What is a "non-traditional
Written for Kaplan's Medical School Admissions
Advisor. Posted versions are longer than those published.
Starting about the mid-1980s, more people from diverse backgrounds,
generally older people with rich life experiences, started considering
entering medicine in greater numbers. Osteopathic medical schools welcomed
them and allopathic schools followed suit. Most traditional applicants
to medical school apply directly after completing an undergraduate degree,
typically in a science major. Some people have the interest in becoming
a physician when they are young, but for one or more reasons, do not
prepare to become one. For other students, it may take years for their
interest in medicine or for their self-confidence to actually become
a doctor to mature. For the 1996-97 entering class, 7.9 percent of the
3,695 applicants who were 32 years or older were accepted to medical
school which represents a little less than 5 percent of all accepted
Specifically, non-traditional applicants can be categorized as:
If you earned a degree in an area that does not prepare you for medical
school, generally in a non-science humanity or social science discipline,
but it could also be in engineering or in another applied area like
nursing, you are a postbaccalaureate student. There is another category
of postbaccalaureate students who have completed their premedical course
requirements, but have earned marginal grades in the sciences and who
need to strengthen their academic record. Some people in this latter
group choose instead to earn a graduate degree in a science, in Public
Health, in Exercise Physiology or in any discipline which can highlight
acquired strength in problem solving and science knowledge.
Some women have taken a full ten to 20 years to raise a family, and
have deferred their own education; some be men enter the military and
defer a career in medicine. Of course, there may be many other reasons
why men and women enter college, stop, and now find their career goal
to be medicine.
Change of Career Students
People in almost any career you can consider have applied to medical
school. You may have entered a career because it would support a family
immediately, because your family expected it, because it was the easy
path, or you really did want to be a fireman back then. Over time, you
may have rediscovered a repressed desire to become a doctor, or developed
one where it did not previously exist because of your direct involvement
with a family member or a friend's health condition. There are many
reasons why people change careers, including "burning out"
from a current career, finding the current career unfulfilling, dull
and un-challenging, or deciding that your current career does not allow
you to make a significant impact in your world. If you find yourself
highly motivated to become a doctor for positive reasons, not just needing
a change from your present career, you may be on the right track.
Non-traditional applicants are often the most interesting premedical
candidates because they have a broad perspective on life based on varied
experiences, excellent communication skills, and high levels of motivation
and focus. Lawyers, corporate executives, engineers and stock brokers
don't wish to become doctors to gain prestige and large salaries. In
fact, they will certainly lose earning power for many years, and may
never earn the level of their previous salary as a doctor.
You may fit into more than one of these above three arbitrary categories.
Most medical schools now treat all applicants processing the same; non-traditional
applicants are not singled out. But, of course, your non-traditional
qualities can shine in your application, so it is up to you and, perhaps,
a trusted Advisor to assess your strengths and to make certain that
they are clearly seen and heard.
Expectations of Medical Schools