Newbie with some Q's

hi all,

i’m new to the forum and frankly quite impressed with the substance and tone of the dialogue here. well done, everyone.

okay, here’s my situation… i’m 43 and i’ve never been to college. i was an athlete, turned entrepreneur, turned philanthropist and now it’s my desire to pursue an education. like everyone else here i have my own set of reasons for wanting to learn, contribute and work as a physician. i’m hoping i can get some input from anyone willing to share their thoughts on undergrad subject areas to focus on in preparation for the mcat and ultimately med school (aside from the obvious pre-req’s).

also, i was invited to join the board of a local free health clinic. i was wondering if there is any downside to volunteering at such a clinic? i only ask b/c the more i read about the med school admissions process the more i’m beginning to believe the ‘deciders’ can be a quirky lot, sometimes viewing events from a very particular perspective - often very different from the perspective applicants tend to view things from.

finally, i really have no desire to head to the caribbean. yet, i’ve read a lot of posts mentioning age discrimination during med school admissions. i was hoping to get an idea of some top tier med schools that welcome non traditional students. feel free to name drop. i won’t tell anyone, i promise. thanks in advance. cheers.

Welcome to OPM! This really is a great place for advice, suggestions, and encouragement, and is also a wonderful “community.” I hope you find it to be as warm, welcoming, and helpful as I have.

In terms of volunteering at a local free clinic, I think that’s a GREAT idea. I work at a free clinic in the Chicago area as a Spanish translator, and I have learned so much - about the nuts and bolts of medicine, about bedside manner, about myself … I don’t think there’s a downside to that. In my opinion, this can only help you in terms of clarifying whether medicine is truly for you. Because really, the only way to do that is to gain experience in the medical field.

I would also recommend you do some physician shadowing, for the same reason.

In terms of coursework, the basic pre-reqs are really supposed to prepare you for the MCAT. And I think they do. But admissions people like to see that you have taken some upper-level classes such as biochemistry, genetics, microbiology, cell biology, immunology, etc. Not that you have to take all of them, but a smattering is good if you can manage it. The key is to pull good grades in everything, both pre-reqs and upper-level coursework. (And rock the MCAT, of course.)

As for schools that welcome non-traditional students … I think more and more are becoming amenable to this. One notable example is that the University of Chicago (definitely a top tier school) came to this summer’s OldPreMeds conference in Las Vegas as an exhibitor. That says to me that they are looking to add non-trad students to their student body.

But I would be careful about limiting yourself to so-called “top tier” schools when you think about where you want to apply eventually. The kind of rankings that are published are done based on criteria that may or may not be important to you - such as the amount of NIH research funding that a school receives. It’s important to find a medical school that is a good fit for YOU, and for YOUR interests and goals, not necessarily that ranks high on this or that published list. No matter where you go, you’ll get that MD or DO after your name when you graduate. That’s what matters, in the end. Anyway, that’s my perspective on the med school ranking situation.

Welcome to the site again, and keep us posted on your progress. I look forward to hearing more about your journey!

  • Lorien

While I am in no way an expert I will address your questions to the best of my ability. First, when deciding on a major, pick something you have interest in, something you can enjoy and sink your teeth into. Choosing something you can enjoy will help your level of motivation remain high and will have the same effect on your grades. Second, volunteering at a free clinic will never hurt your application. Although I have seen examples of paid healthcare experience being weighed heavier than volunteer, I have never heard of volunteer experience being evaluated in a negative light. Get all of the hands on patient interaction you can in whatever setting. Third, age discrimination does happen, but I don’t necessarily think its as cut and dry as it sounds. Many non traditional applicants, such as myself, have previous “goofs” on their academic record which must be justified, repeated and corrected. In your situation, while age may play a very small factor, if you stay motivated and keep the grades high your journey may prove to be less bumpy than many of us on this forum.

thanks so much for taking the time in answering my questions. i appreciate your insights.

Agree with above. With respect to schools, I think the vast majority, “top tier” or other, are interested in adding nontrads to their student body. This does not mean you won’t be asked about your age or reason for med school at said age. Just answer honestly and in most cases serve you well.

Best wishes.


Specifically you mentioned being asked to join the board of a local free clinic. That certainly is just as positive as being a volunteer there - shows interest in public health and volunteerism as well as leadership. Be as involved as your passion dictates.

If you have gotten the idea to “go Caribbean” from SDN or other sources, I would disregard that. Your age should not and probably will not affect your consideration at most US schools. It is illegal for them to discriminate based on age, but I think what you are asking is whether there are schools that are actively interested in recruiting non-trads. I don’t have an overview, but I can name-drop Case Western Reserve U., as one of their missions is promoting life-long learning and they specifically recruit non-trad applicants. Albert Einstein Medical School at Yeshiva University was very non-trad friendly, I thought.