By Juhn, IvyWise Medical School Admissions Counselor
Bigfoot; Area 51; Nessy, the Loch Ness Monster—these popular urban legends are still widely known today. Like these legends, several urban legends exist regarding getting into medical school. Let’s examine and debunk some of these myths.
Myth: Your Academic Record is the Only Thing That Matters
One popular urban legend is that to be a successful applicant to medical school, all you need is straight A’s and a high MCAT score. An excellent academic record is certainly important, but it is not the sole reason for acceptance. If this were the case, medical schools could simply program their computers to accept applicants with GPAs of 3.8 and above. This process would certainly ensure highly intelligent individuals would become future physicians, but there is a chance these individuals would be one-dimensional.
Medicine is a helping career. An applicant with a high GPA is academically prepared and most likely will be able to handle the academic workload in medical school, but they must also possess a strong desire to help others. Medical schools prefer well-rounded applicants, which means they evaluate the breadth and depth of an applicant’s experiences both in and out of academics.
At a minimum, an applicant should demonstrate through their experiences that they have an interest and passion for helping others. This would show up through experiences like working in a clinical or research setting, helping in a homeless shelter, mentoring, tutoring, participating in a Big Brothers Big Sisters program, or any other activity that demonstrates an interest in helping others.
Myth: You Have to Be a Science Major
Another widely believed urban legend is that medical schools prefer science majors over social science or humanities majors. A non-science major has the same chances as a science major for admission into medical school. Perhaps an advantage to choosing a science major is that many of the prerequisite courses that a medical school or other allied health programs may require are already built into the curriculum of a science major.
Applicants with a humanities or social science major have an opportunity to share their interest in a possible future career as a physician-author. Marrying your outside interests, such as writing, engineering, drama, music, business, or education, with medicine presents a different perspective.
Myth: Medical Schools Don’t Want Non-Traditional Applicants
Yet another urban legend is a belief that older or non-traditional applicants are at a disadvantage when applying to medical school. If this were true, medical schools would be practicing illegal age discrimination. Applicants who have taken time off for other pursuits, such as work or obtaining a graduate degree, bring a rich and robust set of experiences that add to the diversity of the learning environment in a future medical school class.
Taking a few years off to pursue your interests is not a barrier to medical school admission. Plus, the personal and professional experiences you develop prior to medical school will help you develop maturity and insight about yourself, which makes you a better overall applicant.
Myth: Medical Schools Prefer to Admit Alumni from the Same University
The last widely shared urban legend is that applicants who attend or graduate from a university that also has a medical school have a better chance of being accepted than applicants from a different school. Medical schools do not prefer, accept, or save a specific number of seats in their incoming class for students from the same institution.
If an advantage exists, it is that the applicant knows the university and possibly some medical school faculty, depending on their previous area of study. Like everyone else, an applicant from the same university still needs to perform well academically and demonstrate to the medical school admissions committee that they are a good fit.
Acceptance into a medical school is hard, competitive, and expensive. Worrying and believing in these urban legends will take away from your focus on doing well, developing into a caring and empathetic individual, and participating in activities that are interesting and meaningful to you.
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