Tag Archives: MCAT

Becoming a Doctor: Med School Admissions

The traditional path to becoming a physician in the United States is to obtain an MD (allopathic) degree from a US medical school.  This blog will provide a brief overview of the application process to medical school, and is part of a series discussing a variety of paths to practicing medicine.

Over the past decade, the number of medical schools and the number of applicants has steadily increased. The AAMC (Association of American Medical Colleges) has recommended a 30 percent increase in the number of physicians, in order to address a physician shortage and increased longevity of patients.  Indeed, there are now 151 US med schools, including almost 20 newly accredited med schools in the past decade. During this period, enrollment in US med schools has increased 19% from 75,800 in 2008-2009 to 89,900 in 2017-18.

Yet during this same period, the number of applicants has increased at an even higher rate of 23%, from 42,200 to 51,700. As a result, medical school admissions has become increasingly competitive. The most important factors in admissions remain the numbers, while qualitative factors serve to further differentiate the applicants.

Quantitative Admissions Factors

Your GPA and MCAT score play a significant role in medical school admissions.

GPA

Medical schools look at your overall GPA, as well as your GPA within science and math specifically.

Generally, applicants to medical school are required to take the following courses:

  • 1 year of biology
  • 1 year of physics
  • 2 years of chemistry (through organic chemistry)
  • 1 year of English
  • 1 year of calculus

Some medical schools are more specific about their requirements. For example, Harvard Medical School requires that the chemistry courses include inorganic chemistry, organic chemistry, and biochemistry; and that the math includes 1 semester of calculus and 1 semester of statistics (preferably biostatistics). Stanford Medical School also recommends that students take courses in the behavioral and social sciences.

MCAT

In April 2015, the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) officially launched a new version of the MCAT, the MCAT15 “to help better prepare tomorrow’s doctors for the rapidly advancing and transforming health care system.” The new MCAT is double in length, includes a fourth section on the social sciences, and has a revamped scoring system. The four sections include:

  • Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems
  • Chemical & Physical Foundations of Biological Systems
  • Critical Analysis & Reasoning Skills
  • Psychological, Social, & Biological Foundations of Behavior

Each section receives a score ranging from 472 to 528, with 500 as the mean.

See our blog for a detailed discussion of the structure and scoring of the MCAT, and average MCAT scores for selected med schools.

The chart below shows the strong impact of GPA and MCAT scores on acceptance rates. An acceptance rate of about 50% or above requires an MCAT score above 506 (500 is the national average) and a GPA of about 3.6.  For example, a student with a GPA of 3.4-3.59 and an MCAT score of 498-501 would have a 20% acceptance rate; where a student with a GPA of 3.6-3.79 and an MCAT of 506-509 would have a 54% acceptance rate.

Qualitative Admissions Factors

While the academic factors of grades and test scores serve as a screening mechanism, qualitative factors impact which students progress to the next level of receiving secondary applications and interview requests.  The primary qualitative factors are a student’s medically-related experiences and recommendations.

Medically-Related Experiences

The education required to become a physician, as well as the practice of medicine itself, are so rigorous that medical schools want to see evidence that an applicant is thoroughly aware of these demands and has engaged in relevant activities throughout college. These include the four pillars of:

  • Research, including either bench work in a lab, or clinical research with patients.
  • Clinical work, such as volunteering at a nursing home or hospital, or helping doctors with patient research.
  • Shadowing doctors, preferably in a variety of specialties.
  • Community service that shows compassion and your desire to help people.

There are many paths to becoming a doctor.  Some students are passionate about pursuing a career in medicine, but are not competitive for US allopathic medical schools, as a result of grades, test scores, or relevant experience.  In this situation, two viable options are to attend a US osteopathic medical school and receive a DO degree, or to attend medical school in the Caribbean.

For further guidance on the medical school admissions and application process, contact us at www.collegiategateway.com. As always, we’re happy to help!

Why Attend a Caribbean Medical School?

Due to the extremely competitive nature of medical school admissions in the United States, many applicants opt to obtain their medical education in the Caribbean. To provide context, the admit rate at St. George’s Medical School in Grenada, West Indies, is 41%. This contrasts markedly with the admit rates at the most selective medical schools in the U.S., such as Harvard, with admit rate of 3.7%, Johns Hopkins of 3.9% and Stanford, at 4.7%.

To help you decide if attending these schools would be the best option for you, let’s evaluate their curriculum, accreditation, admission requirements, residency outcomes, and the overall success of their graduates.

Screen Shot 2016-07-18 at 9.53.05 PM

St. George’s Medical School. Source: The New York Times 

Choose Wisely: Regional vs. Offshore

 Caribbean medical schools fall into one of two categories: regional or offshore.

  • Regional medical schools train students to practice in the country or region where the school is located, and are typically the choice for Caribbean residents who wish to practice in their home country.
  • Offshore medical schools in the Caribbean predominantly train students from the United States and Canada who intend to return home for residency and clinical practice after graduation. Most offshore schools are dual-campus programs, where students spend their first two years of medical school in the Caribbean learning basic sciences and prepare for Step 1 of the USMLE (United States Medical Licensing Examination). Their clinical years are then spent in the United States. Offshore schools find clinical rotations for their students through partnering agreements with U.S. hospitals.

Accreditation

The first factor to consider is that not all Caribbean medical schools are accredited and not all have access to clinical rotations. So before you decide to attend a particular medical school in the Caribbean, make sure that the schools you are considering will allow you to practice and attend clinical rotations in the United States.

Beware of medical schools that use the terms “approved” or “recognized,” which do not connote accreditation. In addition, make sure that the schools have received the official accreditations that truly matter:

  • Caribbean Accreditation Authority for Education in Medicine and Health Professions (CAAM-HP): a peer review process adopted by CARICOM (Caribbean Community) to accredit educational institutions within the medical, dental, veterinary and other health professions. Of the 17 medical schools in the Caribbean that requested assessment over recent years from CAAM-HP, only American University of Antigua, St. George’s, and Ross have been accredited.
  • Other countries’ accreditation. Several Caribbean medical schools are located on islands that are owned or accredited by other countries. American University of the Caribbean School of Medicine (AUC), based in St. Maarten, is accredited by Accreditation Commission on Colleges of Medicine (ACCM), in Ireland, recognized by the the US DOE’s National Committee on Foreign Medical Education and Accreditation (see below). Saba University School of Medicine (located in the Dutch island of Saba), is accredited by NVAO, the accreditation organization of Netherlands and Flanders.
  • S. State Recognitions and Approvals. Only a few states in the US have individual review processes to approve students to receive clinical rotations, residencies, and licensure in that state; accreditation by these states is typically recognized by other states as well:
    • New York State Education Department (NYSED)
    • Medical Board of California (MBC)
    • Florida Department of Education (FL DOE)

Tiers of Accreditation

Caribbean medical schools are ranked in three tiers (top-tier, middle-tier, and bottom-tier) based on approvals and accreditations. In order to have the greatest options of practicing medicine within the U.S., aim for top-tier programs.

Schools such as St. George’s, Ross, Saba, American University of the Caribbean (AUC) and American University of Antigua (AUA) College of Medicine operate in the top tier and offer a medical education equivalent to that of U.S. schools. All four have been approved by the licensing boards of New York, California, and Florida. AUA, St. George’s, and Ross have also been accredited by CAAM-HP.

These medical schools have thousands of alumni in residency or practicing throughout the U.S. and Canada.

Eligibility for US Funding

In addition, the National Committee on Foreign Medical Education and Accreditation (NCFMEA), within the U.S. Department of Education (DOE), plays a central role in determining whether American students at foreign medical schools are eligible for federal student loans. NCFMEA is not an accreditation agency. Instead, it reviews the standards that a foreign country uses to accredit its medical schools, and determines whether those standards are comparable to the US. If so, any accredited medical school within that country can apply to participate in DOE’s federal student loan program.

Admissions Selectivity

U.S. medical schools place strong weight on applicants’ MCAT scores and GPA. Therefore, regardless of your passion for medicine and the strength of your medically related experiences (such as research, shadowing, and community service), if you don’t perform well on these numerical criteria, your chances of acceptance drop dramatically.

While the average MCAT and GPA of applicants to U.S. medical schools has remained fairly constant over recent years, the stats of matriculants has increased, along with the numbers of applicants, showing greater selectivity and therefore competition. While the number of applicants increased 14% from the 2012-13 application year to 2017-18, matriculants only rose 9.3% since medical schools are not significantly adding capacity. Admit rate in just this six-year period dropped from 43% to 41%.

 

Applicants 2012-2013 2013-2014 2014-2015 2015-2016 2016-2017 2017-2018
Total MCAT 28.3 28.4 28.6 28.3 501.8 504.7
GPA Total 3.54 3.54 3.55 3.55 3.55 3.56
Total Applicants 45,266 48,014 49,480 52,550 53,042 51,680

 

Matriculants 2012-2013 2013-2014 2014-2015 2015-2016 2016-2017 2017-2018
Total MCAT 31.2 31.3 31.4 31.4 508.7 510.4
GPA Total 3.68 3.69 3.69 3.70 3.7 3.71
Total Matriculants 19,517 20,055 20,343 20,631 21,030 21,338

On the other hand, Caribbean medical schools accept students with lower GPAs and MCAT scores and typically do not have minimums. At AUC, the average accepted student’s GPA is 3.27 and the average MCAT is 469. At St. George’s, the average overall GPA for enrolled students entering fall 2016 was 3.3, with the undergraduate science average of 3.2.

Over the past 40 years, St. George’s University has graduated 17,000 alumni and Ross University has graduated 14,000 alumni. At these schools, a 3.4/3.5 gpa is competitive. If you did poorly freshman year, your admission chances at a U.S. medical school decrease, but Caribbean medical schools will consider you.

Academic Performance

Now that we have established the rationale for attending Caribbean medical schools, let’s look at how their graduates actually perform. How prepared are they for the practice of medicine, and how is their education valued? Two leading measures are the pass rate for the USMLE (Untied States Medical Licensing Examination) and residency placement, respectively.

USMLE
The USMLE consists of Step 1, Step 2 Clinical Knowledge, and Step 3. A passing score on all three parts is required to practice medicine in the US. The steps assess the following:

  • Step 1: Basic science knowledge that is foundational to the practice of medicine; understanding principles underlying health, disease, and modes of therapy.
  • Step 2 Clinical Skills (CS) and Clinical Knowledge (CK): Application of medical knowledge, skills, and understanding of clinical science to provide supervised patient care.
  • Step 3: Application of medical knowledge and understanding of biomedical and clinical science to provide unsupervised patient care.

At SGU (St. George’s University School of Medicine) the pass rate in 2017 was an impressive 95% overall, and 95% for US and Canadian students. This compares favorably with the pass rate of 96% at US and Canadian medical schools. The pass rate at SGU has surpassed 95% for five consecutive years. In 2017, the pass rate at other foreign schools was 77%, and the pass rate at US and Canadian DO schools was 95%.

Residency Placement

Residency placement is the all-important next step after medical school, on the path to the practice of medicine.

SGU posts its lists of residency placements online. As an example of the quality of placements, for the Class of 2018 graduates who placed in New York, hospitals included top programs such as Albert Einstein, Mount Sinai, and New York University. Specialties consisted of the full range, including anesthesiology, emergency medicine, family medicine, internal medicine, neurology, obstetrics and gynecology, pathology, pediatrics, psychiatry, and surgery.

In 2018, 936 St. George’s University grads procured PGY1 positions. There was 93% residency placement in PGY1 the year of graduation. For U.S. students at Ross University there was 94% residency placement.

 

Fast Facts – Caribbean Offshore vs. US Medical Schools Features

 

Selected Top Tier Caribbean Medical Schools

University Total Enrollment Attrition Rate Median MCAT Median GPA Residencies
St. George’s University 6,021 10% 497 3.33 937
American University of the Caribbean (AUC) 400/ year 13% 496 3.27

 

300

 

Ross University  3,500  27%  496 3.22 627

 

Selected U.S. Medical Schools

University Total Enroll Acceptance Rate Median MCAT Median GPA
Harvard University 726 3.5% 518.72 3.92
George Washington U

 

707

 

2.5%

512

 

3.70

Drexel University

 

1,083

 

4.2%

513

 

3.62

New York Medical College

 

818

 

5.7%

513

 

3.58  

Factors to Consider

Various factors are important to consider when gauging the quality of the medical education you will receive at a particular Caribbean medical school. Ask the following questions:

  1. What are the school’s average USLE Step 1 scores?
  2. How is the curriculum structured?
  3. What are the mean overall and BCPM (biology, chemistry, physics and math) GPAs and MCATS of accepted students? Are MCATs required to submit an application?
  4. Where do students complete third and fourth year clerkships?
  5. Does the Caribbean school encourage away electives?
  6. What percentage of 4th year students earn residency placements?
  7. Where and in what specialties did students in the most recent graduating classes match for residency, and what percentage of fourth year students matched into categorical residencies?

Students should always apply to a few of their dream schools, but they should also consult the MSAR (Medical School Admission Requirements), or individual schools’ websites, to determine a list of five to seven additional schools at which they would be competitive grade-wise. Students should also create a list of three or more schools at which their academics are on the very high end, to maximize the chance of securing an acceptance.

Overall, Caribbean medical schools offer less competitive applicants less selective options, a faster application process, and comparable education and residency opportunities as medical schools in the U.S. For many US students, these options provide you with the chance to successfully pursue your passion for a career in medicine. For more information about applying to medical school, in the US and Caribbean, contact us at http://www.colleagiategateway.com. As always, we’re happy to help!

 

Everything You Need to Know About the New MCAT!

In April 2015, the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) officially launched a new version of the MCAT, the MCAT15. According to the AAMC, the test was changed “to help better prepare tomorrow’s doctors for the rapidly advancing and transforming health care system.” The new MCAT is double in length, includes a fourth section on the social sciences, and has a revamped scoring system. Medical schools vary in their policy about whether they will still accept the old MCAT for the 2018 application cycle.

Before we provide you with a detailed look at the new MCAT, it’s important to keep in mind that the MCAT is just one of various factors used by medical schools. The evaluation process also reviews college grades, trends in grades, extracurricular activities, and medically-related experiences such as research, shadowing, and clinical work.

New Structure of the MCAT2015

The MCAT changed in several major ways. Most notably, it has doubled in length. The MCAT2015 consists of 230 questions over 6 hours and 15 minutes.

The MCAT2015 includes both new topic areas and different types of questions. The first three sections are organized around “big ideas” in the sciences. According to the AAMC, these sections “reflect current research about the most effective ways for students to learn and use science, emphasizing deep knowledge of the most important scientific concepts over knowledge simply of many discrete facts.”

The new content will also test additional skills, including research design, graphical analysis and data interpretation. Kaplan claims that the “passages will be restructured to test all of the natural sciences within biological systems,” giving the test a more medical focus by showing the application of the sciences to medicine.

The new section, “Psychological, Social, and Behavioral Foundations of Behavior,” comprises 25% of the test, and recognizes the role of social science in treating patients effectively. Catherine Lucey, a member of the MCAT review committee and vice dean of the UC San Francisco School of Medicine, observed:

“One hundred years ago, all you really needed to know was the science. We were all looking for the magic bullet that would cure disease. Now we have problems like obesity and diabetes that require doctors to form therapeutic alliances with patients and convince them to change their lifestyle.”

Ripal Shah, an MCAT test prep tutor for Advantage Testing, agrees that training in the social sciences is beneficial for a career in medicine, because “many studies have shown that communication skills are often the most indicative of patient satisfaction and medication compliance.”

The following visual, from Kaplan Test Prep, illustrates the structural and content changes between the two tests.

The US News blog, “Medical School Admissions Doctor,” estimates that the vast amount of information covered on the MCAT2015 requires significantly more than standard medical school prerequisites:

  • One year of biology, chemistry, organic chemistry, and physics
  • One semester of biochemistry, psychology, and sociology
  • A year of humanities (recommended)

MCAT Test Dates and Centers

The MCAT is offered 30 times throughout the year, from January through September, with scores released five weeks after administration. You can find a local test center here.

MCAT Score Scale

Each of the four sections will be scored individually, from 118 to 132, with a midpoint of 125. Scores are combined to create a total score ranging from 472 to 528, with a midpoint of 500. The test is not graded on a curve, and there is no penalty for wrong answers.

Below is the distribution of total scores for the new MCAT taken in 2015 and 2016 for a total of 150,893 exams. 18% of test-takers took the exam multiple times. The mean for each of the four individual sections was about 125.

The score reports provide details on your test performance, and combines MCAT scores, percentile ranks, confidence bands, and score profiles. See the sample score report below.

 

What Are Percentile Ranks?

Percentile ranks are included so examinees can compare their performance to others who took the new exam. Percentile ranks are updated May 1 of every year. This info has been particularly useful to med schools in the first 1-2 years after the new MCAT was implemented, before sufficient historical data was available to evaluate applicant’s scores.

Importantly, on May 1, 2018, the percentile ranks will be based on the MCATs from the entire three preceding years; having this history will provide much more useful information to both students and med schools.

What Are Confidence Bands?

Confidence bands show the ranges of scores an examinee could expect on another MCAT attempt. Score profiles provide information about applicants’ strengths and weaknesses across the four sections of the exam. According to the AAMC, “non-overlapping confidence bands show a test taker’s likely strengths and weaknesses. Overlapping confidence bands suggest that there are not meaningful differences in performance between sections.” For instance, in the example above, the student would have strengths in the BBFL and PSBB areas, and relative weaknesses in the CPBS and CARS areas, but would have comparable strengths between BBFL and PSBB; and between CPBS and CARS.

Note that the confidence bands for each of the four section scores are two points, whereas the confidence band for the overall total is four points. So if your total score is 501, and you retake the MCAT, you have a reasonable chance of scoring anywhere from 499 – 503.

Who Has Taken the New MCAT?

According to the most recently published data of the AAMC, over 125,000 students took the new MCAT in 2015 and 2016. This included 54% females, 46% males; 48% whites, 27% Asians, 11% each of African-American and Hispanic; and 3% other; 18% repeaters (having taken the new MCAT before).

Average MCAT Scores for Selected Medical Schools

Below are the median new MCAT scores and GPAs for accepted students at a variety of medical schools.

Medical School US News Rank MEDIAN
GPA
MEDIAN NEW MCAT SCORE
Columbia 6 3.87 519
Drexel 83 3.73 511
Emory 23 3.79 515
Georgetown 45 3.74 5.12
Harvard 1 3.92 518
NYU 12 3.9 520
Stanford 2 3.89 518
Temple 55 3.79 512
Washington Univ 7 3.89 521
Univ of Miami 48 3.8 513

 

Policies About Accepting Old vs New MCAT Scores

For the 2018 application cycle, many medical schools are only accepting the new scores, but some are still accepting the old scores, and others express a preference for the new test but will still accept the old. The following charts shows a selection of med schools with each of these policies:

ONLY NEW MCAT EITHER NEW OR OLD PREFER NEW BUT WILL ACCEPT OLD
Brown University (Warrren Alpert Medical School) Albert Einstein College of Medicine Northwestern University Feinberg SOM
Dartmouth (Geisel SOM) Boston University School of Medicine U Chicago (Pritzker SOM)
Hofstra North Shore Emory University SOM U Rochester
Mount Sinai George Washington University
Johns Hopkins U SOM Harvard Medical School Medical School
USC (Keck) UPenn Perelman SOM
NYU SOM Stanford U SOM
Weill Cornell Medical College Tufts University SOM
Vanderbilt University
Wash University in St. Louis
Yale SOM

 

Applying to medical school is a long and challenging process. For more information or guidance regarding the MCAT, or any other aspect of the admissions process, contact Collegiate Gateway – we’re always happy to help.

Summer Activities for Pre-Med Students

You’ve decided you want to go into medicine, and to embark upon the arduous path to becoming a physician. You’re busy studying for biology exams, conducting experiments in chemistry lab, trying to squeeze in some volunteering and (if you’re really ambitious) conducting a bit of research. Now, January rolls around and it’s time to start thinking about the summer. Regardless of how far along you are in your undergraduate pre-med training, carefully choosing your summer plans is essential.

Summer provides an excellent time to further explore the areas of clinical medicine, research, or global health, while also enhancing your medical school application. In fact, according to Liza Thompson, a medical school admissions consultant, “pre-med students who are productively engaged during the summer months have an advantage during the medical school application process.”

It is essential to dedicate sufficient time, often during the summer, to study for the MCAT, take classes if needed, and prepare your medical school application by writing your personal statement and brainstorming for secondary applications. However, many experts including the Princeton Review stress the importance of expanding your learning beyond the classroom setting.

Clinical Experience

Clinical experience will enable you to directly observe the patient-physician relationship. The importance of clinical experience cannot be stressed enough; in fact, Emory University School of Medicine lists “exposure to patients in a clinical setting” as one of its application requirements. This can take a variety of forms, including shadowing a family member or friend who is in the medical profession or participating in a more formalized summer program.

Some of the more structured programs can be very demanding, but the rewards are quite evident. For example, Project Healthcare created by the Bellevue Hospital Center Emergency Department is an immersive program involving participation in clinical rotations, research and informational lectures, as well as extensive engagement with the community. If you’re hoping to make money while gaining clinical experience, certain jobs, such as a hospital scribe, may be of particular interest.

Research

Doing research is another ideal summer activity, as pre-med students can often continue research already started during the school-year or pursue an entirely new area of interest. There are a multitude of structured summer research programs at various institutions across the nation. A comprehensive list by the AAMC can be found here.

Similar to clinical experience, research experience is yet another critical element of the typical medical school application. Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine reports that 92% of their entering class of 2019 engaged in research at the undergraduate or graduate level.

Volunteer Work

Summer volunteering can allow you to continue pursuing an existent volunteer placement from the school-year or an entirely new volunteering experience. US News stresses the importance of carefully considering the nature of the volunteering, as well as how long you’re doing it. It may be most beneficial to volunteer in a medical setting, such as a nursing home, where you can continue to gain relevant experience.

Any sort of volunteering is certainly valuable as it reflects an innate desire to help others: a trait that every pre-med student should possess. Some students choose to engage in more extensive types of volunteering, such as obtaining an EMT certification or volunteering overseas. Volunteering internationally can be particularly valuable for pre-med students, as many are not able to study abroad during the school-year due to course requirements.

With any volunteering experience, you must carefully assess how meaningful your actual involvement in the activity will be. To start, it can be helpful to explore global health organizations that may have chapters at your university, such as GlobeMed or Medical Brigades.

Additional Options

Although these ideas provide a starting point, they do not provide a comprehensive list of all available opportunities for pre-med students. If you have more specialized interests in the area of public health for example, you may want to explore internships through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Additionally, your undergraduate institution may be a valuable resource for identifying summer opportunities. For example, Swarthmore provides a comprehensive list of summer options for pre-meds that can be found here.

The summer provides an ideal time for pre-med students to further clarify their interest in medicine and explore the various facets of a profession in healthcare. For guidance on pursuing a pre-med track and applying to medical school, feel free to contact Collegiate Gateway. As always, we’re happy to help!

Taking a Gap Year before Medical School

Deciding when to attend medical school—and therefore when to apply—is one of the most important decisions that you’ll face as an applicant. Sometimes, taking a gap year before applying can be a beneficial decision, both personally and academically. To make the best use of a gap year, students should reflect on their career goals, and use the time to both confirm their interest in medicine and strengthen their candidacy for medical school.

According to Washington University in St. Louis, students should choose gap year activities carefully, and seek ways to grow as a competitive, interesting applicant.

“For example, a student with a marginal GPA would be best served by using that GAP year to strengthen his or her academic record more than taking time off to travel abroad to engage in volunteer work. Likewise, someone with strong academic credentials but no experience in medically related activities would best be served using that time to engage in activities that demonstrate a capacity and passion for such work. Either way, it’s best to always “stay connected” to medicine during this year off. Unless you are an academic superstar with a stellar record in every way, I would be very careful using your GAP year to simply travel the world and nothing else. Use your time wisely. For a great list of ideas, check out GAP Year Resources.”

Taking a gap year or years before medical school is common and encouraged. In 2015-16, the mean age of applicants at anticipated matriculation to medical school was 24 years old for women and 25 years old for men (AAMC).

Robert J. Mayer, faculty associate dean of admissions at Harvard Medical School, has noticed an increasing trend of applicants taking a gap year over his ten years in admissions at HMS. “[When I first started] about 60 percent were coming out of college. Now, it’s about 35 percent.”

According to Duke University, more than 75% of Duke students apply to medical school after they graduate, and the average age among the incoming Duke Medical School class is 24. Duke’s Office of Health Professions Advising states, “Students who engage in a year or more of experiential activity after graduation and before entering a health professions school are more mature, resilient, confident, and accomplished… and competitive.”

Northwestern University’s Academic Advising Center notes the struggle pre-meds face in managing the application process alongside the responsibilities of being an upperclassman:

“Balancing school, extracurricular activities, clinical volunteer experience and research is difficult enough. Throw in the MCAT, medical school applications, and interviews and the task can be truly overwhelming. A year spent working, completing a post-bac program, volunteering or doing research prior to applying to medical school, known as a “gap year” or a “bridge year” can be a great option! In fact, about 60% of NU students who are accepted to medical school take at least one (sometimes more!) gap/bridge year(s).”

In addition to taking a break after college to recharge and reflect, there are a number of ways you can use your gap year to make yourself a stronger applicant.

Strengthen Your Academics:

Improve your GPA. Most students see their academic records improve during their senior year; you have more control over the courses you take, you’re used to the college environment, and more of your courses are within your chosen major. The transcript you submit to medical schools during your senior year might look different than the one you’d submit a year later, after you’ve finished your undergraduate coursework. Waiting a year to apply to med school gives you an additional semester to take extra and/or high level coursework that could strengthen your academic record. Moreover, taking extra time gives you the opportunity to enroll in a post-bac program (more on these below) to improve your GPA during the year you are applying. If you are concerned that you may be applying with a less than ideal GPA, here are some more helpful tips.

Study for the MCAT exam. Studying for the MCAT while balancing a full-course load, an internship, and the rest of your many responsibilities can be quite challenging. Taking time off can be a great way to give yourself extra study time. Most importantly, it allows you the flexibility to retake the test if you are unhappy with your results the first time around.

Gain Medically-Related Experience

Gaining real-world perspectives on medicine can reinforce whether medicine is the right path for you; and if so, help you explore which areas of medicine most interest you. In addition, it can also strengthen your admissions chances. There are many ways in which you can gain experience in the field. Here are some the best:

Research: Participating in laboratory or clinical research is a phenomenal way to explore the field of medicine with an especially scientific focus. While many students pursue research while on campus during the school year, there are also numerous research opportunities at medical schools and research centers over the summer and beyond. Just like finding the right job or internship, it is important to find a research position that is a good fit for your abilities, interests, and goals. So do your research!

Volunteer Work: 
Medically-related volunteer opportunities are a great way to give back while also gaining hands-on experience. Working with patients in a clinical setting is beneficial for your own professional development and in the application process. Almost all volunteer efforts will help you to develop communication skills, motivation and teamwork. And sometimes, they’ll provide you with a good reference!

It can be equally beneficial to work for a local organization, such as a hospital or community clinic, or a national organization, such as Americorps or GlobeMed; it depends on the particular opportunity available, and whether it matches your interests. There are many resources to help you find volunteer opportunities, including the American Medical Student Association (AMSA), and the International Medical Volunteers Association. As always, the trick is to find an opportunity that matches your interests and rounds out your experiences.

Post Baccalaureate Programs:  Post-bac programs are especially useful for students who need to bolster their GPAs. They also allow college graduates to fill gaps in their academic record by taking one or all of the courses required to apply to medical school. Some post-bac programs cater to career changers (those who need to complete most or all of the science core), and others to academic enhancers (those who have completed the core but are taking advanced science electives to improve their science GPA, or prepare for the MCAT), and some accept both. Programs are offered across the country, by colleges large (e.g. CornellUSC) and small (e.g. BrandeisBryn Mawr)

Additionally, some programs, such as those offered by Columbia University and NYU, offer “linkage programs” with their affiliated medical schools. These programs help especially competitive students “link” directly into the university’s medical school following the completion of the post-bac program. 

Pay Down Debt

According to the American Association of Medical Colleges (AAMC), the median debt for medical students graduating in 2015 was $183,000.  It’s important, therefore, to try to limit any other debts you might have beforehand. A recent US News article recommends paying particular attention to credit card balances, as having a high amount of consumer debt can limit your ability to borrow money to pay for medical school.

There are many reasons, both personal and professional, to take a gap year before applying to medical school, and there are a variety of ways to use that time productively and effectively. For more information, or to talk about the best options for you, contact Collegiate Gateway. As always, we’re happy to help.

The MCAT2015 has Arrived!

 

The Association of American Medical Colleges, or AAMC, officially launched a new version of the MCAT, called the MCAT2015 on April 17, 2015. Approximately 8,200 individuals took this new version of the exam. The test has been changed for the first time since 1991, and AAMC is calling it “a better test for tomorrow’s doctors.” It was designed “to help better prepare tomorrow’s doctors for the rapidly advancing and transforming health care system.”

New Structure of the MCAT2015

The MCAT has changed in several major ways. Most notably, it has doubled in length. The MCAT2015 consists of 230 questions over 6 hours and 15 minutes, whereas the previous version consisted of 144 questions over 3 hours and 20 minutes. But despite the greater overall length, students taking the newer exam actually have more time to complete each question.

Screen Shot 2014-11-04 at 8.03.17 PM

The MCAT2015 includes both new topic areas and different types of questions. The first three sections are organized around “big ideas” in the sciences. According to the AAMC, these sections “reflect current research about the most effective ways for students to learn and use science, emphasizing deep knowledge of the most important scientific concepts over knowledge simply of many discrete facts.”

Here is a sample question from the MCAT2015 from the section, “Chemical & Physical Foundations of Biological Systems.” It focuses on using scientific theories and models to solve a specific problem.

The radius of the aorta is about 1.0 cm and blood passes through it at a velocity of 30 cm/s. A typical capillary has a radius of about 4 10-4 cm with blood passing through at a velocity of 5 10-2 cm/s. Using this data, what is approximate number of capillaries in a human body?

  1. 1   104
  2. 2   107
  3. 4   109
  4. 7   1012

The new sections will also test additional skills, including research design, graphical analysis and data interpretation. Kaplan claims that the “passages will be restructured to test all of the natural sciences within biological systems,” giving the test a more medical focus by showing the application of the sciences to medicine.

The new section, “Psychological, Social, and Behavioral Foundations of Behavior,” comprises 25% of the test, and recognizes the role of social science in treating patients effectively. Catherine Lucey, a member of the MCAT review committee and vice dean of the UC San Francisco School of Medicine, observes:

“One hundred years ago, all you really needed to know was the science. We were all looking for the magic bullet that would cure disease. Now we have problems like obesity and diabetes that require doctors to form therapeutic alliances with patients and convince them to change their lifestyle.”

Ripal Shah, an MCAT test prep tutor for Advantage Testing, agrees that training in the social sciences is beneficial for a career in medicine, because “many studies have shown that communication skills are often the most indicative of patient satisfaction and medication compliance.”

The following visual, from Kaplan Test Prep, illustrates the structural and content changes between the two tests.

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The US News blog, “Medical School Admissions Doctor,” estimates that the vast amount of information covered on the MCAT2015 requires significantly more than standard medical school prerequisites:

  • One year of biology, chemistry, organic chemistry, and physics
  • One semester of biochemistry, psychology, and sociology,
  • A year of humanities (recommended)

Score Scale

Each of the four sections will be scored individually, from 118 to 132, with a midpoint of 125. Scores are combined to create a total score ranging from 472 to 528, with a midpoint of 500. The new score reports will provide details on your test performance. “The AAMC envisions a score report that will bring together MCAT scores, percentile ranks, confidence bands, and score profiles in a way that highlights applicants’ strengths and weaknesses.” The MCAT Score Report Prototype released by the AAMC illustrates each of these aspects of scoring on a sample score report.

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Percentile ranks are included so examinees can compare their performance to others who took the new exam. Confidence bands show the ranges of scores an examinee could expect on another MCAT attempt. Score profiles provide information about applicants’ strengths and weaknesses across the four sections of the exam.

Applying to medical school is a long and challenging process. Not to mention competitive: just under 50,000 students applied to medical school in 2014, with an average MCAT score of 28.6 and GPA of 3.55. Of those accepted, the mean MCAT score was 31.4, with a 3.69 GPA.

For more information or guidance regarding the MCAT, or any other aspect of the admissions process, contact Collegiate Gateway – we’re always happy to help.

 

The MCAT2015 is Coming – Will You Be Ready?

The Association of American Medical Colleges, or AAMC, will officially launch a new version of the MCAT, called the MCAT2015, next spring, with the first exam scheduled for April 17th, 2015. The test has been changed for the first time since 1991, and AAMC is calling it “a better test for tomorrow’s doctors.” It was designed “to help better prepare tomorrow’s doctors for the rapidly advancing and transforming health care system.”

New Structure of the MCAT2015

The MCAT2015 is changing in a major way. Most notably, it’s going to almost double in length. The MCAT2015  will include 230 questions over 6 hours and 15 minutes versus the current 144 questions in 3 hours and 20 minute. Because of this, the new test will require a lot more stamina and focus of its test takers.

Screen Shot 2014-11-04 at 8.03.17 PM

The MCAT2015 will also include different types of questions.  The first three sections are organized around “big ideas” in the sciences. According to the AAMC, these sections “reflect current research about the most effective ways for students to learn and use science, emphasizing deep knowledge of the most important scientific concepts over knowledge simply of many discrete facts.”

Here is a sample question from the MCAT2015 from the section, “Chemical & Physical Foundations of Biological Systems.” It focuses on reasoning about scientific theories and models.

 The radius of the aorta is about 1.0 cm and blood passes through it at a velocity of 30 cm/s. A typical capillary has a radius of about 4 10-4 cm with blood passing through at a velocity of 5 10-2 cm/s. Using this data, what is approximate number of capillaries in a human body?

A.    1   104

B.    2   107

C.    4    109

D.    7   1012

The new sections will also test additional skills, including research design, graphical analysis and data interpretation. Kaplan claims that the “passages will be restructured to test all of the natural sciences within biological systems,” giving the test a more medical focus by showing the application of the sciences to medicine.

The following visual, from Kaplan Test Prep, illustrates the structural and content changes between the two tests.

 Screen Shot 2014-11-04 at 8.03.52 PM 

The US News blog, “Medical School Admissions Doctor,” is estimating that the vast amount of information covered on the MCAT2015 requires “a year of biology, a semester of biochemistry, a year of chemistry, a year of physics, a year of organic chemistry, a semester of psychology, a semester of sociology, and a recommended year of humanities – several requirements above the standard medical school prerequisites.”

Score Scale

Each of the four sections will be scored individually, from a low of 118 to a high of 132, with a midpoint of 125. Scores are combined to create a total score ranging from 472 to 528, with a midpoint of 500. The new score reports will provide details on your test performance. “The AAMC envisions a score report that will bring together MCAT scores, percentile ranks, confidence bands, and score profiles in a way that highlights applicants’ strengths and weaknesses.” The MCAT Score Report Prototype released by the AAMC illustrates each of these aspects of scoring on a sample score report.

Screen Shot 2014-11-04 at 8.04.36 PM

Percentile ranks are included so examinees can compare their performance to others who took the new exam. Confidence bands show the ranges of scores an examinee could expect on another MCAT attempt. Score profiles provide information about applicants’ strengths and weaknesses across the four sections of the exam.

Should You Take the Old, or Wait for the New?

Some students are wondering if they should hurry to take the MCAT before the change. “The Medical School Admissions Doctor” reminds potential applicants that the current MCAT still requires a solid college-level background. The blog recommends that students who “can get two semesters each of biology, chemistry, physics, and organic chemistry all done before January 2015” might benefit from taking the current MCAT before it is removed from testing options after January.

Just because the MCAT2015 will propose new challenges, doesn’t mean you should rush to take the current exam before you’re ready. Bonnie Miller, senior dean associate for health sciences at Vanderbilt University advises her students to wait before taking the MCAT. “Honestly, I think you’re better off taking an exam that you’ve had a while to prepare for,” she says. Since most medical schools accept scores from two to three years ago, many students will be able to keep their options open when it comes to choosing what scores to use.

No matter which test you take or when, be prepared!   And if you have any questions, contact Collegiate Gateway – we’re always happy to help.