Ask the Dean: Premed Questions Answered

Dr. Scott Wright and Dr. Ryan Gray answer our Mappd Members' Questions

The Two Biggest Mistakes Premeds Make on Their Med School Apps

Welcome to the first episode of Ask the Dean! Today, we're going to introduce Mappd, the team, and we're going to answer as many questions as possible.

Ask the Dean is the first media project from my new company Mappd. It's a technology platform that's going to help premeds understand the process of getting into medical school. 

Part of the pre-order perks is access to Ask the Dean Facebook Live Stream on our private Facebook group, where you can ask questions and we’ll be answering them in real-time!

Listen to this podcast episode with the player above, or keep reading for the highlights and takeaway points.

[00:45] What is Mappd?

Mappd allows you to track your progress with your extracurricular activities, with your MCAT scores, including your practice test scores, your courses, the schools that you're interested in, and get feedback as you go. 

Mapped is a product that should be used from day one of undergrad. And even if you're a sophomore or a junior, it's not too late. Go sign up for Mappd now. It’s currently on its pre-order pricing. 

Over 750 students have already pre-ordered and we're hoping to do our public launch next month.

The Mappd Team

My name is Dr. Ryan Gray. I have a host of other podcasts including The Premed Years, The MCAT Podcast, The MCAT CARS Podcast, Specialty Stories, OldPreMeds Podcast, and more. 

Dr. Scott Wright is also joining us. He’s the former Director of Admissions at UT Southwestern, and now Mappd’s VP of Academic Advising. 

If you're looking for any help with your applications, Dr. Wright is available for some one-on-one help, along with myself and Mappd co-founder Rachel Grubbs, who has years of experience both in the premed world and the test prep world. 

[04:11] Ms. Rachel Grubbs, Co-Founder, Mappd

Princeton Review

Rachel has been in the education services for about 20 years now. She started in test preparation at the Princeton Review, where she found that special connection with premeds and having had some health issues as a child. 

Next Step Test Prep (now Blueprint)

After about a decade at the Princeton Review, she joined Next Step Test Prep. It was relatively newer on the test prep scene but it became very well-known during the big MCAT change in 2015. Next Step Test Prep is now Blueprint MCAT and they've made the courses even better and it's continuously improving. 

With Mappd, they have the chance to help future physicians to figure out how they're going to get there. 

"We can't make walking this path any easier, but we can make sure that they know how to find it and navigate it."

[08:10] Dr. Scott Wright, VP of Academic Advising, Mappd

UT Southwestern Medical School

Scott had been in higher education for a long time. He got recruited into joining the medical school at UT Southwestern in Dallas, which enabled him to have a full appreciation of medical education in terms of selecting classes and selecting students.

In his ten-year time there, Scott has probably run around 40,000 applications across his desk and numerous personal statements, letters of recommendation – just everything that's involved in the process. 

The University of Texas, Dallas

Then he went on as the director of the prehealth office at the University of Texas at Dallas. Scott enjoyed being on the front end of things. He was helping students be the best applicants and helping them craft what they were going to present to the medical schools as they applied. For six years, he ran a very high volume application preparation process at UT Dallas. They would have hundreds of applicants every year that are applying to medical school. 

TMDSAS

Then in 2012, he got recruited again to join as the executive director of TMDSAS. At this point, he was in the middle of two populations, having been on the side of the medical school selection process and on the side of advocating for students at UT Dallas, helping medical students craft an application.

Q&A Session

[13:06] MCAT Retake

Q: How should MCAT retakers approach applying this cycle? My first MCAT score is very low, but I don't want to wait to apply until I get my updated score back scheduled for mid-July test date. 

A: The schools are figuring it out as they go along. There's no right or wrong way to do it. And as an institution, they're trying to figure out what to do to guarantee that they're going to have a good class coming in next year.

Depending on how long this process goes, where they don't have any MCAT scores, there are probably going to be schools out there that are going to be interviewing students that don’t have an MCAT score. And they're going to base it all on the academic record, potentially on past MCAT scores. 

But a lot of students are going to have an MCAT score. And they're going to be looking at everything else that they have in the application and trying to figure out who this student is. Therefore, Scott recommends to not delay submitting your application. Get the application filled out, get your transcripts sent in, or make sure your letters of recommendation are sent in. And then you're just waiting for the MCAT and let the schools do what they do. 

"Do what you do and let the schools do what they do."

You can't control how a school is going to review the applications. The best practice is to get your application in as early as possible. And just go from there and hope for the best.

[16:38] Extracurricular Activities

Q: Due to COVID-19, volunteering, shadowing, and clinical volunteering are pretty much wiped out. What would you recommend for the traditional incoming juniors that will be applying next year?

A: There are some internships where they'll allow you to do them remotely. If you find one of those, absolutely do it. But a lot of what is going to be happening now is just a "wait and see" situation.

There are some employment opportunities like one medical scribe service startup in California. But it's a scribe service that is remote. In other words, they have a device in the room with the doctor. You're able to see the patient remotely and hear what's going on. The doctor is dictating and you're doing all the work to transcribe what's occurring. 

There are some opportunities for a remote kind of experience that will give you a good sense of what this is all about. But those are going to be pretty limited. 

So as an incoming Junior, you just have to wait and see as things progress. Be ready to jump when the jump is good and then go for it. But it's going to be tough. Summer is pretty much gone so you're going to be looking at the Fall, hopefully, things will get ramped up again.

Additionally, there are some other virtual things such as crisis hotlines and text lines, which are very popular right now. 

“There are some opportunities out there that traditionally don't fit the standard of what a medical school may want, but right now, take what you can get.”

[19:33] Taking a Gap Year

Q: I was wondering if taking a gap year is still considered nontraditional or with the higher amount of applicants taking a gap year, has it become the ”new” norm? 

A: It's much more common now than it used to be. It's not unusual these days for students to take gap years for a variety of different reasons. It's not unusual for medical schools to look at it either. Hence, it's a great option for some students, depending on what your plan is and what your experiences have been because you also don’t want it to be seen as a red flag. 

However, just because lots of students are getting a gap year doesn't mean that you should take a gap year to help you get into medical school.

“It's all based on what you're doing, and how it fits the picture that you're trying to present for the schools.”

[23:13] Out-of-State Application in TMDSAS

Q: Is it worth applying to TMDSAS as an out of state applicants? Will good stats help to overcome the low percentages they take from other states?

A: TMDSAS has a state mandate that up to 10% of students can be from out of state. With that said, there's a stiff competition among out-of-state applicants in the TMDSAS. To be competitive, you have to look at your profile and understand what you're doing. Look at it in terms of numbers but also outside of those. 

"There's only one absolute in the medical school application process – if you don't apply, you will not get in."

Moreover, the good thing about Texas is that it's relatively inexpensive to apply in Texas. It's about $185. It's a flat rate. So you can apply to one or you can apply to all 11 of the state-supported schools in Texas with one application fee. And if you're willing to spend $185, why not? 

Many of the schools do look for connections with Texas. However, Scott's intuition is saying that not a majority of the cases would have that connection in Texas and that they were just great applicants.

[29:18] Grade Repair and DIY Postbac

Q: In a do it yourself postbac, should you retake prereqs or address it on your application and continue taking different upper-level science courses? 

A: Wherever you're doing this postbac program, there's going to be a premed advisor there and they can help you with some of that. In the perfect world, that would be the case. But realistically, if you struggled in some of the prereq classes, then you may want to retake those courses for two reasons.

First is to prove through your academic record that you can do this course and you can do it at a strong level. The other is that if you had C's in general chemistry or organic chemistry, what that implies is that you don't have a grasp of the information. And this is going to have repercussions later on on the MCAT. Because the MCAT prep is meant to augment what you already have in terms of the fundamentals and focus you on areas where you need further assistance.

Ultimately, depending on the class, you might want to look at retaking a class with the C as well as opt for upper-level courses. 

"Repeat that class if you feel like your foundation isn't solid."

[32:37] Formal Postacs and SMPs vs DIY Postbac

Q: Why does it seem like all med schools prefer formal postback or SMPs compared to a do it yourself postbac?

A: This is probably because of the structure. If you're doing it yourself, sometimes they're all over the map in terms of courses that are changing. There doesn't seem to have any plan or any cohesion to it. Whereas with a structured postbac program, they have confidence in that everybody's doing the same thing they know. They have a track record to understand what it involves to get a 3.6, for instance. 

It's not to say that doing it on your own is a bad thing. But it just takes more effort on your part, a lot more homework to make it happen and to keep on a plan that makes sense. As opposed to a structured program where everything is also laid before you. 

[34:42] Online Community Support

Q: Being premed can be pretty isolating/competitive. Have you seen any digital ways that help build a community to further support each other grow? 

A: Facebook groups. The Texas Health Education Service has a number of different Facebook groups where students can really encourage each other and help each other in classes or whatever. Also, check out the Premed Hangout Facebook Group. Those are the groups that you want to seek out. They should have a lot of confidence in where this group is coming from and who's in charge of the group so that you know there's good information. 

Collaboration, not competition. So find your people and really connect with them.

“Be very cognizant of what groups you're getting into. Make sure they're moderated well.”

[38:54] Distrust in the Process

Scott explains that medical schools often try their best to be transparent but there are some things that they really can't be transparent about for a variety of different reasons. 

On the other side of things, it's easy for a premed student to characterize medical schools as only looking at the top scores and not really caring about anything else. Some medical schools may probably do that, but not all.

If you're going to always push it off on the extreme, then that's wrong. It would be equally easy for a medical school to do the same thing about premed students and say premed students are always trying to work the system and they don't want to work hard. 

Recognize that there's a vast array of premed students and what motivates them. And there's a vast array of medical schools and what motivates them and what they're all about as well. 

"If you don't like being characterized and stereotyped, then don't do it."

[42:02] Application Mistakes

Q: What is the biggest mistake or the biggest mistakes that premeds make on applications? 

A: The concrete answer is any time you have misspelled words, grammatical errors – that kind of stuff in your application – it's inexcusable. It's not good. So you have to proofread every part of your application. 

If you use your keyboard to input something into the application, you have to proofread it. It doesn't matter if it's a short answer, or a long answer, an essay, or whatever, you've got to proofread it. 

Scott recommends that students print it out prior to submitting the application. That way, they can read it and proofread it out loud. When you do it out loud, you're not only voicing it, but you're reading it and you're also hearing. It's a multi-sensory process that can really make a big difference in noticing some of these really nuanced kinds of mistakes that sometimes crop up. 

"Students should proofread their application materials out loud to themselves, slowly and intently."

Now, the abstract part of the mistakes that students make is failing to focus on the meaning of the experiences. What makes a good applicant to being great is when you can dive deep into the meaningfulness issue and express to them what you got out of this.

[50:43] Mappd is a Tool for Advisors Too!

Again, please check out Mappd. It's not only for premed students, but also for the advisors helping premed students. We want this tool to be a platform that allows better and more efficient communication for students and their advisors at their universities. This tool is not going to replace advisors. It's not to compete against advisors. It's to help advisors. 

And as we continue to build the platform, we will likely have the ability to not only reach out to advisors directly in the platform and have them leave feedback but also to be able to have the advisors upload their own specific information into the platform. 

Links:

Mappd

Premed Hangout Facebook Group

The Premed Years

The MCAT Podcast

The MCAT CARS Podcast

Specialty Stories

OldPreMeds Podcast


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