Inside Look from UCF’s Director of Admissions

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PMY 561: Inside Look from UCF's Director of Admissions

Session 561

Today, Laurel joins us to discuss the medical school admissions process at the University of Central Florida College of Medicine. The Director of Admissions, Laurel, provides insights into how applications are reviewed and what students can do to strengthen their applications.

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.

Insights into Medical School Admissions at UCF

The admissions process can be opaque for medical school applicants, but the University of Central Florida College of Medicine aims for transparency.

Laurel has over 16 years of experience in admissions, starting at the undergraduate level before moving to medical school admissions 9 years ago. She emphasized the benefits of transparency, finding it less work than answering endless inquiries.

The Benefits of Transparency

UCF strives to be upfront with applicants about their chances, even delivering unwelcome news, to avoid false hope.Through her own application reviews and committee experience, Laurel provides honest feedback to help applicants understand strengths and weaknesses.

UCF also created an online self-assessment tool for applicants to gauge how their profile compares to expectations. This transparency was intentionally established under prior leadership and continues today.

“One of the most important jobs of our admissions committee… is to try to select students that we think can get through the curriculum.”

This commitment to transparency aims to guide applicants and reduce anxiety about an opaque process. Insights like Laurel’s give valuable context into one medical school’s admissions philosophy and criteria. UCF’s focus on transparency provides a model for supporting applicants’ understanding of their chances.

Beyond the Buzzword: UCF’s Focus on Academic Fit

Medical schools often tout “holistic admissions” but what does this really mean? According to UCF Director of Admissions Laurel, their top priority is academic fit – selecting applicants who have demonstrated an ability to succeed in their curriculum.

While extracurricular activities and life experiences are considered, grades and MCAT scores must first indicate an applicant can handle the rigors of medical education. Even an amazing volunteer resume cannot outweigh insufficient stats that suggest a student will struggle to pass classes.

UCF has a duty to only accept students they believe are prepared for their curriculum’s demands. Being a well-rounded person is secondary to demonstrating the academic skills needed for medical training. Laurel notes selecting students who may not graduate would be a disservice, leaving them in debt without a degree.

“Stats have to prove that you’re gonna pass medical school – because number one, they’re doing you a disservice to accept you.” 

Rather than a buzzword, UCF’s “holistic” process means a thorough review of all application factors. But the initial screening focuses on quantitative data like GPA and MCAT to gauge a baseline likelihood of academic success. This ensures their admitted students are best equipped to thrive in medical school from day one.

A Newer Perspective: Insights from UCF Medical School

As a relatively young medical school, the University of Central Florida College of Medicine brings a fresh approach. Established in 2006, UCF Med is now graduating its 11th class but retains the pioneering spirit of its founding.

Bringing Clarity and Transparency to the Process

This newer status affords its share of benefits, according to Laurel. Without entrenched traditions, UCF Med was built upon innovative ideas like transparency in admissions. Laurel credits the flexible mindset of faculty who helped shape the school from the beginning.

Rather than resistance to change common at long-standing institutions, UCF Med embraced new strategies. The school publishes clear admissions criteria and communicates openly with applicants. Interviewees know exact timelines and potential outcomes.

A Larger Screening Committee

UCF Med also pioneered a large screening committee of volunteer faculty. This decentralized approach avoids burnout while leveraging diverse perspectives. Laurel believes the school’s youth allows openness that older peers may lack due to rigid processes.

As medical education evolves, UCF Med leads with creativity from its start. Applicants gain insight into this fresh-thinking environment through Laurel’s discussions of their student-centered admissions philosophy.

Decoding the Black Box: Insights into Medical School Selection

Medical school admissions is notoriously opaque, but UCF provides a glimpse into their selection process. Laurel outlines the step-by-step journey from application to acceptance.

Initial Screening

The initial screening examines minimum criteria like GPA and MCAT scores. Applicants must demonstrate academic potential before holistic review begins. Volunteer hours and shadowing then come under closer scrutiny to prove a sustained interest in medicine.

If clearing the first hurdle, applications enter a multi-tiered evaluation. Over 30 faculty reviewers assess 20 files weekly, inviting the most competitive to interview. Interviews offer insights but are just one factor – the admissions committee reconsiders everything.

Making the Final Decision

This committee, not the initial screeners, makes final decisions. Laurel emphasizes no single element like an interview clinches a spot; weaknesses in an applicant’s overall profile can emerge here.

By demystifying their methodology, UCF aims to reduce applicant stress. Laurel candidly shares what her school values, from recent clinical experiences to a balance of extracurricular activities. Her transparency provides a model for other institutions and guidance for future doctors.

Beyond the Numbers: The Myth of a Guaranteed Admission

Medical school applicants often assume top grades and test scores will secure an acceptance. However, Laurel dispels this myth, sharing how interviewers consider the whole applicant.

While strong metrics open doors, Laurel notes many qualified candidates exist, exceeding available seats. Interviews probe deeper than numbers alone. A lack of medical experience, unclear motivation, or an overabundance of hobbies raise red flags regardless of stats.

Identifying Fit to the Medical School

Reviewers search for well-rounded candidates who understand medicine’s realities. Grades signal academic ability, but interviews uncover fit, maturity and passion sometimes missing from a transcript. Even top performers risk rejection compared to peers exhibiting well-balanced resumes and mission alignment.

Laurel warns against relying on metrics as an insurance policy. The most competitive stage examines soft skills and fit beyond what standardized tests capture. Numbers open consideration, but fit and substance ultimately decide who joins each class. Applicants underestimate medical school at their peril by assuming high scores guarantee success.

“Not everybody’s going to fit the mold. Not everybody is going to be checking all the boxes… we do consider the life of the person, the road traveled, all of those different things.”

More to Medicine Than Intelligence Alone

While academic prowess is expected, other crucial qualities exist beyond smarts. As Laurel notes, plenty of high-paying careers suit very intelligent individuals without a medical path. Medicine demands not only brainpower, but also compassion, stamina, and meticulous attention to detail. Reviewers search for more than just academic chops – they seek well-rounded applicants passionate about patient care.

“There’s a lot of qualities that are important to being a good doctor – and being smart is not the only quality.”

Those lacking clear motivation or medical experiences risk coming across as applying merely because “it’s what smart people do.” But many fulfilling jobs exist for intelligent people outside of medicine. Admissions committees aim to admit candidates personally aligned with healthcare’s rigors and rewards.

Laurel’s message serves as an important reminder. Medical school is not a default option for book-smart applicants unsure of their calling. Success requires both academic ability and a true fit for medicine’s humanistic challenges. Intelligence alone does not guarantee acceptance or satisfaction in such a demanding career.

Popping the MSAR Bubble: Choosing Medical Schools Beyond Numbers

“If you don’t read what the school is looking for and you just rely on numbers, then you may be wasting your time on applicaton because schools are never going to entertain your application.”

Medical school applicants often rely solely on MSAR data to build their school lists, but Laurel warns this approach can be short-sighted. While GPA and MCAT ranges provide a starting point, deeper research is key to discerning true mission fit.

Finding Your Fit

Some schools explicitly prioritize certain qualities like primary care experience or regional ties that won’t appear in MSAR profiles. Laurel emphasizes wasting time and money applying broadly without understanding an institution’s unique priorities. Simply meeting numeric cutoffs does not guarantee meaningful consideration.

Beyond the numbers, exploring a school’s mission and values reveals whether an applicant’s experiences genuinely align. Faculty research interests and student demographics also provide context into each medical community. Laurel advises seeking this qualitative information directly from admissions contacts or websites rather than assuming quantitative data tells the whole story.

Relying solely on MSAR risks applying widely without comprehending nuanced differences between programs. Popping the numbers-only bubble exposes applicants to diverse philosophies and guides applications toward receptive audiences. Holistic review examines applicants holistically – research should do the same for medical institutions.

Beyond the Checklist: Showing Recency and Consistency in Your Application

“Don’t be a box checker. We want people that have demonstrated a consistent commitment to doing these things over time.”

Medical school applicants often approach their experiences as a checklist to complete, but Laurel warns this mentality misses important context. While hours and activities make the initial cut, her committee seeks evidence of recent, sustained commitment beyond bare minimums.

Recency matters as much as quantity. Laurel cautions against relying on clinical experiences from years past without ongoing engagement. A one-time volunteer shift holds less weight than consistent monthly involvement. Reviewers want to see applicants who continually pursue their passion, not those who check boxes and move on.

Consistency also weighs heavily in holistic evaluations. Scattered activities completed only to pad a resume raise flags compared to applicants demonstrating a true long-term interest through repeated experiences over time. Laurel advises weaving experiences together into a cohesive narrative, not an itemized list.

The most competitive candidates exhibit genuine passion that persists, not a fleeting checklist. Recency and consistency lend authenticity lacking from a simple tally of hours. Applicants who view their application as more than just requirements stand out among those relying on a surface-level approach.

On Acttivities: Clinical Job, Volunteering, & Hobbies

The Difference Between a Job and a Calling: Why Medical Schools Value Volunteer Experience

Laurel sees a clear distinction between paid clinical work and volunteer experience when evaluating applicants. While jobs in healthcare fields like nursing provide valuable skills and exposure to medicine, UCF does not consider them equivalent to volunteering. Even applicants with clinical careers are expected to supplement their experience with additional unpaid medical volunteering.

This demonstrates a commitment to medicine beyond financial obligations and helps offset limitations on volunteering hours due to full-time employment in another clinical role. According to Laurel, volunteer work provides important context about an applicant’s motivation beyond basic job requirements or duties.

A Balanced Act: Why Medical Schools Prefer Well-Rounded Applications Over Packed Resumes

Laurel shares one of her pet peeves when reviewing applications – an overabundance of hobbies listed with very little clinical or service experience. She notes that hobbies are not a strong factor in medical school admissions and taking up valuable application space with them can be detrimental.

Laurel warns against applicants who have many hours dedicated to personal hobbies but little documented volunteering or shadowing. Having a balanced resume that shows dedication to medicine as well as personal interests is ideal, but focusing too much on hobbies to the exclusion of meaningful healthcare-related activities will not look favorable to admissions committees.

“There’s nothing wrong with having hobbies and doing other stuff. But at this point of the game, you need to be preparing for applying to medical school and your resume needs to reflect that.”

Treating Medical School Applications Like a Job Interview

When crafting their application materials, pre-med students would be wise to approach it as they would a job application. UCF Director of Admissions Laurel emphasizes that medical school is a highly competitive process, so applicants need to showcase themselves professionally.

Just as in a job interview, every element of the medical school application is scrutinized for relevance, strength of experience, and mission alignment. Essays, activities, and interviews all aim to convey a candidate’s qualifications and fit for the career. Extraneous or poorly explained details only detract from the message.

Maturity also weighs heavily for careers demanding intense responsibility. Applicants must demonstrate preparedness through a polished, serious presentation of credentials. As in a job search, following all instructions and meeting all requirements signals the ability to follow through on important tasks.

While passion remains crucial, applicants treat medical education more like a career opportunity by highlighting strengths over feelings. Interviewers seek candidates equipped from day one – a well-crafted application establishes this competence for demanding graduate study.

Insights on the New “Most Impactful Experience”

Laurel says that UCF’s admissions committee uses the new “impactful experiences” essay in a similar way to other application information – to better understand an applicant’s full background and path to medical school. They consider any challenges, circumstances or context provided to help paint a more well-rounded picture of the applicant’s life experiences.

This gives the committee a fuller perspective when reviewing candidates and putting all elements of the application into context. The goal is to gain more insight into applicants as individuals to conduct a truly holistic evaluation.

Decoding the Secondary: Insights into UCF’s Application Addendum

Medical school secondaries can seem like an opaque additional hurdle, but UCF provides transparency into their process. According to Director of Admissions Laurel, UCF secondaries aim to learn more about each applicant’s specific fit and motivation.

Questions gauge interest in the school and region through affiliation inquiries. Short essays offer a platform to expand on why medicine appeals beyond primary applications. Laurel views these as opportunities to better understand each candidate’s unique experiences and thought patterns.

While some content annually rotates, consistency exists in probing applicants’ medical passion. Interviews then supplement but don’t replace secondaries’ written insights. Laurel emphasizes no single element like interviews alone decides admissions outcomes.

By demystifying their supplemental questions, UCF sets clear expectations that empower rather than burden applicants. Laurel’s open discussion of what her school seeks from this step provides a model for other institutions to follow in guiding future physicians.

Don’t Blame the Interview: Holistic Review Continues Even After Your Med School Conversation

Laurel clarifies that more often than not, being rejected after an interview is not necessarily a reflection of how the interview itself went. She notes that most applicants interview just fine and are perfectly competent communicators.

Rather, the admissions committee holistically re-reviews all aspects of an applicant’s file, not just their interview performance. Factors from their primary application and secondaries may come back into consideration compared to other interviewed candidates.

Even subtle differences in profiles can separate those accepted from alternates. Laurel aims to reassure rejected interviewees that their interview skills alone likely did not sink their chances. A well-rounded application is still important even after clearing the interview hurdle.

Learning from Rejection: Gaining Insights to Improve Your Next Application Cycle

Getting rejected from medical school is disappointing, but Laurel emphasizes it should not be the end of the road. She advises applicants to view it as an opportunity for growth. Rather than dwelling on the outcome, focus on gaining insights to strengthen a reapplication.

Laurel recommends starting with an honest self-assessment comparing your application to the school’s stated priorities. Note any gaps identified in rejection feedback too. From there, craft a plan to bolster weaknesses over the next year through additional clinical experiences, improved test scores or refined essays.

“A lot of times, people are just lost because they don’t know what wasn’t the strong points of the application.”

Show medical schools how you took rejection constructively by documenting post-rejection improvements. Laurel reassures that with diligent work, many reapplicants secure acceptances having learned from initial missteps. While rejection stings, viewing it as lessons learned sets better applicants up for future success when they reenter the match. Staying proactive moving forward shows continued dedication to overcome past barriers.

Leveling Up Your Reapplication

What Medical Schools Look For in Candidates Who Apply Again

When reviewing re-applicants, Laurel says UCF’s committee pays close attention to the required essay response about activities and improvements since the last application cycle. They want to see what applicants have done to strengthen their candidacy rather than just reapplying with minimal changes. If invited to interview again, re-applicants get an opportunity to elaborate further.

“If it’s gonna be the same one that you just submitted, you’re gonna get the same result.”

Laurel advises taking meaningful steps like gaining additional clinical experiences, improving test scores, or enhancing essays with feedback incorporated. Demonstrating growth, reflection and a continued commitment to medicine strengthens re-applicants’ files and shows their readiness should they reapply successfully.

Don’t Hit Replay!

Laurel strongly advises against simply reapplying with minimal changes, pointing out that doing so will likely result in the same outcome. She emphasizes the importance of taking a year to thoroughly address weaknesses in an application. Students should use the time between cycles to complete meaningful activities, obtain more leadership roles, improve exam scores, or enhance essays with feedback incorporated. It’s better to put in this work upfront rather than hope for a different decision by submitting a largely unchanged reapplication. Proving growth is critical to demonstrating candidacy improvements to admissions committees.

Final Words of Wisdom

For students still pursuing their dream of medical school, Laurel offers encouraging final thoughts. She emphasizes that many pathways exist to become a physician. While the process is challenging, it is possible for dedicated applicants from all backgrounds with the right preparation.

“There is no one profile of an applicant. There’s all kinds of people that go to medical school.”

Laurel advises focusing efforts on requirements like gaining clinical experiences and shadowing doctors to continue exploring medicine. For those facing rejection, she reassures it is not the end by outlining proven strategies like taking time for improvement.

Most importantly, students should explore all healthcare options instead of tunnel vision on one career. With diligence and an open mindset, Laurel believes future doctors can craft their own unique path to success.


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