Figuring how to get into medical school may seem like an arduous task. If you have never gone through the process before, you may not know what to do. Most people know you need good grades, and do well on the MCAT. However, there are many things to consider when taking on this goal. You have to pick the right undergraduate school for your academic goals. You have to choose a major you will be successful in. There is also the requirement of doing well in prerequisite courses. You also have to figure out the best medical schools for your personality. You have to submit applications. There are also the personal interviews. Then, once you pick a school, you have to figure out how to pay for it. This article will discuss the many intricacies that come with getting into medical school.
Pick the Right University for Undergraduate Studies
If you want to figure out how to get into medical school, your first step is choosing a school for undergrad. When choosing a school for your undergraduate studies, you have the option of choosing between a big university and a small liberal arts school. You may be wondering if these institutions have the right courses you need to apply for medical school. A big university will typically have many science departments that engage in a lot of research. Going to a liberal arts college may mean that you are limited in the amount of biological and physical science courses that are offered. Some students do better in a school with a small footprint. Other students may want to get lost on a big campus, so they have more options for friends. No matter what school you decide, you want to make sure they have the classes you need to have the qualifications to apply for medical school. Each school has its own unique offerings, so there is no real good or bad school. It really is about what is good for you. You can decide this by visiting the schools you are thinking of going to. Try to get a feel of what the school is like. Talk to the students on campus. They may help you to make your decision.
You don’t have to choose the best pre-med school for your undergraduate studies. As long as your GPA is good, you have a good MCAT score, and you have done some volunteering or shadowing experiences, you should be able to get into medical school. Medical schools are going to look at everything, not just what school you went to.
Your advisor and dean are an important part of helping you during your application process for medical school. You want to make sure that any school you choose has a good pre-med advising office.
It may not be a good idea to go to community college as some of the science courses you take there might not be counted for medical school, or you may be seen as less competitive. You can start your undergraduate degree at a community college for 2 years and then transfer to a four-year university. This will show the admission committee that you can perform at a high academic level.
A pre-health advisor is an invaluable resource. However, their advice, for the most part, can be generalized. Therefore, you have to do your own research to make sure that the advice they give applies to you. If a pre-med advisor is discouraging you from pursuing medicine, find a new one. It is not their job to tell you what career you should pursue. They should help you figure out how to improve your situation to increase your chances of getting into medical school. An advisor who tries to convince you to choose another career is just being negative. There is this idea out there that you have to reach perfection in order to get into medical school, but it is just not true. All it takes is one medical school to say yes. There is not one way to get into medical school because each applicant is different. They all offer something different. So, if an advisor is saying you are not the right person for medical school, do not listen to them.
Choosing a Pre-Med Major
Choosing the right major is one way to plan how to get into medical school. When picking a major, you want to choose something that is interesting to you. This is because a competitive GPA will better your chances of being accepted into medical school. Of course, you should talk to a school advisor to help you pick the right courses as medical schools have prerequisite courses that you have to take. You will still need to take some science classes which you need to do well in. If science is not your strong suit, get help as soon as possible. These prerequisite courses will help you prepare for the MCAT. There are a number of resources you can use, such as a tutor and a professor’s office hours, to help you stay on track. Some universities offer a Post-Bacc program for students who have graduated but are missing the classes necessary for medical school. This demonstrates to those reviewing your application that even with a nontraditional degree, you have what it takes to make it through medical school.
You don’t have to choose an Ivy League university to get into medical school. The application committee at the medical schools you apply to are going to be focused on what your GPA is for science courses, your overall GPA, as well as how rigorous your courses were. Someone who has a 4.0 in very easy courses isn’t going to shine as much as someone who has a 3.7 in chemistry.
Admission committees want to make sure that applicants can take on the many hours of studying that come with medical school. So, they want to make sure you have applied yourself, and you can do well even in difficult courses. You don’t have to major in science, but you want to make sure that the courses you are taking are high-level ones. Challenging yourself when completing your undergraduate studies will make you better prepared to deal with the rigor that comes with medical school. You want to improve your study habits before you start medical school.
Take a Post-Bacc Program if You are a Non-Traditional Student
If you are someone who has already completed an undergraduate degree but do not have the prerequisite science classes for medical school, or you didn’t do well in your science classes, a Post-Bacc program can be a great option on how to get into medical school. These Post-Bacc programs will give you the courses you need to get into med school. Some medical schools have agreements with these Post-Bacc programs which means you can fast track your way to medical school.
There are two types of people that are Post-Bacc students. The first kind of student is the person who wants to change careers because they realized later on that they wanted to be a doctor. The second kind of student is the one who was pre-med but didn’t do well during their undergrad, and so they need to improve their GPA.
An applicant who is considered nontraditional for medical school is someone who is typically older. They may be coming from a different field. Perhaps they majored in humanities like history, psychology, economics, or English. If they are changing careers, they may have been doing their previous career for over a decade. The reason they are motivated to change careers now is that maybe they or a loved one recently got sick. Perhaps a world event impacted them so much that now they feel medicine is their calling.
Non-traditional pre-med students have to prove that they are suited to become doctors by being involved in clinical settings and showing that they are comfortable working with patients. If they were successful in their previous career, then they will be viewed favorably by the admissions committee of the medical school. They have to show that they have what it takes to be successful with difficult course work and that they are motivated. By doing so, they can achieve their dream of becoming a physician.
If you are a non-traditional pre-med student, and you’re looking for shadowing or volunteering opportunities, try to contact the hospital in your area. If you work during the day, try to find somewhere where you can shadow at night. Although clinics are closed at night, hospitals are open 24/7. These experiences will help you figure out if this is something you really want to do.
If you need help with advising, contact your pre-med advising office. The AAMC has a list of formal Post-Bacc programs. A formal program will give you a structured curriculum to follow, and it is usually one year. Many of these programs have relationships with medical schools which makes it easier for you to get in. There are Post-Bacc programs for improving your GPA and record. There are also programs for changing your career. You can get a certificate for completing your Post-Bacc program, but medical schools do not really care if you get a certificate or not. It is also possible to do a DIY Post-Bacc program. It is a cheaper option. You can also go at your own pace. You can take evening classes if you work during the day. Although advising is not included, you can still go to the pre-med advising office.
The main goal of Post-Bacc programs is to finish the pre-med courses required for medical school. Completing these courses and doing well in them also shows that you have what it takes to make it through medical school. It is not recommended to spread out these courses over multiple years. Instead, it is better to complete them in one-year to show that you can manage the heavy course load that you will also experience in medical school.
Post-Bacc programs have their own requirements. They want someone who has done well previously as an undergraduate student. They want to make sure you fit in with what they are trying to accomplish. Post-Bacc programs want to be sure you have the drive and dedication to stick with the program. They are looking for someone active in community service.
When it comes to being a nontraditional pre-med student, medical schools want diversity. Your life before pre-med makes you unique and makes you stand out to medical schools. When applying for medical school, write about the skills that you learned in your previous career and how that can help you as a physician. All of this should be written in your personal statement.
Research Various Medical School Admission Requirements
Start researching medical schools and their requirements. It is never too early to start researching. You can start the research process during your Freshman year of undergraduate studies. Each school has its own requirements, so keep that in mind when figuring out the courses you should take during undergraduate studies. Do not just focus on one school. Cast a wide net. If you do not get chosen by your first choice, you still have options. When preparing your application, you can add some supplementary materials, like a published paper with a handwritten note to the admissions director. You can also contact the admission committees to ask about the medical school program as well as any expectations they may have.
In a perfect world, it would be nice to visit all the schools you are interested in. However, due to lack of time and money, this is virtually impossible. Another option that is doable is going to your university’s career fair. There, you can interact with representatives of different medical schools. This can help you make decisions about the med schools you would like to attend and add to your list. It can also help you to narrow your list if you have an expansive one.
Have A Strong Academic Record
Having a strong GPA demonstrates to the medical school admissions committee that you can balance your studies with your life outside of school. This is really the best way how to get into medical school. Bad grades are almost a nonstarter. There are a number of resources you can use on campus to keep your grades up. Most professors have office hours. Your school library may have a tutoring center. It may be tempting to skip classes where attendance is not mandatory, but doing so may lead you to fall behind. On days you are too lazy to take notes, you can record the lecture with your professor’s permission. You could also have note-taking buddies to share and compare notes with. Review notes as soon and often as you can instead of waiting until the night of the exam. Part of the success of university is good time management skills.
Apply for Medical School Before Your Senior Year
Applying for medical school can be expensive because you have primary application fees as well as secondary application fees. So, you should have money on hand to cover these fees. You should apply during your Junior year. Application services are available in early May. You can start to submit in early June.
It is best to submit your primary applications early. You submit to AMCAS for MD schools and AACOMAS for DO schools. Submit to TMDSAS for Texas medical schools. If you delay your application, it can be an issue due to rolling admissions. Although some schools may say the deadline is in November or December, you should submit in June.
Almost all the schools will send you a secondary application. This application will have essay prompts. You need to send these applications back within two weeks. You can perhaps prewrite your essays based on prompts from previous years to save time.
The purpose of the secondary application is to filter the ranking of medical school applicants. Many schools will automatically send a secondary application to every applicant who has submitted a primary application. Sending the secondary application benefits the medical school because the fees for submitting the application are between $40 and $120. Not only can this be expensive for you, but the schools get a lot of money in the process. The secondary application also reduces the amount of applications schools receive because not everyone is able to send a secondary. If money is an issue that is preventing you from sending back a secondary, contact the school and ask for a waiver. If you have already received a waiver from AMCAS, you may be able to get a waiver from the school as well. As stated before, it is important to send the secondary application back within two weeks. This shows the medical school admissions committee that you really are interested in their school. A lot of students prewrite essays as a way to meet the two-week window of submitting secondary applications. A lot of medical schools reuse essay prompts. Finding a database of essay prompts from the medical schools you are interested in will give you an advantage. When you finally get the secondary application, just check to make sure your prewritten essay matches with one of the essay prompts and submit.
During your senior year, specifically in the Fall semester, you want to prepare for the interviews. Review and practice interview questions that are considered common. You can record yourself with the Anytime Mock Interview Platform. You can also practice with someone on campus at career services who knows what to look for and can help you.
Once you have had your interviews, write thank you notes to each person that interviewed you. You can also send a thank you note to the secretary who scheduled your interview. This makes you look good and keeps you in their thoughts.
Figure Out How to Pay for School
You need to start figuring out how you are going to pay for medical school. You may be able to offset some costs with scholarships. There are financial options and scholarships, such as the Health Professional Scholarship Program, that are available. Research and apply for these financing options.
If you take out loans, you will have to come up with a plan to pay off the debt. Going to a state school is a lot cheaper than going to a private school. The average cost for tuition, if you are a resident of the state of the med school, is $15,000. The Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences School of Medicine, the military medical school, gives you the option of going to medical school for free.
If you choose to attend a school out of state, the tuition can be $60,000 per year. Living expenses, books, and fees would be extra. According to the AAMC, most students that graduate medical school leave with a median debt amount close to $200,000.
Once Spring comes, pick the school you will go to. Hopefully, you have a nice list of schools to pick from. You should call all the schools on your list that you are not going to and thank them for the opportunity they have offered you as well as the time spent going through this process with you. You should do this once you have made your decision. This opens slots for other applicants. After that, you can just enjoy the rest of your undergraduate career and celebrate with friends and family at graduation.
The summer after undergrad, you should pack and move. It is good to live near your medical school. If you do not mind roommates and want to minimize your expenses, living with students who will be studying with you can be nice. You will be experiencing this together. Living alone also has its advantages. You will have a quiet environment that is conducive to studying.
Nobody really wants to talk about money in medical school. Conversations about loan amounts or interest rates are taboo topics. Instead of discussing how to pay back the loans, the only thing people seem comfortable talking about is their financial aid packages and scholarships. It needs to be talked about more, though, so it is no longer a taboo topic.
There are a couple of ways that doctors use to pay back these loans. One way is seeking loan forgiveness by working for a not for profit hospital for ten years. The speed of a physician who is working for a private practice to pay down the loan depends on what kind of specialty they are in. If they are working in high-income specialties, they can pay down the loan in 5-7 years. Those who are in lower-income specialties can pay it off in 10-15 years.
Banks consider doctors low risk which means the terms you get for a loan are not that attractive. Basically, you should live like a resident for the next four or five years once you are done with your training. Live like this until your net worth is at zero.
If you are a nontraditional student, you really have to ask yourself if it is worth becoming a physician. You may have to choose between becoming a doctor and working until you are in your 70s or staying in your current profession and working until your 60s. If becoming a doctor is that important to you, then go for it.
Being a nontraditional student limits the time you will be practicing because you are starting your studies in your 30s or 40s. In this situation, becoming a doctor is an emotional decision. So, you want to be absolutely sure that this is really what you want. You do not want to have regrets later on in life by making this decision.
When considering medical school, it is really important to think about the opportunity cost. If you decided to become an engineer instead of a doctor, you could be making close to $100,000 a year with smaller loans of $30,000 that you can pay off in a year or two and live a nice lifestyle. A doctor could be making $150,000 a year but have ten times the amount of loans. You could pay the $300,000 by living frugally. However, what does that mean for your lifestyle?
Sometimes, life gets in the way. A physician in a modest paying specialty may decide to have a family and move out of the city. Perhaps they want to work fewer hours to spend time with their kids. There are “pay as you earn” programswhere you are paying off the loan over a period of 20 years at today’s cost. They are income-driven payment plans. There is a tax at the end, but it may be a more sensible option.
When taking out direct federal loans, ask someone at your financial aid office whether or not the loans that are covering your first semester are part of the federal direct program. If the answer is in the affirmative, it means you can borrow in the program throughout medical school. The federal direct program has a great repayment program. If you get a Federal One loan instead, you will really need to be careful because this is not a direct loan.
Some private schools are asking for $400,000. Having a military career may be one way to sidestep this high cost. You can look into the scholarships NIH, NHSC, and HPSP that help to assist those researching at hospitals.
When it comes to loans, the best option is to take as much money from the unsubsidized Stafford loans as possible. The origination fee is only 1%, and it has a 6% interest rate. You should be able to take out $20,000 a semester. That is not enough to cover all your expenses. So, now you have to figure out how to come up with the rest of the money. If you are planning on working in a hospital, try to make all of your loans direct loans with the federal government because the loans can be forgiven by the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program. You should also go for the Grad PLUS program to cover the rest of your expenses. The origination fee for the Grad PLUS program is 4.27%, and the interest rate is 7%.
You should only take out private loans if you are absolutely sure you will do private practice. Taking out a private loan when working for a not for profit hospital can be a disaster. Trying to make payments during residency or fellowship can be very difficult.The loans of residents can be refinanced to nominal fees. In this case, making the payments would not be difficult because they are so low. Also, once you are done with your residency, you can refinance.
If you go into private practice, you could be saving $10,000 to $40,000 in interest. Going the not for profit route with private loans means you could owe tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of dollars in comparison to federal student loans. Think about what your future may look like when deciding what loans to take out.
Be careful about credit card debt. It is better to have student debt. Try not to increase your consumption patterns even if you are an attending. You want to be frugal to avoid unnecessary debt. Have a cushion between $5,000 and $10,000. Emergency situations can come up. Choose the least expensive option on your list of medical schools you were accepted into. Less debt means more options.
Prepare for the MCAT as Soon as Possible
To prepare for the MCAT, it is recommended that you study between 300 and 350 hours. The average MCAT score for students admitted to medical school is 510. It is recommended to take the MCAT the year before you plan on going to medical school. You can take the MCAT three times over one year. You can only take the MCAT four times in a two year period. You can buy study books to prepare for the exam. When creating a study schedule, set aside time for taking practice exams. The exams will help you to see what areas you are strong in and what parts to improve. The MCAT books come with practice exams. Go through the practice MCAT exams as often as you can to be better prepared for the real thing. If you are having financial issues, you can apply for fee assistance to cover the cost of the MCAT exam.
Your school advisor can point you in the right direction when searching for study materials for the MCAT. There are a few clubs and associations, like Alpha Epsilon Delta, that cater to pre-health and pre-med students. Members of these groups help each other prepare for the exams you need to take, including the MCAT. They also host events with speakers that can help give you knowledge as well as hear the experiences of people who were once in your position and are now successful.
The Best Time to Take the MCAT
You should coordinate when you take the MCAT with when you will take prerequisite courses. Basically, you have to figure out when you are going to complete the necessary stuff. You do not want to take the MCAT before you are ready. Schedule the exam after you have taken your prerequisite courses. If you are a freshman, you could take these courses during the first two years of college. Although you could self-study 1 semester of a class, this is not the best option. Try to take all the prerequisite courses before the MCAT. Make sure you are doing well in these classes. It will help you study for the MCAT exam.
Before you take the exam, you should have two, although three is best, semesters of biology. Complete two semesters of physics. Complete two semesters of general chemistry. Make sure you finish two semesters (although one can be enough to pass the exam) of organic chemistry. You only have to complete 1 semester of psychology, sociology, and biochemistry. One or two semesters of humanities can also help.
You should get your scores back for the MCAT after one month. So, do not delay in taking the exam because it means delaying your application by a month. Many schools will not look at your application if there is no MCAT score. They will wait for it to arrive. Basically, your test date sets the basis for the timing of your application process.
There are two types of MCAT prerequisites. These are the science and non-science classes. The AAMC recommends that you take two semesters of organic chemistry, general chemistry, biology, and physics. They also recommend that you take one semester of biochemistry, psychology, and sociology.
Taking upper-level cell biology and molecular genetics courses can also help you prepare for the MCAT. The MCAT covers a lot about the micro. This means there will be a lot of questions covering cells, DNA, RNA, amino acids, proteins, cells, and other micro components covered in biology. There are some parts of the exam that cover anatomy and physiology. However, you do not need to take physiology and anatomy classes to prepare for this section of the exam. General biology should be enough for these questions. It is better if you focus on the prerequisite courses, molecular genetics, and cell biology when choosing classes to prepare for the MCAT.
The MCAT is a reading test about science. It is not really a science test. So, taking humanities classes, like English, philosophy, and history, can build the muscles necessary for critical reading. This is especially important during the CARS, Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills, section. Courses that are going to help you as a reader will improve how well you do on the MCAT.
Write a Stand Out Personal Statement
Although admission committees do not advise what to write in personal statements, there may be specific topics they may want you to write about. It is important to put the effort into this as this is really the only way you can fully express what your intentions are. You can reflect on your studies and why you would like to go to medical school. You also want to write about your specific qualities that make you stand out as an applicant. You also want to talk about how your character has developed since embarking on your academic goals.
A personal statement is required for all major medical school applications. These applications are the AMCAS, AACOMAS, and TMDSAS. Your personal statement boils down to why you want to be a doctor. Tell the story of how you initially came to that decision. Discuss the moments you had as a pre-med student that bolstered that choice. It needs to feel personal. If you are writing your personal statement as a way to impress the admissions committee, it will not feel genuine. Be honest about what is driving you to pursue this career path. Tell the stories in your life to emphasize how unique you really are.
Get Letters of Recommendation
Recommendation letters are an important part of the application process. If you have lost touch with some professors during your undergraduate career, set up an appointment with them to catch up on what’s been going on in your life and to discuss your medical school goals. When you go to the meeting, make sure you have your personal statement. Doing so will allow them to review it. You should also bring your resume. It is also possible to get recommendation letters from your place of employment.
Prepare for Interviews
Personal interviews are a great opportunity to shine. You can be interviewed by one member of the admission committee or by a group of members. It is also possible to be interviewed by a medical student or a physician. These interviews may take place on-campus or off-campus. These interviews are used to assess your critical thinking and problem-solving skills. Grades and test scores can come up during the interview. There may also be questions and scenarios involving ethics. Perhaps they will ask about some of your philosophical views so that they can get to know you on a personal level. They will ask why you want to go into medicine. So, be prepared to answer that with confidence. Point out character traits that make you perfect for medical school. Schools invest a lot of resources into their students, and so they want to make sure you’re a great fit. Make sure you are polite to everyone that you meet on the day of the interview, even the receptionist.
Make sure you research the school before the interview. Reviewing the mission statement can make you more prepared for the interview. Review interview questions and practice answers. There are quite a few resources out there that can help you use effective body language as well as dress professionally. In the end, you want to sound personable and real. It is really important that you understand your “why” for applying to medical school. If you do not know where to start or where to find these resources, try your school’s career service office. You can do mock interviews there, and they can help you learn other ways to best present yourself.
Involve Yourself in Extracurricular Activities
Having good time management skills can be demonstrated by participating in extracurricular activities. If you have an active social life on campus and you have a competitive GPA, this will make you stand out when applying for medical school. It shows you have a strong worth ethic and are good at prioritizing the important things. If you have a leadership role in the sports you play or the theater group you are a part of, it shows you are a person that wants to grow. These leadership skills can make you a better doctor. It may be tempting to sacrifice your interests and only focus on school. However, being involved in a community on campus is a more healthy option. Humans are social creatures. So, we need to interact with others for our own mental health. You may meet someone on your intramural rugby team who is also premed. Perhaps they have some insight on prerequisite courses. Maybe they have notes. University is also about networking. Use that to your advantage. It is also important not to get so focused on extracurricular activities that you neglect your GPA and/or you do not prepare adequately for the MCAT.
Learn a New Language and Broaden Your Horizons
Working as a physician, you will be exposed to a number of different cultures. Learning a new language can help you with this as it will challenge you and expose you to new cultures. Learning to communicate as well as understand different cultures is an important skill when going into medicine. In a number of cities across America, many people only speak Spanish. When you can communicate with your patients, you are able to advocate for them. They feel safer and less stressed because not only can you talk to them, but you can address their concerns. Consider studying abroad. The admissions committee looks favorably to applicants who try to broaden their horizons.
There are quite a number of medical volunteer abroad programs that can give you some experience in healthcare. These programs allow students to work in underserved communities. You get to work side-by-side with medical professionals. This may involve giving vaccines and interacting with the public. You can also help by cleaning the health facilities and making them more accessible. These programs are for people that are 18 and older.
Work in the Medical Field
Exposing yourself to the medical field by working in a hospital or doctor’s office can help you decide if being a physician is really what you want to do. A nursing home and a public health clinic are also good places to look for a job in a medical environment. In these situations, you will have access to the public. Being outside an academic setting can help to remind you why you have chosen this profession. You are not studying for the sake of lecture notes and exams. You are doing it because you want to help people. Although this is not a prerequisite, it looks really good on your application because it shows how important this career choice is for you.
Shadow Professionals that are in the Career You Want
Another way to investigate the career you have chosen for yourself is to shadow health professionals. You don’t only need to restrict yourself to doctors. You can shadow other health professionals. When shadowing, keep a journal to keep track of how often you shadow as well as document the experience you have had for your application. Pick one or two professionals to shadow regularly so they can get to know you and maybe even become a mentor for you. It is best that these shadow experiences last over a period of several months because it takes time to build relationships. It also gives you more anecdotal stories for you to share during your personal interviews. You may even be able to ask them for a letter of recommendation when it is time to apply for medical school. A mentor who is a medical professional may give you some insight on what to expect in the years ahead of you and offer some advice to make your time as a medical student less challenging. A pro tip to get the most exposure in the field of medicine is to shadow a family doctor. A family doctor has all kinds of patients, from babies to the elderly. Being a family physician is also the most popular choice when choosing a field of study, so keep that in mind.
Volunteer in the Community
Volunteering is strongly advised for students wishing to apply to medical school. It demonstrates to the admission committee that you have integrity and are someone who can commit to things. You are providing a service to the community when you volunteer. It is also another way to decide if medicine is for you.
When volunteering, it is good to pick an experience that is going to last several months or more. Do not think that you can fill your application with one or two-day volunteering gigs. When you go for your interview for medical school, there will be questions about your experiences volunteering. They want to see how these experiences have impacted you in your decision to become a doctor. Whatever you choose to do when volunteering, be sure that it is something that will impact you. This will make you sound genuine during the interview process.
Strong academic students may enjoy participating in scientific research. If you would like to work in research or academic medicine, this can be a good way to get started. Students who participate in laboratories on campus may find they have a knack or affinity for working as a researcher.
Choose Medical Schools to Apply to
More and more medical schools are being accredited by LCME, the Liaison Committee on Medical Education. Pre-med students continue to update the list of medical schools they wish to submit AMCAS applications to based on the information released in the US News Best Medical Schools report. However, these ranking reports are flawed in how they rank medical schools. So, do not look to them to decide what school is right for you.
Some factors you should consider when choosing medical schools to apply to are the mission of the school, what kind of research they engage in, if they are any clinical opportunities, the class size, the location of the school, and the weather. Visiting schools is a great way to find out the vibe on campus. It also gives you an opportunity to talk to the students who are going there. If you thrive in a smaller school that is more nurturing, seek that out. Choose the environment that is going to make you perform the best. It is important to understand what kind of student you are, so you can pick a school that matches your personality.
It can happen that no matter how hard you try, even with the best planning, you may not be able to go to a US medical school. Caribbean medical schools are another option to attain your dream to become a physician. Graduating from a Caribbean medical school gives you the label of an IMG, an International Medical Graduate. It does cause some slight difficulty when applying for American residency programs. However, if you do well in medical school and on your boards, you can get into a great residency program.
You do not need a big name school to become a good doctor. With hard work and effort, you can make that happen. Still, there are some things to consider when applying for a Caribbean medical school.
What to Know About Caribbean Medical Schools
In the United States, there are 26 DO and 137 MD medical schools. You may think that because there are 60 medical schools in the Caribbean, your chances of becoming a doctor have quadrupled. However, not all of these medical schools in the Caribbean are up to the standards of American schools. A lot of them have terrible USMLE pass rates. The residency match rates are not any better. There are some medical schools in the Caribbean that are well-known for graduating successful doctors for a while now. So, those schools would be the ones to target.
The reason why a lot of the medical schools in the Caribbean are not good choices for a medical school is that they are for-profit. They will accept students who are not suitable for medical school because their only wish is to chase the almighty dollar. As a result, their attrition rates are much higher than U.S. medical schools.
Still, if you pick a good Caribbean medical school, you work hard, and you get good board scores, you can get into a good residency program. If you are not ready to apply yourself and go to one of these schools in the Caribbean, they will just pocket the money and you will have nothing to show for it.
When deciding on a medical school in the Caribbean, there are few gems that stand out:
- St. George’s University School of Medicine
- Saba University School of Medicine
- American University of the Caribbean School of Medicine
- Ross University School of Medicine
All of these schools were established in the 70s except for Saba. Saba was established in 1994.
Caribbean medical schools have the same requirements as U.S. medical schools. You should complete two semesters of inorganic chemistry, organic chemistry, general biology, physics, mathematics, and English.
When deciding if a Caribbean medical school is right for you, make sure that your needs will be met there. You also want to make sure that the school will prepare you in a way that you can do well on your exams.
The vibe of the school can also affect how passionate you are about what you are studying. If you have ever tried to study in a noisy airport, you may have found it difficult. Instead of focusing on what you are doing, you may have just watched as the people ran to their gates or anxious children crying. Studying in the beautiful Caribbean may be hard for some people. You may be tempted to frequent the sandy beaches instead of spending time studying. If that is the case, this may not be for you. This issue would be the same if you were studying in a big city in the United States. You might feel a strong urge to see what the city has to offer and visit the various clubs and bars. So, you may decide to choose a medical school in a small town. You have to pick an environment that is going to help you be successful.
A major deciding factor as to whether or not you will be matched for a residency program is your USMLE Step 1 score. Your score is one of the variables filtered when choosing applicants for residency by residency coordinators. Medical school students at American schools have much higher pass rates than students studying in the Caribbean on the USMLE Step 1. However, if you are really motivated to become a doctor and are willing to apply yourself, you can still do well.
Based on the statistics, not only do Caribbean medical schools have lower pass rates than U.S. medical schools, but their residency match rates are also much lower. While residency match rates in the U.S. are over 90%, U.S. citizens who have graduated from an international medical school only had a 50% match rate. For non-U.S. citizens who went to international medical schools, it was even less at 40%. You can find out the match rates of medical schools because most schools post this information. If you look at Saba University and Ross University, you will see how their students are at making residency matches.
Some Caribbean schools have their students go to the states during their 3rd and 4th years to finish their clerkships. It sounds like a good idea until you see, based on the numbers, that it might actually not be good. A lot of Caribbean medical schools have large class sizes. This causes the clerkships to be overcrowded. As a result, the students do not have enough time spent with residents and those attending. If you want the best experience and to learn the most you can, make sure you will be doing your rotation at a hospital that has a residency program that coincides with the rotation you will complete.
During your interview at a Caribbean medical school, ask about the away-elective and clerkship experiences that are available. If you would like to set up your own elective to improve your chances of matching with residency programs, the school may be supportive of this.
The most famous Caribbean medical schools have their courses taught in English. However, there are some schools where you may have to speak another language like Spanish. So, check this out when deciding to apply to a certain school. If you can only speak a foreign language on a basic level, you may fall behind because you are competing against students who are already fluent in the study language. You would have to learn medicine and a new language at the same time. You may want to consider if this is really worth it.
Caribbean medical schools are for 4 years like U.S. medical schools. The first two years take place in the classroom which is where you will be studying basic science. During the last two years, the main focus will be clinical rotations.
Deciding to go to a Caribbean medical school should only be a last resort. If you fail to get into a U.S. medical school, give yourself a year or two to fix the weak points in your application. Then, apply again. If you still are unable to get into a U.S. medical school, then try your luck with Caribbean medical schools.
You should not feel bad about going to a Caribbean medical school. If you are prepared and willing to work hard, you will be fine. You have control over the amount of effort you put in. Even if you get into Johns Hopkins Medical School, being a slacker will make it very difficult to get into a good residency program compared to a hardworking graduate of a Caribbean medical school.
Pick the Amount of Schools to Apply to
Do not just apply to MD schools or DO schools. To increase your odds of getting into medical school, apply to both kinds of schools. You do not need to apply to more than 30 schools. Most students apply to 14 for MD schools and 9 for DO schools. As for Texas schools, although the average is not out there, there are indicators that the amount is also around 9. If you want to figure out how many schools you should apply to, you need to factor in your budget, the schools you are interested in, the number of secondary applications you would be willing to write, and how many interviews you can go to. Using a medical school application cost estimator can help you get an idea of your budget for the application process.
So, if you add it all together, it seems like the average number of schools to apply to is 23. It is not recommended to apply to more than 30 schools. It may seem like applying to all the schools is the best option for getting in. However, considering how many secondary applications would come in, as a result, it does not seem worth it. You really do not have a lot of time to write that many essays. Plus, it really is a waste of money if you are unable to complete all the secondary applications you get back due to being overwhelmed.
The majority of the schools you send your primary applications to will send the secondaries all around the same time. Plus you have to send the secondaries back very quickly. This is why it is a good idea to pre-write the essays. After the secondaries come the interviews. Are you really going to be able to go to that many interviews if you apply to a crazy amount of schools? Even if money was not an issue, the time it would take to write essays and go to interviews just does not seem possible.
Once you have your list of schools, it is time to start narrowing down. The AAMC has a tool that you can pay for called the MSAR, Medical School Admissions Requirements. You make an account and type in your MCAT scores and GPA. This tool will let you know if you are close to the average scores of those who have applied to a certain school. You may decide that because you fall below the average scores at a certain school, you will not apply.
However, the number you see on the MSAR is actually the median. This means half of the class are below it, and half are above it. So, even if you are below the median number, you should apply. Half of the medical students are below that median number, This number does not really matter all that much. Your MCAT scores and GPA are not good ways to try to pick the medical schools you should apply to.
The admissions committee is trying to form a class of students that are going to work well together during the four years of medical school. There may be something in your application based on the experiences you have had and your background that may make you a good fit for a particular class. They may invite you for an interview. If you do not apply to school, you have no chances of getting in. Apply for the schools you want. You never know. You might get in.
If you have ever been on Reddit, you may have seen students discuss pre-med tier systems in medical schools. It only matters a little bit when applying for residencies. What really matters is your performance as a student. They really want to know about your board scores, your rotations, and your electives. The school you choose to go to does not really matter.
Although there are some medical schools out there with great reputations, it does not really mean anything. You are not going to learn more at one school just because it is a big name school. You may have more experiences and be exposed to different types of situations. However, these schools are hard to get into. Do not just put high tier schools on your list. There are mid-tier and low-tier schools that are also good. Your experience is really about the effort you put in.
You should not use a school’s match rate as a factor in narrowing down your school list. You may look at certain schools and wonder the reason behind certain specialties having a high match rate. It could be something as simple as the school having an attending physician who inspires a bunch of students to practice a certain specialty and then writes glowing letters of recommendation. It is really hard to say why match lists are the way they are.
It is not really the school that is going to get you matched into a residency program. It is really about how well you do on the national board exams. Your performance in med school determines your future. If you do what you are supposed to do, you will get matched.
Although there are tools that advertise to predicting if you can get into med school or not, consider them with a grain of salt. These tools simply look at past data to show you the people that got in the year before.
When considering which med schools you should apply to, consider the location. Do you want to be close to your family or far away? When you are close to family, it can offer you some support during this life-changing time of your life. Look at the med schools on a map. See if these schools are in the areas you want to be in. Think about the weather. Do you want to experience four seasons, or do you just want sunshine all year long?
Class size is another thing to take into account when choosing a med school. Maybe you do better in a more intimate environment. Perhaps you want a large class where you have the opportunity to expand your group of friends. It is also good to think about the curriculum. Maybe you are all about system-based learning. Maybe you do better with problem-based learning. Figure out what kind of situation would be best for you and choose your schools based on that.
When you look at the data, you will see that 75% of students change their mind about a certain specialty during their time in med school. So, if you pick a school based on the match list or how good their access is to a particular residency program, you are doing yourself a disservice. You may do rotations during your Junior year at med school and find that what you wanted to do is not what you really wanted. Rather than picking a school because of the potential residency program, look at whether or not the school is close to teaching hospitals and programs.
The last thing to consider when choosing a medical school is the tuition. If you have multiple school acceptances, you can compare their financial packages and make a decision. See if you can get more money by pitting them against each other. Although you have to figure out how to pay for school, do not use this as your main basis for picking the schools you will apply to.
Although applying for medical school is a long task that comes with many moving parts, it is not impossible. Picking a major you are interested in will help you get a good GPA. Taking the prerequisite courses will help you prepare for the MCAT. Exposure to medicine outside the classroom by volunteering, working, and shadowing can help you decide if being a doctor is something you really want to do. This is especially important for Post-Bacc students. For them, medical school is a passion project. It may involve taking on debt and paying it off well into their 70s. Writing a personal statement that is unique to you and expresses why you want to be a doctor is important when doing your applications. Seek letters of recommendation from professors, mentors, and employers. Pick the medical schools that are right for you. Know yourself as a person and make those choices. Figure out how you are going to pay for school. Choose an option that will give you the best life. If you do not get into a school in the United States, consider a Caribbean medical school. Do all these things, and your dream of becoming a doctor will come true.