Applying to medical school is a complicated process. While there are free resources available, some will still need additional help. That’s where a medical school admissions consultant comes in.
Whatever your reason for hiring one—whether you’re having trouble describing your background concisely or you’re worried about test scores, the following questions will help you to find the best medical school admissions consultants for your specific needs.
1. What’s your experience in admissions?
This is an obvious starting point. Before paying a cent, you should find out where the consultant’s claim to expertise comes from. This includes how much time they spent at a given institution, the specific roles that they held and what part they played in the admissions process. The amount and quality of their experience represents the knowledge that they can use to help you.
An admissions consultant’s experience also helps them to stay up to date, through their professional connections. Iris C. Gibbs, associate dean of M.D. admissions at Stanford University School of Medicine, spoke to US News & World Report about admission consultants in 2015. Gibbs pointed out that one reason why applicants turn to consultants is that “they keep abreast of a lot of the various trends.” With conditions changing ever more rapidly, working with someone who keeps their head above the water will give you a competitive edge.
2. What’s your success rate?
Understanding the success rate of past clients is a critical part of choosing an admissions consultant. After all, you’re not just seeking to make the process easier or more pleasant, but also to gain admission to medical school.
Ask prospective consultants about their past clients, and pay attention to how transparent they are in answering this question. Will they provide you with a success rate for all of their clients, or highlight a select few? Someone who is transparent about their failures, as well as their successes, will be more likely to help you, and to be honest with you throughout the process.
3. What’s your experience with a student like me?
When looking for a medical school admissions consultant, it’s worth asking how much experience candidates have with students that share your specific background. If you’re a more traditional applicant with a lower GPA or MCAT score, ask the consultant whether they’ve had experience helping a student with similar qualifications to get accepted.
On the other hand, if you’re someone who has taken time off, is looking to switch careers, or otherwise needs more help in forming a compelling narrative about their experience, make sure that your chosen consultant understands where you’re coming from. If you’re hoping for a positive experience, finding a consultant who understands specifically what it is that you’ll need help with is a must.
4. What exactly am I paying for?
This is both a fair question and an important one. The process of applying to medical school is expensive; in her 2020 book Premed Prep, Sunny Nakae offers some benchmarks: the average medical school applicant will spend USD$3500—not including travel for interviews. This is a heavy financial burden, so there’s no room for error when it comes to your medical school admissions consultant. You need to know exactly what services they can provide, and at what price; you’ll also want transparency as to how much time they can dedicate to you. Establishing exactly what it is that you’re paying for, and an honest dialogue right from the start, is key to preventing financial limitations on your application later.
5. How has COVID-19 impacted admissions?
This is something that all new applicants must deal with, but it’s still worth asking. In the summer of 2020, there were clear signs that testing and other critical parts of the medical admissions process would be upended indefinitely. Temporary measures, such as fewer face-to-face interviews, have been implemented in some places.
There’s a chance that some of these difficulties will spur innovation, leading to a more equitable admissions system in the future. This could include conducting interviews online to cut down on travel costs. For now, though, any long-term changes are purely theoretical. The right consultant for you will have up-to-date knowledge on the situation and correct procedures; it’s important that you reap the benefit of this knowledge as early as possible, to be able to prepare adequately for the admission process.
Whether you end up using a medical school admissions consultant or not, asking the right questions will help you to make the best of your choice. Applying to medical school is a stressful process already. The last thing you need is to pay someone for help, only to find that their expertise isn’t what you’d hoped for. Armed with the questions above, you’ll have a much better chance of selecting someone suitable for the task, avoiding the risk of missing out and having to try again next year.