College Admissions: Inside Tips for Aspiring Pre-Meds
Monday, August 07, 2017
The road to medical school and becoming a doctor isn’t what it used to be. Getting into med school has always been tough, but for those who made the cut in past generations, there was an assurance of high earnings and a rewarding career.
Today, ask a doctor if they would recommend the profession to a young person, and many will have a tenuous answer. While there is no question that most doctors love helping others, they are plagued by piles of administrative paperwork, low reimbursements, high malpractice risks and skyrocketing insurance costs for their practice. Nevertheless, high performing students are drawn to the idea of becoming a doctor, often starry-eyed and unaware of the challenges that lay ahead. Here are a few things that students who are considering a medical career need to know as they approach college:
Major in Music, But Take Pre-Med Courses
You don’t have to be pre-med (or even a science major) to apply to med school. In fact, many medical schools would prefer that you major in something else. So, go ahead and major in music, philosophy, political science or whatever interests you. However, you MUST take the pre-requisite science and math courses in order to be eligible for most med schools. MIT has a great suggested list of courses. Undergraduate research, internships and publications are also an attractive asset on med school applications. So, understand if those opportunities are available at the colleges you are considering.
Statistics Can Be Manipulated
When looking at undergrad programs, investigate their statistics regarding the pre-med curriculum and medical school acceptances. Some colleges will boast figures like “92% of our students who applied to medical school were accepted”. That’s impressive when nationally only 46% of applicants are accepted. But, ask what percent of students who started in pre-med finished in pre-med? If 60% were dropped from the program for low grades, that’s something to think about. I know more than a few students with A’s in their high school AP science courses who struggled to get C’s in college Chemistry; the jump to college-level science is usually huge. Also ask about pre-med advising and average MCAT scores.
Science Grading Curves - Survival of the Fittest
Remember that science courses in college are often graded in a different way than in high school. At larger universities and Ivy League schools, sciences are graded on a curve. This means that everyone who scores above 90 DOES NOT get an A or A-. Instead, the top 10% may get A’s, the next 20% B’s, 40% C’s, 20% D’s and 10% F’s. Curves vary, but the bottom line is that very few students get the A’s needed to get into med school. It’s a weeding process that forces many students out of a pre-med track.
It’s not unusual to see 30-60% of students drop out of pre-med at universities that grade on a curve. On the other hand, many small liberal arts colleges do not grade science courses on a curve, the professors are available for extra-help, and the college tends to be very vested in getting as many students as possible into med school. If you aren’t sure if a college grades science courses on a curve, ASK! And seriously consider a small liberal arts college, if your final goal is medical school.
Ways to Improve Your Science GPA
There are specific “weed out” courses in the pre-med curriculum, designed to thin out the pack. Organic Chemistry is the most famous; the second semester usually looks like a battlefield of empty seats. Doctors will often advise their pre-med children to wait and take the toughest pre-med courses at their home state university in the summer when they can focus on just one course (and when grading is usually easier). You need to check ahead of time to ensure that the credit and grade will transfer to your college, but if you are attending the primary campus of a four-year state university, it usually will.
Med school admissions committees look at several factors when accepting students. They consider overall GPA, your science GPA, MCAT scores, research or hands-on experience, extra-curricular and leadership activities. Your two GPA’s and MCAT’s are the most important factors. So, picking the right undergraduate program to maximize your chances for acceptance to medical school is one of the most critical elements in becoming a doctor.
Related Slideshow: 10 Pieces of Advice for College Freshmen and Their Parents
Heading off to college can be a stressful time. To ease the anxiety, Cristiana Quinn, GoLocalProv's College Admissions Expert, has some sage words for children and parents alike.
When you arrive at college, don't expect everything to be perfect. Your roommate, classes or sports team may not be everything that you dreamed of, and that's okay. Make the best of it, and remember that college gets easier after you adjust in the first semester. Stay in touch with friends and family from home, but transition to your new life. Don't live virtually (texting) hanging on to the past too much--live in the moment in your new community.
Make sure you know where health services is on campus and the hours. Also, know where the closest hospital is, in case health services is closed. Visit the academic support center and learn about tutoring and study skills resources in the first week of school---BEFORE you need them.
Join at least 3 organizations or clubs on campus. This will give you a chance to meet a variety of people outside of your dorm and classes. Chances are that these students will be more aligned with your interests and values. Intramural sports teams, the campus newspaper, community service groups, political groups, outing clubs are all good.
Get a healthcare proxy signed before your son/daughter goes off to campus. This is critical for students over 18, otherwise you will not have access to medical info in the case of and emergency (due to healthcare privacy laws). You need to be able to speak with doctors and make decisions remotely and quickly if anything happens.
Expect some bumps in the road. Homesickness is normal, as are issues with roommates and professors. Be supportive at a distance. Never call a professor, and try not to text your child multiple times a day. This is the time to let them learn independence and more responsibility. They can deal with issues if you give them the chance.
Avoid pushing a major--this usually leads to unhappiness and causes stress in the family. It's good to provide students with resources, but encourage them to seek career testing and counseling on-campus with professors and the Career Center. Discuss options, but don't dictate or pressure students to select something too early.
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