Now that you are at Centre, it is time to start thinking seriously about what you need to do to get into medical school or another health professions graduate school. If you have not done so already, you should schedule an appointment with the appropriate HPAG member so that they can give you some general advice about the career you are interested in. Most of you have probably only considered allopathic medicine. You should look at other fields in the health professions like osteopathic medicine, nursing, physician assistant, or dentistry. Most of this page emphasizes allopathic medicine, but the guidelines are equally applicable to other health professions. This page is divided into three sections:
What does a medical school look for in an applicant?
The typical successful Centre applicant
How should I be preparing for medical school as a freshman, sophomore, junior, or senior?
A medical school looks first at two numbers: the GPA and the MCAT score. If you do not have the minimum numbers for that medical school, you probably will not get in; regardless of what you have on the rest of your application. First time, successful applicants from Centre in the last five years have an average GPA of 3.72 and an average MCAT total score of 31.2. The plot below shows the MCAT vs. GPA for all Centre applicants in the last five years. Obviously, you want to be in the upper right section of the graph. Some of the successful applicants with lower GPA's took some advanced coursework before applying. Some of the successful re-applicants (green triangles) had to apply several times before being accepted and also generally had to raise their MCAT or GPA. You need to be realistic about your chances!
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Experience in Medicine
The next most important factor for medical schools is your experience in medicine. Basically, this comes down to how well you can answer the question: "Why do you want to become a physician?" You cannot answer this question in the abstract; you must have some practical experience that has shown you why you want to enter the field. Most students shadow a physician or volunteer in the hospital for an initial experience. Ideally, you should go beyond that by trying to get some actual contact with patients. You can get a job in a physician's office, or work as a nurse technician, phlebotomist, or patient transporter to name a few. You may be able to do clinical research at a medical school.
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A majority of successful Centre applicants have done scientific research at Centre, a large university, or both. You should not assume that you MUST do research in order to be accepted since there have been plenty of successful Centre applicants who have done no research. Nor should you assume that you MUST do SCIENTIFIC research. The more prestigious private medical schools like Vanderbilt put more emphasis on research experience. You should do research if you have a true desire to learn about a discipline in a more practical setting (compared to lecture and lab). Medical schools view research experience favorably because it teaches students valuable problem-solving skills. Furthermore, medical schools are packed with scientists who are looking for potential researchers on their own projects. Most medical students will do some sort of basic science or clinical research.
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Besides demonstrating experience in a medical setting, you also need to demonstrate a commitment to service. The medical professions are definitely service-oriented. Many successful applicants from Centre are members of CARE and LIFT, participate in Habitat for Humanity, are resident assistants, or have siginficant leadership roles in their fraternity/sorority philanthropic programs. The deeper your level of commitment, the more attractive you will look. Working on one house for a couple of hours for Habitat for Humanity is not impressive.
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Medical schools do look for well-rounded students (who have good enough numbers). They are interested in students who have dedicated participation in non-academic activities. Many successful Centre applicants have been varsity athletes, musicians, and campus leaders. Students who have studied abroad also tend to stand out.
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The most important part of the actual application to medical school is the personal comments section. This section is an opportunity for you to tell the medical school something about yourself, your motivations to become a physician, and your qualifications for medical school. The medical school treats it as a very important part of your application. See the Application Process page under the personal comments section.
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Medical schools are also very interested in what other people have to say about you. Specifically, how do your professors and employers evaluate your qualifications for medical school. The HPAG constructs a composite evaluation for all current Centre students applying to medical school. Most medical schools require a composite evaluation if the college or university has an advisory group. The composite evaluation is a collection of evaluations from science professors and non-science professors, staff members, coaches, or administrators. Usually the HPAG will solicit evaluations from five science professors and two non-science people. The evaluations cover academic potential, personal attributes, and professional promise. The HPAG also interviews all applicants and includes comments on the composite. A completed composite can be viewed here. Centre's composite evaluations are well-respected by medical schools because they present such a thorough and honest protrayal of the applicants.
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After reviewing all of your numbers, application materials, and composite evaluation, a medical school will determine if you should be granted an interview. Practice interviews with the HPAG or the career development office are essential preparations for the real thing. If you perform well in the interview you have a good chance at acceptance.
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Your Major Is Not Important
Medical schools have a list of required courses for admission; beyond them, they do not care what your major is. Medical school admissions personnel will tell you to major in what interests you. You will not be able to distinguish yourself by majoring in a non-science discipline, nor will you look better by majoring in science. Double majoring or minoring is something you should do if you are interested, not in order to impress the medical school. They will not be impressed! If you are a non-science major you should not shy away from taking science courses. Medical schools may be a little suspicious if you only take one science course in a term because they will doubt your ability to handle multiple science courses in medical school.
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SOME STATISTICS FOR SUCCESSFUL FIRST-TIME MEDICAL SCHOOL APPLICANTS FROM CENTRE*
- The average GPA is 3.72 with no significant difference between the science and non-science GPA's. The range of GPA's is 3.2–4.0
- The average MCAT score is 31.2 (13% took the exam twice). The range is 24–39.
- 89% studied abroad at least one term; 90% participated in at least one scientific research project at Centre or another institution; 84% were members of a Greek organization; 43% were varsity athletes in at least one sport.
- 26% took at least one year off before entering medical school
- The major breakdown was: 33% BMB; 24% CHE; 22% BIO; 3% BNS; 18% non-science majors; 5% double majors.
- Centre alums are currently at the following allopathic medical schools: Louisville, Kentucky, Indiana, Marshall, Vanderbilt, Rochester, Johns Hopkins, Toledo, Cincinnati, Texas-Southwestern, Texas-Galveston, Missouri-Columbia, Tennessee, Virginia; and the following osteopathic medical schools: Pikeville, West Virginia, Edward Via Virginia, Lincoln Memorial, Lake Erie.
*Data for the last five years, 80% acceptance rate for first time applicants, 74 applicants; 95% acceptance for re-applicants
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PREPARATION FOR MEDICAL SCHOOL
First Year Preparation
The best advice is to concentrate on course work during your first term at Centre. The first term in college is very difficult because of the adjustment from high school. Make sure you are doing well in your courses before you volunteer for a lot of extracurricular activities. Poor grades in one term are not impossible to overcome, but it may be very difficult to raise your GPA. Make sure that you attend all of the Pre-Health Society meetings and visiting speakers associated with medicine [contact Millie Horn (firstname.lastname@example.org) to get on the email list]. Take the time to get acquainted with the HPAG member in your area of interest. Try to consult with that advisor about scheduling or other concerns--friends or upperclassmen usually are not the best source of information. You should get into the habit of getting to know your professors. At some point, seven of them are going to be evaluating you for medical school (fewer for other professions). They will be evaluating more than your academic abilities; personal characteristics and professional promise are the other big areas. If you are planning to study abroad for a long term, it is essential to start planning your course schedule for the next few years. You should explore other areas in the health professions (see the Links page). The summer between your first and second years is an excellent time to start getting some experience in your chosen health care field. If you are interested in medicine, try to shadow a physician or get a job in a hospital. You also need to learn about the direction medicine is heading. Keep up with the current health care debates by reading newspapers, magazines and books. Many students applying to medical school often struggle to answer the question "What is your opinion of the current state of health care in the US?". You should not be one of those students. Write a two-page, single-spaced personal statement about why you want to become a physician. Revise it every year.
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Second Year Preparation
The first thing to do before you start your second year is to have a reality check. Does your GPA from your first year indicate that medicine is a realistic area for you? If your GPA is significantly below a 3.0, the answer is probably "No". If your GPA is around a 3.0, you definitely have time to raise it, but you will have to work hard to do so. Remember that it is very rare for a student to get into medical school from Centre with a GPA below a 3.4. In order to raise your GPA you might have to make some significant sacrifices. For instance, can you continue to be part of that volunteer organization or athletic team? Should you get rid of your gaming console or limit your time on Facebook? Academic matters aside, second year is a good time to get some experience in medicine. You can volunteer at Ephraim McDowell, shadow a local physician, or set up a formal internship with a physician. You should increase your participation in service activities. Planning for summer research can also be a priority, especially if you are interested in attending a research-oriented medical school (read about the differences between public and private medical schools on the Application Process page). Centre students have obtained paid summer research positions at medical schools and in the basic sciences (chemistry, biology, biochemistry etc.). Revise your personal statement to reflect changes from the previous year.
Third Year Preparation
Third year is the time when many students begin the application process to medical school. Many of you will also be taking the MCAT sometime near the end of your third year or the summer after it. Before you start the process it is vital to talk to Dr. Workman to find out if it is realistic for you to apply. Be sure to look at the application web page to fully understand the timing of the process. If you plan on taking the MCAT in your junior year, you should at least look at a MCAT review book in the summer after your second year. It is also very important to continue working on your personal statement in the fall. Start reviewing for the MCAT in earnest in the fall. Go to the application web page to get detailed information on the MCAT and application process. There are deadlines that you must meet and meetings you must attend if you are going to apply to medical school. Your third year will probably be the final time to get some medical experience and volunteer service activities before your application. The summer after your third year is an excellent time to get research experience at a large research university. Many summer research programs are offered specifically for students finishing their second or third year. One excellent site for finding summer research positions is the NSF-REU webpage which is updated every November. A site that has a huge listing of medical summer internships is here.
Fourth Year Preparation
If you are starting the application process during your fourth year, you will follow the same directions as the juniors. You might still be unsure about your future--get some advice from the HPAG. If you applied to medical school over the previous summer you should have completed all of your secondary applications before the middle of September, if not sooner. Remember that you are competing for interview slots and the earlier you are the less competition. The HPAG and Career Development Office are available for practice interviews.
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