Success in the application process to professional school and success in the health professions depends on a passion for and commitment to learning, a breadth of life experience, well developed interpersonal skills, a well informed and mature understanding of the demands and requirements of the health professions, and personal energy and organization. Note that a high GPA and platinum-coated Medical College Admissions Test scores (MCAT’s) are not in this list! To the degree that they reflect your interest in learning and thinking skills they do count, but by themselves they are not sufficient! Equally important are the interpersonal, social, and intellectual attributes critical to success in the health professions. These are every bit as important and challenging a part of the preparation process as academics but are often overlooked by students - much to their dismay as the application cycle comes to a conclusion without success.
Why you should ask yourself this question: An effective lifetime career in medicine requires effective lifetime learning. If you are not committed and comfortable with being a true student for the rest of your life, you will be neither committed nor comfortable as a health care provider. Nor will you be effective. Nor will you be successful. Why do you need to continue to learn? The advances in understanding of disease are rapid and continuous. The evolution of technical tools and procedures is constant. The environment in which health care is practiced evolves continually. Consider the political, economic and legal climate, the evolution of patient populations.
To help you explore your own person thoughts about this question, consider the following:
- How do you know that you have made learning a valued element in your approach to life? Can you give examples that show this?
- Have you taken responsibility for educating yourself? Again, can you give specific examples?
- Have you formed educational goals for yourself and are you motivated to learn about subjects for their intrinsic interest or value to you irrespective of external influences?
- Do you approach a subject with respect to its meaning for you or in terms of what it takes to get an “A”. Be honest here.
- How do you know you are pursuing an educational path that is yours versus somebody else’s?
- Do you learn in order to fulfill your own goals, or do you compete with those around you?
- Of your own volition do you explore subjects about which you know nothing both in or out of the classroom? Are you able to initiate learning about something you are not interested in?
- Do you have passion for some subjects? Are you excited about achieving excellence and intellectual depth in a way that requires caring and commitment?
- Do you enjoy and draw on the enthusiasm of committed learners around you, students, and faculty alike?
- Do you like to learn science? Are atoms interesting to you? Transcriptase? Natural selection? Polymers? Buckyballs? Gibbs free energy? DNA replication?
- Do you like to learn broadly? The health professions are practiced in an open arena in which knowledge of the human condition is key to being effective. Politics, law, economics, sociology, psychology, and the expressive and interpretive arts all inform the successful health professional. How can you demonstrate that learning across many different disciplines is important to you?
- Are you interested in contributing to new knowledge? Advancement in the health profession is the result of new knowledge. Research in disease mechanisms, etiology and treatment and research in basic science that might advance medical knowledge are all important.
- Do you like to teach others? A large part of medicine is teaching. Every patient encounter involved teaching. Leadership and advancement of the health professions depends on teaching.
- Do you take risks in choosing your courses?
- Is “being the smartest” important to you?
- Why you should ask yourself this question is simple. An effective and successful health professional is committed to serving others. There is no way you can fake this as the process goes on. To explore your thoughts about this question, consider the following.
- What specific acts can you draw from your life so far that demonstrate your commitment to service?
- How much time have you spent so far in volunteering your services to others in need?
- Have your volunteer efforts been motivated out of a genuine desire to help others or because you have heard that you need to have done volunteer work as a part of an attractive application to professional schools?
- Do you wait for opportunities to be of help to arise, or do you have a regular program of proactive community service?
- Can you say you have experienced the unpleasant, tedious, and emotional aspects of human service? Can you say that you have experienced these things to a degree sufficient to say that you can accept them?
- What have you done to demonstrate to yourself your acceptance of the fact that much of the service you provide may not seem to have an immediate benefit or perhaps no benefit at all?
- Do you offer your service because of how it makes you feel, or because of how it might make the recipient feel?
- How can you further explore whether service is important to you?
- The physical, emotional, and intellectual challenges in the health professions are immense. They result from the serious issues that an individual human life can present when you are in a position of responsibility. The workload is large and always with you, which requires physical and emotional stamina. The problems faced can be a complicated mix of the most sophisticated and newest science, behavioral psychology, intricate politics, and thorny ethical and philosophical considerations. You need to be as certain as you can be before committing to a life in the health professions. To explore your thoughts about this, consider the following questions.
- What specific influences can you identify that have caused you to consider a career in the health professions?
- What role have your parents played in your decision?
- What role has your significant other or spouse played in your decision/
- What role have your friends played in your decision?
- Can you produce a listing of articles and books about the health care profession that you have read?
- What other careers have you considered and rejected? Why did you reject them? Be specific!
- What personal strengths would you bring to the health professions? In what ways do you think you are ideally suited for the health professions? What aspects do you think will be the easiest for you?
- What aspects of the health professions will be a challenge for you?
- What aspects of life in the health professions do you think might always be stressful for you?
- Have you talked with experienced health professionals about their lives and profession?
- Can you point to an experience that demonstrates your ability to work effectively as a member of the health care team?
- What, that you enjoy or cherish, will you have to reduce or give up in order to pursue a career in the health professions?
- Can you point to aspects of other careers that really appeal to you or play on a strength you have that you will not be able to develop because you chose to enter a health profession?
- How important are prestige, money, and/or a respected profession to you?
- Can you demonstrate your understanding of the power of cultural and societal issues in the maintenance of health and the prevention of disease?
- Have you worked with persons different from you intellectually, ethnically, or socio-economically? (This one is critically important!)
- What can you do to provide further information or experience that will enable you to make a well-informed decision?
The Four-Year Time Frame to Prepare Yourself for Medical School
There is nothing magical about the four-year time frame to prepare you for medical school! Each year, only 33% of the first-time applicants from colleges are applying in their 4th year for matriculation to professional school right after graduation. The majority have chosen to take an additional semester or two to complete their degree, to take some graduate courses or a graduate degree, or a period for work, or travel, or personal development. Or they chose to take advantage of college opportunities, such as Study Abroad, that extend the time needed to prepare for professional school. In choosing the right path for yourself, try to remember that you have considerable freedom. Your college experience is part of a continuum that should foster intellectual and personal development, not constrain you to a narrow path. There is no advantage to be gained in rushing your preparation for a health careers profession! You are not in a contest that goes to those who are swiftest or who take prodigious course loads in order to graduate early. Professional schools are seeking applicants who have developed maturity based on experience with life and who have taken time to grow, to prepare intellectually, and to make a well-informed decision to pursue a career in the health professions. Give yourself every opportunity to prepare for the rigors and challenges of the health professions.
Frequently Asked Questions About Medical School
- What is the difference between a DO and an MD
- Questions about the MCAT
- Questions about the AMCAS and AACOMAS Application and Secondary Application
- Questions About Committee Letters and Letters of Recommendation
- Questions about the Interview Process
- The Typical Timetable for the Application Process
- What will Make me the Ideal Candidate
- How Important is Experience
- Do I have to have a degree in Science or Biology
The following is a description of a DO as presented in the College Catalog 2000-2001 of the University of Health Sciences.
In the mid-1800's Andrew Taylor Still, M.D., became disillusioned with contemporary medical "remedies" that involved such nefarious practices as bleeding, purging, and drugging. For ten years, Dr. Still studied, observed, and experimented, and in June of 1874 he unveiled a new medical philosophy - a philosophy that emphasized the revolutionary concepts of holism, prevention, and manipulation. He named his philosophy Osteopathic Medicine.
The premise of osteopathic medicine is that people are more than just the sum of their body parts. That is why Doctors of Osteopathic Medicine (D.O.'s) practice a whole-person approach to medicine. Instead of just treating specific symptoms, osteopathic physicians concentrate on treating patients as a whole. Osteopathic physicians understand how all the body's systems are interconnected and how each one affects the others. They focus special attention on the musculoskeletal system, which reflects and influences the condition of all other body systems. Doctors of Osteopathic Medicine help patients develop attitudes and life-styles that don't just fight illness, but help prevent it, too.
When is the MCAT offered?
The MCAT at this point in time is offered the third weekend in April and the second weekend in August. The registration period for both of these dates usually precedes the test by 10-12 weeks. This test is given on paper and uses the traditional "bubble sheet" style test for the exam. There is a possibility that this test will become all computerized, however, this may not happen for quite some time.
What is the best time to take the MCAT? April or August?
The standard thinking on this is that it is best to take the MCAT in April for three reasons. First, more and more medical schools are starting to accept students on what is called "rolling enrollment" where they accept a few people from each interview session, and once their class is full, it is full. The schools that use this style of enrollment typically fill their classes before the scores from the August MCAT are released. Secondly, many students are completing their pre-requisites in the spring semester, and the material is the most "fresh" at this point in time. Lastly, and not necessarily a good reason, but a valid one, if you do not do well in April, you still have time to register for the exam held in August. This allows you to stay within the same application cycle. Keep in mind that if you take the August exam, scores are typically not released until late October or early November, which means you will not be receiving secondary applications or invitations for interviews until after the first of the next year. You will not be at a disadvantage for taking the August MCAT unless you apply to a school that uses a rolling enrollment procedure.
What subject matter does the MCAT cover?
The MCAT tests over the subject matter covered in your pre-requisite courses, general biology, general chemistry, organic chemistry, physics, English literature, and English composition. There are four sections to the MCAT. These include the biological sciences which test your biology and organic chemistry knowledge, physical sciences which test your general chemistry and physics knowledge, a verbal section which tests your vocabulary and reading abilities, and a written portion. Keep in mind that the MCAT does not cover strictly objective knowledge. It will ask questions that require you to integrate biology and organic chemistry together to answer questions. In addition, you will not be allowed to take in cards or papers with formulae already written out. It is strongly advised that as part of your regular class studying, you learn these now, rather than trying to memorize them before the MCAT. It cannot be stressed enough that you must know not only objective facts about all these subjects, but also know and understand the concepts of these subjects, and how they interact with each other. You must be able to apply your knowledge to solve problems. Make sure you have sufficient reading skills. Many students score poorly because they do not finish. Start NOW reading EVERY day for speed and comprehension.
How is the MCAT scored?
The MCAT is scored on a scale of 2-15. Each test administration is adjusted so that a score of 8 is roughly the 50th percentile for that test administration. Most medical schools look for students with "double digits" meaning an average score of 10 or better. A score of 10 is approximately the 75th percentile. Scores of 14 or 15 are in the 99th+ percentile. I have seen one score of 14. They are extremely rare! Do not feel badly if you do not receive these types of scores. Scores of 11 or better are superb scores and will make you competitive at virtually any medical school in the country.
How long does it take to get scores back?
Typically, you can plan on 6 weeks before scores are released. However, there have been instances where they have taken longer. I do not get your scores that much earlier than you do. I cannot release your scores to you if I do happen to get them before you do. This means that for the April administration, you can plan on scores coming out the first week or so in June. For the August administration, they will be out the first part of October.
How long are MCAT scores valid for?
This will depend in part on the school. For many schools, your scores will be valid for five years. However, for some, they will be valid for only three years. The medical schools count backward from the time you would matriculate into medical school to determine how old your scores are. So, to determine if your scores are valid, determine when you would start medical school, and count back 3 or 5 years.
Are the prep courses that are available worthwhile? Which one is best?
There are several prep courses you can take to prepare for the MCAT. These are offered by companies such as Kaplan or Princeton. The medical school itself also offers a prep course. As to whether or not these courses are worthwhile, and which one is best, this is a difficult question to answer. Prep courses work if you remember two things. First, they will not teach you facts or concepts you have not learned once already. They are indeed review courses. If you never learned about substitution reactions, these courses would not help you out. Secondly, they will not help you out if you do not follow their program exactly and completely. This includes a great deal of time outside of class.
The two advantages I see to these courses are these. First, you are exposed over and over to the actual test style and conditions that you will face on the day of the actual test. This is beneficial no matter how you look at it. Secondly, I am convinced that the MCAT is as much a mental thing as it is anything else. If taking a preparatory course will help you feel better about the test mentally, it is something you should consider. If however, it will simply create more stress because it is one more thing to do, then I would recommend reconsidering taking a prep course.
There is no prep course that is better than the other. I have talked to many students who liked and disliked both Kaplan and Princeton. It is a personal decision. They approach the material from different teaching styles, and you need to determine which one is the best fit for your particular learning style.
How else can I study for the MCAT if I don't want to take a commercial prep course?
There are numerous ways to approach preparing for the MCAT. NOTHING, repeat, NOTHING substitutes for learning the material the first time through when you are taking the classes. However, other things students have done that seemed to work include the following. Some formed study groups with one or two other people and met each week for 3-4 hours and worked on the material. They usually started in August, the semester prior to the test. Others use commercially available books that you can get from any bookstore. Others have simply used their old textbooks and done things on their own. It is my opinion, based on many years of talking to students, that the LEAST effective way to prepare for the MCAT is to study alone. You tend to study those things that you understand or like and ignore those things that are hard or you don't understand. Again, it is important to stress that the best way to prepare for this test is to use a method that will help you feel the most confident about your ability to do well.
How many times can I take the MCAT?
You can take the MCAT up to three times without special consideration. After that you will need a letter from me to take the test a fourth or fifth time. It is strongly recommended that you take this test as few times as possible. More and more schools are beginning to evaluate you on how many times it took you to get acceptable scores on the MCAT.
How do medical schools evaluate multiple MCAT scores?
Most, and the key word here is MOST schools take the best set of scores. Some look only at the most recent, some at the first. They do not average them together, nor do they take individual scores from different administrations to form an aggregate set of scores. I STRONGLY recommend you not take the test "for practice". Assume you only have one shot at this test, and approach it accordingly.
Where can I get a copy of the AMCAS and/or AACOMAS application?
Starting with the application year 2001, both the AMCAS and AACOMAS applications are online applications only. As part of these applications, you will find a worksheet that you can download and print out. This allows you to work on the application off-line. I would strongly recommend using the work sheet. Both AMCAS and AACOMAS are going to restrict how long you can be online at one time. It will be much better use of your time to do as much as you can offline.
What is the deadline for submitting the AMCAS and/or AACOMAS application?
The deadline for submitting the AMCAS or AACOMAS application is based on the deadline for the medical school you are applying to. Most of the medical school in the United States have a November 1st or November 15th deadline. However, some are in October, and some are in December.
Regardless of the medical school deadline, you should submit your application as close to the earliest date you can submit your application. Last year that date was June 18th. It does not matter that you are planning on the August MCAT exam. AMCAS and AACOMAS can process your application and have it ready to go once your MCAT scores are released. The sooner you get your AMCAS and/or AACOMAS application in, the better.
How much will it cost to submit my AMCAS or AACOMAS application?
The current fee for both is $155.00 for one school and an additional $55.00 for each school after that. Keep in mind as well that neither AMCAS nor AACOMAS will refund any money for missed deadlines.
What things should I put on my application with respect to experience and jobs?
Everything. You should list everything you have been involved with, both medical and non-medical. The new AMCAS and AACOMAS applications give you a place to put who you worked for or did volunteer work for, the dates you did the work, how many hours you worked per week on average, and a brief description of what you did. So you should include functions and activities with churches, civil groups, boy scouts, girl scouts, 4-H, Masons, etc. The goal here is to let them know who you are, and what you feel is important enough to be a part of. This is a place for you to "toot your own horn" so to speak. The one warning I have is to make sure you can articulate how each of these things have helped to make you a better candidate for medical school. If you did something that did not help much, such as spending a summer in the Bahama's playing in the sun, don't mention it on this application.
What exactly is the personal statement for and what should I put in my personal statement?
The personal statement is a place for you to talk about yourself. There are several ways you can approach this in my opinion. The personal statement is a place for you to answer the questions "Who am I?" or "What are the key events that have gotten me to this point in time?". Use this space to tell the medical schools about yourself, both pros and cons. If you have something negative on your application such as low GPA, bad semester, minimal experience, etc., use this space to succinctly talk about this. Be sure if you do this, to end that discussion with something positive, like how that has helped you learn about yourself and made you a better candidate.
One of the things I recommend is to give your personal statement to at least 5 different people, some of whom know you very well, some of whom do not know you very well. Have them read your statement, put it down, and then tell you who you are, and why you have chosen to go to medical school. They should be able to tell you the key points in your life that have led you to making this decision. You should be able to see/hear yourself when they tell you what they read. If what they tell you is what you want the committees at the various medical schools to know, then you are probably close to being done. However, if what you hear is nothing like what you want, then you have work to do.
The other pitfall I would recommend avoiding is writing a futuristic story in the third person. It doesn't tell people much. It tells them what you hope to be, but not how or why.
The personal statement is your closing argument. It is your chance to direct the attention of the committee to whatever you want them to pay particular attention to. Be upbeat, positive, and professional. Do not get flowery with your language. If they read a statement that is worthy of a literary Nobel prize, but when they interview you, you use normal everyday words, they are going to wonder who wrote your personal statement for you. Write the same way you talk. Don't try to be fancy. Be clear. Be concise. Tell them about yourself.
Can I leave the personal statement page blank?
Yes, if you don't want to go to medical school. A blank personal statement page is a guaranteed rejection. You don't have to fill it up, but you must put something down. Do not leave it blank.
How do I know when my personal statement is ready? How can I tell when it is done?
As was stated in the question above, one of the things I recommend is to give your personal statement to at least 5 different people, some of whom know you very well, some of whom do not know you very well. Have them read your statement, put it down, and then tell you who you are, and why you have chosen to go to medical school. They should be able to tell you about the key points in your life that have led you to making this decision. You should be able to see/hear yourself when they tell you what they read. If what they tell you is what you want the committees at the various medical schools to know, then you are probably close to being done. However, if what you hear is nothing like what you want, then you have work to do.
How do I list courses that may not be strictly biology, chemistry, physics, or math?
One of the things you will have to do on your AMCAS or AACOMAS application is list all the courses you have taken since you started college. It is called the course inventory. AMCAS and AACOMAS as well as the medical schools leave it up to you to make the decision as to whether a course is biology, chemistry, physics, math, or all other. This is easy when the course name has a biol or chem or math or phys abbreviation. The problem becomes what to do with certain psychology or engineering courses. The decision as to what to declare these types of courses is strictly up to you. It is supposed to be based on the majority content of the course. If the course content was primarily one of the above types, then you classify it accordingly. If the class content was not primarily science or math, then it is classified as an "all other" course. If you have any problems, see me.
What do I do if there is an error on my transcript? Can I put the correct grade on the course inventory sheet?
One of the most important things you need to do BEFORE you begin to fill out your AMCAS or AACOMAS application is to get a copy of your transcript and make sure it is accurate. If there are errors, you need to get them corrected on your transcript before you begin to fill out your AMCAS or AACOMAS application. You MUST put the grade, course title, and credit hours on your course inventory as they appear on your transcript, even if they are wrong. That is why it is critical that you make sure your transcript is accurate BEFORE filing your AMCAS application. If there is a discrepancy between what is on your transcript and what is on the AMCAS or AACOMAS application, they will not process your application. Make sure things are accurate. It will potentially save you a LOTof time in the future.
Do I have to answer the questions on the last page about felony's etc?
Yes. If you leave any of the questions blank, your application will not be processed.
Once I have submitted my AMCAS or AACOMAS application, can I correct it or make additions?
Yes and No. You can change contact information such as your address, phone, email address etc., but once the AMCAS or AACOMAS is sent in and processed, it is done. If you discover an error, there is nothing you can do about it. That is why it is so critical that you make sure you proofread your entire application, and have at least three other people proof read it as well. In addition, you cannot send in any other documents to add to your AMCAS or AACOMAS application. If any documents other than transcripts are received by the AMCAS or AACOMAS people, they will simply shred them. The bottom line is to make sure you have completed your application properly and had several people help you proofread it as well.
Do I send my letters of recommendation or other documents in with my AMCAS?
Again, NO!. If AMCAS or AACOMAS receives any documents other than transcripts and the AMCAS or AACOMAS application, they will be destroyed.
If I am taking the August MCAT should I wait until my scores arrive to send in my AMCAS or AACOMAS application?
No, unless there is some significant doubt that you will continue with the application process. The longer you wait to send in your AMCAS or AACOMAS application, the longer it will take to process it. If you send it in sometime in June or July, even though you are not taking the MCAT until August, the AMCAS and AACOMAS people will have at least processed your application, so that on the day the MCAT scores are released, they can also release your AMCAS or AACOMAS application.
What is a secondary application? What is included in these applications?
The secondary application is the application sent to you by the specific medical schools to which you have applied. Once they have received your AMCAS application, and evaluated whether or not you are a valid candidate, they will send you a secondary application. This application will ask questions that pertain specifically to the school you have applied to. These will include questions about why their specific school, what programs they have that you find interesting, what support systems you might have in the area etc. It is critical that you investigate each school and find out about specific programs they have, and other factors so that you can talk intelligently about the school when you interview or fill out the secondary application.
Often, these applications will ask you for a second personal statement. DO NOT just copy the statement from your AMCAS application. They already have this one. They want to know other things and will often guide that with specific questions. In addition, there will often be a question about whether or not there is anything else you want to add that was not included in your original AMCAS application. This would be one place to mention errors on your AMCAS application if they were significant. This would also be the place to add information about other classes you have taken, further clinical or research experience that was not included on the AMCAS application and the like.
How do I get a secondary application one?
Secondary applications are sent to valid candidates only after the medical school to which you have applied has evaluated all your academic credentials, and feels you are still a valid candidate. You really have no control over this. You cannot call or write and get one early. Once you have turned in your AMCAS or AACOMAS, you can expect to start receiving secondary applications within three to four weeks on average.
When are secondary applications due?
Most schools want your secondary applications back within 2-3 weeks. Do not put these off. They are as difficult if not more so than the AMCAS to complete, and you don't have nearly the time to do them that you had to complete the AMCAS. Keep in mind also that every school charges an additional fee that must be returned with the secondary application. The average right now is about $60.00 per school. However, some are as high now as $120.00.
What is a committee letter?
A committee letter is a composite letter of recommendation that is put together by the Health Careers Advisory Committee here at UCD. In summary, what happens is you, the student, complete the application process for a letter. As part of that process, you have 3-5 individuals submit letters of recommendation as part of that application. The letters submitted by the people you select, are then sent to the medical schools or other graduate schools you choose along with a cover letter from the committee. To write that cover letter, the committee will review all the application material you submit including your other letters of recommendation and will also conduct a 30-45 minute interview. From this material, we will write a letter and send it along with certified copies of the letters you have submitted.
It is important to remember that even if you start the committee letter process, you are not obligated to have that letter sent. When we conduct the interview, as part of the process, we will inform you that day whether or not we can write a letter that will be of use to you or not. You then have total control over whether or not that letter is sent. If you give us envelopes addressed to the medical schools, the letter is sent. If you do not, then it is not sent. I will, however, if you choose not to have the committee letter sent, send the other letters of recommendation that were submitted on your behalf. I will write a cover letter simply stating that we collected these for you, and that we are now sending them on. There will be no mention that you did or did not pursue a committee letter.
Is a committee preferred over standard letters of recommendation?
This will depend to some extent on the school. Many schools do prefer this type of letter if the institution where you attended college offers this service. In fact, many will want to know why you did not submit a committee letter if they know you come from an institution that has a committee. The reasons for preferring this type of letter vary significantly from school to school. But they are considered important at many medical schools.
If I have a committee letter done, do I have to have it sent to some or all the schools I intend to apply to?
No. You have complete control over the letter. The only way the committee letter is sent is if you provide stamped, addressed, envelopes to the schools you wish the letter to be sent to. If we do not receive those envelopes, the letters do not go out.
What if I have had a professor for a class and I want a letter now while he/she can remember me but I am not applying for several years?
I am more than happy to collect, file, and protect letters of recommendation. In fact, I strongly suggest students have letters written as soon as possible after having a professor for a class, while the professor can remember the details of your interactions with them. Have them send the letter directly to me, and I will keep it filed until such time as you are ready to have them sent off as part of your application process.
Who are the best people to write letters? Is it better to have doctors or professors or who write a letter?
The best people to have write letters for you are those who can add something to your application that is not already there, and who can attest to your probability of success as a student. This includes professors, lab instructors, teaching assistants, etc. You do not have to have only tenured professors. In fact, lab instructors and teaching assistants often write letters that are much more useful, simply because they have spent more one on one time with you than a classroom professor.
Be sure that the person writing the letter can address things such as your ability to handle stress, work with peers, make decisions, handle multiple tasks at once, etc. If all the letter writer can do is reiterate things that are already on your application, then their letter won't be of much help. Make sure they can ADD to your application, not just reinforce your application.
Lastly, if you are obtaining this letter for medical school, practicing physicians are often the worst people to have write letters for the very reason just stated. They often write a letter that says how well you've done in school, reiterate your volunteer work etc. They seldom add anything new to the application. Keep in mind that letters of recommendation are not used to assess your probability of being a good physician. The medical school assumes that if you are accepted, THEY will make you a good physician. What they want is to know whether or not you have what it takes to survive the rigors of medical school. This is in part why they want primarily academic letters, not professional letters.
What should people who write letters of recommendation say? What is important to have in a letter?
Again, letter writers need to be able to add to your application. They need to address your ability to cope with stress, deal with your peers, handle multitasking, punctuality, etc. Medical school admissions committees couldn't care less about whether or not you will make a good doctor because you watched a quadruple bypass. They need to be able to include anecdotal stories and events that demonstrate both the level of your relationship with this person as well as how much they have really worked with you.
When should letters of recommendation be sent?
Letters of recommendation are being considered by more and more medical schools and other programs as part of the decision whether to offer you an interview or not. Therefore, they are often submitted as part of the supporting material for the secondary application. DO NOT SEND THEM IN WITH YOUR AMCAS OR OTHER APPLICATIONS EXCEPT IN THE CASE OF THE CASPA APPLICATION FOR PHYSICIAN ASSISTANTS!! When each individual medical or other graduate school send you their secondary packet, they will almost always include instructions on what they want as part of the letter of recommendation component of the application. Follow their instructions exactly! If they say they only want three letters, send three: not four, not five. This will be part of your evaluation.
Can I see my letters of recommendation?
No, unless you are accepted to medical school. The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) states that enrolled students can have access to their files, including letters. However, if you are not enrolled, but are in the process of being accepted, you do not have access to those letters. The waiver of confidentiality that you sign on documents does not entitle you to see your letters at any time. It entitles you to see your letters if you are officially matriculated into a specific school, not as part of the application process.
Is it appropriate to "coach" my letter writers?
To some extent, yes. It is appropriate to ask them to emphasize things like leadership skills, ability to handle stress, etc. It is not appropriate to write the letter for them and ask them to sign it. It is appropriate to ask them directly if they will be able to write you a positive letter. If they cannot, it is appropriate to rescind your request.
How are interviews done at the Colorado School of Medicine?
The University of Colorado Health Sciences Center conducts interviews very similarly to other schools around the country. You will be interviewed, one-on-one, by two members of the admissions committee. These are usually 30 minutes each and can take on any style. Some interviewers will ask many questions about your application. Others will simply come in and talk about what seems to be totally unrelated things. Rest assured they are obtaining very important information about you in either situation. At some schools, you will also be evaluated on your ability to work with groups. To do this, you will be placed in a group of 8-12 other candidates, and asked to come to consensus on a problem you will be presented. You will be evaluated on your ability to contribute, how well you listen, how well you compromise, if necessary, etc. You cannot prepare for this aspect of the interview. Don't try.
Are interviews done the same way at all schools?
No. There are several variations. Some schools will interview 8-10 students at once in front of a panel of interviewers. Others will have you write an essay the day of your interview prior to any other aspect of your interview. Some will pair you up with a medical student, and have you attend a class with them. There are several other variations, but they are rare and not worth getting into the details about here.
Do I need to wear a tie and coat (men)?
Yes and/or no. One of the most important aspects of the interview is to present to the medical school admissions committee who you are. If you are the type of person who hasn't worn a coat and tie in 10 years, and suddenly do, you run the very real chance of making yourself so uncomfortable and self-conscious that you will not do well on the interview. Does this mean you should wear a T-shirt and blue jeans? No. It means you should be professional. Dress in whatever manner you would to present yourself in a professional manner.
Do I need to wear a dress (women)?
See the above comments on men. Again, the key is to look professional. Dress in whatever way you feel most comfortable. If you are dressed professionally but comfortably, you will do well on the interview.
How should I prepare for an interview?
This is a question that is very difficult to answer, and probably, in reality, doesn't have an answer. But there are several things you could do that would help increase the probability of doing well. First and foremost, know your own application. Make sure you have read through your application the evening before and/or the morning of your interview. Make sure you can discuss the details of your volunteer/work record/experiences. Know what you have said in your personal statement. Be up to date on the health care reform movement in this country. Make ruse you have given some thought to how you feel about that with respect to the many social and political issues of the day. Be able to give specific examples of things to demonstrate your knowledge or passion for this process. Above all, BE YOURSELF. DO NOT try to guess/tell them what you think they want to hear. Experienced interviewers can detect B.S. a mile away. If they think you are trying to tell them what you think they want to hear, you're doomed.
What are some things that I should or should not do the day before and/or day of the interview?
Do not try to "rehearse" answers. Make sure you have read your application. Make sure your car is working and/or you have an alternate plan for getting to the interview in case your primary plan fails. Make sure you have eaten dinner and breakfast. DO NOT GO TO AN INTERVIEW WITH AN EMPTY STOMACH!! Get a good night's sleep. Plan what you want to wear a couple of days in advance. Don't wait until the morning of your interview to start thinking about this. Bottom line? Do as much as you can before the evening prior to your interview, so that you don't have anything to stress you out.
What are some typical questions that Imay be asked during my interview?
- Questions centering on your motivation and the testing of your motivation: When did your interest in medicine first arise? What other experiences accentuated this interest? Trace why you have wanted to be a doctor (nurse or such) from your freshman year in high school to today. Why do you want to be a doctor or other type of health professional?
- Questions centering on your understanding of medical school or other program: why do you think you will do well in medical school or graduate school? What makes for a good medical student or graduate student?
- Questions centering on how you view the future, on how you project your past experiences into the future and what your life goals are: What will you be doing ten years from now? What type of medicine will you practice? Fantasize about yourself as a physician or other health care provider.
- Questions centering on prejudice (on their part) and on how you have planned your life: Why did you choose to go to CU at Denver rather than to that other campus in Boulder?
- Questions centering on the nature of your support groups which have been shown to be essential for success in medical school or other graduate programs: What is your family like? What are your friends like? Do they support your decision? What is your relationship with your family? Do you get along with your mother, wife, etc.?
- Questions centering on your likes and dislikes and how you perform under adverse conditions: What was your biggest adversity? What was the best experience in your life? What was the worse experience in your life?
- Questions centering on your self evaluation: What are your strong points? What are your weak points?
- Questions centering on your outside interests and your inquiring mind and how you deal with stress: What are the last two books (non-school) you have read? Did you like them? Why did you like them? What do you do for relaxation?
- Questions centering on poor performance in the past, or on the breakup of a marriage; have you moved beyond the experiences, or do you still carry a guilt about them that might erupt when you are stressed as a medical student: Why did you get divorced? why did you get an F in...? Do you see the ex often? Do you see your child(ren) often?
- Questions centering on the aspect of medicine you have chosen: Why not a career in research? If you want to help people, why not become a minister or a psychologist?
- Questions asked of both males and females: How will your child(ren) be taken care of if they are sick? What happens if you (your wife) gets pregnant while you are in medical school? How will you deal with marriage while in medical school?
- Questions centering on how you react to people and how you have thought about your experiences: During your clinical experiences, what have been the worst and what have been the best patients?
- Questions centering on how realistic you are: What will you do if you are not accepted? What about next year?
- Questions centering on current issues: How do you view socialized medicine? How do you view Federal health insurance? How should abortions be financed? What about test tube babies? What about genetic engineering?
- Questions about situations (note there are no right answers, but you should answer!). They are looking to see if you are flexible, opinionated, innovative, how you view people, etc.: A 15 year old girl comes in and is pregnant and does not want her parents to know. A 50 year old man with an ulcer is not taking his medicine properly. A 70 year old woman has terminal cancer and wants to die. A 50 year old man has signed a living will. His wife, however, wants you, the doctor, to do all heroically possible to prolong his life. What would you do?
- Questions specific to your discipline. why your discipline? why not another?
There are probably several tens of dozens more, but this should give you an idea.
If I walk out of my interview feeling really good or bad, is that an indication of how the interview went?
NO!! Do not fall into the trap of assuming that since you felt really good or bad, that an interview went well. Good interviewers do not reveal their feelings openly, or in a way that is easy to predict. Your interview was your interview. Period. Do not read anything into the indirect communication of an interviewer. Now if somebody says something very direct, either positively or negatively, you can usually assume that is something they truly feel. Otherwise, don't drive yourself nuts trying to second guess how things went. If you do the very best you can, that is all you can expect of yourself.
Is there anybody or any place on this campus where I could get help with interview styles or skills?
Yes. Although the number of pre-health students on this campus has made it impossible for me to do mock interviews, the Career Center in the Tivoli Student Union will. They have individuals who will do a mock interview, record that interview, and then go over it with you, and help you evaluate your own performance. They will do this as many times as it is reasonable to help you out. Give them a call at 303-556-2250.
The "typical" time for the application process for medical school is a minimum of a year and one-half. The following times assume a traditional student who is attending school full time. I realize that many students on this campus do not fit this mold. You will have to fit this into your timetable. What is more important is to follow the steps in the appropriate order. So, the easiest thing to do is to outline the steps/courses in the recommended order.
- During this time, you should take general biology with lab and general chemistry with lab. Be sure you take the courses designed for majors.
- You should also be gaining experience, either through paid positions or volunteer positions, about the health care delivery system as it exists today. The medical schools are going to look for evidence of this.
- During these years you should take organic chemistry with lab and physics with lab. UCD offers both a College Physics (physics 2010 - 2040) which is trigonometry based, or a general physics which is calculus based. The choice is yours. Most students take the trig-based physics, as this is what is covered on the MCAT. However, if you REALLY like math, and it comes easy to you, the calculus based may be better prep.
- You should continue gaining experience about the medical profession. You can't have too much!
- This will be the busiest time for you with respect to the application process. For those who have already completed a BA or BS degree, there will be less to do. For those who are still working on a degree, you will need to complete your degree prior to matriculating into medical school.
- Once you have completed all the pre-requisite courses, you need to register for the MCAT. This is usually done during the spring semester of the Junior year or the equivalent.
Here is a list of the events that occur as part of the process in the general order they occur in.
- Late January - MCAT Registration available on the web.
- January - Committee Letter packets available in NC 3014B
- January - Get copy of transcripts and verify that they are accurate to date!
- Late February - Early March - AMCAS applications available on the web.
- Mid-March - Deadline for registering for MCAT without paying late fee.
- Mid-April - MCAT exam given to those who have applied.
- March, April, and May - Work on AMCAS application and committee letter packet; get letters of recommendation. Send out transcript requests as soon as possible. Start working on personal statement.
- June 1st - Earliest date to submit AMCAS application. Submit as early as possible. Continue to work on letters of recommendation if applicable as well as committee letter if applicable.
- March - September - Interviews at UCD for committee letters.
- July - December - Start receiving secondary applications. Timing of arrival dependent on when AMCAS application was submitted.
- September -December - Interviews conducted by medical schools. Again, timing dependent on completion of AMCAS and secondary applications.
- January - April - Interviews held by medical schools.
- March and April - 85% of those accepted will receive their acceptances about this time.
- May - Graduate from College!
- May - July - Prepare to begin medical school.
Nothing. There is no such thing as the "ideal" candidate. The things that will make you a very viable candidate and greatly enhance your chances of getting into medical school include the following things. Remember that there are many different ways to accomplish these goals. You do not have to do what other students do.
- Make sure you have a strong academic record. That includes the best grade point average you can get overall, in your science courses, and in your last 30 credit hours. A strong grade point average is anything 3.5 or greater. Obviously the higher the better. But also keep in mind that every year there are students with a 3.9 or 4.0 GPA who do not get into medical school. So, although GPA is important, it is not the ONLY thing that is evaluated as part of the admissions process.
- As part of your strong academic record, make sure you have taken a variety of courses, and have not taken primarily "easy" courses. Many individual members of admissions committee's will look at what courses you have taken to get your good GPA. If they are all lower division or 3000 level courses, this could work against you. This doesn't mean take a large number of courses that are very difficult, and you are likely to do poorly in. You know your limits. Stretch them, don't break them.
- Make sure you have done extremely well in all your science and math courses. Virtually every medical school or graduate school looks at the GPA you have attained in all your science courses. This is often given a bit more weight than your cumulative undergraduate GPA. It is crucial that you do VERY well in all your science courses. This does not mean if you get a "C" in something that you are out of the running. However, you cannot afford very many "C's". It is also strongly recommended that if you should get a "C" in something, you repeat that course. Admissions committees, in evaluating your transcript will look to see if you repeated science courses that you received less than stellar grades in.
- Try your very hardest to make your senior year your best year. Many schools look at the last 30 credit hours and calculate a GPA for those courses as well. Some schools give this the most weight of all the GPA calculations done. Others will look at what is called a "best year" which is a traditional academic year (Fall/Spring). This can be your freshman year or your post-bac year. It doesn't matter what year, and it doesn't matter in general what courses you take. Obviously, if you take nothing but very easy courses, this will not work for you, but will rather work strongly against you. Use common sense. You are trying to show the medical school admissions committees that you have the academic ability to succeed in medical school. You do that by taking rigorous courses and doing well in them.
- Obviously, you must do well on the MCAT or GRE or whatever admissions test you need to take. Well is generally defined as a double digit average for the MCAT, 600 or better for the GRE. Keep in mind that 8 on the MCAT is considered the 50th percentile +/- a few percent. 500 is considered the 50th percentile on the GRE. You need to show them you can perform at a level greater than this. A score of 10 or better is generally very competitive for the MCAT while a score of 600 or better is very competitive for the GRE. If you have a very low GPA (3.3 or less) these numbers need to be higher in most cases.
- Experience is crucial. You must show them you know what you are getting into. The more experience, the better. Your experience has to be something that is patient related. In general (but not always!) the more varied your experiences the better. However, if you have LOTS of experience in one area that will often be OK as well. Research experience is also useful but should not be used to substitute for patient contact experience. You need to be able to talk about your experiences with patients as part of your personal statement and in your interviews. Often times you will be asked to recount an experience with a favorite patient, a difficult patient, etc. If you have not had these types of experiences, it could make things difficult during an interview.
- Community service is also useful. It is not required. But keep in mind the admissions committees are looking for the well-rounded candidate GPA. They are looking for somebody who has a broad world view. Show them you can do something besides go to school and get good grades.
- You must do very well on the interview. Be yourself. Don't try to BS them.
The bottom line is this. You must have a strong OVERALL record. Academics alone won't get you into medical school. Experience alone won't get you into medical school. A good interview alone won't get you into medical school. You must have the entire package. Approach things from this point of view, and you will do well.
As was noted above, experience is critical. The way things are going in the health care industry, experience is going to play a bigger and bigger role as time goes on. You MUST be able to show admissions committees that you know what you are getting into. You need to be able to demonstrate a knowledge of today's health care delivery system. This includes not only the technical and professional aspects of health care, but the social and political aspects as well.
The most important thing you should get out of your experiences is not simply that this procedure is done for this disease or how an IV is started, but rather how today's health care providers must work within a very complex system that involves many other health care professions and providers, as well as many business aspects. You must be able to talk about and delineate how your personal value system and ethics integrates into the current health care delivery system. If you aren't able to do this in your personal statement and/or during an interview, you will most likely not be successful at getting into medical school.
There is no good answer to whether you should have tremendous experience at one place or a breadth of experience at many places with less time at each. The bottom line I think is this. You need consistent experience. If you can only commit 2 hours per week, but you do that over a year, that will be much better than 40 hours per week for a month. Time teaches. The more time you have, the better.
No. The medical schools do not care what your degree is in. What they care about is how well you did getting your degree, and how well you did academically on the required pre-requisite science courses. It does no good to get a biology degree, and then if you don't get into medical school, have a degree in something that you hate.
The question you should ask and answer is this; what would you be happy doing for a living if something happens and medical school is no longer in the picture? The answer to that should guide your decision as to what your degree should be in. Many students get biology degrees only because it is the quickest way to complete both a bachelor's degree and the pre-requisite science courses. However, and I want to stress this, DO NOT get a biology degree if you hate biology. It makes no sense. Get a degree in something you would be happy doing for a living in the event medical school does not work out for whatever reason.