Educating medical students is expensive-- it costs time and a number of resources. When students fail to meet the demands of medical school and drop/flunk out, the school's investment has essentially gone to waste. The MCAT is a standardized test that allows admissions officers to quantitatively compare applicants to each other and determine which applicants are most likely capable of meeting the demands of medical education.
Tens of thousands of premeds apply to medical school each year. Many of these applicants score well on the MCAT. Generally speaking, a good score will not get you into medical school, but a bad score will be more likely keep you out. Sometimes, it is impossible for every single application to be read from start to finish. As such, many schools use the MCAT as a screening tool. Applicants with scores above a certain number will be considered and those below the cut off will not. Different schools have different score cut offs, but the average score of successful applicants ( students admitted to at least 1 school) hovers around a 30.
While the MCAT is an important component of the medical school application, it important to note that it is only one of many factors. In terms of gaining admission to medical school, a 45 may not make you any more "special" than a 35 because it is obvious that you are capable of doing the work. Once you have passed the initial screen the other parts of your application-- your personal statement, letters of recommendation, and interview-- are probably more likely to "get you noticed".
Medicine is a service profession. According to HMS commencement speaker, Dr. Donald Berwick, "we [get] our compass the day we decided to be healers. Our compass is one, simple question, and it will point us true north: How will it help the patient?” Those who enter the profession are committing themselves to a lifetime of helping others. In my opinion, a history of volunteerism is an important component of your application to medical school. How else are you going to demonstrate your commitment to helping patients unless you have given your time and used your talents to serve people in the past? ( I can't really speak for MD/PhD applicants, as their applications may call for different things).
You NEED clinical experience when applying to medical school. Many applicants gain clinical experience by volunteering at hospitals or staffing free clinics. That being said, working in a hospital is not the only acceptable form of community service. There are many ways to spend your time helping others in need. These service activities can be clinically focused, but that does not always have to be the case. Make sure that you are passionate about the causes to which you dedicate your time, especially if you write about them in your applications. You you will definitely be asked about these activities on the interview trail. If you choose non-clinical activities however, make sure you are able to get clinical experiences in as well. Shadowing a local physician is an easy way to learn more about the profession.
It's hard to say what will get you chosen for an interview at one school or another. Each school is really looking for something different and emphasize unique things when filtering a pool of applicants. My best advice is to find your passion and pursue it. The path to becoming a physician begins long before medical school matriculation. This path entirely too long to "fake it till you make it." Spend time doing what makes you happy and articulate that passion during every step of the application process, from your AMCAS to your interviews. Schools that appreciate your spirit and value what you have to offer will pick up on that!
: The work/activities section of the AMCAS is an excellent opportunity for medical school applicants to shine. This collection of mini essays really gives you an opportunity to showcase your interests and illustrate the depth and breath of your extracurricular involvement. Fill out as many as you can, but make sure you only describe the activities in which you invested significant time, energy, and effort. These essays are a prime hunting ground for interview questions. Make sure you know everything you write there by heart because you WILL be asked about these activities on multiple occasions. Structure
: I viewed this portion of the application as an extended resume which highlights skill and demonstrates commitment. Make sure you cover these points in the essay:
1. What is the activity? What's the purpose of the organization? Give a sentence or two of background information.
2. What was your involvement? What did you actually do? Who did you work with? What was accomplished? Just like you would in a real resume, make sure to use action words that really depict your contribution to the activity. Make a brief note of the time commitment as well.
These essays don't really provide room for fluff or poetic prose, its all about the business. It's your opportunity to detail your entire resume, especially those activities unrelated to medicine. In these essays you really want to cover the WHO, WHAT, WHERE, and HOW of each activity.
It is important to note however, that you cover the WHY of your most important or meaningful activities in your personal statement and secondary essays. That's when you really need to connect those activities to your desire to become a physician.
As always, its important to make sure everything is well written. Have at least two people proof your work for clarity. They should be able to tell you the WHO, WHAT, WHERE and HOW of each activity with relative ease. Admissions officers don't have time to dig for that information so make it easy for them to like your application.
Here is an example from My AMCAS:Harvard Society of Black Scientists and Engineers
The Harvard Society of Black Scientists and Engineers (HSBSE) is an organization that provides mentorship and career development opportunities for students interested in science, medicine, and engineering. I joined HSBSE my freshman year and in my sophomore year was elected to the board. As Social Chair I planned and moderated events for the organization which included a speaker series, study groups, and general meetings (6 hours/week). In my junior year I was elected Vice- President of the organization and led a board of students in organizing events that catered to our membership (12 hours/week). As Vice-President I was the executive producer of HSBSE’s annual intercollegiate charity step show which raised money for our affiliate mentorship program. I also helped fund-raise, plan and execute HSBSE’s other large events which include a Mentorship Luncheon, and a senior award banquet called Celebration of Excellence. Do you have a question about medical school applications? Ask me by submitting a comment or contacting me via twitter @JenniferAdaeze.
There are a number of issues to consider when making this decision.
1. How low is "low"? The average MCAT score of successful applicants is around 30. If your first score was 1 or 2 points below this, your application should be fine, especially if you are retaking the exam. If you scored below the national average (25), I'd definitely consider holding off on applying this cycle all together. You may not have enough time to complete a solid application and study enough to significantly improve your score.
2. Are you being honest with yourself? Based on the full length practice tests I took, my MCAT score was exactly what I expected it to be. You should be absolutely confident about your score going into the exam, especially if you plan on submitting your scores late. A second poor score will be detrimental to your application. One low MCAT score could be a fluke or explained in interviews, two or more cannot. In my opinion, taking the MCAT more than twice looks bad. Scores are valid for three years, so schools will see all the exams you've taken within that window. Use your test opportunities wisely!
3. Its important to remember that the MCAT is only one component of the entire application. Its always important to put your best foot forward, but if your exam scores are on the lower end of acceptable, you need to make sure that you have stellar recommendations, extracurriculars and a personal statement.
I started my first blog, Chick Lit MD
, in December of 2009. By the time I began filling out my medical school applications I had been actively blogging for approximately 7 months. As someone interested in the intersection between medicine and media, the use of social media was integral to my exploration of both fields. As such, I included my adventures in social media in my application in a tactful and strategic manner. Now that I have actually been accepted to medical school, I’d like to to offer current and future applicants a few tips!Be Professional
- If you are listing social media amongst the activities that have reinforced/ strengthened your interest in medicine, make sure you put your best foot forward. I wrote about ChickLitMD.com in my AMCAS essay and a number admissions committees definitely checked it out. Some told me that they looked at the blog before the interview, and others informed me that they would check it out after the interview ( but before an admissions decision was made). I’m proud to have my name on my website - make sure you are too!Be Aware of Skeptics
- Many physicians are quite conservative about physician exposure on the Internet. Make sure you understand these concerns and anticipate skepticism. I only encountered one interviewer who was skeptical to my face on the application trail. Thankfully I had read Dr. Brian Vartabedian’s advice on including social media in medical school applications
before hand, so I was prepared for this sort of criticism. Above all, you should also be able to articulate the fact that you understand your responsibility to both the medical profession and patients and choose to use social media mindfully.Believe in what you Blog
- Did I mention that admissions officers will read any website you list in your application??? That makes all the content you post fair game for the interview. Be prepared to speak intelligently about any of the material on your website. For example, during one of my interviews I was asked about an article I wrote on the health hazards of smoking Hookah
. Despite the fact that I had written the article many months ago, I was asked to discuss the topic and explain my rationale for including this content on my site. Present Social Media as a Means to an End
- I found that interviewers interested in my social media presence were less interested in WHAT I was doing, and more interested in WHY I was doing it. If you blog about health, why are you doing it? What do you hope to achieve? How is social media helping you achieve these goals? It's important to keep these questions in mind when writing about social media in your applications. In your descriptions you should aim to demonstrate ability, interest, and participation in the promotion of health and wellness. At the end of the day, each activity you describe in your medical school application should illustrate learned skills and demonstrate your potential to be an excellent physician.
My guest post on KevinMD.com
When applying to medical school, the American Medical College Application Service (AMCAS) asks aspiring physicians if they would like to be considered “disadvantaged” applicants or not. Many premedical students find themselves troubled by this question and wonder, what does it mean to be disadvantaged? How does being a disadvantaged applicant affect my medical school application? According to the information American Association of Medical Colleges, the organization that provides the AMCAS application, “disadvantaged status is self-determined.” ...Okay...so how is an applicant to know?
AMCAS suggests that it may be appropriate for those from medically underserved areas or those of low socioeconomic backgrounds to apply as disadvantaged applicants. AMCAS however, fails to advise those who fall into neither category. For example, a medical school applicant may have faced long-term adversity that has nothing to do with living below the poverty line. Learning disabilities, or discrimination due to sexual orientation or gender identity may diminish an applicant’s educational opportunities. Being an immigrant or learning English as a second language may also be a significant obstacle to academic enrichment.
Each medical school has its own policies for how it views disadvantaged applicants. Students that seek this status are asked to provide an additional essay on the AMCAS explaining why they consider themselves to be disadvantaged. This information may be useful in helping an admissions committee understand the broader context of an applicant’s background. If the goal of identifying disadvantaged applicants is to provide admissions committees with a more holistic picture, then extraordinary circumstances of adversity are equally as valid as financial disadvantages.
As you can see, the vague nature of self-determined disadvantage creates unnecessary confusion for medical school applicants. Search “disadvantaged status” and “ AMCAS” and you will find yourself on a wild-Google chase for the answer. Unfortunately, many students end up consulting websites like the Student Doctor Network, where premeds with questionable motives may discourage those who feel disadvantaged from claiming this status for a “leg up.” The discussions that take place on these sorts of websites can be quite unproductive and demeaning towards others’ personal struggles.
If, for example, the AMCAS is only aiming to identify educationally disadvantaged (e.g. being the first/only person in a family to graduate college) and financially disadvantaged (e.g. being raised in poverty) applicants, then questions on the application should be more explicit, and one’s status should be easily determined without any confusion. Medical school applications are costly and time-consuming. Applicants should not have to consult third-party resources to interpret what AMCAS may or may not mean by being “disadvantaged.”