Current Application Cycle Planning Guide
Now Planning for 2013 Cycle
The following gives you a list of steps to take in preparation for application to health professional programs. This list is intended as a "to do" list. Plan early, plan often.
AMCAS(MD Programs): 5300 characters including spaces. You want to dominate your personal statement. Start working on it early!
The following is assuming a traditional application year with both taking the MCAT and applying to medical school in the summer.
By January of application year you should have a pretty good idea of whom you would like to write your letters. You want some variety here. You will do just fine with approaching two science professors, one non-science professor, a research professor if you did any, an MD you worked with or shadowed with, and a prior military commander. I had 5 letters: 2 science professors from the U of AZ, 1 non-science professor from my business undergrad, 1 letter from my former RQS commander, and 1 letter from our flight doc who was assigned to my RQS for the 4 years I was there.
Approach your letter writers in the late fall/early spring for the cycle you need your letters by. For example, I applied to medical school in the 2011 cycle. This cycle opens in May 2010. All of my letters were uploaded by June. For my professors, I initiated my request with an email followed by a personal visit to their office. I also had a draft of my personal statement, my academic resume, and a personal letter letting them know what I was currently working on in school/work/life, my time lines, goals, and my appreciation for them taking their time to help me.
I made a point to really get to know my professors prior to asking them. I participated in class and made office hour visits when I had them as my professor and I even TA’d for one. I felt that they had a good idea of “who I was” when I asked them. I still keep in contact with them even though I moved out-of-state. For my previous commander and flight doc, I called them and asked them over the phone. I then sent the same documents to them via the US mail; just as a courtesy.
When applying, make note that each school is different, check the school’s website and check the MSAR book. Schools are flexible. Email them!!! Some will say they require 3 letters and have “no limit” while others will accept only three and have specific requirements, i.e. 2 science professors and 1 non science. Some expect to see the letters with the primary application; others don’t read the letters until the secondary application. Some schools only want 1 or 2 letters so you have to decide which letters from whom will go where. AMCAS makes this very easy for you to select what letters you want sent to what school.
Also, you don’t have to have all your letters submitted before you electronically “submit” your application. You want to submit your application as soon as possible. AMCAS will take two weeks to review it and you can make sure your letter writers upload their letters within that time. DON’T DELAY SUBMITTING YOUR APPLICATION BECAUSE YOU ARE WAITING ON A LETTER!
1) There are MCAT study plans found all over the Internet, especially studentdoctor.net. Some of the plans call for the Berkley Review Books. I plan on taking a Kaplan review course and intend on using my Kaplan books instead. Your thoughts?
First, it is great that you are planning your MCAT schedule so far ahead of time. This will allow you to adjust fire well in advance from your official first day of studying. Here are some tips in regards to your questions.
Schedule: I downloaded a few of the suggested calendars from that same website. Based on our email traffic, it looks like you will be devoting a little more than two months of full-time MCAT studying. This is plenty of time. I started studying in mid-May and took my exam August 4th. It wasn’t until about 3 weeks into my routine that I felt I really had a groove going. I wonder how much better my score would have been had I acquired better study methods earlier. I suggest you use those schedules as reference but don’t let them dictate your daily learning. Use them as a guide only.
I found that having unscheduled days mixed in REALLY helped. They allowed me to do nothing but review past problem sets, go over notecards again and again, and go back to a chapter or two that I didn’t perform well on the Q & A’s that followed. It is one thing to learn the material and press on; it is another to be able to recall that material two weeks later with at least 75% proficiency.
Books: You will be fine substituting the Kaplan books for the Berkley books. I used Kaplan but have seen both and they are similar. My recommendation is to purchase the complete Exam Krackers book set (includes one book for each subject and an additional book on strategy and mental math), EK’s 101 Verbal Passages, and EK’s 1001 questions for each topic. Do problems, problems and more problems. If you incorrectly answer several questions on spring tension, pendulums, frequency, and time, make notecards of the formulas and concepts and then tab that page. Go back and do those problems as your warm up the next day and then do the online Kaplan test bank for those problems.
2) What resources did you use (books, study guides, group study, Kaplan online vs. in person)?
Keep in mind; all this is my opinion here. I found that the online Kaplan course was good for one thing and one thing only: online question banks. Everything from full-length practice exams, subject matter exams, small quizzes, stand-alone verbal reasoning exams, etc. can be found on their database. I wasted my time with the “online tutorials” for about a week and that got old really quick. It was a PowerPoint with audio that went along with the main learning objective text they issue you. Use that book as a paperweight and don’t waste your time on the “online lessons.”
I never attended the in-person Kaplan review course, nor did I have the cash flow for that. I’ve heard mixed reviews with the two following being the most common:
“Waste of time,” and “This is a good program if you are a procrastinator and need someone to keep you on schedule.”
See my answer to number 1 for my thoughts on the EK books. These are phenomenal! In fact, as was recommended to me and I’m recommending to you: review the EK subject matter books along with your undergraduate courses to see what the MCAT is testing. For example, for Chemistry 2, those equilibrium and I.C.E. charts take plenty of time and calculations that would be near impossible without a calculator (logs, natural logs, etc.) are abundant. There is no calculator use allowed on the MCAT so it is a good idea to learn the “mental math short cuts.” EK books will teach you this.
I studied alone. However, if I knew someone who was taking the exam around the same time as me, I would have preferred chalk talking some concepts every other night. Also, see my blog post in-regards to Coursesaver.com. I used this site as a supplement to my studies.
3) What Verbal Reasoning strategies worked best for you?
Ahhh, good old Verbal. This section is a beast and is NOT to be taken lightly in any way. The only way to get better at verbal is to keep doing verbal. You need to do all the passages in the 101 EK book, all stand-alone verbal exams through Kaplan online, and every verbal on the full-length practice exams.
Each company has their own method of success. I can’t remember the intricacies of Kaplan but taking notes and jotting down main points…you won’t have time for that. The pace is fast and furious and the questions will leave you guessing between the last two best sounding answers more often than not.
Not including the days that I took full-length exams, I did a stand-alone verbal test every other day. I started my morning off with them. The verbal exams should take about an hour. Then take ten minutes to relax and then review the entire exam. This review will take longer than an hour. I made notes of what types of questions I was getting wrong and why I thought I was missing information. Read the questions and all the wrong answers and WHY they are wrong. You will be able to learn what mistakes you are making and make an effort to correct this.
You’ll know what I mean when you start taking the verbal. By exam day, I read each passage with my feet flat on the ground, my left hand touching the side of the monitor screen (as if that was feeding some neurological connection between the passage and my understanding), and highlighting some key phrases using my mouse with my right hand. I sat with my back straight and had my face about 18 inches from the screen. This kept me as in-tune with the passage as possible. Anyone who hasn’t taken the verbal section and is reading this is probably thinking, “whatever dude,” anyone who has taken the verbal exam is laughing with agreement. This is not reading comprehension. The passages are challenging and the questions are vague, sometimes have double negatives, and are designed to make you second-guess yourself.
1. Is it somewhat easier to go back to school as a post-bac while doing reserve PJ/CRO to wrap up science pre-reqs for med school? I am currently taking my medical school pre-reqs with MIS classes and it is challenging. I am thinking that the reserve income would help offset the limited financial aid when one is post-bac.
I did my pre-reqs for medical school having already earned my business degree. Growing up, I was never that interested in science and basically did what I had to just to get good grades. I think I would have had a much more challenging time had I worked towards a separate bachelors (such as MIS) while taking my pre-reqs. So, yes, I believe it is someone easier to go back to school and just take the pre-reqs after.
However, this all depends on your situation. If you are out of the military, going to class full-time, and have limited time on your GI Bill, my advice is to suck it up and take as many classes as you can academically handle. This will allow you to save as much of your GI Bill for medical school as you can. I earned my BS while I was on active duty so just taking the pre-reqs and other medical science courses full-time just made sense. I was able to get through all the mandatory pre-reqs and an extra semester of 400 level biology courses and still have 1.5 years of my GI Bill remaining for medical school.
My reservist income definitely made a difference while I was attending school full-time. As a PJ, I earned an additional $350 kicker a month on top of my monthly GI Bill stipend (BAH, E-5 w/dependent rate). The pay ranges from $150 to $300 a day depending on your working status, pay grade, and qualifications you are current on. I am also enjoying a nice bonus with annual installments as long as I can stay current on my PJ qualifications and work the required number of days to have a good reservist year, “one weekend a month and two weeks over the summer” (give or take). Working enough days was manageable while working on my pre-reqs but is very challenging now that I’m in medical school. You have to really manage your time, family, studies, sleep, PJ duties, etc.
2. As far a medical school goes, how does GPA and MCAT score get factored into the equation?
You will want to pick up the Medical School Admissions Requirements (MSAR) book. You can check it out at the library but I went to Amazon.com and bought last years book to save money. This book will tell you the cost breakdown for in-state vs. out-of-state tuition, required courses vs. recommended courses, applicants vs. acceptee average GPA’s, science GPA’s, MCAT score, etc. There is also information on what the mission of the school is, i.e. research vs. community-based medicine, the history of the school, and what they are looking for in their candidates. I would say having both your non-science and your science GPA at or above 3.65 and an above average MCAT score would set you up for success. Keep in mind; I have known people with an MCAT of 30 who did not get in the first time and people with an MCAT of 24 who did. This just highlights the “whole-person” concept that is being utilized by admission boards across the country.
3. Do you believe your experience as a PJ gave you an advantage over other applicants?
Yes, I was able to expand on my PJ experiences in my personal statement, my work-related experience narratives on the application, my secondary essays, and in my interviews. I, however, don’t think that it gave me an overwhelming advantage as I also had many shortfalls when compared to other applicants. I did not have a master’s in a science-related field nor did I have any research experience. This is hurting me now, as I need to start working on research during medical school to catch up to my peers.
4. Did you feel that any of the medical schools you applied to had any bias against you because you were a non-traditional student?
Not at all! Medical schools are looking for diverse student populations. This doesn’t always just mean, race, sex, religion, etc. As a veteran, white male in my 30’s, I was actually awarded a small scholarship for adding to the diversity of the student population. In fact, I would venture to say that being a non-traditional student is actually advantageous.
5. What is the first year like so far? Is it all class lecture or do you get hands on experience in the hospital yet? What are the typical hours you spend at school or doing school related work?
This first year has been extremely challenging so far. The school that I am attending has a more “traditional” program and that translates to the first year being all didactics. Don’t quote me here but I think my course load was 23 credit hours in the fall and it will be 21 in the spring. We start our hands-on experiences during M2, which seems to be evenly divided amongst classroom time, simulated patient interaction time (with paid actors as patients), and time on the hospital floor. M3 and M4 are all clinical years.
The amount of time spent at school and/or working on school related work varies with each week but I would say that on average, I spend about 10-14 hours a day Monday through Friday either in class, in lab, in the library, or at home studying. As case studies, cadaver lab practicals, lab exams, and lecture exams come close, this can be upwards to 18 hours. (Yes, 6 hours of sleep and nothing but studying all day). Don’t let this scare you. Not everyone has the same habits or methods. Some students can get by with less (sleep and/or studying) some with more. My typical weekend involves about 8 hours of studying on Saturday and 6 hours on Sunday.
This is beyond any full-time job you have ever had; I promise that. You will have to plan ahead to balance family life, wife, kids, working out, volunteer work, research, etc.
The NHSC awards scholarships each year to students pursuing careers in primary care. The scholarship includes:
In return, students commit to serve in the Corps for two to four years in an under served community located in a Health Professional Shortage Area (HPSA) upon their graduation and licensure.
What is the Service Commitment?
National Health Service Corps Scholars are committed to serve one year for each year of support (minimum of two years service) at an approved site in a high-need Health Professional Shortage Area (HPSA) soon after they graduate, serve a primary care residency (family medicine, general pediatrics, general internal medicine, obstetrics/gynecology or psychiatry for physicians and general or pediatric for dentists) and are licensed.
Scholars compete for employment at the approved service sites of their choice from a listing of job vacancies in their discipline and specialty. The NHSC helps Scholars select a compatible service site and pays for travel to and from interviews.