Updated: Jan 12, 2020
What if I told you that you should be in medical school already and that the only thing holding you back is... YOU? You might be surprised, but I tell quite a number of pre-meds that every year.
Sadly, there are many non-traditional pre-meds out there who might not realize that their approach to the application process is actually what's standing between them and a medical school acceptance letter.
"Dr. Darko, I think I'm a competitive applicant. But, I applied last year and didn't get in." This is how the conversation usually starts. As those of you who have spoken to me know, I start with my first round of questions:
What was your cumulative and science undergrad GPA?
Did you do a post-bac or Masters?
What were your grades in the post-bac or Masters?
How many times did you take the MCAT?
What did you score each time on the MCAT?
What extracurricular activities have you done?
Based on the answers, sometimes I come to the conclusion that the pre-med is competitive, hence my next question, "Wait! Why aren't you in medical school, yet?" Once I ask that question, that's my cue to dig a bit deeper into your application strategy. To make this easier, I'll give you an example of a pre-med with whom I worked. Her name has been changed, obviously.
Abby contacted me after she had applied twice to medical school unsuccessfully and was getting ready to apply during the current cycle. She earned a 3.2 GPA in undergrad, but then decided that she would do a Masters program to help boost her grades. She excelled in the program, earning a 3.7 GPA. The MCAT was where she struggled the most. She took the test three times. The first two times, she scored extremely low. Then finally, she hit the average of 500. Her extracurricular activities were on point.
Now, the first time she applied, it was obvious that her metrics, especially the MCAT, was a problem. But, by the second time that she had applied, she had hit her highest MCAT score. Though it wasn't the best score, it was a score that some schools would consider. She wanted to retake the MCAT which she had identified as the reason she had been rejected. That led me to my second round of questions:
To how many schools did you apply?
Did you apply allopathic and osteopathic?
To which schools did you apply?
When did you submit your secondary applications?
The second time around, she had applied to 15 allopathic schools most all of which were not schools for which she fit the typical GPA or MCAT. These are what are usually referred to as the top-tier schools. Don't get me wrong. Are there students at those schools with metrics similar to Abby's? Sure, but they are few.
Her other issue was not turning around her secondary applications in a decent amount of time. I typically recommend no more than a 2-week turnaround. Remember that the written application portion of the process is not complete until the secondary application and all related materials have been submitted. Typically, schools will call you for interviews only after you've submitted this information.
So, why was Abby not in medical school? She felt that retaking the MCAT would improve her chances. I felt that her strategy was all wrong. She had not chosen schools that would seriously consider her application and the lag time on her secondary applications was also a problem. That combination was likely not going to gain her an acceptance into medical school.
THE RIGHT STRATEGY = SUCCESS!
We discussed that she should apply to schools whose metrics she more closely fit. I also reviewed a couple of her secondary applications which she turned around quickly and did a mock interview. Ultimately, she was accepted into an allopathic medical school at one of the schools that I had suggested. She did retake the MCAT during that cycle, but... she actually scored lower than her highest score proving that the MCAT was not the main issue.
Yes... it was all about her strategy! In her case, applying to the right schools and turning around the secondaries quickly had made a difference. Now she is a first year medical student well on her way to becoming the doctor she's always wanted to be!
That strategy worked for Abby, but your strategy might look different based on your situation. Knowing how to identify what an admissions committee is looking for you to bring to the table and creating a successful strategy can be tricky.
If you'd like the scoop on the strategies that every pre-med should be doing to increase their chances of getting into medical school, pick up my free cheatsheet: 5 Strategies you're currently NOT using to get into medical school!