Encouragement for those in the pre-req/pre-application phase

I’ve been hesitating about writing such a lengthy post, but I just felt like it may offer some encouragment for so many of you who are currently in my same boat!

What I’m about to write speaks to a lot of what we hear from each other already around OPM, but given that so many of us deal with the insecurity of our ‘nontrad’ status, I wanted to share some encouraging counsel given to me recently by people who actually make decisions about med school admissions at 2 of the schools I am interested in (one is a state MD school, the other is a private top 15 MD school—my reach, to be sure!) Both told me almost the same thing (verbatim) in informal meetings over the last 2 weeks. While I am very sound academically, I’ve been so worried about getting in all the clinical volunteering, etc. (the “rest” of my application). Here was their surprising take:

They both said almost the same phrase, and I think it’s a really important one for OPMers to remember: “You aren’t a traditional applicant. Our admissions committee won’t expect you to have a traditional application.” They went on to explain that they will look at my work/life experiences and LORs to find the majority of what they needed to see.

  1. Both said clinical experience was important so adcoms could see you are making an informed decision when applying. However, both told me not to worry about a magic number of hours. "Just get enough done to prove to yourself that this is really what you want to do.”

  2. Both encouraged me to pull from my work experience to show important skills (communication, leadership, problem solving, etc.), and both encouraged me to leverage my work experience as a tremendous asset/strength in my personal statement, because it sets me apart from the pack.

    Don’t get me wrong—I have community service experience (though it’s not medically related). And I am shadowing as many physicians across as many specialties in as many settings as I can, and I will pick up volunteering at a hospital on weekends in the next month or so (I’m certainly not ignoring those things)…but I’m not going to freak out anymore if I don’t get 500 hours, etc. Truth is, I would absolutely love to work 20 hours a week in a clinic or spend my summer in Haiti or serve in soup kitchens every night. LOVE to. (I’m not being sarcastic here–and if you are lucky enough to be able to do that,that’s amazing!) But it’s just not my reality… (I’m at work or in class from 8am until about 9:30pm Monday-Friday.) And it was such a relief to find that these schools didn’t expect it to be my reality.

    I even asked their opinion about putting off my application another year in order to have more time for clinical volunteering (since all my current time is spent at work or in class.) I’m that insecure about it!!! Both laughed at me and said absolutely not. As long as I nail the MCAT in April, they told me to run full speed ahead with a 2012 application.

    Disclaimer: I have a 3.9 gpa, and both my conversations were with MD program reps, so DO schools (or other MD programs, for that matter), may feel differently. In my experience, though, I am both relieved and encouraged that I don’t need to compare myself to the traditional applicants, and that the schools I am applying to are open minded enough to not put my application in that same traditional box either!

    For all who are applying soon or who are on the pre-req train and trying to figure out how to juggle full time work, life, family, school, and all the rest of it? Simply doing so successfully is a huge strength in your application and should be highlighted! And, as individuals who have been out in the “real world,” we bring a perspective and skill set to the table that many admissions committees find refreshing. Things may not have been that way years ago, but “the tide is changing.” (exact quote from one of my school’s reps…) Be encouraged. Talk with your schools. Start those relationships as early as possible if you can. And it really is true—what we often see as a weakness or hindrance when we begin this journey may well end up being one of our greatest strengths as we cross the finish line.

    Cheers to everyone who is in this train with me, and here’s to another great semester!

Well, I’m sure glad you’ve gotten over your hesitation in writing your post because it certainly puts me more at ease!

In fact, I think I’m going to save it as a reminder that my dreams getting in to med school are not as futile as I have seemed to think.

So, thank you!


First, congratulations on the GPA and reaching this understanding! You have echoed EXACTLY what I have tried to explain to other pre-med students. The adcom member was right in stating “you have to play up your skills from your career and other aspects of your life as you are applying.”

These are the types of posts that keep me organized and in the “thick of things” when my brain starts hurting from schoolwork.

Have a GREAT semester!


You go girl…

So many students get caught in FUD (fear, uncertainty, and doubt) that they prevent themselves from doing what it takes to prepare and apply to medical school. Nontraditional implies atypical. Our backgrounds, educational paths and life experiences are unique and need to be reflected in a concise, coherent, and compelling narrative that shows a pattern of motivation, commitment and achievement, not some cookie-cutter idea of the checklist that the traditional “high school to college to medical school” students have.

  • gonnif Said:
not some cookie-cutter idea of the checklist that the traditional "high school to college to medical school" students have.

Carrie - AWESOME post.

At last year's pre-health fair at my university about 1/3 of the school reps just memorized a speech and gave a cookie-cutter list to do, while all the rest got excited about finding out what made me so different from a younger student.

Our non-trad skills and experiences are a huge asset.


Thanks for taking the time to share with others this information. It’s so much of what I lve about OPM–we share information so that everyone succeeds.

I also agree with everything the adcoms said. I was also accepted to one of the schools you spoke about. I loved it there when I applied for both med school and residency (my in-laws live north of Nashville, so if I had to be separated from my husband who couldn’t leave Maryland, at least I could be near family). They have spool many wonderful opportunities for med students!

Good luck with the rest of your application process!!


  • carrieliz Said:
For all who are applying soon or who are on the pre-req train and trying to figure out how to juggle full time work, life, family, school, and all the rest of it? Simply doing so successfully is a huge strength in your application and should be highlighted!

This is pretty much what a Dept Head from University of Arizona Medical School, in Tucson, told my brother about me. He asked them about someone like me who has kids, and has a full day just getting them to school, myself to school, studying, picking them up, helping them with their homework, then all the normal childhood activities like dance lessons, swim lessons, Girl Scouts, etc. Someone who cannot do a lot of hospital volunteer beyond the clinical shadowing.

She told him the volunteer hours were not so much to make sure you knew that this was what you wanted to do, but it was to make sure you were capable and balanced as a person: That your high GPA did not come from being alone in the library every day for hours on end. They wanted to make sure you would be able to balance real life and school and eventually working as a doctor.

Naturally a non-trad who is literally already doing those things has proven themselves more than capable and this should be highlighted on the applications.