Admissions Officers Bust Common Medical School Application Myths

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In a recent virtual fair information session, three admissions representatives addressed common medical school application myths.

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Three college students are gathered around a laptop computer.

Myth #1: You have to be a premed or a science major to get into medical school.
Contrary to popular opinion, medical schools welcome and celebrate applicants who major in fields other than the sciences. Applicants are encouraged to choose their major based on their passions and interests, rather than taking a check all the boxes approach to what they think schools would like to see. Applicants from other fields are urged to work with an advisor to ensure they are still fulfilling the prerequisites, but outside of that, they are encouraged to explore what excites them. Several of the panelists shared that in each cycle, typically one third of their accepted students chose a non-science major.

Myth #2: A high MCAT® score will make up for a low GPA, and vice versa.
Admissions officers use GPA and MCAT scores as a guideline to gauge how well-prepared an applicant will be for the academic rigors of medical school and their ability to succeed on standardized tests. However, if an applicant has low metrics in one of these categories, schools will look at their other application materials to see if there is an underlying cause or an unexpected life circumstance that led to a period of lower performance. This context will help them view a past poor performance as a small blemish rather than a red flag.

Myth #3: An application is all about grades and MCAT score— the personal essay and secondary questions aren’t that important.
Metrics such as GPA and MCAT score are just two components of an application. Schools also review your experiences, personal essay, and secondary questions to paint a broader picture of who you are as an applicant, understand your “why” for choosing medicine, and get to know your goals and values. The personal essay is also an ideal place where an applicant can provide additional context for any blemishes or perceived red flags on their application.

Myth #4: You should apply to medical school straight out of college.
Admissions officers shared that students who have taken a year or more after school to pursue other experiences are typically more successful in the admissions process and more successful in medical school. Panelists shared that the majority of their applicants take gaps year(s).

Myth #5: Some medical exposure a few months before applying is enough.
An applicant with only a few clinical experiences obtained just a few months before applying might cause admissions representatives to question the applicant’s dedication to becoming a physician. Sustained engagement in medically related activities over a long period of time demonstrates commitment to the medical profession. However, schools do recognize that not everyone has the same access to opportunities. For example, many students struggled to find in-person clinical experiences during the pandemic. An applicant can explain this in their personal statement, and schools will review their experiences with this in mind.

Myth #6: Having a blemish such as a DUI on your record will automatically disqualify you from getting an interview.
When reviewing an application with a DUI, admissions officers consider the time and distance of the incident and the overall impact it has had on your trajectory toward medicine. If the incident occurred several years ago and an applicant’s experiences and attributes since then are trending positively, it’s not a large factor. Admissions officers understand that people make mistakes and will view this as a minor setback rather than a major barrier to matriculating to medical school.

To learn more, watch the complete session recording on YouTube

Thank you to the moderator and panelists of this session:
Erik Porfeli, PhD, professor and chair of Human Sciences, The Ohio State University
Glen Fogerty, PhD, MBA, associate dean and assistant professor, The University of Arizona College of Medicine - Phoenix 
Carey Jewkes, M.Ed., director of medical student admissions, The University of Vermont Larner College of Medicine 

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