma donors are considered patients or not.
A: Yes, that’s clinical experience.
Q: Is patient transport volunteering considered a clinical experience?
A: This depends on the school since we’re seeing very mixed reviews about this one. So if you’re pushing patients around from one visit to the next or one office to the next. I would personally just mark it as clinical and let the schools do what they want to do with it.
[20:43] Hoping for MCAT Score Increase
Q: I got my MCAT end of June scored 508, which was lower than my full-lengths. My primary is verified. Should I wait to send my primary app to schools until after I get my second MCAT back or send it now with an OK score? I’m worried they’ll see my first score and reject me off the bat.
A: 508 is a good score so we recommend you send it now. And if you want to take it in, go right ahead. But that potentially will hurt you in the end, because schools are going to wait.
Scoring less than your full-lengths can really be disappointing. Scott says there’s at least a five-point to eight-point differentiation between what you were averaging on those full-length tests and what you got. Now, if you’re getting 520s on a regular basis and you get a 508, then you have a good reason to retake the MCAT.
From Rachel’s experience, if someone comes to her with this situation, she would advise them to dig a lot deeper into the practice tests. There are a lot of specific factors that you need to consider such as what time of day were you taking the test, what timing conditions were you doing, and where were you? And so, if your practice tests were truly under testing conditions, and you scored much lower then a retake is worth it.“A 520 sitting on your bed in your PJs where you're letting the timer run long is not really a 520.” Click To Tweet
[23:50] Answering Secondaries and App Timeline
Q: Is it okay for the secondary application to include similar themes or topics?
A: Answer the questions to the best of your ability. Don’t weaken your answer just because you answered it somewhere else.
Q: I’m a bit confused about the AMCAS timeline. Can a school see your app before it’s verified at all? For example, if a school sends you secondaries, and you submit them, but you’re not verified. Can they see your application?
A: No, they can’t see it. Schools can see that you’ve flagged them as a school that you’re applying to pre-verification, but they can’t see your application.
An example of the “first wave” is you submit, let’s just say June 1, and then by June 25, AMCAS opens, and schools may now get the applications. That’s the first time anybody sees anything from a school standpoint.
If you submit your application, June 26, schools can see that you have marked them as one of the schools that you’re applying to. But they won’t get anything until you are verified in the school. Then they can start the process of the secondaries as soon as you submit your application.
[28:55] Snapshot, Duet, and CASPer
Q: Do I need to complete Snapshot and Duet if schools on my list only require Casper?
A: I had a conversation with Dr. Kelly Dore, co-creator of CASPer and the MMI. They actually apologized for a lot of miscommunication this cycle when it comes to Snapshot and Duet, as well as what schools are requiring what schools aren’t.
Previously, you had to take you had to do Snapshot and Duet within 10 or 14 days of taking CASPer. And now, because a lot of schools are still in limbo whether they’re going to require it or not, they let you take it whenever you want. You don’t have to do it within a certain time period but take it. And nobody will see anything unless the school is going to require it.
Once the school requires it then they’ll send it to the school. So if a school is is wishy-washy, they’re not going to send yours. And if a school that you are applying to requires it and you’re already done with it, then you don’t have to worry about it. If no school requires it, nothing will happen. It’ll just sit there with all tests.
All those being said, I recommend that you do it because schools are very much in flux with whether or not they’re going to use this stuff.
[31:06] Until When to Wait, Answering Secondaries, & School Lists
Q: If you are verified and have submitted secondaries, at what point should you recognize that it’s probably not your year? (TMDSAS and AMCAS)
A: Scott says Thanksgiving is a good indicator. If you haven’t heard anything by Thanksgiving, then probably it’s not a good sign.
Q: A lot of secondaries asked to talk about any elements that might be concerning to the admissions committee. Is it acceptable to talk about an unbalanced MCAT score? I have 514 overall, but low CARS aside from grades.
A: For secondaries, medical schools are looking for stuff about you personally, and not academically, necessarily. Scott doesn’t think drilling down into why your CARS score was lower isn’t really something they want to know about.
Q: Do you know of schools that weigh MCAT above GPA. I’m finding it hard to make a school list with a 3.4/522. If there’s no meaningful GPA trend, do those stats scream lazy?
A: Don’t use stats to make a school list. There’s more stigma with poor grades if you’re going to a highly selective college since there are thousands of colleges out there. And so, Rachel advises selecting ones that are really select.'Don't use stats to make a school list.'Click To Tweet
Scott comments on how this question is hyper-focused on numbers. While a 3.4 is not a bad GPA, medical schools are going to be looking at a lot of other things. They look at where you went to school, the classes you took, etc.
Q: Can schools see what app services that you have applied to?
A: For TMDSAS, they ask applicants if they’re applying to other application services. This gives the schools in Texas just a broader perspective on where you apply. It doesn’t suggest that you’re not really interested in going to a Texas school. It’s just for information’s sake. You’re not going to be disadvantaged just because you applied to other services.
However, I’m concerned about the implicit bias that schools may have since TMDSAS is going to release that information to schools.
[44:33] Hoping to Get into an MD/Ph.D. program
Q: In your opinion, what should I do if I get into an MD/Ph.D. program out of state and my MD program in-state? I have six kids to consider for moving and housing. With the caveat, the in-state school told me that it is “very highly possible” but not 100% that I can transfer into the MD/Ph.D. program.
A: Don’t go to the MD program with the hope that you can transfer into the MD/Ph.D. program if your dream is to go to an MD/Ph.D. program.
Scott adds that just be cognizant of the fact that you have to be happy with the MD-only program because there’s no guarantee that the MD/Ph.D. slots are going to come up. And you may decide later that you don’t want to do the MD/Ph.D. after all.'You can do as much or as little research as you want with 'only' an MD or DO.'Click To Tweet
[47:04] Creating Your Ultimate School List
Q: My school is mostly on location and mission, then factoring in GPA and MCAT to narrow it down. Is this a good method? Or is there another way you’d recommend?
A: First, check out Episode 437 about how to build the ultimate med school list where I interviewed Joanne Snapp, former director of admissions at Hofstra Northwell School of Medicine and current director of the health professions advising office at UC Davis.
Scott recommends looking up the school’s website for information about its mission, values, etc. It’s even more difficult in these virtual interview times where they don’t get to go to school. And so, students don’t get to feel it, see it, and experience it. They don’t get to talk to the students as much. And so, the whole experience is truncated which makes it a little bit more difficult for making those school choices.
Varinia adds that location is oftentimes the number one thing that students need to factor in when making the school list. Are you willing to relocate? Because it may not be something that you can do and you don’t see yourself leaving your family.
[50:23] When Is It Too Late to Take the MCAT?
Q: How late is too late to take the MCAT for this cycle? I have to postpone my MCAT due to some family obligations. I submitted my MCAT and AACOMAS in the first week of June. Do you advise waiting until the next cycle? I’m conflicted on what to do as I put much work into my primary application?
A: There are a lot of things you need to consider when making that decision. First, is how prepared are you for the MCAT, or are you still preparing? Were you preparing then this and this family obligation happened? Did you have a timeline that got derailed because of that? Or is this a second thought? In short, it’s hard for us to say something when we don’t get the full context.'The vast majority of the medical schools are not going to do anything with your with your application until they have a complete file.'Click To Tweet
[52:32] Lack of In-Person Shadowing and Extensive Work History for Diversity Essay
Q: Can the lack of in-person shadowing be a “concerning” element of my application? I will talk about how COVID affected the premed community by finding direct shadowing and then I’m still trying.
A: With COVID, schools are definitely aware. AACOMAS has a COVID-19 question so you could potentially bring it up there. Then a lot of secondaries are asking about how COVID has affected you so you could put it there as well.
Q: Do you think extensive employment history working in food service for six years and post-graduation employment for another four years is appropriate for a diversity essay? Or is that weak or lackluster?
A: The what is not as important as the so what. The question is how are you going to write about working in the food industry and adding to the diversity of the class.'The what is not as important as the so what.'Click To Tweet
Hence, if you’re able to make the case for it through reflection, and you’re able to talk about what that did for you and to you, then it could work out for a diversity essay. But just because you worked in food service for 10 years, in and of itself, doesn’t pass muster with a diversity essay.
[56:16] Studying for the MCAT and Calling References
Q: Is starting to study for the January MCAT in August too early?
A: No. A lot of students allow two months and most of them allow three months. But if you were also balancing school, August sounds far away from January. Just get yourself on a schedule. It’s like a part-time job, and like any job, you might be sick once or twice, but mostly, just show up. Blueprint MCAT also has a great study planner tool that you can get using their free account.
Q: How often do adcoms call the references given the activity section?
A: Almost never.
[58:48] The MCAT Minute
The MCAT Minute is brought to you by Blueprint MCAT. If you are going through your MCAT prep for the second time, or the third time, make sure to listen to The MCAT Podcast. In Episode 251, we discuss tips fo for retaking the MCAT. It’s a great discussion with Ali, one of the Blueprint live online instructors giving my thoughts and his about retaking the MCAT and how you can maximize your next test.