Join us today as we answer your premed questions LIVE! We talk about concerns around GPA trends, clinical experiences, answering secondary questions, and more!
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Listen to this podcast episode with the player above, or keep reading for the highlights and takeaway points.
[01:04] The MCAT Minute
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[02:44] A Premed Overthinker Worried About His B- Grade and Wondering When to Take the MCAT
Q: “I’m an incoming senior right now. And I started my freshman year with a really rough GPA at 2.3. I failed precalculus. And then, up until now, my GPA is at a 3.5 and Sciences at 3.5 or 3.4.
This past summer, I just re-took organic Chemistry I. The first time I took it, I got a C+ but I took the Pass/Fail. This was during a COVID semester. I retook it, I got the second highest grade in the class with an A. I took Organic Chemistry alongside Physics. I did Physics I and II and Inorganic Chemistry this summer, which is pretty hectic.
When Organic Chemistry II came around, I ended up getting a B- because I totally bombed the ACS final exam. And I got an A- in Physics II. Does that look like a bump in my upward trend in my GPA?”
A: Perfection is not the goal. It’s not obtainable. It’s expected that as you continue on in your undergrad career, your classes theoretically should be getting harder. And if they’re getting harder, and you slip up, and you got a B-, that’s okay. From a number perspective, a B- or a 2.7 may sting but it’s just three to four credits. And so, it’s not going to kill your trend.
Coursework vs. MCAT: Which Comes First?
Q: “I’m looking to apply for this next upcoming cycle in May. But the thing is that with my upper division course load, that can take precedent over MCAT. And so, I have to make a decision whether I want to start studying for my MCAT at the end of this month and taking it in March of next year. If I can’t commit to a full study schedule, it’s not worth it to try and start studying for it. I will graduate in Fall 2003 so I have a gap semester.”
A: If your focus is on prioritizing that upward trend because you did start poorly then focus on it. And if injecting MCAT prep, and the stress of it into that world, may throw you off your game for classes on top of other things you may be doing, then it makes sense to not rush taking the MCAT. So just think things through.
It might help you to sign up for a free account at Blueprint MCAT and take their free half-length diagnostic test. If your diagnostic score comes back at a 502 or 503 then you probably got it because the normal diagnostic score is around 495.
Most Meaningful Doesn’t Equal LOR
Q: “How would it look in my most meaningful experience, if I did not get a right letter of recommendation?”
A: Most meaningful experience doesn’t equal a letter of recommendation that shows why it was meaningful to you. That just doesn’t make sense.
[09:57] Taking Prereqs at 38 Years Old
Q: “I am 38 And I’m taking all these prerequisite. I’m going into O.Chem and Physics this Fall. I was contemplating whether to take Biochem in the summer or in the fall. I didn’t know which of the two to do and in between there because I have to decide when I’m going to take the MCAT.”
A: It’s harder to take classes during the summer because it’s usually a condensed schedule. And so, depending on your specific situation, taking biochem during the summer may be a bad idea. It just depends on you and everything else you have going on.
Think about how much time you have to dedicate to Biochemistry during the summer when it’s an accelerated or condensed course.'There's a myth out there that taking prereqs during the summer is a bad idea and that med schools don't like it. That's just not true.'Click To Tweet
[13:47] An International Student Looking at an SMP
Q: “I am an international student, and so, my schools are limited down to around 30 medical schools. I’ll be going into my senior year and my current GPA is a 3.4. I’m studying for my MCAT to take it in January. I’m considering an SMP or a master’s. What do you think about it?” (When asked about her trend, this student says she has a rollercoaster.)
A: In that case, you don’t have a trend as it’s a rollercoaster. You need to consider doing a postbac to get as close to a 4.0 GPA as possible.
As an international student, you may also go find an SMP that accepts international students and that’s tied to a medical school that also accepts international students. See if you can wiggle your way into that program by doing well at the SMP.
[17:14] Looking Where to Go
Q: “I’m a nontraditional student. I work in a role where I can live anywhere in the country. About nine years ago, I had a terrible freshman year. I had a semester where I failed at everything. After that, you know I immediately started getting 3.8s and 3.7s. I’ve been doing my postbac and I have a 4.0 right now. All I have left is organic chemistry. Knowing that I can live anywhere in the country, is there a state that I would put myself in an advantage to live in and become a resident?
A: A lot of people love to go to Texas because Texas has very cheap medical schools but their laws say 90% of the class has to be from in state. So the one downfall to that is Texas is a very big state with a lot of people. This is very similar to California where there are a lot of in-state applicants. You could go look at the TMDSAS data to look at their averages.
Look at the Fit Over Stats
Ultimately, the fit of the school versus increasing chances is a better question. And so, do a lot of soul searching. What are you looking for in a program? What passions do you have that you can continue to do in medical school? How will that medical school support you in those passions? Look at curriculum styles, location, weather preference, etc.
Look at Networking Opportunities
Another thing to look at is proximity and networking. Look into possible opportunities pre-application and during the application cycle. Do you have access to people who may help you get into medical school because they can write you a strong letter of recommendation? Or maybe they’re part of the school faculty.
Leverage Your Network
Q: “I’m a product manager at a medical device company. One of the people on our board and heavily involved in our company is a doctor on faculty at the University of Colorado. But beyond that, is there anything I can do in my current role? I interact a lot with key opinion leaders throughout the country, and with academic centers.
Is there anything I could be doing to leverage my current job to expose myself more to the world of medicine and network to help me when it comes time to submit an application?”
A: The question is how comfortable are you to go to your leadership telling them you’re applying to medical school? And if they don’t have a problem with that, then great. Just play the room, read the room, and see what the response may be.
Humans like to help each other, and so, you never know. These people you work with may have the connections and the willingness to help you.
Changing Your Fs to Ws
Also, going back to when you mentioned you failed at that school where you got those F’s. Some schools have a process known as a late withdrawal. See if they have a process to look at that and change those Fs into Ws.
[27:54] Is Research Important in an Application?
Q: “When you look at MSAR and they say research is in 90% or 85% for all the schools because every applicant does research. Is that because people want to do them or is it because schools want research?”
A: Research is nice to have if you’re interested in it. But it’s definitely not a mandatory thing for the far majority of schools, and publications are not necessary.'Clinical experience and shadowing are the two most important things to prove to yourself first and foremost that this is what you want.'Click To Tweet
The goal of these institutions is to do research at the institutions, not accept students who have done research. They’re looking for students who obviously know that research may be a big part of their medical school journey.
Now, that’s completely separate from MD/Ph.D. or DO/Ph.D. programs where research is definitely a big part of the process.
[30:15] Volunteering at One Thing, But Different Experiences – How Do You List Those?
Q: “At the hospital, I do clinical volunteering and the department changes every semester. Do I list that as a separate experience for each place I’m at, or shall I just say college volunteer?”
A: The fun thing about the process, and the frustrating thing for some people, is that there are no rules. You can do it however you want.
That being said, it may look a little bit weird if you list it semester by semester. It may look like you’re padding your resume to seem like you’re doing five things. But you’re only just doing one thing in different spots.
Another way to do it is, for example, you have five different experiences, you may put all four of those into one. And then one of the five may be your most meaningful experience.
Then you talk about the time that you had, the interactions that you had with physicians and the patients that you interacted with. Then that one specific semester may stand out above everything else. And so, you could put that as a separate activity.
Again, there’s no right or wrong with how you slice or dice. Just make sure it’s logical.
[32:40] Volunteering and Clinical Experience
Do What Fits Your Schedule
Q: “I currently work at my school of medicine. I work on a geriatric workforce enhancement project as a geriatric clinical care coordinator. I get to work closely with a lot of patients and provide patient education and training. I’ve been on the project for two years now.
But as we get closer to the end of my year, I’ve noticed that it’s getting hard to work it into my schedule. It is my most meaningful experience. If I decide to put down the project, do you think that’s going to be a red flag on my application?
A: As you’ve said, it’s not feasible with the schedule that you have now. So find something that is feasible. A lot of people think black and white, and not gray. Don’t overthink it, go find something else that fits your schedule.
Volunteer vs. Paid Clinical Experience
Q: “I’m a volunteer clinical scribe instructor at another clinic. So I teach scribe classes to incoming nurses. On the AMCAS application, is there a distinction there as well between volunteer clinical experience versus a paid clinical experience?”
A: Be careful because teaching people how to be scribes is not clinical experience. But you can list it as a teaching experience. An experience can either be paid/nonclinical or volunteer/nonclinical or teaching.
[36:14] Don’t Sound Negative in Your Secondaries
Q: “I’m filling out secondaries, and I keep coming along with the question that says, ‘What other career possibilities have you considered?’ I got my degree in accounting. And so, I’m talking about why I wanted to pursue accounting and how I was inspired. Should I also talk about why it wasn’t for me? Because I don’t want to give them an idea of “’Well, why don’t you just continue doing that?”
A: The fact that you’re applying to medical school obviously shows that it wasn’t for you. But if you have space, maybe just add a sentence about why it wasn’t for you. You don’t need to go super in depth.
Additionally, it’s typical for many students to go down the negative route as to why their previous career choice didn’t work. So be careful to fram it from a place of positivity.
Don’t be negative about stuff. Maybe talk about the reasons why you were pulled away from it, not necessarily why you didn’t like it.
[38:34] Not Happy About Her Casper Score
Q: I am in the middle of applying right now. I’m swamped with secondaries. Recently, I got my results from Casper and they weren’t what I expected them to be. Do I retake it?
A: You can only take Casper once per year. Every school is using Casper data differently. The schools are going to use it however they want to use it. You have no control over that so it is what it is.'For Casper, the answer doesn't matter. The thought process matters.'Click To Tweet
[46:33] The Best Time to Reach Out to Schools
Q: When is the best time to reach out to schools?
A: Reach out to schools only when you have specific information that you need from them. It’s when you’ve already checked out their website and tried to do your own research but you still can’t find an answer. Then reach out to them and ask for some advice.
If you’re taking the MCAT again, then you could go back to the system and use that as an update.
[49:02] Building Your Ultimate Med School List
Q: “I just submitted my primary application on Monday. And I got my MCAT score Tuesday. I’m in the middle of creating my school list. I’m having a lot of trouble doing that. I’m using MSAR at the moment.”
A: The question is how are you using the MSAR. Unfortunately, a lot of students use the MSAR improperly. Listen to Episode 437 where we talk about how to build a school list, and nowhere in there do I say, go to the MSAR and look at stats.'The schools aren't accepting students only based on stats. A student's fit to the school is so important that you have to think about it like a relationship.'Click To Tweet