Guide for Applying to Medical School for Swarthmore Undergraduates and Alumni/ae
Table Of Contents
- The Admissions Outlook
- Should You Apply? Factors Affecting Your Application
Course Requirements, Grade Point Average, Medical College Admission Test (MCAT), Health Care Related Experiences, Intangible Factors — Motivation and Commitment, State Residency, Age, Gender, Increasing Medical School Diversity, International Student Status, Character and Integrity
- How to Apply. The Logistics of Applying to Medical School
MCAT, Committee Letter of Recommendation, Faculty Letters of Recommendation, Information Form, Interview with the Health Sciences Advisor, Choosing Schools, Application Services, When to Apply, Medical School Interview, Multiple Acceptances, Financial Aid
- Strengthening Your Candidacy. Postbaccalaureate Study, Alternatives
- Health Sciences Advisory Committee
In 2014, 21,355 applicants were accepted to allopathic (MD) medical school out of 49,474 who applied, for an overall acceptance rate of 43%. However, the acceptance rate at any given school is considerably lower. At Albany Medical College, for example, 1% of the total number of applicants matriculated (138 out of 8,836); at Drexel, 2% (260 out of 14,608). The outlook for Swarthmore premedical students is much better than the overall acceptance rate of 43%. Our acceptance rate in 2014 was 87% — substantially higher than the national average — a record that few other colleges can claim.
Medical schools are looking for applicants with strong records of academic achievement and ability, excellent interpersonal skills, evidence of compassion and concern for others, maturity, and a well-informed motivation for medicine. They try to determine who are the best candidates (from among thousands of excellent ones) by looking at grades; MCATs; extracurricular, employment and leadership activities; community service; life experiences; and direct exposure to medicine and clinical practice.
If there is a significant weakness in your application, it may make sense for you to hold off on applying until you have had the chance to rectify it. It is very expensive to apply to medical school, in terms of money, time and effort. Don't rush to do it before you have a reasonable chance of acceptance. In fact, most of Swarthmore's applicants each year are alums, many of whom have taken an extra year or more after college to take additional courses, work in labs and clinics, serve in the Peace Corps, or do other interesting, worthwhile activities. Gigi would be happy to talk with any student who is wondering whether he or she should apply this year.
Before applying to medical school, be sure you have completed the required coursework. For most medical schools, that will be 4 semesters of chemistry with lab, 2 of biology with lab, 2 of physics with lab, 2 of math and 2 of English. AP credit may only be used for math. For most schools, taking English or a math course during your application year is fine, but you should complete all your science requirements before applying. As of 2015, the MCAT includes a section on social and behavioral sciences and it is recommended that students take a course in psychology and sociology/anthropology to prepare for that test.
For general information about which Swarthmore courses meet medical school requirements, check our Guide to Premedical Studies at Swarthmore College. It is wise to use Medical School Admission Requirements, available on-line by the Association of American Medical Colleges, to check the requirements for each school in which you may be interested. For example, calculus I and statistics fulfill the math requirement at most medical schools, including Harvard, which recently changed its requirements. The Health Sciences website includes a listing of medical schools with unusual/additional course requirements or recommendations.
B. Grade Point Average
By far the most important factor affecting your application is your grade point average (GPA), calculated by assigning an A a value of 4.0, an A- a value of 3.7 and a B+ a value of 3.4 etc. Medical schools want to be sure that the people they admit can cope with rigorous academic demands, and because there are so many applicants, they can choose only those with the strongest records. This means there are many people who are compassionate and dedicated, who would succeed in medical school, but will not get a chance because there are so many applicants with top grades and scores.
There are three GPAs that are important in applying to medical school: your Swarthmore-only GPA, and your AMCAS Total GPA and BCPM GPA. Your Swarthmore-only GPA includes only those courses that were taken on the Swarthmore campus. The Health Sciences Advisory Committee uses that average to see how you performed academically in comparison to your classmates and that is an important factor in determining your Committee rating.
AMCAS (American Medical College Application Service) is the application service you must use to apply to nearly all the U.S. allopathic medical schools. AMCAS computes your Total GPA using all college-level courses you've taken through any U.S. or Canadian college or university, including summer school courses, exchange and cross-registration programs, most study abroad programs, and college courses that you took in high school. Because medical schools are particularly interested in applicants' abilities in the sciences, your BCPM GPA is also computed by AMCAS and includes all courses you've taken in biology, chemistry, physics, and math.
What grade point average is necessary to become a serious contender for admission to medical school? Nationally, the average AMCAS GPA in 2014 for matriculating students was 3.69. The average AMCAS GPA for accepted Swarthmore applicants was 3.64. Our experience at Swarthmore is that a strong B+ (3.4) average is a solid basis for applying. This places a student nearly in the top half of the graduating class, which had a median GPA of 3.56 in 2015.
With a GPA under 3.4, your chances of admission depend a great deal on trends in the academic record, strength of science course grades, MCAT scores, state residency, and personal factors. A GPA below 3.2 makes the success of an applicant less likely at an allopathic school, although some osteopathic schools may consider applicants with GPAs down to 3.0 if the science work is good. B+'s or better in your science courses are, of course, to be desired as science grades (biology, chemistry, physics, and math) are reviewed carefully. Not all medical schools play the numbers game, but many do. Because of the thousands of applications they receive, some schools simply look at GPAs and MCAT scores and on the basis of those two factors decide whom to eliminate first. However, there may be some particular strengths, experiences or factors in your candidacy that would allow you to be accepted with a somewhat lower GPA.
The fact remains that how well you have done at Swarthmore is the major determinant in gaining entrance to medical school. Swarthmore is a very selective institution with high achieving students and a distinguished faculty. Most medical schools know that anyone with a B+ average from here has done a good job in a very competitive situation. Many medical schools rate undergraduate colleges on selectivity and competitiveness, and Swarthmore has a top rating in these categories. Some medical schools even make a slight upward adjustment to a Swarthmore GPA.
C. Medical College Admission Test (MCAT)
In 2015, the MCAT format and content changed. Among other things, it now includes a social and behavioral science component. It is recommended that students take an introductory course in psychology and one in sociology or anthropology to prepare.
The MCAT assesses mastery of basic concepts in biology, chemistry (general and organic) and physics; facility with scientific problem solving and critical thinking; and writing skills.
The MCAT includes four sections: As described by AAMC
- Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems - This section has 59 questions. Understanding the processes unique to living organisms, such as growing and reproducing, maintaining a constant internal environment, acquiring materials and energy, sensing and responding to environmental changes, and adapting, is important to the study of medicine. You will be tested on your knowledge of how cells and organ systems within an oganism act both independently and together to accomplish these processes, as well as on your ability to reason about these processes at various levels of biological organization within a living system (95 minutes)
- Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems - This section has 59 questions. Understanding the mechanical, physical, and biochemical functions of tissues, organs and organ systems is important to the study of medicine. You will be tested on your knowledge of the basic chemical and physical principles that underlie the mechanisms operating in the human body and on your ability to apply an understanding of these general principles to living systems (95 minutes)
- Psychological, Social and Biological Foundations of Behavior — This section has 59 questions. Understanding the behavior and sociocultural determinants of health is important to the study of medicine. You will be tested on your knowledge of the ways that psychological, social, and biological factors influence perceptions and reactions to the world; behavior and behavior change; what people think about themselves and others; the cultural and social differences that influence well-being; and the relationships among social stratification, access to resources and well-being (95 minutes)
- Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills — This section has 53 questions. This section asks you to critically analyze information from a wide range of social sciences and humanity disciplines. Specific knowledge of these disciplines is not required for this section; all of the information you will need appears in the passages provided. Content is drawn from several areas, including (but not limited to) ethics and philosophy, studies of diverse cultures, and populations health.
The MCAT is a 7.5 hour, computerized exam with two optional breaks. The exam will be offered on 20 different dates in 2016 at testing centers around the United States and in select sites internationally.
The MCAT grades each of the four sections on a scale of 118 (low) to 132 (high). Students will receive a score for each of the four sections. The scores of the 4 sections are combined to create a total score. The total score ranges from 472-528.
In addition to your grades at Swarthmore, medical schools are very interested in how well you do on the Medical College Admission Test. Validation studies show a correlation between MCAT scores and grades in the first two years of medical school curriculum and on the National Board Exams. (A score of 510 or above with at least 126 on each section is considered a solid score.) However, many students have been accepted with somewhat lower scores, due to other strengths in their applications. Once you have received your scores, please do not hesitate to contact Gigi to discuss your own circumstances.
D. Health Care Related Experiences
Medical schools look carefully at the health care related experiences that their applicants have had in college and beyond. Students who have been involved in a clinical setting, either as an employee, volunteer or intern, show medical schools that they are very motivated to learn as much as they can about the practice of medicine, and that they are making a knowledgeable career choice because they have observed medicine first-hand. It also is a way of demonstrating compassion and concern for others, which are very important attributes for physicians to have.
Students have worked in public health clinics, emergency rooms, ambulance corps, children's hospitals, hospices, doctors' offices, geriatric homes and other settings. Medical schools are interested in applicants who have made a sustained commitment to these activities, and who have gained some insight from them.
Students have also "shadowed" physicians at work. Alumni Relations offers some externship programs over winter break that allow this. In addition, through the Career Services website, you can generate a customized list of Swarthmore alums working in health care in particular geographic locations. You can contact them and ask whether they would permit you to spend time with them at work. Other students have used contacts through friends and family at home to create shadowing opportunities.
E. Intangible Factors — Motivation and Commitment
There are some intangible factors that are very important in the application process. Primary among these is your motivation. First of all, with the competition to gain admission to medical school, it is very important that you submit your AMCAS application close to the earliest possible date or as soon as you have received your MCAT scores during the summer, to show you are highly interested in going to medical school. (Normally the first date on which you can submit your AMCAS application falls in early June.) Apply early! When you receive a secondary application from an AMCAS school, submit it within two weeks. Return all secondary material promptly! For non-AMCAS schools, apply at the earliest date to show you are interested.
As noted above, health care related experiences are extremely helpful in demonstrating your degree of commitment to medicine — summer jobs, research experience, externships and volunteer hospital work are all helpful. Once medical schools get interested in you on the basis of your credentials they will try to find out your attitude toward questions such as: Do you know what you are getting into? Are you prepared to cope with the demands, stresses and frustrations and to take full advantage of the opportunities? How do you feel about the prospect of working with sick people most of the time? Are you planning realistically to finance your medical education?
F. State Residency
Where you live is a major factor in the medical school application and selection process. You should always apply to schools within your own state or to schools that give special consideration to residents of your state. In 2014 about 61% of new matriculants went to medical schools in their own states.
Residency is not something about which you can equivocate. It is a term that is interpreted differently by different states, and even by different medical schools within a single state, but it is taken very seriously. A corollary to this is that as you file your application you must be completely open and honest with the medical schools. You can only claim residency in one state. The medical schools have sophisticated ways of discovering false information and dishonest applicants are likely to be eliminated from consideration by all medical schools. If you have any question about whether you qualify as a state resident, call the admissions office of the medical school and ask for a copy of their guidelines on how residency is determined.
The mean age of matriculants nationally in 2014 was about 24. Most of the people who apply through the Health Sciences Office are alumni/ae who have graduated within the last two years. In fact, it is a wise strategy to wait until your credentials are at their strongest; medical schools are very interested in candidates who have the experience and maturity that comes from being out in the work world or graduate school for a few years. This can sometimes compensate for somewhat lower grades and MCATs, particularly for candidates who have worked in a health care setting.
The application-acceptance ratio is similar for both sexes. Over the years, women have constituted about half of the Swarthmore applicant pool and of our accepted applicants. The percentage of women medical students varies greatly from school to school; for example, 33% of the matriculating class at the Uniformed Services University, 61% at George Washington University were women and 50% at The Commonwealth Medical College were women.
I. Increasing Medical School Diversity
There are a number of racial and ethnic populations that are underrepresented in the medical profession relative to their numbers in the general population. These include four historically underrepresented groups — Blacks, Mexican-Americans, Native Americans and mainland Puerto Ricans. These designated groups have recently been expanded to include a broader range of ethnicities and a greater focus on regional and local demographics so as to improve the cultural competencies of graduating physicians and improve access to care for underserved populations. These students and students from rural or disadvantaged areas are often accepted into medical school with GPAs below 3.3 or 505-512 MCAT scores.
J. International Student Status
It is extremely difficult, although not impossible, for international students (not U.S. citizens or permanent residents) to enter American medical schools. Most medical schools will not even consider their applications. International students who have extremely high MCATs and grade point averages and impressive extracurricular experiences may be accepted, but they will be ineligible to receive the standard financial aid package. In 2014, 130 first year places across the entire U.S. went to international students.
K. Character and Integrity
Medical schools are looking for students of high character and integrity as well as academic ability. The Health Sciences Advisory Committee is responsible for recommending students to medical school. Each year the Dean's Office reviews the list of candidates for medical school and reports to the Health Sciences Advisory Committee any cases of disciplinary action taken against the student by the College.
If the student has not been disciplined by the College, the following statement is attached to the end of the Committee letter of recommendation: "There are no disciplinary actions noted on _________'s record."
If a student has been disciplined by the College, the above statement is not included at the end of the student's Committee letter and the Health Sciences Advisory Committee meets to discuss how the case should be handled.
On your AMCAS application, you will be required to state whether you were ever convicted of a felony or misdemeanor or the recipient of any institutional action for unacceptable academic performance or a conduct violation, even if it does not appear on your transcript. If this is an issue for you, be sure to discuss your situation with Gigi.
Between January and September 2016, there will be 20 test administrations for the MCAT on 20 different dates. If you have not yet taken the MCAT, you should try to do it by mid-summer if you plan to apply this summer. Most medical schools have rolling admissions, filling their seats with applicants whose application files are completed first. To postpone taking the test until September creates problems, because it delays consideration of your whole application until the MCAT scores are received about a month later. Some schools will not accept an MCAT taken in September and there are a few schools (Stanford and Tulane for example) who will not accept MCATs taken after August 1. In addition, taking a September MCAT means you must apply to medical schools before you know your MCAT score. A top score combined with excellent grades means that you should apply to the best schools; a lower score means that you should apply to less competitive schools.
Registration for the MCAT is online at https://www.aamc.org/students/applying/mcat/reserving. The MCAT is offered only at designated test centers. As there are limited seats at each test site, you should register for your preferred date as soon as registration becomes available.
The registration form includes an opportunity to release your scores to your health professions advisor, Gigi Simeone. Please authorize this release.
The reqular registration fee for 2016 will be about $300. No fees are waived. However, students whose total family income is 300 percent or less of the federal poverty level for their family size are eligible for a fee reduction by submitting the Fee Assistance Program (FAP) application on the AAMC website at https://www.aamc.org/students/applying/fap/about. The application and supporting documentation must be received and approved by the AAMC before you register for the MCAT. (Check the FAP website for the exact deadline.) If you are granted fee assistance, it will extend through to the end of the following calendar year, which would normally cover both MCAT and application fees.
In return for the MCAT registration fee, your test scores are sent to all AMCAS schools to which you are applying. You must use the MCAT Testing History (THx) and Online Score Release system at https://services.aamc.org/mcatthx/ to send your scores to non-AMCAS allopathic and osteopathic schools. You receive a personal report of your scores.
Keep in mind that MCAT scores are generally good for 2-3 years, so don't take the MCAT now if you are planning not to apply for several years. It appears that most schools will accept the old MCAT scores for two years.
2. Preparation for the MCAT
What is the best way to review for the MCAT — with a commercial course or on your own? One method is not inherently better than the other. Swarthmore students have achieved high MCAT scores both after independent review and from taking one of the commercial courses. The best method for you depends on your learning style and work habits. If you generally are well organized, can plan a study schedule on your own or with one or two friends and stick to it, you may have no need for a commercial course. You should plan on beginning your review at least three months before the exam. Your texts and notes from introductory science courses provide a good basis for review. In addition, you may find the following publications very helpful in guiding your study and providing practice exams:
Online resources from the AAMC:
These include free resources, such as 1,100 videos and 3,000 review questions on Khan Academy and an on-line tool: "What's on the MCAT2015 Exam." They also offer affordable resources for less than $50, including sample tests, question banks, and the "Official Guide to the MCAT Exam and Practice Questions."
Additional resources to help you prepare for the MCAT exam.
In addition, you may wish to purchase one fo the commercial MCAT review books available at the College Bookstore or amazon.com
If you prefer a structured course-type review or if you do not feel comfortable with standardized test formats and would find content review and pointers on test taking useful, you may want to consider a commercial review course. The disadvantage of these courses is their cost. They are also very time consuming, with between 70-85 hours of sessions during the spring semester (plus homework), depending on how many practice tests you take.
Kaplan will offer a 10% discount to Swarthmore students or alums who sign up for one of their MCAT prep courses. This means that their LIVE, on-line MCAT Classroom Anywhere option will be $2,069 plus shipping cost of books. This new format will allow students to have flexibility of scheduling, easy access to repeat and make-up sessions, and the ability to begin the course over the winter break if they choose. The course will combine live, on-line classroom presentations with self-scheduled online practice tests. Also, students who score well on the initial diagnostic test will be able to do Kaplan’s more advanced prep course. Kaplan's on site classes at any Kaplan facility are $2,069 after the discount. They have numerous courses beginning in early January aimed at spring and early summer test-takers. Modest tuition assistance is also available to students on financial aid. More information can be obtained by calling 1.800.KAP.TEST. This is also the number to call to register for the course. Be sure to tell them that you are a Swarthmore student, or alum, who wants to get the Swarthmore discount. Our promo code is Swarthmore10.
B. Committee Letter of Recommendation
What is the Committee Letter?
The Health Sciences Advisory Committee's letter of recommendation, which includes photocopies of your faculty and non-faculty letters of recommendation, is a significant factor in your application to medical school.
You are not required to apply through the Health Sciences Advisory Committee. However, we do not recommend that you apply independently. Since most medical schools are aware that Swarthmore has such a Committee, they will wonder why they are receiving an independent application without a Committee letter of recommendation. Everyone cannot be recommended equally strongly, so some deficiency in the record is assumed to be the reason for applying outside the usual structure. (In most cases, medical schools assume that you have been disciplined for either academic dishonesty or irresponsible behavior.) The medical schools trust the Health Sciences Advisory Committee because, by its nature, it is likely to be more consistent in its recommendations and in differentiating among various degrees of achievement. Applicants who have done well here and who receive favorable faculty recommendations get stronger Committee recommendations than those who have not done so well. Medical schools trust the Committee and it seeks to perpetuate that trust by continuing to be honest. The Committee writes the best letter it can based on the facts available, but must express distinctions between good, better and best. This policy favors everyone in the long run. If you feel there may be trade-offs between a Committee letter and an independent application in your case, Gigi will be happy to discuss this issue with you privately.
Since the Committee letters of recommendation must be similar in editorial content, they are all written by Gigi. All the letters are reviewed by another member of the Health Sciences Advisory Committee to assure that we are being fair to you. What is written is based on your achievements here, your activities as you describe them to Gigi, and what the faculty and non-faculty letters of recommendation have said about you.
The form of the letter is as follows: First, there is a brief statement identifying you, your class and major, any awards (Honors, Sigma Xi, Watson, etc.) you have received, and your most noteworthy non-academic experiences. Your rank in class (top 10%, top 25%, etc.) as reported by the Registrar may also be included. We then discuss your academic performance as reported by faculty members, and personal qualities, again as reported by faculty or employers. We follow this with comments about your motivation and suitability for medicine using evidence from the medically-related activities in which you have been involved and anything else we have learned from you about your experiences and accomplishments. Finally, we offer a summary recommendation. In all cases we try to make your letter as positive as honestly possible, given your academic record and activities. At the end of the letter, we add two statements if they are true. The first states that the applicant has waived his/her access to the contents of this letter and the attached faculty and non-faculty recommendations, if you make the decision to do so. The second states that a check of the files in the Dean's Office has shown no disciplinary actions (see above).
We then attach photocopies of your faculty and employer recommendations. The Committee letter packet typically runs about eight to ten pages in length and provides a comprehensive view of you as a person and student.
Assuming that you have met all the deadlines listed in this guide, your Committee letter packet is scanned and uploaded to AMCAS Letter Writer Application, a secure, web-based system for transmitting letters of recommendation to medical schools, in late July or early August. The medical schools you've applied to will download your packet when they are ready to evaluate your file. We use a similar on-line system to transmit your Committee letter packet to osteopathic schools and a few other programs.
Please remember that the Committee letter can be sent only in support of applications to medical or other health-related professional schools and for certain scholarships for these schools. We will not send the letter to graduate schools or to prospective employers since the individual recommendations included in it are authorized only for medical education programs.
You should get five or six recommendations from people who know you and your work well. (More than six is not advisable.) At least two should be from science professors (preferably in different disciplines), some from non-science professors, some should be from your major department. Depending on your particular circumstances, you may want to get a letter from a summer research mentor, or a paid or volunteer work supervisor. Some medical schools (like Harvard) and MD-PhD programs (like Washington University) require letters from all research experiences. If you have any questions about whom you should ask, feel free to consult with Gigi.
The letters of recommendation should give medical schools a vivid, positive picture of you and your abilities. You should choose faculty who are familiar with your work and with whom you have done well (A, A- or B+.) That clearly places you in the top half of the class. Recommendations from family, friends, neighbors, ministers, your physician etc., are not going to carry much weight. Recommendations from coaches and deans are fine, but they cannot know the quality of your intellect as well as a faculty member can. Three or four of your recommendations definitely should be from Swarthmore faculty or staff because they place you in the context of our student body and applicant group. Do not request a letter from someone with whom you have had conflicts, or who you know has been disappointed by your performance or behavior. All letters of recommendation we receive are photocopied and included in your Committee packet. We do not choose the best and ignore others, although alums sometimes replace some college recommendations with letters from more recent professors or supervisors (without being told the content or quality of the letters).
You should give the Health Sciences Recommendation Form to your recommenders before the end of the fall term, at which time you should mention politely that their letter and the Recommendation/Waiver form are due in the Health Sciences Office by February 10. It may be helpful to provide the professor with some written reminders about your work in the course, especially if it has been a while. If you are taking a course during spring semester, and you feel that a recommendation from that professor would form an important part of your file, please speak to Gigi.
Sometimes faculty or employers send their letters too late for incorporation into the applicant's Committee letter of recommendation. Please encourage your recommenders to get their letters in as soon as possible, but also give them the consideration of not asking them to write letters at the last minute. While it is possible to have late letters sent to medical schools via AMCAS' letter service it is far preferable to have all your letters as part of your committee letter.
You will notice that the Recommendation Form invites you to waive your access to the contents of the letter of recommendation by signing on the student signature line. While you are not required to do so, most medical schools give greater weight to letters that have been kept confidential. If you waive your right of access, we state that prominently in your Committee letter. If you intend to sign the waiver of access, be sure to do it BEFORE you give the form to your recommenders.
If you are not planning to apply to medical school for several years after graduation, it still makes sense to request faculty letters now, while you are still on campus and while they can remember you more vividly. We will keep them on file until you let us know that you are ready to apply.
Once you tell us you are applying, we will be sending you an electronic version of the information form, which should be completed, printed out, signed, and two copies returned to the Health Sciences Office by January 25. It is also on our website. In it we ask you to list the names of faculty members and others from whom you will request letters of recommendation, your activities at Swarthmore, any extra burdens you have carried, jobs, and any medically related experiences. We also ask you to write an essay on why you want to be a doctor. This essay helps us to write a more personal letter on your behalf and, at the same time, prepares you to write the essay required for medical school applications.
Please do a careful and thorough job on the Information Form. Students and alums who have resumes should attach them to the form as a supplement.
Specific suggestions for filling out certain parts of the Information Form are given below:
a. Calculation of Grade Point Averages
In this section we ask you to calculate three grade point averages: all Swarthmore grades, all college-level courses and all college-level science and math courses. The first is so the Health Sciences Advisory Committee can get a sense of where you rank in relation to other Swarthmore students. When we actually write your Committee letter, we will confirm your calculation with one from the Registrar. The second and third, for which you must use all the grades you have received from Swarthmore and any other undergraduate institution, is what will be calculated on your medical school applications.
On page 6 of the Information Form and on the Recommendation Form, you will notice opportunities to authorize release of information and to waive your right of access to recommendations and to the Committee letter.
The first statement on the Information Form is an authorization to send a Committee letter on your behalf. You must sign that or we cannot send a letter for you. That is a legal requirement.
The second statement (and the similar waiver statement on the Recommendation Form) invites you to waive your access to the contents of your Committee letter and to faculty and non-faculty recommendations. Whether you waive access or not is up to you, but if you do Gigi can state in the Committee letter that you have done so. Most medical schools have made it clear that they prefer letters to which access has been waived. They feel the confidentiality gives them added assurance that we have been truthful about you. Although this is not a necessary condition for having us write a letter for you, it strengthens your application if you waive access.
The third statement allows us to add your name and the medical school you are attending to a list we make available to future Swarthmore applicants and include in our annual report.
c. Selection of Medical Schools
We ask you to make a preliminary list of the medical schools to which you will apply. In selecting schools, you should consider 1) your state of residence, 2) your GPA, and 3) amount of tuition. The most useful and accurate source of information is Medical School Admissions Requirements (MSAR), published by the AAMC, which profiles each allopathic medical school including its mean GPA and MCAT's. You can purchase the most recent on-line edition for $25. We suggest that you consult the latest updated edition before submitting your final list of schools in June.
d. Personal Statement
The essay you write for Gigi on "My Reasons for Choosing a Career in Medicine" is a preliminary draft of the personal statement you will be required to write for medical school applications. It will not be forwarded to medical schools, but will be used in preparing your Committee letter of recommendation. At your interview, Gigi will go over your essay and make suggestions about its content for use in the AMCAS application. Detailed instructions for writing the essay are included on the Information Form.
When the Health Sciences Office has received your letters of recommendation and your Information Form and essay, you will be invited for an interview with Gigi. At this time she will review your list of recommenders, your academic record and extra-curricular activities, your health care related activities, your list of medical schools to which you are applying, your essay and your reasons for wanting to go to medical school. All of this information will enable her to write a truly personal letter on your behalf. She also will give you her best estimate of your chances of being accepted to medical school.
1. Choosing Schools
a. Allopathic Medical Schools
Where should you apply? Medical schools differ in several respects. For example, some like Penn State at Hershey emphasize clinical practice; others like Harvard and Duke emphasize research, teaching, and academic medicine. Curricula differ a great deal also. Some schools will give you exposure to patients very early; others will wait until the third year. Some have mostly lecture-based courses in the first years while others use case studies and problem-based learning. Some have an extensive required curriculum, while others offer room for many electives. Consult their Websites and the MSAR for this information.
The "personalities" of medical schools also vary, but most try hard to create a supportive community where all students will succeed. Some are fairly relaxed; others are more intense. Most are urban. You can get some feeling for these things as you visit schools on interview day and talk to the students there.
First, you should apply to the medical schools within your state. Most medical schools receive financial support from the states in which they are located and legislatures demand that they serve their own residents first. If the state in which you reside does not have a medical school, other medical schools may save places in the class for its residents. For example, Jefferson Medical College saves places for Delaware residents, and the University of Vermont and Dartmouth for Maine residents. The University of Washington in Seattle, Washington saves places for residents of Wyoming, Alaska, Montana and Idaho. If you have some question about whether you qualify as a state resident, call and ask the medical school admissions office how residency is determined.
Second, read about each medical school in the on-line MSAR paying particular attention to the median Overall GPA and the median Science GPA. If the median for students entering the first year class is 3.7, you should have no less than 3.5 to apply; in other words, if your GPA is more than 2/10th less than the median, you probably will not be invited for an interview. The median GPA of students matriculating last year at Penn, Baylor and Chicago was about 3.9; at Wake Forest, University of Louisville and Drexel, it was about 3.7. Some schools are less numbers-driven, and are willing to interview applicants with GPAs somewhat lower than their norm.
Third, look at the tuition (for both a resident and a non-resident) for each school and notice how many out-of-state students they accepted. Many state institutions' tuition for in-state students is significantly lower, sometimes as low as 25% of out-of-state charges. You should be aware that some states tie scholarship support during medical school to commitments to serve in the state that educates them. These schools sometimes accept very low numbers of out-of-state students, or none at all. Don't apply to schools that will not even consider you!
You may also want to look at the number of applicants, the number interviewed and the number matriculating. For example, George Washington University in Washington, D.C. had 14,351 applicants and interviewed 1,100 (about 8%) and matriculated 178 (2%), 166 of whom were not residents of the District of Columbia. On the other hand, University of Mississippi had only 333 applicants who were Mississippi residents, interviewed 210 (63%) and matriculated 145 (69%), all from Mississippi. Obviously, a student from the state of Mississippi would stand a much better chance of receiving an interview and being accepted at University of Mississippi than at another medical school. Even some private schools accept a larger percentage of in-state students.
You may want to purchase the most recent edition of the MSAR Online ($15), which has the most accurate and authoritative information on individual medical schools. The 2016-2017 edition should be out in April.
How many applications should you file? There is no single, correct number. The national average seems to be about 14 per person, but you have to estimate your own chances. Even if you are very confident, you should apply to 12-15 schools, representing a range of selectivity. More than 15 may be advisable if you are a marginal candidate (the average for Swarthmore applicants is 17), but more than 20 is unnecessary and expensive, and could be counterproductive if it becomes difficult for you to complete and keep track of your applications. Check medical school Websites now and start reducing your list. If your Swarthmore GPA (and MCAT scores) are very high and you have had strong health care related experiences, you need not apply to more than about 12 carefully chosen medical schools since you will be asked for interviews at most, with the attendant expense and effort of traveling, and should receive several acceptances.
Don't waste your time and money applying to schools that will not accept you, either because their average GPA and MCAT scores are far above yours, or because they restrict admission to residents of a state where you do not have residency. For example, at the most elite medical schools, the Swarthmore applicants who were accepted last year had a mean GPA of 3.9 and a mean MCAT in the 100th percentile. If you don't have at least a 3.7+ GPA, it makes sense to focus your efforts (and money) on other places.
b. Osteopathic Medical Schools
Some of you may be interested in investigating osteopathic medical schools. Osteopathic medicine is quite similar to allopathic medicine, with an added emphasis on manipulative therapy and palpatory diagnosis. Their philosophical focus is on treating the "whole person," and on preventive care. Osteopathic medical school is a four-year curriculum similar to an allopathic medical school's, leading to a DO degree, followed by residency. Although it is possible to pursue any specialty, most DOs pursue primary care. About seven percent, or 70,000, of the practicing physicians in the U.S. are osteopathic physicians, and they are growing greatly in acceptance throughout the country and the health care profession.
Osteopathic medical schools tend to be somewhat easier to get into than allopathic schools, and are a particularly good match for those students who know that they are interested in primary care. Last year, there were roughly 18,000 applicants for approximately 6,636 seats at 32 colleges and branch campuses. (They do not publish acceptance statistics.) They have a separate application process, which is described below.
2. How to Apply
There are three categories of medical schools with respect to application procedures:
- AMCAS, for nearly all MD programs
- TMDSAS, for all Texas public allopathic and osteopathic medical schools
- AACOMAS, for osteopathic medical schools
The American Medical College Application Service (AMCAS) is a centralized application system for nearly all allopathic medical schools. It is a nonprofit organization that only processes applications. It has nothing to do with admissions decisions and it gives no advice. One hundred twenty-one medical schools participated in AMCAS this year, and you must use AMCAS to apply to these schools. The cost for this service is $160 for the first school and $37 for each additional school. There is a Fee Assistance Program for applicants with "extreme financial limitations" who are unable to pay this service fee. An application can be accessed at http://www.aamc.org/students/applying/fap/. Applicants whose total family income is at or below 300 percent of the federal poverty level for their family size are eligible for assistance. You must apply for the FAP before registering for the MCAT or submitting the AMCAS. If you are granted fee assistance, it extends to the end of the next calendar year.
What is the AMCAS procedure? You provide AMCAS with several types of personal and academic information and an essay. AMCAS processes and verifies this information and sends it and your MCAT scores to the medical schools you designate.
The AMCAS application is online at http://www.aamc.org/students/amcas/start.htm and must be completed and submitted online. You can use either a Mac or PC anywhere in the world, as long as it has an acceptable browser (see the AMCAS website for particulars) and access to the World Wide Web. The application should be available in early May, and may be submitted in early June. Successfully completing the application requires organization, attention to detail, patience and careful checking on your part.
Here are some highlights of what the application includes:
- AAMC ID (the number identifying you for the AMCAS application)
- Biographic information, contact information
- Legal residence, citizenship
- Racial/ethnic self-identification
- Languages spoken
- Disadvantaged applicant (social, economic, educational)
- Work experience/Activities (employment, community service, research, teaching, honors and awards, conferences attended, presentations, publications, athletics, artistic endeavors, leadership, extracurricular activities, hobbies)
- One-page "Personal Comments" essay (Additional essays for MD-PhD applicants.)
- Schools attended
- Course work
- Medical School designations
- Institutional action (Were you ever the recipient of any institutional action by any college or medical school for unacceptable academic performance or conduct violation, even though such action may not have interrupted your enrollment or required you to withdraw?)
- Felony or misdemeanor convictions
The Course Work section of the application deserves some special comment:
1. It is very important to have your transcript(s) in front of you while you complete the Course Work section. AMCAS verifies each application by comparing it with official transcripts. It must agree with those transcripts in every respect.
2. AMCAS computes GPAs based on semester hours. You enter your Swarthmore courses in "course units" (normally 1) and they are automatically converted to semester hours by AMCAS as follows:
|Swarthmore Course Units||AMCAS Semester Hours|
To illustrate, if by now you have earned 20 course units (4 units x 5 semesters), you have earned the equivalent of 80 semester hours (16 hours x 5 semesters).
If you have any questions about reporting grades or courses, call 202-828-0600 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, the AMCAS office in Washington, D.C.
The Work Experience/Activities section requires you to categorize your most significant experiences and achievements and provide the experience title, and start and end date. It also asks for such details as average hours/week and the name and title of a contact person. You should provide as much information as possible, so that the medical schools will know how extensive your involvement was and the nature of the experience. There is also a place for you to briefly describe each entry. Be as concise and clear as possible, so as not to overwhelm the already overburdened reader with so much verbiage that they lose interest altogether. Out of the experiences that were entered in this section you may select up to three experiences that you consider to be most meaningful. When the selection is made you are given additional space to explain you choice.
The AMCAS application also provides opportunities to expand on the information you provide. There is the “Personal Comments” section, a one-page essay on what has drawn you to a medical career. If you self-identify as disadvantaged, there are a number of additional questions for you to answer and you will have a quarter-page opportunity to answer, “Explain why you believe you should be considered a disadvantaged applicant by your designated medical schools.” If you are applying to MD-PhD programs, there are two additional essays about your motivation for pursuing an MD-PhD and a description of your significant research experiences.
The AMCAS application generates a “Transcript Request” form that you should print out and submit to every U.S. or Canadian post-secondary institution where you have ever taken a course, even those taken while you were in high school, or that appear on your Swarthmore transcript. This includes U.S. institutions that sponsored your study abroad programs. For courses taken at Haverford or Bryn Mawr during the academic year, you will not send an additional transcript. On your AMCAS, request a transcript exception, indicating “consortium/cross registration program” as your reason. Also, if you directly entered a foreign institution, (not through a U.S. college) you list that institution on your AMCAS with a transcript exception, as AMCAS does not deal with foreign transcripts. (Transcripts must be mailed directly to AMCAS by the Registrars at your schools.) If you have already completed all coursework at an institution, request that transcript in May. Often it takes 6-8 weeks to get a transcript from a large university, and AMCAS will not process your application until they have all your transcripts. If you are currently enrolled in course work, you should wait until you receive your spring grades before requesting the transcript from that college.
If you are currently enrolled at Swarthmore, before you leave campus this spring, you should request that the Registrar send your Swarthmore transcript to AMCAS (with a signed Transcript Request form) and to each non-AMCAS medical school to which you are applying. Be sure to specify that your transcript should not be sent until your grades for the current spring semester are recorded, but not later than June 15. If you are not on campus please send your signed Transcript Request Form to the Registrar (form can be sent by email, fax or US mail) and they will send AMCAS your official transcript. For your personal copy of your transcript please request an unofficial .pdf copy through mySwarthmore.
The completed AMCAS application should be submitted in early to mid-June, or as soon as you receive spring semester grades and your MCAT scores, the sooner the better. You should start at least two to three weeks ahead of that to complete the application. The electronic application allows you to work through the application at different sittings before certifying it and submitting it. Be careful and accurate in filling out the application – if there are errors, it could delay your whole application or present you poorly to admissions committees. Before you submit your application, check it carefully one last time; once you submit, you can only change your name, ID, date of birth, sex, next MCAT and contact information and add medical schools to your AMCAS list.
Because AMCAS is processing tens of thousands of applications in a short period of time, mix-ups and mistakes inevitably happen. It is up to you to check your transcript and application status on the Main Menu after you log on to your AMCAS application, and to follow up swiftly on any problems.
Please note that AMCAS does NOT accept any supplementary information except transcripts. AMCAS does not make any admissions decisions or judgments; it simply collects information from applicants and their transcripts, verifies the course work with the transcript(s), translates the information into a consistent format and sends it on to the medical schools.
By faculty regulation, grades for CR/NC courses taken during the first semester of the freshman year will not be released; you may not include your first semester grades to raise your grade point average. Grade equivalents for courses taken on a CR/NC basis after the first semester may not be released either, and your shadow grades do not appear on your AMCAS application and are not factored into your GPA.
The chief non-AMCAS allopathic schools of interest to some Swarthmore applicants are the University of Texas schools that use the Texas Medical and Dental Schools Application Service (TMDSAS). If you are applying to these schools, you must request that official transcripts and MCAT scores be sent to TMDSAS. (However, several of the University of Texas schools use AMCAS for MD-PhD applicants only.)
To apply to osteopathic medical school, you must go through the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine Application Service (AACOMAS), which has a centralized application similar to AMCAS. Their application can be completed online through their website at http://www.aacom.org/become-a-doctor/applying. Applications may be submitted in early June; as with allopathic schools, it is very important to apply early. Be certain to have the Registrar from each U.S. institution you have attended send a copy of your official transcript to AACOMAS. (See the AACOMAS website for rules regarding foreign transcripts.) You must also send your MCAT scores to AACOMAS by using the MCAT online THx system. As with AMCAS schools, individual osteopathic schools will send you a secondary application to fill out and return with an application fee.
Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine is the one exception. You submit an application to the Texas Medical and Dental Schools Application Service for entry to this school.
It is very important to osteopathic schools that candidates know something about osteopathic medicine, and demonstrate that they are committed to its principles, not simply applying as an easier-to-get-into alternative. Some require or strongly prefer a letter of recommendation from a practicing DO, in addition to the Health Sciences Committee letter of recommendation. (The requirements of each osteopathic school are listed on the AACOM website at http://www.aacom.org/become-a-doctor/applying) If you think that you may be interested in this option but have not had exposure to osteopathic medicine, it makes sense to contact a DO and spend some time with him/her at work.
Osteopathic schools calculate both the overall and the science GPA slightly differently than allopathic schools. When calculating the science GPA, the osteopathic schools do not include math grades. Rather, math grades are included in the non-science GPA. Furthermore, only the last instance of a repeated course is included int he GPA calculation.
d. MD-PhD and other Joint Degree Programs
Each school has a somewhat different process for MD-PhD and other joint degree admissions. Generally, you will designate on your AMCAS application that you are applying for a "Combined Medical Degree/PhD" for each school for which that is the case. The AMCAS application will include additional essays about your research interests and experiences. Some schools require that the Committee letter be sent to the PhD selection committee as well as the MD selection committee; please notify the Health Sciences Office if you need your letter sent to both places. It is your responsibility to be aware of the letter of recommendation requirements at the MD-PhD programs to which you are applying, and to instruct the Health Sciences Office appropriately. It is not unusual for MD-PhD programs to require letters from every research experience. Don't be caught at the last minute having to scramble for letters.
MD-PhD programs are offered at most medical schools and typically offer financial support for the PhD portion of the program. Links to these programs are available at http://www.aamc.org/students/research/mdphd/. The National Institute of General Medical Sciences financially supports 45 combined MD-PhD programs, known as Medical Scientist Training Programs (MSTP). Duke, Harvard, Johns Hopkins, New York University, University of Pennsylvania, Rochester, Yale, Washington University and Columbia are among the schools offering the MSTP. Because medical school tuition is completely paid for and a stipend is provided for six years, admission to this program is highly selective. Links to MSTP programs are available at http://www.nigms.nih.gov/Training/InstPredoc/PredocInst-MSTP.htm. A student should have a GPA of at least 3.6, an MCAT score over 510, an extensive science background, and research experience in order to be competitive.
Students interested in research but not in a full MD-PhD program may want to consider MD degrees with a strong research component, sometimes over 5 years. One such program is Lerner Cleveland Clinic, a special program of Case Western, which promotes research in all disciplines, and is tuition-free.
MD-MPH, MD-JD and other joint programs are offered at some medical schools. Joint professional degree programs usually do not offer financial support. You can typically apply to these programs once you are a first year medical student, or as part of your initial medical school application.
a. Apply Early!
It is very important to APPLY EARLY to medical schools. AMCAS and AACOMAS applications should be submitted in early to mid-June or as soon as you receive spring semester grades and your MCAT scores. Even if you plan to take or retake the MCAT in July, August, or September, you should complete and submit your AMCAS or AACOMAS applications by mid-summer, indicating one school to keep your costs down until you know your score and can pick schools appropriately. Check the Websites of non-AMCAS schools to see when their applications become available and the earliest date you can submit them. Medical schools look favorably on those students who are motivated to complete their applications at the earliest date. Although regular deadlines for most schools are not until October, the earlier you apply, the sooner you will be interviewed which is the last step of the admissions process. Most schools send secondary applications to all applicants with a verified AMCAS application; they do not screen and it is not necessary for your MCAT scores or committee letters to be posted. Submit secondary applications no later than two weeks after receiving them. Many medical schools have rolling admissions and it is impossible to receive an acceptance until you have been interviewed. Beginning in mid-October, their admissions committees send out acceptance letters until the class is filled. Submitting materials late in the application period will mean that you will be interviewed at a time when few places remain open in the class.
b. Early Decision
Please see Gigi Simeone if you are thinking of applying for early decision. Generally it is not a very wise thing to do since you cannot apply for regular admission and early decision simultaneously. Applying early decision to medical school does not give you the same advantage as it does in undergraduate admissions. Early decision plans generally have an August 1st deadline, and notification of early decision is not sent out until October 1st in most cases. If you are turned down, you have a very short amount of time to get everything together for other applications. It is wisest to go the regular application route unless you have a very, very strong record here, very high MCAT scores, and special reasons for only wanting to attend one particular medical school.
c. Request for Deferment
In general, deferrals should only be requested for an unexpected life-altering reason, either positive (like getting a Rhodes) or negative (serious illness). If you are certain that you do not want to attend medical school next year, it generally makes more sense to hold off on applying, rather than count on being allowed to defer. (This also gives you another year's worth of experience to strengthen your application.)
When you apply through AMCAS, AACOMAS or directly to any school, you should make copies of everything you submit. You will want to refer to these in preparation for interviews, and if something happens to get lost or misfiled in the admissions office, you then can forward another copy to a school without delay.
You should keep careful records, with dates, of everything you submit. Think of yourself as the keeper of your own process. After submitting your AMCAS application, check the status of your transcripts and your application by viewing the status information on the Main Menu page that loads after you log in to your AMCAS application. Many medical schools also have online systems for checking the status of your application. After you submit your secondary and we notify you that we have uploaded your Committee letter to AMCAS or VirtualEvals, check that your file is complete at each medical school. Because of the huge volume of applications, part of your application may be lost or misfiled. This could result in hundreds of other applicants being considered before they get to you. It is your responsibility to check with AMCAS and with individual schools to make sure that everything is in order. For that reason, it may not be wise to plan to travel abroad for a long period after submitting your application.
After your application is complete, the medical school will decide whether or not to grant you an interview. At Mount Sinai School of Medicine, for example, for the class matriculating in 2015 out of 6,380 applicants, 869 (13%) were interviewed and 140 (16% of those interviewed) were enrolled. The interview is therefore an important part of your application. If you have submitted your application in early June complete with MCAT scores, you should receive requests for interviews in September and October.
1. Preparation for the Interview
The purpose of the interview is to find out who you are and why you want to be a doctor. It is also a chance for you to learn more about the medical schools, which will help you later on in making choices. Normally, presentations, tours, and question and answer sessions are part of the interview day.
Prior to the interview, you should study the school's website and their entry in the MSAR, and prepare questions you have about their program (obviously not ones which are answered in the above resources). You should be well groomed and dress appropriately and conservatively (skirt suits or dresses for women; suits or jackets and ties for men), arrive on time, and bring with you a photocopy of your application and essay. The interviewer will be evaluating you on your personality, your ability to communicate and relate well to others, and your motivation for medicine. If you are able to talk compassionately about people or patients you have worked with, that will help. You can also talk about research experience. Interviewers will also look for depth and breadth of general knowledge, meaningful experiences and interests in and out of the classroom, and evidence of compassion, creativity, independence and leadership.
One way that you might prepare is to think of three or four things that you hope to cover in the interview. That way, you will have a ready response to open-ended questions, and you won't waste an opportunity to let the interviewer know something really important and interesting about your candidacy.
While you will probably not be quizzed on current events, it makes sense to keep up with the news on developments in the health care field, so that you can make intelligent conversation. This can be done by reading a good daily newspaper or weekly newsmagazine.
You will have the opportunity to do a videotaped practice interview with Gigi, so that you can have a chance to observe yourself and get feedback on your interviewing style. The Health Sciences Office keeps a notebook of applicants' reports of their interviews at various schools; you may want to consult this before an interview.
2. Types of Interviews
Normally, the people who do medical school interviews are skilled at making you feel as comfortable as possible. They will want to give you every opportunity to express yourself to your best advantage. There are several types of interviews, and you should be prepared for anything.
- Informal Interview — The person interviewing you will make you feel relaxed, and may even serve coffee and doughnuts. It might feel more like a friendly conversation than an interview.
- MMI — There is a new interview format being adopted by many schools called the Multiple Mini Interview (MMI) where you will have several very brief opportunities to respond to a question or a prompt, usually on an ethical dimemma.
- Informed Interview — In this type of interview, the interviewer has looked over your essay and our Committee letter and will use this information to direct the questions. Harvard University uses the informed interview.
- Blind Interview — In the blind interview, the interviewer has not read all or part of your folder and has no prejudged opinion. The University of Pennsylvania uses the blind interview. Some medical schools have two interviews, one blind and one informed.
- Group Interview — You may be interviewed by several interviewers at once, or there may be several candidates interviewed at the same time. Sometimes they ask straightforward questions; in others, candidates are asked to participate in a group exercise.
- CASPer (Computer-based Assessment for Sampling Personal Characteristics) is an on-line screening tool designed to evaluated key personal and professional characteristics. It consists of 12 short videos or written scenarios followed by 3 questions. Some medical schools have incorporated this into the interview day.
Almost every applicant relates that she or he has had one terrible interview. Sometimes they end up getting accepted at that school anyway. However, if you do have a bad interview, please let Gigi know about it. Medical schools want to know when their applicants are treated illegally or unfairly.
3. What They're Looking for
The interviewer is looking for the following:
- Communication skills: How well do you express yourself? Can you express a point of view convincingly? Are you a good listener? Can you engage in conversational give and take?
- Personality, evidence of maturity and the ability to relate to others.
- Motivation toward medicine, concern or compassion for others: If you can discuss lab research experience or an internship with a doctor or volunteer work in an emergency room, do so. Do not generalize. Be specific about observations about patients or accounts of your work. If you have had a family experience with illness or disability and it was an important part of your motivation, describe how it was so.
- Depth and breadth of knowledge and interests in and out of medicine.
- Meaningful experiences in and out of the classroom and in life.
- Evidence of creativity, organizational skills and leadership: If you have been in many activities, stress those activities that you have enjoyed the most, and where you have made your greatest contribution.
- Ability to cope with stress: What obstacles have you overcome and how? What would you do differently if you had the chance? What was your hardest decision? Here you may have the opportunity to explain flaws or weaknesses in your record or expand on your credentials. For weaknesses, take the blame yourself. Do not blame the school, the professor, the weather, etc. If possible, it is good to include what you've done to work to overcome a weakness. For strengths, don't be pompous! However, don't be afraid to brag a bit about your accomplishments.
- Match for a particular school. Be prepared to enthusiastically say why you would want to attend that particular school, and why you are a good match for it.
4. Questions That Interviewers Have Asked
- Tell me about yourself.
- Why do you want to be a doctor?
- Why did you major in religion?
- What do you think of health care reform, stem cell research, abortion, the problem of the uninsured?
- How would you solve the high cost of medical care?
- Why did you attend Swarthmore?
- Why do you want to go to this medical school?
- What criteria will you use to select a medical school?
- Have you been accepted or are you interviewing elsewhere? (Be honest.)
- What will you do if not admitted to medical school?
- What books have you read recently and what do you think of them?
- What were your extracurricular activities? (They may not have read your essay or your Committee letter.)
- How do you intend to finance your medical education?
- What are your strengths and weaknesses?
- What do you do for fun?
- Why should we choose YOU?
5. Your Attitude
Be honest in all your answers so that you can defend them convincingly. Ask questions that genuinely interest you, not those which just sound impressive to you. Most interviewers have encountered hundreds of applicants and have heard almost everything. Be confident but not abrasive. Do not tell them what is wrong with medicine since 1) you have not experienced medicine yet and 2) medicine is their life and profession. Medical schools are looking for capable, mature persons. That is what you are and the interview will give you an opportunity to demonstrate it.
Make sure that you are polite and pleasant to everyone with whom you interact. If you are rude to the receptionist on the phone, for example, that could come back to haunt you. Don’t criticize the school, or any of the people associated with it when you are there.
After the interview, be sure to send a brief thank you note to the faculty or admissions staff who interviewed you. It should be an email, making specific reference to the conversation that you had, and noting why you would want to attend that school, or why you would be a good match for it.
6. Questions You May Want To Ask
You should ask questions at your interviews, both as a way to learn more about the school, and as a way to demonstrate your own interest. During the formal interview(s), your interviewer will evaluate you on the questions you ask as well as the answers you give. Be sure you have read the school's publications carefully, and ask questions to amplify or clarify topics of interest to you. Do not ask, "Do you have a program in neurobiology?" but rather, "Tell me more about your program in neurobiology." Save lifestyle questions for informal conversations with students or Swarthmore alums.
The following are the type of question you might ask at the formal interview:
- What would you consider to be [school name's] unique or particularly outstanding programs? How would these programs have an impact on my experience as a medical student?
- If I want to have a research experience, will I be able to put together enough time to complete a significant amount of work within the standard four years of medical school? When do students typically do this?
- How does the academic and career advising system work? Who are the advisors?
- Where do students do their clinical clerkships? How do students divide their time between the primary hospital and affiliated hospitals? What advantages does each option afford? What opportunities are there to do a clerkship in a primary care practice?
- Tell me about the opportunities for students to be involved in community service?
- Could you tell me about the use of computers in educating medical students?
- Are there opportunities to do rotations abroad? How many students take advantage of them?
In addition, there are many other things you want to learn about a medical school to help you decide if you would like to spend four years there. These can be learned by studying their publications, attending the financial aid session, by informal conversation with students (especially Swarthmore alums) and by your own observation. The following are some things you might want to learn:
- Is the academic environment pressured or supportive?
- How are students evaluated?
- How diverse is the student body?
- Where do students live? Do they live in close proximity to each other at least the first year? Is there a sense of community among the students?
- Do you need a car?
- How many students are in the entering class? How many beds are in the primary hospital? In the affiliated hospitals?
- What kinds of patient populations does the medical school serve (affluent, disadvantaged, specialty services only, AIDS, geriatric, etc.)?
- What sort of exposure is there to pediatrics? Is there an affiliated children's hospital, or are children treated in the main hospital?
- If you are interested in research, how much NIH grant support does the school have?
- Does the school provide guidance to its students and to its graduates on debt management?
After your interview day, it makes sense to jot down your impressions of the school. You may find it very useful several months down the road, when all your memories of your school visits begin to blur, when you are trying to decide which one to attend.
When you receive your first acceptance in writing, look at your list of medical schools and withdraw from those lower on your preferred list. It is a courtesy to other candidates and to the medical schools themselves to cancel scheduled interviews at schools you know you would not choose over the one where you've been accepted. When you receive two acceptances, choose between the two and withdraw from the one you like less. An exception to this procedure is if you are waiting to see what financial aid you will receive, or if you are gathering information to help make your decision. It is customary for schools to return your deposit if you withdraw before April 30th.
If you are genuinely struggling to decide between 2-3 schools it is OK to hold multiple acceptances while you visit the schools and gather more information. You MUST decide by April 30.
As of April 30, you must not hold more than one acceptance. However, you may remain on wait lists of other schools until you begin orientation at the school where you've been accepted. If you withdraw from a school after April 30 to accept a position from a wait list, you will lose your deposit at the original school. See the AAMC's Recommendations for Medical School Applicants (http://www.aamc.org/students/applying/recommendations/applications/).
F. Financial Aid
The cost of medical school is very high and getting higher. In general, medical schools do not consider ability to pay when selecting applicants. They expect that each student will manage to pay for tuition and costs with the help of parents, spouse, and other family members, supplemented predominantly by loans. (Even older, "independent" students must provide parents' financial information.) In 2014, for medical students graduating with debt, the median indebtedness was $180,000.
As you complete the application process, your main source of information about financial aid will be the financial aid officers of the medical schools you are interested in attending. There is usually a financial aid presentation as part of the interview day. Even if you did not yet get in, begin to fill out the national financial aid form in January and February of your application year. Medical school financial aid officers work closely with medical students to help them find a way to finance their education, and even though you may need to borrow a substantial amount of money, you will be entering a relatively well-compensated profession.
You should look into your credit rating and your parents' credit rating as soon as possible. It might affect your loan application to medical school. If you have credit card or consumer debt, you should pay it off immediately. You can request a copy of your personal credit report for a small fee by contacting one of the following companies:
Trans Union http://www.transunion.com 800-916-8800
Equifax http://www.equifax.com 800-685-1111
Experian http://www.experian.com 888-397-3742
The AAMC website contains a comprehensive guide to financial planning/financial aid at https://www.aamc.org/services/first/ . The MSAR also contains an excellent chapter about financing a medical education.
The Armed Forces Health Professions Scholarship Program and the National Health Service Corps Scholarship Program provide financial support for medical school students in return for service following graduation. Listed below is the contact information for organizations that offer scholarships and/or loan repayment programs:
National Health Services Corp
A program supported by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service, the mission of the NHSC is to provide primary health care to medically underserved communities throughout the United States. Their scholarships and loan repayment programs can be used to support education in medicine and dentistry as well as education in other allied health professions. Applications and information are available at the NHSC Web site: http://nhsc.hrsa.gov/loanrepayment/studentstoserviceprogram/index.html
United States Army Health Care Corps
The U. S. Army Health Care Corps is comprised of six corps: Dental Corps, Medical Corps, Medical Service Corps, Medical Specialist Corps, Nurse Corps, and Veterinary Corps.
United States Air Force Health Care Education
The U.S. Air Force provides educational benefits for education in several health professions.
United States Navy Health Care Careers
The U.S. Navy provides educational benefits for education in several health professions.
National Institutes of Health Loan Repayment Programs
State and Other Loan Repayment / Forgiveness and Scholarship Programs
Note: Persons who are not U.S. citizens or Permanent Residents will probably be ineligible for almost all financial aid and loans.
Strengthening Your Candidacy
Sometimes the wisest option is to delay applying to medical school for a few years, to give yourself the chance to rectify weaknesses in your application. Many medical students are now beginning school several years after college, and would say that they have greatly appreciated and benefited from taking a few years between two intensive academic experiences.
Many alums choose to pursue postbaccalaureate study to improve their chances of being accepted to medical school. Some do this by simply taking advanced undergraduate-level science courses at a nearby college or university. Others enroll in one of the formal postbaccalaureate programs that are offered by institutions around the country, or earn graduate degrees in the sciences. Many of our students who have done well in course work after college have been accepted into medical schools at a later time. If this situation seems likely, discuss it more specifically with Gigi during your senior year.
Postbaccalaureate programs tend to fall into one of the following categories:
- Those for people who have completed few, if any, of the required premed science courses.
- Other non-degree granting programs for students who need to improve their grades to be successful medical school applicants.
- Those for individuals from minority groups that are underrepresented in medicine.
- Degree-granting programs that differ in some respects from the standard graduate programs in university science departments.
You should meet with Gigi to discuss which type of postbaccalaureate study best fits your individual circumstances.
The AAMC has a searchable database of U.S. postbaccalaureate premedical programs on their website at http://services.aamc.org/postbac . Syracuse University's Health Professions website also has a very useful listing that divides the programs into the four categories listed above. Their address is thecollege.syr.edu/students/undergraduate/advising_academic_support/pre_health/_supporting_pages/resource_sp.html.
If your GPA is below a B or you did not do well on the MCAT, you may want to think of alternatives to applying to medical school. Struggling though the science prerequisites may mean that medicine is not the best match for your talents.
There are many exciting and rewarding alternatives to being a physician, many of which offer opportunities for patient contact, scientific research, or community health activities. Consider the following:
- Public Health (epidemiology, health education, etc.)
- Physician Assistants
- Clinical Psychology
- Nurse Practitioner and Midwifery
- Biomedical Engineering
- Medical Science Writing
- Health Administration
- Speech Pathology
The Health Sciences Office and Career Services have information on several of these career options. Links to Websites for many of these fields can be found on our Useful Websites page.
The members of the Health Sciences Advisory Committee for 2015–2016 are:
- Gigi Simeone, Chair, Health Sciences Advisor
- Jennifer Barrington, Career Services
- Prof. Philip Everson, Mathematics and Statistics
- Karen Henry, Dean of the First Year Class
- Prof. Frank Moscatelli, Physics
- Prof. Elizabeth Vallen, Biology