Medical School Admission: Myths versus Realities
Libby Morsheimer
Coordinator of Pre-Health Advising
SUNY Buffalo


Myth #1:
 "I should major in biology or some other natural science if I want to go to medical school. Perhaps I will major in pre-med."


Other myths related to Myth #1
"I will have an advantage over other non-science majors who are applying."
"I did well in high school sciences, so I will continue to do well in college."

Reality:

Students from ALL academic majors are admitted to US medical schools. Admissions Committees value applicants who have a broad based, varied education experience. Certain prerequisite courses are required to apply to medical school and for MCAT preparation, but applicants can weave these courses into ANY curriculum.

Reality:
Students are more likely to excel in those academic areas that they enjoy. Unfortunately, success in high school courses does not guarantee success in college.

Competitive grades are critical to being a successful applicant. Students should be encouraged to study the major of their choice.

Reality:
A minority of the applicants to US MD schools will be accepted. ALL applicants need a "Plan B" and a major they can perceive as such.


Myth #2:
"If I graduate with a double major or degree, I will have an advantage over other applicants."


Other myths related to Myth #2
“If I major in something ‘more difficult’ (e.g. biochemistry or getting a B.S. in biology instead of a B.A. I will have an advantage over other applicants.")

Reality:
Applicants to US medical schools are not necessarily more competitive if they have multiple majors or degrees. Far more critical are the types of courses they have taken, the rigor of the courses, the number of credit hours per semester and academic performance. A student who has a double major with a 3.2 GPA will not necessarily be perceived as equally or more competitive as a student with a 3.6 GPA with one major.

Myth #3:
"Freshman year doesn't really count. I'm just starting college. Besides, I can repeat any courses I did not do well in."


Reality:
ALL grades count, although medical schools will look at the overall trend of grades. They will analyze a transcript and examine the number of courses per semester, course levels, number of science courses and academic performance. An upward trend in grades is necessary for applicants with a weaker, earlier, record.

Repeating courses for medical admission is generally not recommended as repeated courses for MD admission will be averaged. Instead, the schools would prefer to see students take advanced work in the same subject and do well.

 

Myth #4:
"If I don't finish college in four years, I will appear weak to medical admissions committees."


Other Myths Related to Myth #4:
"I must apply after my junior year for admission for fall of the following year.
"If I finish my degree in three years, they will see how intelligent and motivated I am."

Reality:
Students with greater "maturity," life experiences, and a myriad of exposure to medically relevant environments present as stronger applicants.  Students with these experiences often work better with patients.

Students are not perceived to be at a disadvantage if they complete a degree in 4+ years as long as the record shows that applicants can handle full work loads (i.e. it IS a disadvantage to take 4+ years to graduate if the reason is because of light semesters, frequent withdrawals from classes or repeated courses.--see myth #6)

The average age of first-year enrollees in US medical schools is approximately 24-25 and the number of non-traditional applicants applying continues to increase.

Myth #5:
"The most important part of my application is my GPA."


Other myths related to Myth #5
"My GPA will make up for a weak MCAT score."
"A high MCAT score will get me into medical school."

Reality:
Excellent academic credentials are a critical piece of the application, but alone it is not enough. Admissions Committees will review the entire application, including MCAT scores, letters of recommendation, personal statement of intent, clinical exposure to medicine, evidence of the applicant's sincerity, maturity, knowledge of medicine, etc.
Admission Committees would question great disparity between high grades and a low MCAT score and conversely high MCAT score with a weaker academic record. Applicants need to strive for excellence overall in their application.

Myth #6
"I can take a minimal amount of credit hours per semester (12) and one science at a time to assure I do well."


Other myths related to Myth #6:
"I can take my challenging sciences in the summer to concentrate on one at a time."


Reality:
Medical Admissions Committees will look for applicants who have completed on average at least 15 credit hours per semester. They will review the number of sciences taken per semester and course levels and will expect that applicants have challenged themselves with rigorous course work. Successful applicants tend to have 2+ science courses completed most semesters.


Summer work is completed at an accelerated pace. This is extremely rigorous work to complete in 6 weeks as opposed to 15 weeks.  Thorough knowledge and understanding of the material is required for the MCAT. Time not spent learning the material in the summer will then need to be invested later to prepare for the MCAT.


Myth #7:
"As long as I have some medical exposure a few months before applying, that will be enough."


Other myths related to Myth #7:
"I have family members who are physicians. I've learned everything I need to know from them."


Reality:
Most medical admissions officers have said the following about clinical exposure to medicine via physician shadowing and medically relevant volunteering:

"Too much is never enough."
"A sustained and sincere pattern..."
"A long term history of medically relevant experiences."
They will expect applicants to have carefully thought out:
"HOW do you know you want a medical career?"
WHAT do you know about medicine and WHERE did you get your information?"


While medical schools realize that exposure through family members does provide insight as to what being a physician is like, an applicant needs to demonstrate that THEY are inherently interested and motivated to pursue this career.


There may be a concern about possibly family pressure to pursue medicine and applicants need to be sure they know through their own experiences the demands of the field they are entering.


Myth #8:
"Since I did not do well on my MCAT exam, I can go to an off-shore medical school that does not require the MCAT. This way I will not be a year behind."


Other myths related to Myth #8:
I will begin my studies at an off-shore school and then transfer to a US medical school."


Reality:
A year can seem like an eternity to students as they often do not have the broader perception of the passage of time. They do not realize a year in the overall scheme of their medical applicant process is a minor issue. Studying medicine outside of the US can subsequently impact a medical career for several years.


Transferring to a US medical school after completing work at another medical school is extremely unlikely and an applicant should not count on it. In order to transfer to the US, a seat has to be available. Medical students in the US rarely vacate their seats.


Myth #9:
"I have the motivation and drive, and I will do whatever I need to do to be admitted to medical school. I will get admitted one day."

Other myths related to Myth #9:
"This has been my dream since childhood; therefore, there is no other health profession for me."
"I would be giving up if I tried anything else."


Reality:
Students need to be educated about medical admission rates. Applications to medical schools have increased to nearly 36,000; however, there are seats available for less than half. It is an extremely competitive process. Univ. of Buffalo received 2800 applications for a class of 135. Schools like New York Medical College report receiving 10,000 applications for 190 seats.


All students need a "Plan B" and a strong motivation is not enough to gain a seat in medical school.  Non-competitive repeat applicants raise questions regarding their judgment.  The application process is not a lottery system.  Repeat applicants need to present with significantly different credentials or the same result (non-acceptance) will likely occur.


Students may devalue other health career options because they have not educated themselves about them.  There are approximately 64 allied health professions that contribute to the health care of others.  They include respiratory therapists, genetic counselors, physicians assistants, nuclear medical technologists . . .


"Professional schools will forever seek students who communicate effectively, who rigorously pursue intellectual intelligence, and who find purpose, satisfaction, and dignity in human service."   Mike Magee, MD