I’ve wanted to write something like this up for a while. I apologize in advance for the long post.
There are a lot of things that get thrown out there that you have to do if you want to get accepted to med school. You’re supposed to have volunteer hours, shadowing, research, clinical exposure, and leadership activities. In addition to that, you’d better submit your application in June, apply to 50 schools and reply to all secondary applications within 2 days and so on. This isn’t bad advice, and your odds are probably better if you can do all of these things. However, it can be tough on us non-traditionals to balance all of these requirements and take care of the other things like work, family and school.
So, I wanted to let you know that you don’t necessarily have to meet all of these requirements to get in. I got accepted (twice), and I didn’t have all of these things. I also did some things I was directly advised NOT to do.
I can’t say that this is universal, because I’m basing this on my own experiences, and my sample size is admittedly small. I have been through two application cycles with two different schools. I will say that I think my work/life experience and my academic performance/MCAT score helped me overcome some of these barriers. However, there are definitely things I could have done better.
I’m going to go through point-by-point below and address a few of these issues, and also talk about a few things I could have done better.
You can still get in if…
You only apply to one school.
I was directly advised against doing this, and I understand the reasoning behind it. However, I needed to stay in the same geographic location for family reasons. So, applying to the local school was my only option.
On the plus side, though, I had the opportunity to talk with the admissions staff at the school face-to-face prior to applying and get feedback from them, which allowed me to tailor my application specifically to that school.
You apply late.
I applied late – twice. The first time I was waiting for my MCAT score (I took the MCAT in July), and also for some letters of recommendation to come in. I was complete in October for that cycle. The second time, I had just moved and my focus wasn’t on applying, and I was also waiting on some letters to come in. I was complete in November this current cycle.
Now the first time, this didn’t work against me because the school I applied to (UAMS) doesn’t do rolling admissions like everywhere else. The second time, when I applied to LSU, they were accepting people when I applied. Fortunately, I got an II in very short order after submitting my secondary.
You’ve been waitlisted.
After my first application at UAMS, I was waitlisted. Being waitlisted sucks, especially if you have only applied to one school (see above). I waited for several months, and was getting ready to reapply when I got accepted off the waitlist in late June. While this was good news, we had just sold our house and were getting ready to move out of state, so I ultimately didn’t take that position (see below).
You decline an acceptance.
This one was really difficult. I was told by one of the doctors that I scribed for that, in no uncertain terms, I was “f*cking up” by not taking this acceptance. He felt strongly, as did others, that turning down an acceptance would essentially blacklist me from getting into medical school.
It was a very difficult decision to turn down something that I had been working towards for a few years, but I think it was the right thing to do for myself and my family. We ended up in a location where we have a lot more family support.
You have limited ECs.
Basically the only EC that I had on my application was working as a medical scribe in a local ER, and I shadowed one doctor for a couple of shifts. I had no volunteering, no research, no other extracurricular activities to speak of (other than being a husband, father and employee).
Should I have done some volunteering? Absolutely. I went through the volunteer program at a few local hospitals, but something always seemed to get in the way.
On the other hand, I was able to focus more of my time on school which helped me get better grades, and a better MCAT score, which likely helped contribute to my acceptance.
Your prereqs are old.
This will probably vary from school to school, but I applied with some prereqs that were from my undergrad degree and were 15+ years old. I never received any questions or comments about those. If you’re concerned about this, I’d recommend getting in touch with the school directly and running this by them.
You haven’t taken any upper-level science courses.
I was advised it would be good to have some sort of upper-level science course to show that I could handle that kind of material. I took the absolute minimum amount of courses required to matriculate. Part of this was out of concern for time, the other part from the concern of expenses. Taking these prereqs was not cheap, and it required me to leave my full-time job to go back and take these courses, so I wanted to minimize the impact and I was able to fit what I needed into three semesters. This also goes back to knowing your target school(s) and understanding what kind of prerequisites they require.
You mention your family in your application/PS/interviews.
This is another area where I was advised by several people, including my wife, not to bring up the fact that I had a family in my applications/interviews. My wife and others thought it might prejudice the admissions committee against me as they know that I’ve got other priorities than medicine. I spoke freely about my family in my interviews. Anywhere that wouldn’t have accepted me as I am, was not a place I was interested in being a part of.
I’ve listed above a couple of areas that I haven’t complied with the “norm” for premed students. I’m not recommending that you approach your med school applications in these ways, but I wanted to let you all know that it’s still possible to get accepted as an outlier. If you’ve any questions, let me know.