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    Questions from Non-Traditional Students 

    Written for Kaplan's Medical School Admissions Advisor. Posted versions are longer than those published.

Can I learn as fast as younger students?
How will I adjust to college?
Will schools believe my career change is serious?
Will I recall my previous science coursework?
Can I use my non-science background?
How do I balance school, work & clinical experience?
Will admissions care about my balancing act?
Advantages of Non-Traditional Students?

    Will admissions take into account that I'm juggling full-time work, part-time college, and raising a family?

    Yes, but only if you make if perfectly clear in your written application, secondary and in your interview. You must explicitly state the number of hours per week you have been working, name the jobs you have had, and explain who you are supporting.


    The non-traditional student is sometimes referred to as the "bent rather than the straight" arrow. Here are some backgrounds of "bent arrows:" New awareness of medicine, change of career, re-entry

    New Awareness of Medicine

    "I earned an undergraduate degree in interdisciplinary studies with human biology, child development and educational policy. I took administrative jobs which I found to be limited in intellectual stimulation and absolutely void of a higher purpose. I began volunteering for various causes and considering graduate programs. This summer, I decided it was time to do something about my dissatisfaction and seriously pursue my interest in medicine."

    Change of career

    "Before going to college, I went to work full-time. I was not sure what to do after high school, because I did not have any role models who were professionals when I was a teenager. I joined the Navy with my grandfather's encouragement. I became a corpsman, work that involved health care. I found tremendous satisfaction from helping and caring for people .....so I began to feel that I actually could become a physician. After several years, I had the opportunity to attend college. Finding an Advisor to help me plan my strategy was the key ingredient for me. My Advisor and Mentors helped build my self confidence. I was accepted this year to medical school."


    "When I was growing up, becoming a physician was not my first career choice. Coming from a military family, I dreamed about going to West Point and following in my father's footsteps as an army officer. During my sophomore year in high school my career plans changed, leading me to consider medicine. During wrestling practice, a friend injured his neck leaving him as a paraplegic. Prior to this, my perception of medicine had been at a distance. The only exposure I had was getting a physical or a vaccination. However, my frequent visits to the hospital allowed me to observe skilled physicians performing their daily tasks. I gained a lot of respect for physicians and their profession and subsequently changed my career goal.

    When I told my parents that I wanted to become a doctor, my father was not thrilled. Nevertheless, he supported my decision, and had his regimental surgeon counsel me. He suggested that I become actively involved in patient care and helped me choose a curriculum. I volunteered at community and military hospitals in as many different departments as possible. I attended college for two years, but I felt I had some unfinished business in my life. I needed to do some things I knew I would never be able to do once I became a doctor. While most of my friends returned to college, I joined the Army. I had the opportunity to serve in two elite units, a Ranger Battalion and a Special Forces Group. I took part in Operation Just Cause in Panama and Desert Shield/Storm in the middle East, receiving several awards including three Commendation Medals and one for Meritorious Service for leading two units in combat."

    "The transition from high school to college was difficult as I was the first to attend college in my family and I had to discover independently how the system worked. As is reflected by my transcript, I was not prepared to meet the demands of college level courses at first. There was a lack of focus in my studies because I did not know what discipline interested me. Not having a sense of direction also contributed to my poor performance. That spring I was hospitalized and underwent surgery the following fall. As a result, I withdrew from classes both semesters. I thought this time off would be a setback, but as I look back, this time out of school enabled me to set academic goals.

    I recalled introductory biology as the course I enjoyed the most and decided to declare biology as my major. Other things I thought about during my stay at the hospital was the impersonal and unsympathetic treatment I received from my physician. Only after I found that translating for patients and doctors relieve stress on the part of both, did I consider becoming a doctor. During this time I also married and was naive in not realizing how much time and effort is needed by a marriage. My husband wanted me to quit school and start a family, but I wanted to continue my education. When this choice was put to the test, I opted to stay in school. Our marriage ended and I now see it as a learning experience which has strengthened my desire to reach my goal of becoming a physician."

    What are some advantages that non-traditional students may have?

    1. Fulfillment in the practice of medicine needs to come from within if you are going to be happy. Usually, nontraditional applicants have given careful consideration to their motivations before making this leap into another life-style or career. One student said, "I feel like one advantage I have being an older, re-entry student is that I really am certain about my desire to pursue a medical career. Moreover, I believe that I was able to convey this to most interviewers which helped me tremendously."

    2. Postbaccalaureate students can pace their schedules to their advantage. Some use three or four years to complete the required courses which allows them to achieve the best grades.

    3. Already possessing a degree, the Postbaccalaureate student can often secure higher paying employment while attending college.

    4. Nontraditional students usually choose to change careers only after thorough investigation and thought and, therefore, enter the challenging premedical courses with motivation, drive, maturity and dedication.
    5. By taking time after college to have another career, many people have broader perspectives about life. They may have a clearer sense of what they want to do. Non-traditional students may be more capable of putting things into a larger context and dealing with emotional distress.

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