Nontrad success in Top Med Schools

Hi guys,

I hope everyone had a splendid weekend. I was just curious if there were any success stories of nontrads accepted in many of the top tiered med schools out there and also any input of my chances getting in.

A little about myself - Graduated HS with honors and 95 GPA with AP Credits. Thereafter, I went to college for one semester and dropped out with a 1.74 GPA due to personal and family issues (Essentially, had unexcused withdrawals since I never attended the classes). Worked here and there and got lucky and landed a Fortune 500 job. Then, I was able to save enough money to help my parents with their bills here and get a house in our native country for their retirement. Three years ago I returned to a Top 29/70 Regional School in the North. Took advantage of my AP Credits and decided not to take General Bio I&II although I hear med schools recommend taking these courses in college. I redeemed myself by taking upper level science courses such as Molecular Biology, Immunology, Virology, etc… all with lab.

I did some research but no publications and will be doing another independent study this year which is my senior year. I have a certificate in Medical Assisting, worked accordingly and also shadowed 2 doctors. Took my MCAT this past spring and got a 15BS 13PS 14VR T-Writing. Current School: OGPA-3.96 SGPA- 4.0 I love languages and fluently speak a few (Tagalog, Spanish, Portuguese, Japanese and Chinese). Played the Violin and Piano for years and also teach Soccer to young kids every summer. I will be applying around Spring of 2013 because I decided to take a one year masters program in Biology. The reason why I have a particular inkling to the top tiered institutions is that they have ample research opportunities and I pray to become and Infectious Disease Specialist one day. So one might ask why all the worry?

I will be 32/33 years old when med schools receive my application. When adcoms ask why the gap in my education… would it be cliche if I say that I worked and helped my parents? It’s practically true and I worked my heinie off the last few years and basically supported myself. They might ask me why I did not find a way to continue my education even while working. In essence, why now? I could rejoinder better now than never but even that is starting to sound unoriginal. Moreover, would they frown at the 1.73 GPA from my first college? Im just worried of all these factors overshadowing all my assiduous work and that these last 3-4 years were futile attempts to relive a dream deferred. Thank you in advance again and wish all the best in our endeavors.

-Rex Cruz

You got a 42 on the MCAT and you have exceptional recent credentials. I’m still researching this myself, but it looks like this is likely enough to get an interview at a top school if the app is done well. In the interview you will have the chance to explain your extenuating circumstances from before. Don’t let anyone discourage you from shooting for what you really want, especially with scores like you have.

I have gotten a few interviews at decent medical schools, with a lower GPA, way lower MCAT score, and I am older. I think you’ve got a good shot.

Mind you, I have not been accepted anywhere yet, but I am cautiously optimistic.

Good luck.

  • RexSophy Said:

I will be 32/33 years old when med schools receive my application. When adcoms ask why the gap in my education... would it be cliche if I say that I worked and helped my parents?

No. Cliches get to be cliches for a reason. It's a question that is often asked on secondaries and if the answer is that you did work to support/help family it casts you in a better light. Combine that with a 43 and what you did academically after your one bad stretch and you are fine. It sounds like you messed up at the age we are "supposed to" mess up.

  • RexSophy Said:

They might ask me why I did not find a way to continue my education even while working. In essence, why now?

The one area I can comment on confidently are interviews in general. If/when you are asked this, it is not because you're wrong, guilty of something, or there is a right answer. It's to see how you will respond when your reputation, personality, history, and ideas are called into question. They might ask that. But they want to see if you get defensive, or try to make frivolous excuses (markedly different than reasonable explanations), and how your composure changes when someone challenges something you might be insecure about. Answer honestly, humbly, and positively. In other words, the same attitude you used to write your initial post--use that in your answers.

Honestly Rex, numbers and your past are only going to help your case. I thought this post was a joke at first (no offense!). People with lower stats and more black marks than you have done it. The things likely to get in your way are along the lines of you not coming off personable, if you apply late, if you miss a correspondence email, if your LOR's for some reason are negative etc. I firmly believe nothing about your past and only what you do in the application cycle can hurt you, and those are things you can control for the most part.

Off the top the top of my head, we have had members attend the following “top tier” schools. I have included links to their member profiles and from there you can see all their postings

Harvard Medical School (Link JoeWright)

Mayo Medical School (Link efex101)

Baylor (Link TheresaW)

UNC Chapel Hill (Link DRD)

As the former director of two post-bac programs (Johns Hopkins and Goucher), I have advised and guided lots and lots of nontraditional students through the med school admissions process. Many of the students have gone to “top-tier” medical schools; yes, it is possible with a background like yours. You should be able to explain to the med schools why you had trouble in the first attempt at college; what interfered then and what was the difference the second time around? You will also have to explain the hiatus in your education and describe the growth in your maturity and readiness for college. You will also clearly have to describe your motivation for a career in medicine. Be able to delineate what your past experiences will add to a med school class and the medical profession. You clearly have a different outlook than the typical premed (undergrad) student; embrace your difference and highlight it in your med school application. Med schools will appreciate what you’ll bring to the table. I would encourage you to be totally honest and forthcoming in your application. Don’t sugarcoat things or make excuses; med schools would see right through it, anyway. Present yourself exactly as you are and be your authentic self.

Hey Rex,

You seem to have a very interesting personal story. I’ll add my $0.02 worth as I’m 34 and am just completing this application cycle, we have similar stats as far as numbers, etc.

I don’t have quite compelling a story as to why I didn’t apply earlier; I just never seriously considered medicine when I was younger. Several years ago I began volunteering as an EMT running 911 calls for a large urban fire department as sort of a hobby, and that is what got me interested in pursuing medicine.

All great advice that people have posted here, and certainly everyone here has a lot more wisdom and experience than I do. You obviously need to be prepared for the sort of questions about “why now?” which are, of course, legitimate and understandable. However, don’t be surprised if you have interviewers who are aggressive or hostile in questioning your motives. That was my experience at several schools; as someone else mentioned, you have to not let these questions distract you or throw you off your game. (I even had one interviewer tell me that if I were six years younger that I most likely would have been interviewed earlier in the season and possibly even admitted. Shocking, but true. I wonder if this was just part of some sort of Jedi mind-trick to see how I responded to having my qualifications as an applicant challenged.)

Ultimately, the more you can tell a story showing some kind of logical progression at how you arrived at your decision to apply, the better off you will be. As someone else mentioned, don’t try to make excuses for any struggles you’ve had in the past; stress how you have developed as a person.

Also, a side note: do you have any clinical experience that involves you directly interacting with patients (in addition to shadowing)? If not, perhaps it would be advisable to acquire some so that you can show that you have facetime with the medical system, and that you have some understanding of how the incentives, legal aspects, practice scenarios, economics, etc. of medicine are changing.

One final suggestion: you may want to consider attending some recruitment events to which med schools send their admissions people. In my experience, the representatives were very upfront and honest about what makes applicants competitive and you can ask them specific questions about your situation without identifying yourself. If I’m not mistaken quite a few of the schools, including top-tier ones, send people to the Old PreMeds conference (gonnif, is that right)? If you’re in the DC area this summer, that may be helpful as well.

Again, just my 0.02 worth, if that, even. Best of luck to you in whatever path you decide to take!

I love this basis on this thread - nontrads sharing success stories. Having helped hundreds of non-trads get into medical school, I wanted to share some of the more inspiring stories of previous clients with you. Hopefully you will remember these anecdotes in some of your darker pre-med moments, and keep charging on toward to ultimate goal on becoming a doctor.

*45 yo software engineer who dropped out of college, was inspired to become a doctor after caring for friends dying of HIV, returned to school and did extremely well, obtained researg/CS/clinical experience, accepted at top 10 schoosl, now about to become a surgeon.

*35 mother of two, army captain, two tours in middle east, decided to become doc after seeing medics treating both civilian and military casualities of war, received multiple acceptances including top schools

*40yo business manager and professional singer who always wanted to be a physician, returned to post-bac and gained all relevant experience (research, CS, clinical, etc) and got in to top choice

*28yo photographer who gained interest in medicine after helping ill children through art therapy now about to match in pediatrics

*25yo who took time off to do research and gain more clinical experience who just finished her first year of MD/PhD program

I could keep going and going and going…

Non-trads often make excellent physicians, and it’s rarely “too late” to follow your dreams.

It’s always inspiring to share success stories of nontrad med school applicants with those going through the premed process!

In this year’s application cycle the students I advised have been admitted to Harvard, Johns Hopkins, Columbia, the University of Chicago, UCSF, Emory, Vanderbilt, Northwestern, UVA, and many more schools too numerous to include in this post. That shows nontrad success in top med schools! Several of these schools have offered substantial merit scholarships (some full rides) to these applicants. The decisions from Yale and Penn haven’t yet been released but those schools are very likely to be added to the list.

Some of these students hit academic roadblocks along the way but persevered with outstanding results. Keep that in mind as you go through your premed courses. Remember that med schools appreciate nontraditional students’ experiences and maturity and these elements are recognized in the application process.

IMHO, a top heavy application to med school is NOT a good idea.

Even with scores like these, I’d apply broadly to schools in ALL 3 tiers to ensure I had a seat in 2014.

There are numerous stories of folks with great scores not getting admitted to med school because they were too focused on top schools.

Also, it sounds like your family is disadvantaged so don’t forget to mention that on your app as it would give you some advantages in the admissions process.

It’s definitely true that applicants should create thoughtful and well-balanced lists of schools to apply to. All med schools are difficult to get into but some are harder than others, of course. Even applicants with sky-high stats need to create comprehensive lists. Most applicants will apply to 20-25 schools. By the way, here is data regarding the age of med school matriculants over the last several years: 2012fact…



Here’s another handy bit of data regarding the number of applications each school receives, along with the number of matriculants. It doesn’t show the number who were accepted; that would provide the most helpful info since it would reveal how competitive these schools are. But you can extrapolate from the data the relative competitiveness of these schools to get into. GW is much harder to get into than people realize–look at the numbers! 2012fact…


actually the GWU SOM Admissions Director will be on a panel at the OldPreMeds Conference this year so perhaps we can the numbers from the source

I pulled this blurb from a pamphlet I put together last year at an AACOM event:

OPM members have graduated from Einstein Medical School, George Washington University, Harvard Medical School, Kirksville College of Osteopathic Medicine, Mayo Clinic, Medical College of Wisconsin, Nova Southeast University College of Osteopathic Medicine, Ohio State, University of North Carolina, Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine, SUNY Buffalo, UMDNJ-SOM, University of Colorado, University of Maryland, Virginia College of Osteopathic Medicine, and West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine but to name a few. You will find OPM members who are board-certified physicians, practicing in neurology, emergency medicine, oncology, anesthesiology, pediatrics, family medicine, critical care, internal medicine, and other specialties.


speaking of which, it would be nice to have an alumni section or something of the likes, with name contact info and so (for the ones willing to have this info up).

Help networking, glean info and find support among students current and graduated of a same school.

Just a thought.

Great idea! As a post-bac program director, I always maintained an open line of communication between the med school applicants I was advising and the alums of the programs. The alums served as a wonderful resource for the applicants to get accurate information as to the atmosphere, curriculum, clinical rotations, interview process, etc. at the various med schools where they had enrolled. The alumni were always willing to lend a helping hand and give truthful info and advice. I’m sure OPM alums would do the same!