Medical and osteophathic medical school will be discussed together because the requirements at the undergraduate level are the same. The major difference is which centralized admission service (see below) an applicant uses.
Doctors of Osteopathic medicine are fully licensed physicians that must pass the same national licensing exam as allopathic (M.D.) graduates. The philosophy of osteopathic doctors is to view the human body holistically. The majority of graduates of osteopathic medical schools enter primary care.
LC provides prerequisite courses, but does not offer a program in medicine.
If you are pursuing a dream of medical school you must begin your preparation in your freshman year. It is imperative that you take all of the required and recommended classes and that you obtain very good grades. Grades of C will not be acceptable.
According to the American Association of Medical Colleges, the average overall GPA for accepted medical students last year was 3.49 while the science GPA of 3.44. The average MCAT score for the accepted students was 9.5 (verbal), 9.5 (physical), 9.7 (biological) for a combined value of 28.7.
What Courses to Take and When to Take Them
Some things to Consider When Choosing a Medical School
The HPAC Interview
AMCAS and ACOMAS Application Services
All medical schools require one year of biology, one year of physics, and two years of chemistry, all with lab. These courses must be completed by the end of the junior year because the content of these courses is included on the MCAT. AP credit is acceptable as long as advanced courses are completed in the same discipline. It is advisable to take at least the majority of your science courses at LC.
Suggested Schedule for Meeting the Science Requirements by the End of the Junior Year:
|Year||Course(s), option 1||Course(s), option 2|
|First||CHEM 111, 112||BIOL 113, 114|
|Second||CHEM 221, 222
BIOL 113, 114
|Third||PHYS 141-142||CHEM 221-222|
Additional Comments about Courses
Study. You need As and Bs to be competitive. Keep your books and notes to help you prepare for the MCAT.
Many medical schools require or strongly recommend biochemistry (CHEM 320). This course is offered in alternate years, so consider that when you plan your schedule. It is also a good idea to take cell biology (BIOL 360). Medical schools want to see that you have taken a challenging curriculum. Many medical schools want to see upper level humanities courses, especially those that stress oral and written communication.
In order to be a competitive applicant, you must obtain experience working in a clinical or medical setting. This could be volunteer, paid, or internship experience. It can be as an EMT or member of a local rescue squad. It can be in a regular hospital, psychiatric hospital, nursing home, emergency room, doctor’s office, or medical laboratory. It could also be substantial involvement in homeless shelters, rape crisis centers, county health departments, hospices, etc. You must demonstrate commitment to the field. Various forms of community service are also important. It is far better to become very involved in one or two organizations than to have dozens of experiences with only superficial involvement.
Your first thought might be, “I’ll go wherever I can get in!” However, keep in mind that medical school takes four years of extremely hard work. If you are miserable with the location of the school, those four years could seem much longer.
Many of the questions below are answered in the book Medical School Admission Requirements, published by the AAMC (American Association of Medical Colleges). The book is available in the library. The book contains a brief description of each medical school, its curriculum, entrance requirements, and statistics about its most recent entering class.
Plan to apply to the medical school(s) in your state of residence. If you know you will not be happy there, you will need to establish residency somewhere else. This usually takes one year.
- Medical College of Virginia http://www.medschool.vcu.edu/
- University of Virginia http://www.medicine.virginia.edu
- Eastern Virginia Medical College http://www.evms.edu/
- Edward Via Virginia College of Osteopathic Medicine (Virginia Tech) www.vcom.vt.edu/
Some Questions to Ask Yourself
- Do you want to be in an urban setting or a small town? What sort of neighborhood is the school in?
- What type of medicine does the school emphasize?
- What level of academic assistance do you need? Do you prefer small group study or working on your own?
- What type of curriculum does the school offer?
- How would you fit in with the type of student at the school? (Are students overworked and happy or overworked and miserable?)
- How much does it cost to go to the school? Are you comfortable with incurring that amount of debt?
- What are your chances of getting in? How do your GPA and MCAT scores compare with students accepted to the school?
MCAT prep courses
MCAT prep courses can play an important role in whether or not you get a good score on the MCAT. Unfortunately, they cost around $2000 and you will have to drive to Roanoke or Charlottesville for class. Study books cost about $100, including practice exams. Get the ones from the AAMC (they’re the ones giving the test). For LC students, the MCAT is the most important hurdle you will face. You must treat this exam as if your medical career depends on it–because it does. Kaplan and Princeton Review offer MCAT Preparation Courses. Links: http://www.kaptest.com/mcat; http://www.PrincetonReview.com
The MCAT costs $270. Fee reduction is available. http://www.aamc.org/
Applying to one medical school through AMCAS costs $160, with $35 for each school thereafter. Fee waivers are available. Some schools do not participate in AMCAS and fees must be sent to them individually. http://www.aamc.org/
Applying to osteopathic medical schools through AACOMAS is also costly. Fee assistance is available. http://www.aacom.org/
Secondaries cost $25-$100 each.
If you must travel for medical school interviews, you have to pay for it.
The MCAT is a knowledge based test covering introductory and intermediate level material in the sciences and general tests of reasoning ability and writing skills. It has four sections: verbal reasoning, physical sciences, writing samples, and biological sciences. Except for the writing sample, the test is multiple choice. It is required of applicants to both standard and osteopathic medical schools. The MCAT sections are scored individually on a scale from 1-15. A score of 8 is the average. The writing sample is scored with a letter from J to T.
Preparing for the MCAT
Prior to the test:
- Take good notes in the required science courses. Save your exams and get corrections so you can study from them later.
- Spend some serious, dedicated, scheduled study time in the spring semester of the exam. If possible, take a lighter course load to allow for study time. It’s easy to let coursework sneak up on you and all of a sudden it’s April 1 and you haven’t studied. Do not let this happen to you!!
- To help you prepare, buy an MCAT prep book that contains an actual practice test or two. The books from AAMC contain actual MCATs used in previous years and include scoring information. Be sure to practice with the clock running. Score your test and spend some extra time studying in the areas in which you scored lowest. Most LC students have the most trouble with the physical science section.
The day before the test:
- Rent a hotel room for the night before. That way, you won’t have to get up at 4 a.m. and be worried about your car breaking down.
- Don’t cram. It won’t help and will only make you nervous.
- Go to bed early.
- Plan something fun for after the test.
- Organize the things you need to bring with you: several #2 pencils, an eraser, a black pen or two, a watch, your admission ticket, and a photo ID. For the breaks, bring snacks or change for the machines.
- Find out where the room is, where the rest rooms are, etc.
Scores and Retaking the Test
Your scores will be sent about mid-summer, just as you are completing your AMCAS or AACOMAS forms. If your scores are not what you expected, you will still be able to retake the MCAT at a later date. Only retake the test if you can improve your scores in your weak areas and at least maintain your scores in your strong areas. If your scores are below average (8), you should consider retaking the test. Be sure to study.
Most medical schools ask for a committee letter of evaluation. This letter will be prepared by the HPAC. There are several steps involved in this process, which occurs in the spring semester of your junior year.
- Get three to four letters of evaluation. Pick up the forms from Dr. Jablonski. Ideally, you should have two letters from science faculty, one from a humanities faculty, and one from a physician or volunteer supervisor with whom you have worked. Make sure the people can speak directly about the things medical schools care about: your ability to work with people, your academic performance, your work ethic, your commitment to the field, your oral and written communication skills, etc. Have the letters sent to Dr. Jablonski.
- Set up an appointment to meet with the committee. This should be some time after all the letters are in.
- During the interview, expect questions about your interest in medicine, your choice of medical schools, your clinical experience, and other things that are not obvious from your transcript. The interview will take 30-60 minutes.
- After the interview, please allow the committee sufficient time to prepare your evaluation package. When you receive secondary applications from medical schools, the package will be mailed. It will contain all the letters that were submitted to the committee and a cover letter from the committee.
AMCAS, the American Medical College Application Service, is the route by which you apply to all but a very few medical schools. AACOMAS (American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine Application Service) is the centralized application service for all osteopathic medical schools. These centralized application processing services allow you to complete one application which can be used to apply to all of the medical schools you are targeting. The application provides you with the opportunity to list college honors, extracurricular activities, academic and personal data, and community and health-related activities. An essay is required. The earlier you send your information to the application service, the earlier it will arrive at the medical schools. This is a benefit for those schools with rolling admissions. Application deadlines for most schools range from October to December. If you make a mistake, your application will be returned; they will not correct it. You also need to send them an official transcript. The time lag can be a problem if you are doing everything at the last minute.
As part of the application process, you will be asked to write a personal statement. This is your chance to make the admissions committee notice your application.
- Start early. You need time for writing, rewriting, and rewriting again.
- This is your chance to stand out from 8000 other essays. Write about something memorable, unique, and important to you. If your statements could be in anyone’s essay for any profession, you are not being specific enough.
- Avoid pat statements and overgeneralizations such as “I want to be a doctor so I can help people.”
- While you want to stand out, avoid crossing the line into weird.
- Your statement cannot contain even a single typo!
- Be honest and be yourself. If you are interviewed, you will be questioned about your essay.
- Save drafts, lists of topics, and other information generated in your search for the perfect essay. Many secondary applications ask for another essay.
Secondary applications come in after your AMCAS or AACOMAS application has been received by the medical schools. Sometimes they ask for additional information, sometimes they want you to fill out their forms, and sometimes they just want a “processing fee.” The information requested varies, but often they want a list of courses in which you are currently enrolled, sometimes they want the AMCAS information copied on to their forms, and often you will need to write an additional essay, sometimes on a specified topic.
At this point, you need to get the HPAC to send your packet. As soon as you have completed your secondary applications, notify Dr. Jablonski and the HPAC packet will be sent. Be sure to give the HPAC the complete address for each school.
If the medical school likes what it sees in your AMCAS or AACOMAS and secondary application, you will be invited for an interview. The interview process is very selective, so you can assume if you’ve made it this far, the school is genuinely interested in you. Make the most of this opportunity: it can be the deciding factor for your admission. About three applicants are interviewed for each place in medical school.
The approach to the interview is different for each school. Some do a one-on-one interview, some use a committee. Some interviewers have your application in front of them; some will not have seen it. Expect some difficult, thought-provoking questions to which there is no “right” answer. They are testing your communication skills, composure, and ability to think on your feet. You should be aware that there are certain questions that are illegal that you may politely decline to answer–they may not ask you about your family, your marital status, your children, your religion, or your sexual orientation unless you have brought these things up somewhere in your application materials.
- Do a web search to find what questions are typically asked. (Use Google with the search term “medical school interview questions.”)
- Consult career services for interview tips.
- Write down your questions. Review what you know about the school from the web site and any other information you have.
- Now is not the time to make a statement with your clothing, hairstyle, or jewelry. While a business suit and heels are not required, you should dress neatly and conservatively. Remember that you will probably be walking quite a bit.
- Travel the day before and stay in a hotel. The person that calls to schedule the interview will probably be helpful in suggesting a place to stay.
- Review your personal statement and essays. Expect questions on these.
- Relax, be yourself, and be honest; don’t say what you think they want to hear.
A Final Requirement
Make sure you can be reached during the summer after you graduate. If you have been placed on the waiting list, a school might contact you as late as mid-August. Check in with the school periodically by phone or letter. A cancellation the day before classes start could mean that you get in!
There are several reasons why people don’t get into medical school. You need to look honestly and critically at your application and find out what is missing before you start the whole process over again.
Many times your MCAT scores are not high enough to be competitive at the schools you’ve applied to. The solution is to study harder–as if your medical career depends on it, which it does. Take the test again until your scores are competitive (at least 9-10, preferably 11-12 on the second round).
Average MCAT scores for students admitted to standard medical school were 7-12.
Average MCAT scores for students admitted to osteopathic medical school were 7-10.
Your GPA must be at least 3.2, preferably 3.5 or above. The only way to improve your GPA after graduation is to take more courses, especially science courses. If your grades are the problem, enroll in a masters program that is of interest to you and plan to apply with better grades in two years. Make sure you are interested in the program. If you don’t get in, you are preparing for a career.
The GPA for students admitted to allopathic medical schools is 3.4-3.8, with most schools averaging 3.5 or more. The average GPA for students admitted to osteopathic medical school was 3.2-3.5. Your science GPA should be comparable to your overall GPA.
Did you fall apart during the interview? Before you reapply, consult career services for help with interviewing skills, especially communication skills. Admission committees know you are nervous, but expect you to be able to hide it to some degree.
If you didn’t have time to obtain clinical experience, now is the time. You can train to become an EMT or Certified Nurse Assistant fairly quickly. While these may not be your long range career plans, you will gain medical experience and develop interpersonal skills relevant to physicians. You might be able to use some of your experiences to write a better essay. Even if you cannot do this for financial reasons, you must get some experience. Volunteer if necessary.
It’s possible that there was nothing wrong with your application and you simply lost out to a better applicant pool. Before you reapply, be sure you add something to your application, especially more clinical experience. Continue to take courses, even if you don’t formally enroll in a degree program. Do not enroll in a masters or Ph. D. program you have no intention of completing. Do some volunteer work. Show commitment to the field.
This is by no means a comprehensive list. If you find a good publication, please bring it to the attention of the committee. Here are some resources that might be helpful:
Peterson’s Guide to Medical Schools
Medical School Admission Requirements (published by AAMC; highly recommended)
Baron’s Guide to Medical and Dental Schools