What should I do to prepare myself to apply
for medical school? Should I attend a formal postbaccalaureate program,
go to graduate school or "do it on my own?"
First, you need an initial assessment about how much time you can devote
to this activity, how supportive your immediate family is, how much
you have set aside in financial resources to develop your application,
etc. You may need an Advisor to help you wade through the many levels
of issues that you face. Rarely, is it clear and easy to deduce the
appropriate strategy for any non-traditional applicant immediately;
indeed, it is very helpful for you to share your background and concerns
with someone who has worked with many non-traditional applicants, and
to enlist their help to develop your personal trategy.
That being said, the possible pathways include:
a. Formal, typically expensive, highly structured, postbaccalaureate
programs, generally administered at private colleges.
Students who have a strong academic record in a non-science degree
and are changing careers often enroll in these programs. Generally,
you will need to quit working and put full-time effort into being
premedical in order to take this route. This may work best for someone
who has ample funds and wishes to complete preparation quickly. The
up side to selecting this direction is that you interact regularly
with a small group of premedical peers, generally, some sort of advising
program is included, and there is a compacted one or two year academic
sequence in which to complete your premedical requirements. MCAT preparation
may or may not be included in the package. You may get more individual
treatment in this type of program.
A subset of this program exists at a few medical schools where students
take courses with their school's medical students. You may earn a
Master's degree upon completion of the program, although it is similar
to a postbaccalaureate program. If you earn top grades in competition
with the medical students, you may have an edge in admissions at that
school, or be offered a guaranteed interview or acceptance into that
school's medical program.
b. Formal, typically inexpensive (some are free or include
a stipend), highly structured, postbaccalaureate programs at public
and private colleges generally for underrepresented and minority students
who need to improve academic records.
Some schools offer programs with one or two years of upper-division
science courses such as molecular biology, embryology and immunology,
clinical experience, research opportunity, and MCAT preparation. Eligibility
requirements vary tremendously. There may be requirements for having
applied previously and having been interviewed, but not been accepted.
Sometimes, there is a minimum GPA or set of MCAT scores. The length
of time provided, such as one or two or even more years varies between
programs as does the cost of tuition and how much financial aid is
provided. These programs may be competitive and require that you reside
in a particular state.
c. Informal, unstructured premedical coursework.
Many non-traditional students are the primary breadwinner in their
family, which may include a spouse and several children, and even
extended family members. Thus, taking premedical coursework at night
or on weekends may be your only available option if you must continue
to work full-time or close to full-time. Many allopathic medical schools
evaluate academic credentials from community colleges as less rigorous
than credentials from four year institutions. This may be a disservice
to community colleges, yet it is still the case. Osteopathic schools
seem not to distinguish between records from two year and four colleges.
Some four year colleges provide a weekend or evening schedule to meet
the needs of older, working students. Medical school admissions committees
may have difficulty evaluating extension courses, and may not want
to "take a chance" on someone who, to them, is an "unknown"
quantity. Extension courses, then, are probably not a good choice.
Call the schools where you will apply to verify how they view these
academic venues. Reputation of the institution at which your coursework
is taken is important, courseload is important, and the level of academic
rigor is important.
If you are going to take the premedical requirements "on your
own," you can do so as a second baccalaureate student (and you
may be eligible to receive some financial aid). You may not need to
complete that second degree in order to apply to medical school; you
may just need some of the coursework from it. Or, you may register
as an unclassified postbaccalaureate student, which means you can
select exactly those courses which you need for your premedical requirements.
The down side is that you may not be eligible to receive financial
aid in this status. And, you may be totally without an Advisor. If
that is the case, find one!
Start with the math and chemistry courses that you last took, whether
it was four or 15 years ago, since your physics, and upper division
chemistry and biology courses will build on these basic courses. You
must begin at the beginning..wherever that is for you, and work into
upper division coursework. If you took beginning algebra in high school,
then strengthen your algebra skills first, and go from there.
d. Graduate school.
If your undergraduate grades in the sciences were not strong, you
may need at least two years of science coursework to prove to admissions
committees that you can handle medical school level work, and to prepare
yourself to do well on the MCAT exam. One way to do this coursework
is to complete a graduate program. You need to assess exactly where
your undergraduate weaknesses lie; have an Advisor help you. Then,
select your degree in an area that will showcase your newly-developed
strength in previously weak areas. Suggestions include earning a Master's
degree in biology, applied life sciences such as ecology, molecular
biology, etc., exercise physiology, nutritional sciences, public health,
chemistry, etc. If you do not attend medical school for whatever reason,
make certain that this degree is one you enjoy and one on which you
can build another career!
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