Frequently Asked Questions by Pre-Medical Students
Q. What are medical schools looking for?
A. Medical schools are interested in applicants who have a demonstrated record for excellence in academics (GPA, MCAT scores), strong interpersonal skills, clear motivation for medicine, and demonstrated compassion and concern for others.
Q. What are the course requirements?
A. The courses Towson University students typically take to meet the Pre-Medical requirements are: BIOL 201 and 213/214; CHEM 110, 111, 331 and 332; PHYS 211 and 212 OR 241 and 242; MATH (two courses, like PreCalculus and Calculus I, MATH 119 and 273 or perhaps MATH 119 and a statistics course); and any two English courses.
Q. Can I use AP credit to fulfill my Pre-Medical requirements?
A. Medical schools want to be sure that you can handle the science coursework at the college level. You can certainly use AP credit to fulfill all or part of the math requirement. If you use AP credit to place out of an introductory science course, then you must replace it with an upper level course with laboratory in that department.
Q. Can I take another reading and writing course in place of English?
A. While some medical schools may accept literature in translation or other reading and writing courses, it is best to simply take two English courses, as some schools are sticklers about that. Many of the Gen Ed ID category are advanced writing courses but the medical schools will not be able to tell this from a course labeled KNES 354 or PSYC 314. Any two courses in the English department are fine.
Q. Do I have to major in a science?
A. No, major in whatever interests you. That is fine with medical schools, as long as you do well in the required premed science courses.
Q. Can I take courses pass/fail?
A. The basic courses required for the Pre-Medical process should not be taken pass/fail. Medical schools want to see that you have challenged yourself academically.
Q. Can I take required Pre-Medical courses in summer school?
A. Yes, as long as it is at an accredited four-year U.S. college or university, and it is a course with lab normally taken by that school's premed students. If you hope to transfer credit to Towson University, consult first with the corresponding Towson University department, but you do not need to transfer credit for it to count for medical school application purposes. You should use the summer school option sparingly, since whether it is true or not, some medical school applicant evaluators believe that less material is covered compared to the full semester course. It is highly discouraged that a Pre-Medical student take any Pre-Medical coursework at a community college. Whether its true or not, the courses at community colleges can sometimes be viewed as "easier" than the same courses taught at a four-year institution.
Q. Can I study abroad?
A. Yes, it's a wonderful experience that shouldn't be missed, if it interests you. Medical schools like to see that students have had broad, interesting college experiences, and studying abroad demonstrates that you can get along in a culture different from your own.
Q. Can I take premed requirements abroad?
A. No, it is not recommended for a student to take any of the required premed courses abroad. Foreign school grading systems do not equate to those in the U.S.
Q. What kind of extracurricular experiences should I seek?
A. Medical schools like to see that bright intelligent students with great test scores are doing so while also pursuing other interests, especially those who have been active contributors on campus, and who have a range of interests. You should choose a few things to do meaningfully and well, rather than dabble in a long list of activities. If you choose to do too much, you may well spread yourself too thin, resulting in your GPA suffering. Community service is an important way to demonstrate your concern and compassion for others.
Q. Do I need to have medically-related experiences?
A. Absolutely! It is critical that you involve yourself meaningfully in a medical setting, to show medical schools that you have observed medical practice first-hand. Students do this through volunteer work in hospitals and clinics, summer jobs, internships, formal premed summer programs, or shadowing physicians at work, either during the school year or during school vacations.
Q. Are there opportunities to volunteer in a hospital during the school year?
A. Many premed students volunteer at St. Joeeph's Hospital or GBMC, being local and so close to Towson University. Other students have had the opportunity to work at Johns Hopkins, as well as the University of Maryland Shock Trauma Center, in the city.
Q. Do I need to do research in the summer to get into medical school?
A. No, unless you think you may be interested in pursuing an MD-PhD. However, if you think you would enjoy it, research is a valuable experience that some medical schools view as a plus.
Q. What is the MCAT?
A. The MCAT is the standardized test required by all medical schools. It is a five hour, computer-based exam, given multiple times a year, between April and October, that has sections on verbal reasoning, biological sciences, physical sciences and a writing sample. You may take the MCAT when you have completed the chemistry, biology and physics premed requirements. The biological section includes biology (all areas) and organic chemistry. The physical science section includes physics and general (inorganic) chemistry.
Q. How do I apply to medical school?
A. For those students interested in allopathic programs, the American Medical Association (AMA) has a centralized application processing service for most of the allopathic schools: the American Medical College Application Service (AMCAS). AMCAS opens the application process for you to begin filling out the application on or about May 1st. During the first week of June, completed applications will begin to be sent to the designated medical schools. AMCAS remains open for application submission and processing until November 1st. For the entering class of 2009, the fee for using AMCAS was $160 for the first designated school, plus $30 for each school designated beyond the first. Expect it to take 2-4 weeks for your application to be processed via AMCAS.
Applying through this application service is what is referred to as "filing your primary application". Transcripts of all coursework completed must be submitted to the application services from your undergraduate/graduate institutions. For some of the medical schools, your Committee letter will also be included as part of the processed paperwork but most schools currently require letters of recommendation to be sent directly to the individual medical schools. Individual schools, upon receipt of the completed primary application from AMCAS, your MCAT scores and Committee letter, may then send you a supplemental or "secondary" application. The individual schools have their own deadlines by which the secondary applications must be filed.
Thus, while you are working on your application via AMCAS, you will need to arrange to take the MCAT and you will need to work with the Pre-Med/Pre-Dent Committee Chair to obtain a mock interview and thus a Committee letter of recommendation. Committee interviews are only granted during the Spring semester finals week so you must plan ahead to obtain your interview prior to the beginning of your application process.
For those students interested in Osteopathic programs, the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine (AACOM), has a different centralized application processing service: the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine Application Service (AACOMAS). If you are interested in applying to certain medical schools in Texas, you will need to use the TMDSAS service (Texas Medical and Dental School Application Service) to do so.
Q. Who will write my letters of recommendation?
A. When you apply to medical school, you will need to have at least three letters of recommendation from science faculty and perhaps 1 or 2 more from others who know your work, such as supervisors and coaches. These letters are submitted to the Pre-Med/Pre-Dent Committee, which uses them to produce a committee composite letter of recommendation on your behalf.
Q. Is there a GPA cut-off for getting a Pre-Med/Pre-Dent Committee letter of recommendation?
A. No, there is no GPA cut-off for getting a Pre-Med/Pre-Dent Committee letter of recommendation but realistically, a student with less than a 3.5 GPA is going to have a difficult time "selling" themselves as a student who is academically strong, without significant supplemental coursework completed with excellence.
Q. What is the timetable for applying to medical school?
A. You should apply to medical school in June of the year BEFORE you intend to matriculate in medical school. In other words, you would apply in June 2009 to begin school in the fall of 2010. You will begin compiling information for the Pre-Med/Pre-Dent Committee in the March before the June that you apply and having your interview conducted prior to submitting your application to AMCAS or AACOMAS. You will need to take the MCAT on or around your application submission time also. Since it takes four weeks for the MCAT scores to be released, you will need to consider this in your timeframe for the process. You should take the MCATs as early as is feasible in your study schedule, by June if possible, no later than August. Those taking it later should recognize that scores released at the end of September and in October will result in your Committee letter being submitted very late and you will run the risk of being at the bottom of the large stack of applications that were completed before yours. No one wants to be interviewing for a wait list position.
Q. What kinds of grades will I need to be accepted?
A. Currently, with about a 3.5 average, both overall and in the sciences, you can apply to medical school with reasonable confidence in being accepted, assuming you have good MCATs and impressive non-academic experiences. The very top schools are generally only interested in applicants with 3.75 averages and above. However, there are many individual factors that come into play in the admissions process, so students should consult with Dr. Harrison about their individual situations. While in the past, osteopathic schools have had slightly lower qualifications, everything is becoming more competitive. A 3.4 GPA may be have sufficient at an osteopathic school but every year this number also rises.
Q. Do medical schools factor in what school the student is currently attending in their decisions about applicants?
A. Yes, many medical schools include a school ranking determined by what kind of school the applicant attended. Towson University is a public institution, part of the State of Maryland system. Since it is not considered on the same level as, for example, JHU, Towson students MUST have higher GPA's to help prove their worth.
Q. What can I do if I'm determined to be a doctor, but my grades aren't good enough?
A. Many applicants take a few years after graduation to strengthen their academic records. They may choose to take additional science courses at a local university, or to enroll in a formal Post-Bac program for students interested in medical school who need to improve their credentials. Some may enroll in a Masters program, to prove their capabilities in a graduate-level program, which helps to compensate for a lower-than-desired GPA. If you find that you are doing poorly in your science courses at Towson University, it may be a wise strategy to put your premed plans on hold, concentrate on subjects you like and do well in, and then do the sciences after Towson University, if you are still interested in going to medical school. Be sure to consult with Dr. Harrison about your individual situation.
Q. Is it okay to take time between Towson University and medical school?
A. Yes, often applicants opt to take at least a year off between college and medical school, to allow them to take a breather between two intense academic experiences, spread out the premed requirements, acquire some work experience, or strengthen their applications. Medical schools often like older applicants because of the maturity and life experience they bring to their applications.