Where do I begin? Advice needed!

I’m finally ready to apply to medical school, and I have no idea where to begin. Full background, as briefly as possible: I floundered in college while working full-time, so I took the opportunity I had to work as a surgical tech at 22. I saved up some funds, and went back to college five years later with aspirations of becoming a doctor. I took most of my pre-reqs at a community college where I got a full ride for a nearly 4.0 GPA. Upon graduation, I was accepted for transfer to Columbia and Cornell, but chose a state school that offered me a full ride. I graduated with a 3.55 in Pharmacology (same requirements as a biochemistry major, with an additional 12 credits in Pharmacology and lab). I would have been closer to a 3.9, but I had one bumpy semester junior year when my father was hospitalized and most of my grades were in the A/B range, with a D in physics as the huge black eye. I made that up senior year, but only ended up with a B+.

In those four years, I participated in academic research that culminated in a few publications, and almost a dozen presentations, including three at national conventions. I volunteered in a hospital blood bank and as a peer adviser. Prior to that, I spent several weeks volunteering in South America.

When I graduated, I was too overwhelmed with everything in my life to even consider applying to medical school. I paid to delay sitting for the MCAT, then took a job as a surgical tech again, and decided not to take the exam. Things got better, and I married my best friend, but it no longer seemed practical to pursue my dream.

We recently had our first child, and now that I’m returning to work, I’ve decided that this is the best time to pursue medical school. My husband is supportive and willing to work around my school schedule and be the primary caregiver to our baby. And the sooner I do it, the better our return on investment in education.

I have a few questions. Should I invest in a post-bacc program while working full time? My science GPA (including upper level courses) is around 3.7, but all of my classes, including pre-reqs, were taken 4-8 years ago. Do I need a full two year program now? My recommendation letters will come from professors who knew me 4-8 years ago, and from physicians (and nurses?) I work with now.

And finally, do I need to do anything else? I haven’t committed to scientific research or volunteering since I graduated four years ago. I’ve been in survival mode myself, scraping by with limited employment at some points (that BS degree hasn’t helped!), taking care of family, and helping my family and friends through serious hurricane damage months before FEMA and insurance offered assistance. And now, I’m nursing my newborn, and carefully choosing what I have time to do outside of my immediate obligations.

So to sum it up, I have a decent but spotty transcript, some distance from my academic past, and a need to prove that I am finally ready and completely committed to pursuing medical school. When I finally submit the AMCAS, I’ll have transcripts from five schools as it is, and one more if I do a post-bacc. I really need advice, because I am determined to do this, but I don’t have the time or resources for several admissions cycles. Any advice?

Here’s my advice. Opinions may vary…

Start looking into schools you’re interested in applying to. I would recommend using the MSAR (on the AAMC website, costs a few bucks) as well as individual school websites. Those will give you a better idea of where to go from here for you specifically. In my case, my record/experience was what it was, and I applied only to schools who looked at applicants like me. Look particularly at their mission, applicant stats, and out of state preferences.

A few schools require prereqs complete within a certain time period, others do not. If I were you, I wouldn’t waste my money and time retaking courses if I didn’t have to. You may consider taking an “upper level” science class for academic recency to show yourself and the schools that you still got it. It can also get you a professor LOR if need be.

I was out of the classroom for many years and had online classes, so teacher LORs were impossible for me. There are schools that don’t require LORs from teachers or ones that make exceptions on a case by case basis. Look for that in your school search, too, if you don’t think you can get a strong rec from one of your past professors. I ended up using letters from 2 supervisors and the doc I shadowed. For my AACOMAS app, I added a LOR from a DO as well (work with him).

The MCAT will likely be the biggest hurdle since you’ve been out of school for awhile. At a minimum, I recommend a self-study commercial course (or Kaplan, exam crackers, etc). I forked out the cash for the self-paced Kaplan online program and would highly recommend it. It made relearning much easier and included a lot of test taking tips (it ain’t cheap though).

Your story is interesting and should make a good personal statement. It’s as much about how you write it as it is what you’ve been through. Focus on not only what you’ve done but also how you learned/grew/matured. This may also help you think about stuff unique to you. Don’t view med school applications as a comparison between you and the next guy; put your best foot forward and let the adcoms decide. In other words, be as competitive as you can be and don’t psyche yourself out.

I had zero volunteer stuff though being in the military probably helped compensate for that. Get out into the community if you have time, but do stuff that interests you instead of what you think “they” want to see. It’ll be on you to ensure you find the proper balance between gearing up for new school and maintaining your personal life. It is a HUGE time suck on its own, and having a family will make it that much more difficult (I was married with preggo wife during my mcat prep time).

Finally, try to calculate your GPAs based on how both AMCAS and AACOMAS would look at them. It’ll give you a more realistic perspective on where you stand right now academically. I don’t have a calc spreadsheet, but I’m sure others on here will have a link if you need one.

Thank you so much for your advice, kennymac! I was really hoping I could skip doing a post bacc, since I already took all of the prerequisites and got A’s in most of them. I just subscribed to MSAR. My only concern at this point is that while my GPA from 2006-2010 is around 3.75 (science and overall), my poor grades from 20 years ago are going to come back and haunt me. When I dropped out of college at 17, I missed the add/drop date and got 5 or 6 F’s in all science classes. And I took a few more at a community college a year later and did pretty poorly. Since ALL college coursework counts, does that mean I shouldn’t bother applying to any school that has a 3.5 at the bottom end of the spectrum? I haven’t calculated my exact GPA. If anyone can show me how to do that, I’d really appreciate it!

I’m thinking I will take your advice and look for an upper level science course to take. That’s another question I have. I don’t think I’d do well in upper level physics; I struggled to get an A- in a 300 level class and swore I’d never put myself through that again! I’ve already taken a ton of upper level biology/biochem courses at a large state university, including cell bio, microbio, cancer bio, biochem 1&2, pharmacology (and lab) 1&2, and human physiology (taken with grad students). What should I take? Can I repeat one of these classes to show I still have it?

Finally, and I don’t know if I should post this on SDN since it’s much bigger, is there anyone in northern NJ who can recommend a four year school that offers evening or weekend classes for visiting post bacc students? My work schedule is not at all flexible.

Thanks in advance!

FSU has an AMCAS grade calc at http://honors.usf.edu/Documents/AMCASGPA_Ca lculato…

I haven’t tried it but it looks pretty good. There are some differences between AMCAS and AACOMAS, so you’ll have to see how grade replace my would work for you and what each service separates out in “science” gpa.

It sounds like your gpa will end up being below the norm accepted (not necessarily a killer). Focus your efforts on schools which value whole-person over research/grades. Depending on how your gpa hashes out, you may want to look more at the AACOMAS school/application info online (free PDF). No matter which way you go, check to see if the schools actually cite a min gpa requirement. As long as your GPA doesn’t get you screened out, your file should be looked at by a human who will be able to try to understand your story.

I wouldn’t retake a course you did well in. Find something else that interests you.

Okay, I took your advice and calculated my GPA. I used this link instead, because I don’t have access to Office on my notebook: http://prehealth.cas.nyu.edu/page/bcpmcalculator

My AMCAS GPA is 3.0175 BCPM and 3.11 overall. My AACOMAS GPA (allowing for grade replacement) is 3.6918 BCPM and 3.57 overall. This makes sense because my overall GPA when I returned to school to start over was around a 3.73 averaged between two schools. The lower overall GPA reflects the fact that I didn’t repeat any non-science courses. So I’m in good shape for DO schools, and not terrible shape for MD programs IF a real person actually looks at my application and basically throws out the terrible transcripts that are two decades old.

I just registered for a Kaplan class that begins 9/28 and runs through April when I plan to take the exam. I considered the self-study thing, but I do well in a classroom where I can interact. I think the key for me is going to be doing better than average on the MCAT and hoping that it keeps me from being screened out. I’m looking for minimum GPAs, but haven’t seen them so far for the schools I’m considering.

I’m definitely much more likely to get into DO programs, since they seem to see the non-traditional thing as a plus. Now I need to find a DO to shadow. I looked at my surgical center’s website and all of our surgeons are MDs, and I had planned to ask for LORs from at least two of them. The only anesthesiologist I work with who is a DO is the director of the anesthesia group and someone I get along with well…but is one of the many who is completely disgruntled with medicine. He actually told his kids that he’d pay for any college and grad school, but would NOT help in any way if they decide to go into medicine. So he’s out! Should I find a shadowing program to get to know a DO well enough to ask for a LOR?

Sorry for the novel! Thanks again for all the great advice; I really appreciate it!

I hope I’m giving you good advice since I’m the only one chiming up on this topic… My only credential is making it successfully through one app cycle (both MD/DO).

I’d agree that your GPA makes you a much more competitive applicant for DO schools than MD schools, but I’m definitely not saying don’t pursue that route.

I found more schools than not don’t necessarily specify a min-GPA (CUSOM, for example, gives a 3.2 cutoff). For MD schools, your best bet would be to look through the MSAR for their previously accepted GPA ranges. Again, that’s not to say there is a minimum, just what they took in the past. There’re some charts on the AAMC site that show GPA ranges, MCAT ranges, and overall percentage of acceptance. All of the data only shows what worked in the past, not whether you’re a competitive applicant (based on every other datapoint that adcoms use).

You could use your DO contact to ask him for recommendations on who to shadow. Even if he is jaded, he may be supportive of you since you’re not his kid. I shadowed an MD, who then wrote me a LOR. I have a good working relationship with a DO who took my CV, chatted with me for a bit, then wrote me an LOR.

You may not necessarily have to take any more academics, but it was just a thought earlier. Some social science class could be beneficial since it’s getting added to the new MCAT and may be an additional prereq depending on the school.

In the interim, start working on your app for next cycle, if you choose to apply then. It may seem easy to just write out your life on paper, but it takes a lot of work to be concise, remember everything you’ve done, how you’ve grown through your experiences, etc. I knocked out my first run through in like 2 days, then spent the next 2 months, off and on, “fixing” it based on feedback from my wife and docs I work closely with.

Look into Rutgers Graduate School of Biomedical Science (formerly part of UMDNJ), they offer a lot of different programs for non matriculated students, grad studies, post-bacc and certificate programs with flexible scheduling. The campus is in Newark NJ.

Kenny, thanks for the input. I’ll start writing everything out now so that my PS won’t seem so overwhelming a few months from now. And I’m going to ask for several LORs. I’ve been in touch with the prehealth committee at my undergrad institution and they will work with me. I believe they send out a committee letter as well as up to three LORs that are sent to them on my behalf. I have to learn more about the process, but it sounds like they will send the best ones, from my understanding.

ErX, great idea! I just looked at their website and it does say they allow non-degree students to take up to 10-15 credits on a limited basis. I just emailed the program director asking how to go about getting permission to do so, and explained my situation. If I could take (and ace) one graduate class this spring, that would be ideal!

Great ideas, everyone. I’m open to any and all suggestions! I really appreciate the input!

I have experience serving on an admission committee. Due to the fact the schools receive so many applications, there are guidelines used to decide whether the application gets moved “Forward”. However, if grades are marginal(or there are blemishes), MCAT is marginal, usually the application gets frozen. u need to “seperate” yourself from the pack in some way. Generally speaking DO schools tend to focus on a more well-rounded applicant, but don’ fool yourself, these schools have become very competitive as well. Lastly, there are now several very good off-shore schools. Have you considered this?

www.MedicalSchoolApplication1 01.com

Ralph, do you think that’s true of all allopathic schools? I’m just curious, since you have experience on an admissions committee. I’ve been doing a lot of research to determine which ones automatically screen based on GPA and MCAT alone, but it seems like most of them will take a “holistic” approach as long as both numbers aren’t below their standards. I emailed one of the schools that seems like a great fit for me, and the director of admissions actually got back to me personally to say that they absolutely look at the whole package. I was thinking I’d send a similar email to each school I plan to apply to, because I’m sure at least one will tell me not to bother applying, and I’d rather know that up front.

While I’m far from overly confident, I do feel like my application is coming together. Here’s what I hope will set me apart, at least to some degree:

1.) Excellent recommendations from three former professors, two research mentors, and several physician colleagues, as well as one from my former college president who went on to a very high position in the greater university system (I got to know him when I was a student representative at various fundraising functions, and in front of the city council and chancellor). I was both surprised and touched by the response I got to my recent requests, since I hadn’t spoken to some of them in years. All were very enthusiastic about writing me a letter, and thrilled that I decided to apply.

2.) Thirteen years experience in the OR

3.) Three overseas medical missions

4.) Many years of volunteering

5.) Four years of academic research, with presentations at regional and national conferences

6.) Over a dozen academic and research-based awards and scholarships

7.) Experience teaching chemistry workshops to college students, and tutoring high school students who are underrepresented in the sciences

I know that I have to really rock the MCAT to offset my GPA, but I think the rest of my application is solid, as long as it gets past the initial screening.

As far as DO schools are concerned, my cGPA is a 3.57 and my sGPA is 3.69. With a decent MCAT, I think I’m actually competitive. My terrible grades are nearly two decades in the past, and my GPA during my “do over” four years of college was a 3.75.

What do you think, honestly, given your personal experience on an ADCOM?

From the 5 schools that I talked to, their adcoms, directors, etc… (all MD)

My grades from 1982 to 1996 will NOT matter.

Do they see the grades? Yes.

What they also see is a trend line (upward), a pre-grad and a post-grad BCPM, courses taken for BA and courses taken post-grad.

In MY case, ALL my pre-reqs were taken after I got my BA (which is almost 25 years old).

So, my BCPM is 3.98 and also, conveniently, current (and includes medicinal biochem, genetics, evo bio, immuno, phys, neuro, and a field research project for bio in the Galapagos that I had to design, carry out, collect data, analyze, research, and write report - not bench research)

My overall GPA? whatever a 2.196 with 250 credits + my BCPM works out to be… probably a 2.3 maybe?

I’m unconcerned about it. The schools I talked to were unconcerned about a 30 year old GPA… as long as my pre-reqs and my MCAT were solid.

My guidance would be to focus less on what happened to you in the past, on how to overcome what you did or did not do in the past and just go get 'er done now

G’luck to you!!

(oh, and I’m 50)

Adding this as separate post:

I also have an “interesting” back story, which if I get to an interview will help explain the D’s, F’s, C’s, C-'s, B-'s and the sprinkled in A’s that I got as a u-grad.

My first son died at the age of 6 months from SIDS (don’t think that is used as a pathological diagnosis anymore but that was 1986). I was a college senior…

It’s not an excuse because the truth of the matter is I was a drunk, partying, girlfriend of a deadbeat drunk idiot. Had I not been a drunk, partying sorority girl, I’d probably not have gotten pregnant… nor dated that dolt

That’s fantastic, and it makes me feel much better. Although I’m sure there are schools that have absolute GPA cutoffs, it seems much more realistic that the majority will take a more holistic approach.

If you don’t mind me asking, which schools told you that they will essentially disregard your older grades? If you’d rather not share that information, that’s fine, but I’m just curious. I’ve only gotten one definitive response like that from an ADCOM, and it wasn’t very specific to my situation; she just made it clear that they look at the whole picture.

I’m so sorry to hear your story. You are a very strong person! My condolences.

  • ehy Said:
Although I’m sure there are schools that have absolute GPA cutoffs.

I would say that every school has an absolute cut off.

Had my 2.196 in 1986 been paired with a 2.9 now, and a 32 MCAT, I would not get interviewed or seen.

However, when that 1986 2.196 GPA is paired with a 3.989 through medicinal biochem, genetics, etc in 2012 at a major Top 30 University (PhD land granting institution), that almost 30 year old GPA means nada.

Coupled with my back story that old GPA really means nada.

However, if that 2.196 from 1986 and the 3.989 from 2012 is paired with a 25 MCAT, I'd have to say I WON'T get a US based MD school to look at me now either.

Just because I have stellar grades, a compelling life story, excellent career (former Board of Directors reporting VP of $2B publicly held company), and leadership from APAC to EMEA and US...

I still need to the complete package: MCAT, CUR GPA, and shadowing.

Remember, grades are indicative of med school performance (which AAMC does not care about), MCAT is indicative of USMLE/COMLEX performance (which AAMC AND the med schools care about).

They want both.

I know my thread is very old, but I just wanted to update this to thank everyone for their advice! I will be matriculating to medical school this fall, and I appreciate all of your input here.

Awesome! Congrats

great. Where?

I’m a chiropractor wanting to become an MD or DO. my chiro gpa is 2.43

any chance? I would think so. Isn’t it all about money? let’s be real!

@john333 wrote:

I’m a chiropractor wanting to become an MD or DO. my chiro gpa is 2.43

any chance? I would think so. Isn’t it all about money? let’s be real!

For a US MD or DO school, you’re going to have a difficult time getting in with a GPA less than 3.0. If it’s something you’re truly interested in doing, I’d suggest taking some additional courses to help bring that GPA up.