A Q&A with Dr. Gray

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PMY 492: A Q&A with Dr. Gray

Session 492

How do you get letters of recommendation as a nontrad? What happens if your credit hours fall under 90? Is it okay to name-drop on your application? Join us today for a recording of a live Q&A session to see if your questions get answered.

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.

[01:11] The MCAT Minute

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[05:03] Your Most Meaningful Essay

Q: How do you go about the sections where you designate them as your most meaningful ones? Shall I start brand new, or should I continue on what I was saying?

A: Treat them as completely separate essays. Don’t treat them as one 2,000-character essay. Treat them as your 700-character description, and your 1,325-character most meaningful essay. And talk about why this experience was most meaningful to you.

[07:12] When to Write and Send Your Secondaries

Q: I’m in a position where I took the MCAT late. I won’t be able to get my score back until late July to early August. I have my primary in the process of being verified. I haven’t pre-written anything yet. They said to have your secondary sent by Labor Day, but then my advisor told me to have it done by mid-August. Okay. Who do you think is right?

A: There’s roughly a two-week difference between those two dates. And so, it doesn’t really matter. There is no hard and fast rule that says you have to have your secondaries completed by this date, or else.

“The general rule of thumb is don't sit on secondaries. If you get a secondary, try to turn it around within a couple of weeks.”Click To Tweet

[11:24] Name-Dropping on Your Application

Q: I have a connection to one school because someone I know works there. Is there a way to address that in your secondary?

A: Whether it’s name dropping or anything else, don’t force it in your agenda where it’s not asked. 

There’s a secondary question that may ask why you want to come to the school. And knowing this person has given you more insight into the school that allows you to speak about why you want to go to that school even more, that potentially is appropriate.

Probably, the more significant thing is that this person should write you a letter of recommendation. However, if the person doesn’t know you well enough to write you one, then don’t force that either.

The least you could do is to tell that person to put in a good word for you. And so, you just have to let him do the work on his side.

[16:30] Early Decision in University of Colorado

Q: I was wondering if you had any particular information, particularly in regards to the University of Colorado and its early decision?

A: I’m on faculty at the University of Colorado. But I have no inside information about the admissions world there. That being said, my general advice when it comes to early decisions is that I don’t recommend them to most people because the risks outweigh the benefits. And so, you just have to go in with your eyes open. Additionally, not every school does an early decision, so it just depends on each school.

If you want to apply for an early decision, you’re putting all your eggs in one basket – and that may come back to bite you in the end.

“My general advice for early decision is that the risks outweigh the benefits.”Click To Tweet

[19:26] 80+ Credit Hours: Is This Enough?

Q: I have about 117 credit hours from my university. But AMCAS put total undergraduate hours at about 88. It made me a little bit nervous because I know some schools have a rule saying you need 90 credit hours in order to apply. I was wondering if that was an issue because with my AP credits and with Pass/Fail credits, I’m already well above that.

A: You have to contact the individual schools that you’re applying to. Find out, go look at their website, first and foremost, to see if they answer it there. And if they mentioned anything, specifically about 90 credit hours, reach out to them.

About a third of the students still apply traditionally, and lots of students still apply without their prereqs finished. They don’t have the 90 credit hours knowing that they have another year of classes to meet all those requirements. And so, it’s fine.

[21:54] Priorities, Priorities, Priorities

Q: I am about to be on my fourth attempt at the MCAT. I had to work full-time. So there was no way around this at that time. Right now, I have some flexibility. So I’m thinking about fully quitting or going part-time. I have never been without work even during undergrad school. What are your thoughts?

A: If your goal is to go to medical school, and one of the biggest obstacles in your path is the MCAT. Then one of the biggest obstacles to doing well on the MCAT is your full-time work and those responsibilities. And so, you need to find a way to reduce those responsibilities so you can focus on the MCAT. Don’t worry about how that’s going to look on your application.

'Priorities are everything, you have to be intentional about what you're doing, or else you won't reach your goals.'Click To Tweet

Whether you love your work is not the question. The question is, how do you free up time so that you can do well on the MCAT? And so, if you need to work to pay for a car, sell the car. If you need to work to have an apartment where you live by yourself, move back in with family or friends. Reduce your rent as much as possible. Make sacrifices. Unfortunately, that’s just how the system works in this country. Make sacrifices to prioritize what you need to prioritize.

Q: What do you think about applying really late for DO schools? 

A: Don’t rush it. Just focus on the MCAT and do well on the MCAT. Then you’ll have a few months to focus on your applications and get those in.

[26:59] College Credits From High School

Q: I have some credits from high school that are college credits. And it’s impacting my cumulative GPA. I was just wondering how the medical schools would see those, and if they, hopefully, be understanding about them. They bring down my entire cumulative GPA now.

A: It is what it is. The only thing you can do is show a good track record. Doing well after that shows your maturity and everything else after.

[28:07] Getting Letters of Recommendation

Q: I am a nontraditional student. I went to grad school six years ago. I don’t know how to get letters of recommendation. I’m still in touch with them. But I’m trying to figure out where to get letters of recommendation.

A: You probably won’t get standard letters of recommendation. You may have to get a supervisor, boss/colleague type letters of recommendations. And so, reach out to the individual schools.

For instance, Sam Houston State University says that if you’ve been out of college for a year, they’re okay with those other types of letters. Most schools don’t have that sort of information on their website. So you have to reach out to them and see what they have to say about your situation.

Most schools are completely reasonable with getting alternative letters outside of what they “require” on their website. They understand that nontrads aren’t going to have the same access to letter writers. And those letters aren’t going to be very good anyway because those people don’t know you anymore.

[31:35] The Goal of Your Activities

Q: I’m currently in two research labs right now. One’s more of a wet lab, and one’s more of a clinical care research lab. I deal with elderly participants. And so that’s really good for like, and it’s one-on-one patient interaction. I don’t feel like I’m making giant leaps in my research labs. I just feel like I’m going to struggle with providing either the evidence or the path that my research labs took for it to be interesting to a committee when I apply.

A: Completely ignore that line of thinking. You’re basically trying to set up everything else you’re doing activity-wise, into how it’s going to look good to the admissions committees.

“The goal is to do what you want to be doing. Enjoy yourself, and then tell the admissions committees how those things impacted you.”Click To Tweet

[35:28] Upward Trends

Q: I heard from everybody that you don’t want to screw up the first year. I ended my freshman year. My first semester in my second year was a 3.78 and my second semester was a 3.85. It’s not a bad dip.

A: Going from a 4.02 to a 3.8 is not a downward trend. That’s just called not being perfect. The only time that upward trends come into play is if your cumulative and science GPA total is lower than what we would hope. If you’re sitting at a 3.2 cumulative GPA, then I want to see that upward trend. But if you have a 3.7 to a 4.0 and your final number is a 3.9 for example, then I don’t care.

[42:20] Patient In-take vs. Interpreter

Q: I just finished my EMT class. Once I do that, I can also do patient intake at the clinic. And I’m considering doing that because it’s more hands-on versus interpreting. What do you think – patient intake versus interpreter? Does it make a difference?

A: Do what you’re going to enjoy the most. If you’re planning on leaving this job anyway, at some point, to go do something else. Don’t worry about the big picture or whether an interpreter is less than intake.


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