FAQ from pre-meds

FAQ by Pre-Med Students

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Welcome to Premed Community’s FAQ by pre-meds page! Here we will try and answer all common questions you might have about the pre med process. If you were looking for a good place to start learning about what it means to be a pre-med, then this is the place for you! If you have any more questions about being a pre-med or applying to medical school, then send us a message on our Facebook page!

To download a pdf form of this page click here. 

General pre-med questions:

What is better MD or DO?

Neither is necessarily better than the other. Both a MD and DO can practice in every state, are licensed by the same licensing boards, found in every specialty of medicine, and attend 4 years of medical school and 3-7 years of residency. MD stands for “Medical Doctor” while DO stands for “Osteopathic Doctor.”

Can I still get into medical school even if I have a low GPA?

It depends on how low it is. If it is around a 3.0 then you should possibly consider some other options. However, often you can compensate for a low GPA by making up for it with other parts of your application. Medical schools want to see well-rounded applicants who show promise for making a great doctor. Focusing on your extracurricular activities such as volunteer hours, experience in medical environments, shadowing doctors, and research can really show that you would make a great doctor. So don’t worry! If your GPA is not too competitive you can still get into medical school! Just focus on really making all the other aspects of your application shine! Check this article for 4 ways to still get into medical school with a low GPA.

What is the best major to apply to for medical school?
There is no best major for applying to medical school. You can apply to medical school with any major as long as you do all of the prerequisite classes. Click here to learn about the advantages and disadvantages of doing a science major vs. a non-science major.


Do I need a science major to apply to medical school?

No, you do not need a science major to apply to medical school. You can apply as long as you do the prerequisite classes.

Should I double major to better my chances of getting in medical school?

It will certainly not hurt your application assuming you can maintain a good GPA. However, I would recommend against it. That is more time, work, and money that you have to put in and you are risking more opportunities to hurt your GPA. It might look a bit nicer on the application but it also might not even matter. For what it is worth, I would say just focus on one major and doing it well.

Do I need to finish all of my pre-requisites before applying to medical school?

No. You just need to finish all of the pre-requisites before you actually start medical school.


Can I go to a Caribbean medical school and still get a MD and work in the US?

Absolutely! Make sure you are going to an accredited university like Ross (http://medical.rossu.edu) . These schools have you take the same USMLE as American medical school counterparts and allow you to practice in all 50 states.




What GPA do you need to get accepted into medical school?
Most medical schools require that you have at least a 3.0 GPA as a minimum requirement. To be competitive you will need a 3.5 or higher. According to the AAMC, only 40% of applicants that have a 3.4 to 3.6 GPA get accepted into medical school. Only 55% of applicants who have a 3.6 to 3.8 get accepted to medical school. For those who have a 3.8 or higher, only 72% of applicants get accepted. So to be competitive, you want to have around a 3.5 GPA or higher.

What’s more important, science GPA or the overall GPA?
Medical schools typically focus more on your science GPA rather than your overall GPA. This is because your science GPA is a better indicator of whether you can handle the rigors of medical school or not. Overall GPA is important, too, so you don’t want to be failing your general education classes. Maintaining a high science GPA is more important for getting into medical school.


Can I get into medical school if I failed a class?

Yes, you can still get into medical school if you fail a class, but it will make it harder. Failing a class will lower your GPA and also raise a red flag to the people reviewing your application. It is definitely not good to fail a class and can make the difference between getting accepted and not.


How does medical school view a withdrawal? Can I still get accepted with a “W” on my record?

Yes, you can still get into medical school with a withdrawal on your record. A withdrawal does not affect your GPA, but it does look bad in the eyes of those reviewing your application.

If I retake a class does the old grade get replaced?

No. This is a common pre-med myth. Taking a class again does not replace your first grade. All AAMC medical schools take both grades into account. So if you failed the first time and made an “A” the second time, they will count both the “F” and the “A.” Don’t try and fail a class the first time hoping you can replace it with a higher grade.

What is BCPM GPA?

BCPM stands for “Biology Chemistry Physics Mathematics.” This is how the AAMC refers to science GPA. Any class that is under one of these disciplines will count towards your BCPM grade, such if you took an ecology class, that will affect your BCPM GPA because it is a biology course.


Do grades from study abroad count towards my GPA?

Yes. They are college accredited classes so they count towards your GPA.


Medical application:


What is a primary application?

The primary application, also known as AMCAS, is the one provided by the AAMC (Association of American Medical Colleges) to be used to apply to all allopathic schools. Essentially, this is the application you send to all medical colleges you want to apply to.


What is a secondary application?

After you send a medical school your primary application, they can choose to send you a secondary application. The purpose of a secondary application is to learn more about the applicants and see if they are a good fit for that school. The questions vary quite a bit between medical schools.

When can I apply for medical school?

It is important to know that when you apply to medical school, you are typically applying for the following year. So if you want to start medical school in 2017, then you need to apply during 2016. Medical schools under AAMC open the application early to mid June. Medical schools operate on a rolling basis. This means that it is to your advantage to apply as soon as possible in the application cycle. As time goes on, more and more seats are being filled. If you wait too long you will be competing with hundreds or even thousands of applicants for only a few seats. So it is in your best interest to apply as soon as the application opens.

How many letters of recommendation do I need for medical school?

The minimum requirement is usually 3 letters of recommendation - two from science professors and one from a non-science professor. However, having around 5 letters is ideal.

Who should I ask for letters of recommendation?

Apart from your professors, you want to ask people who know you reasonably well and will have good things to say about you. If you do research you should ask the head researcher to write a letter of recommendation. If you shadowed a doctor or a PA, they would also be a good person to ask. If you volunteer a lot a certain place, getting a letter of recommendation from your volunteer supervisor could be very helpful.


What should I write for my personal statement?

The personal statement is your opportunity to distinguish yourself from other applicants. Make sure your personal statement answers questions like:

Why have you selected the field of medicine? What motivates you to learn medicine?

Also providing explanations for bad grades in your application can be helpful, as long as they are genuine! Talk about hardships and obstacles you have overcome. And most importantly, you want to make your personal statement fun and enjoyable to read. Don’t make it bland and factual, try and make it memorable for those who read it!

What is a letter of intent? And how do I write one?

A letter of intent informs a medical school that they are your top choice and you will actually attend their school if you get accepted. This is important because medical schools actually want their applicants to attend their school. This letter should show that you are a good fit and why you want to attend their school.


What happens when I get waitlisted?

Every medical school has a different waitlist policy. Being waitlisted does not mean rejection. Many students still get accepted into medical school after being waitlisted.


How long do I have to wait to hear back?

It all depends on the school. Some important dates to remember are:

October 15 - The first day that acceptances can be sent out

March 30 - The date that MD schools are recommended to accept the number of students in the upcoming year’s class

May 15 - When applicants must choose one school out of multiple acceptances

How many schools should I apply?

You should try and apply to as many as 20-30 schools to increase your chance of getting accepted. The more competitive you are as an applicant the less schools you need to apply.

Does my ethnicity matter for medical school?

Ethnicity does not matter when it comes to getting accepted into medical school. Medical schools want diversity in their student population.


Can I apply to medical school from high school?

There are some BS/MD programs, which allow you to matriculate straight into medical school from undergrad. These typically require you to maintain a certain GPA during undergrad.


Can I apply to medical school from a community college?

It does not look good taking science classes from a community college to the admission committee. You should consider transferring to a more traditional four-year university.

What is early decision?

Early decision program is something many medical schools participate in. In an early decision program you must apply earlier than normal, but you also hear about the decision much sooner (By October 1st). An applicant can apply to one medical school for the early decision program.

Why should a student apply through an early decision program?

It can only help you to use an early decision program. If you get accepted early then you don’t have to worry about getting into medical school. If not, you can just apply normally.

What are medical schools looking for in an applicant?

Ultimately medical schools want a well-rounded applicant who can handle the rigors of being a doctor. While having a good GPA and MCAT score are definitely important in getting into medical school, there are many other things medical schools are looking for in an applicant. They want to see that you have a desire to help your community, that you understand what the medical environment is like, that you are a leader, etc. They want to know you have the qualities to make a good doctor. That is why it is important to do lots of extracurricular activities such as volunteering, shadowing, research, etc. Many times students who have a good GPA and MCAT score don’t get in because they don’t have any of those experiences. Make sure your application is spectacular in all aspects! Not just in GPA or MCAT, but also in extracurricular activities.


What age should I apply to medical school?

There is no rule on how old you have to be to apply to medical school. People as young as 20 and people as old as 50 apply to medical school all the time. You should apply when you feel your application is competitive enough.


What are post-bac programs?

A post-bac program is any program or classes that you take after graduating from undergrad for the purpose of getting into medical school. Post-bac programs are meant to help you boost your GPA or improve your application before applying to medical school. If you find yourself in a situation where your GPA isn’t where it should be or you need some more classes to make your application more competitive, then you should consider a post-bac program.

There are four types of post-bac programs according to the Association of American Medical Colleges:

  1. Career-changers: These are for individuals who did not initially want to become a doctor in undergrad. To apply to these programs, often you cannot have taken a lot of the required science courses for medical school.
  2. Academic Record Enhancers: These programs are meant to help you strengthen and improve your medical school resume. These types of post-bac programs aim to improve your GPA or help you gain clinical experience.
  3. Groups Under Represented in Medicine: These programs are meant to help under represented groups gain admission into medical school.
  4. Educationally or Economically Disadvantaged Students: These types of programs exist to help disadvantaged students get into medical school.
    Click here for help finding the right post-bac program for you.


Where do I find post bac programs?
Click here for help finding a post-bac program.


How important is the interview for getting into medical school?

The interview is incredibly important! You can think about the interview as the last obstacle you must cross before getting into medical school. The interview is the last step before getting accepted. Only a small number percentage of applicants get offered an interview. Your primary and secondary applications are all for the purpose of ultimately getting an interview with a school. You will get accepted to the medical school depending on how well your interview goes.

How do I prepare for an interview?

There are several methods for preparing for an interview.

1. Do Mock interviews:
These are very helpful for helping you get used to the actual pressure of being interviewed. Ask your friends, family, teachers, etc. And make sure to ask for feedback on ways to improve.

  1. Type out your answer to as many potential interview questions as you can:
    You want to make sure you know how to answer all potential questions. So creating a list ahead of time and memorizing it will help you when the time comes.
  2. Stay up to date about what is going on in the world of medicine:

Make sure you know what the current issues facing doctors are. This will help you appear more informed and will impress the interviewer. It also might save you on a question regarding current issues.


What should I wear to an interview?

You should wear business attire.


What are the different interview formats?

There are three main types of interviews you will face:

  1. Traditional interview:
    This is a one-on-one interview. It is normally with either a medical student or a faculty member. These interviews can last anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour.
  2. Group or panel interview:
    In this type of interview, it can be either just yourself being interviewed by 2-4 interviewers. Or you can find yourself in an interview where you are being interviewed with 2-3 other applicants. If it is the panel interview, the interviewers will take turns asking you questions. If it is a group interview, they will ask each of you a question. Or they also may make you work together on a problem.3. Multiple Mini Interview (MMI):
    In this type of interview, applicants rotate through different stations. At each station the applicant can be given a different scenario or question. This style of interview is considered more fair and objective and is being used more and more.


What should I do after an interview?

It is usually good practice to ask your interviewer for their business card and contact information. This way you can update them on anything noteworthy you do after the interview. You can also send them a thank you card, thanking them for their time and wishing them well on their endeavors. You should not annoy them with constant emails or contact.



Do I need to take the MCAT to get into medical school?

Almost every medical school requires that you take the MCAT. The MCAT stands for “Medical College Admission Test.” This is a standardized test that is required by most medical schools. There are some schools that don’t require it but it is rare.


How long will it take to complete the MCAT on test day?

You should expect to spend about 7 hours taking the test.

How much does the MCAT cost?

Registration for the 2015 MCAT costs $300.

How many times should I take the MCAT?

There is no rule against how many times you can take the MCAT. However, medical schools frown upon students who have taken it too many times. You can take it again if you think you need to. But you should try and only take it once and make it count. So make sure you are well prepared!


Should I retake the MCAT?

This depends on the situation. You have to consider if it is worth it. If you have a low MCAT score then it might help to take it again and get a better score. If you fell just slightly short of your goal, then it might not be worth taking the whole test again just for one more point. Medical schools are not always fond of multiple MCAT scores. Also remember that you will have to pay for another registration fee again and spend another 7 hours taking the test.

Which MCAT score is considered when I retake it?

This depends on the school. Some schools take the average of your MCAT scores, some take the composite, and some take the most recent MCAT score. If you are going to retake the MCAT score try and make sure you do notably better and not just one point higher. This will help justify you retaking the exam.

When does my MCAT score expire?

Your MCAT score does not expire. However most medical schools only accept MCAT scores that are 3-4 years old.

Can I register for two tests at the same time?

No. You have to wait until your exam is finished before registering for another exam.

What is the best way to prepare for the MCAT?

There are many methods to study for the MCAT. The most common one is to self-study with the aid of test prep books. Typically most students will spend anywhere from 6 weeks to 3 months preparing. The more expensive method for preparing for the MCAT is to take a prep course, which is like a class where instructors personally help prepare you for the exam. This is a good method if you have the money and lack the motivation to self-study. These courses can cost anywhere from around $1500-2000.

What is the best MCAT prep book?

There is no “best” MCAT prep course. Each book has its own strength’s and weaknesses. The style and format of each book is different, some focus more on exactly what’s only on the test and others go more in depth. You should go to the bookstore and browse through the different MCAT books to see which one you feel is the best for you.


When should I take the MCAT?

Most pre-meds take the MCAT after finishing all the pre-requisite classes. This is because the MCAT mostly covers information learned in those classes. It is advised to take the MCAT after finishing taking your pre-requisite classes so you won’t have to try and learn all the information for the first time when preparing. Most pre-meds take the MCAT as a sophomore or junior. If you want to apply to medical school during your senior year you should take the MCAT during the fall or early spring of your junior year. This is because the application cycle opens up in June and you want to have everything ready by the beginning of the cycle. Medical schools accept students on a rolling basis so it is in your best interest to already have the MCAT done by June of the year you want to apply.


What is a good MCAT score?

A competitive score for MCAT 2015 is around a 515, which averages around an 11 on each subsection. A 500 is comparable to a 25 on the old MCAT, and a 510 is comparable to a 30 on the old MCAT.


Do MCAT sub-scores matter?

Not usually. Medical schools mostly care only about your overall score. However, sub-scores do start to matter if there is a big discrepancy between your sub-scores. If you made a 12, 12, and a 6, then they may ask what happened and it might not look good. If your sub-scores are relatively the same then it shouldn’t matter.


How many sections are on the MCAT?

There are four sections on the MCAT 2015.

1. Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems

  1. Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems
  2. Psychological, Social and Biological Foundations of Behavior
  3. Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills

Extracurricular activities:

Do I need to volunteer to get into medical school?

While technically you don’t need volunteering to get into medical school you should have at least 50 hours logged. Volunteering is very important to medical schools as it shows your willingness to help your community. Often applicants who have a good GPA and/or MCAT score don’t get accepted because they didn’t have enough volunteering hours. Find a program that you want to volunteer with and stick with it. Volunteering in a clinical setting is most ideal as it also lends to your clinical experience.

How much volunteering do I need to do?

There is no set amount of volunteering required. You want to show commitment with your volunteering, so try and stick with something for a few months at least. Aim to have around 100 or more hours and you should be fine.

Where can I find volunteer opportunities?

Click here for help finding volunteer opportunities.


Do I need to do research to get into medical school?

No. Research is not necessary for getting into medical school. It does look good on your application and can provide you a good opportunity to get a letter of recommendation.

Where can I find research opportunities?

Click here for help finding research opportunities.


Do I need to shadow a doctor to get into medical school?

No. You don’t have to shadow a doctor to get into medical school. However doing so can greatly help your application. Shadowing a doctor provides a great opportunity to learn what you are getting yourself into. Medical schools want to know that you are aware of the realities of being a working physician. Getting a recommendation letter from a doctor is very strong too. Shadowing about 40 hours is recommended for most pre meds.


How do I find a doctor to shadow?

Check out our article: A pre-med guide to finding a doctor to shadow 

Do I need medical experience before applying to medical school?

No. Having medical experience is a definite plus to your application though. This shows that you already understand what the environment is like and that you are able and willing to handle it. Working as a scribe, tech, or even at the front desk of a hospital are all ways to get experience in the field.

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