Ask the Dean: Premed Questions Answered

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

MCAT Timing, Applying as an International Student, & More!

In today’s episode, we tackle a variety of questions including international coursework, committee letters vs. individual letters, MCAT prep timeline, geographical challenges, taking a non-medical related job, and much more!

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. Also, check out

Joining me are Mappd co-founder Rachel Grubbs and Dr. Scott Wright, our VP of Academic Advising. He's the former director of admissions at UT Southwestern and the former executive director of TMDSAS. 

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

[00:34] Med School in Colombia

Q:  "I attended med school in Colombia and did not finish. Do those classes need to be added to my application? Colombia has a different grading scale and moved to the U.S. and finished my bachelor's. However, my overall and science GPA is low at2.7. I have over 130 credits. Will a postbac help my GPM, is it possible to do a Master's to improve the GPA given that I could apply for financial aid for a Master's? 

A: It affects things, particularly if it's a domestic medical school. If it's a foreign medical school, then there could be intervening issues like immigration or family issues, or whatever, that would affect why a student didn't finish. In this case, you don't need to include those in the application because foreign coursework doesn't get included. 

Moreover, AMCAS requires the question if you've matriculated to any medical school including the coursework.

TMDSAS does require that you indicate if you started a med school So you have to include information about that. But in terms of entering courses and stuff for the TMDSAS, you would not include those.

In terms of remediation, a postbac is advisable. At the end of the day, you have to balance out what's going to be optimal for your application given your realities in life, including your finances. If you need financial aid then doing a Master's postbac is the only plausibility for that so go for it. There's nothing else you can do.

Most importantly, there needs to be a lot of self-reflection that needs to be done here as to why you did poorly in Colombia and why you did poorly in your bachelor's in the U.S. 

“You can't just jump right in without any self-reflection and understanding what's going on.”

[05:29] Withholding a Poor MCAT Score

Q: "I just received my MCAT score. And it was unexpectedly not the greatest at 495. I applied to both do an MD early in July and was wondering if I should just wait to submit my scores to AACOMAS now or when I plan to take it first thing in January since most schools accept January test scores? FYI: I just got an interview invite! 

A: Some students play this game of withholding their MCAT score and just showing them later. But it doesn't work that way. Just release your scores. They're going to see 495 there either way. They're going to see everything in history within the new limits. Because they came out with some new guidelines on how many you can take and lifetime scores. So they're going to see anything you've taken in the last few years.

If you're going to retake then spend some time reflecting on what happened with the 495. Again, self-reflection. You have to have some really tough love with yourself about how you took those practice tests. 

“Think really hard about getting as close as you can to the testing conditions. So before you even retake, think about what needs to be different.”

[11:18] Setting Up an MCAT Prep Timeline

Q: "I'm a female, 37-year-old single mom, non-traditional student, GPA 3.43 from a 3.1. I'm getting a second degree in biochemistry, finishing this May. Science GPA is 3.68 with volunteer hours, shadowing hours, clinical hours, ER, and research. I'm not sure my GPA will hold me back in the application process. So I plan on putting a lot of effort into the MCAT. How can I set up a good timeline for when to study for the MCAT, when to take it and when to submit my AAMC application?”

A: The timeline is important and that's what Mappd for. Anyway, assuming you're applying next year, then starting the MCAT process right now would be good. 

“The tricky thing is that students don't realize just how much is involved with an application.”

There’s so much involved with an application – from gathering letters of recommendation and transcripts to writing personal statements, extracurricular descriptions, and secondary essays. 

Then you throw on being a single mom to that. Also, you're finishing up your second degree and trying to continue that upward trend in your grades. Then on top of that, you still have to study for the MCAT. So something is bound to break there. 

Say, you take the test in March or April and you get your score back, then you have some flexibility in terms of whether you need to retake it. But with so many other responsibilities, it may be better to delay it. 

So even though you are delaying the MCAT, not necessarily delaying the application, you are still setting yourself up for more success. Because you'll have some more dedicated time to study for the MCAT outside of classes. You can still work on your applications, finish your classes, and submit your applications early. 

[16:34] Green Card vs. International Applicant

Q: "What suggestions do you have for an international student? I live in the U.S. and I am waiting for my green card. It is still in the process. But considering the current situation, I don't know when I will get it yet. I'm planning on taking my MCAT in the spring of 2021 and applying in June. Should I wait for my green card or should I just apply as an international applicant?"

A: Waiting for your green card is the best option. Number one, international students get no financial aid. International students are considered non-residents, regardless of where you're applying. This is for schools that have residency requirements, which even some private schools do. 

But there's a certain point in your green card application process where if you're already far along in the process, they'll consider you as a resident alien. So we highly recommend that you just wait and get that residence status. That way, things are going to be much easier for you even if it means delaying a year. 

On the other hand, if you do apply as an international student, how are you going to pay for it if you get in? Because you'll only be able to rely on private loans which are expensive. 

“Being an international student, you're a lot less likely to get in because schools are looking at residents first.”

[20:07] Foreign Transcripts

Q: “I had a few credits transferred to a U.S. bachelor's degree from a foreign school, do I need to submit my foreign transcript? The MCAT says they don't evaluate for degrees."

A: If you had credits from a foreign institution that are transferred towards your degree here in the States, then you need to submit your foreign transcripts. 

You have to understand that there's a lot of fine print on the current AMCAS handbook. But we've had a few students who had international credits from schools that are closed for COVID. There are some cases where you can request a transcript exception, with s huge emphasis on request. But that's not a guarantee. If you're having a lot of trouble getting your transcript, there are some choices. So check out the handbook for that. 

[21:38] Shadowing and Clinical Experience

Q: I have approximately 150 shadowing hours spread over 2017 to 2018. And in 2018, I began working full-time clinical and continued school full time. I still work full-time in EMS. Is there a necessity to continue shadowing at this point with the additional thousands of hours of clinical experience?” 

A: This is one of those checklist types of questions where you're wondering if you’ve checked this off already. And the answer is no especially with that load of clinical experience you're doing.

You have a lot of shadowing hours already, although a little bit older. What you need to show, however, is consistency. It doesn't hurt to go try to and get like four or five hours a month or a half a day, every month or so just to show some continued interest. Although it really doesn't sound like you need it. 

Now, with eShadowing, you could do it pretty easily from the comfort of your living room. We had 3,200 people qualify for an hour of eshadowing last week.

[23:42] Committee Letters vs. Individual Letters

Q: "What's the cost the benefit of having a committee letter versus strong individual letters?"

A: It depends a lot on how the committee structure is set up at a given school. Some schools don't have any requirements for participating in the committee process. So in that case, it doesn't have that inherent bias. 

For schools that do have some sort of bias, or requirements for participating in the process, it does affect things a little bit. Admissions committees may wonder why the student wants to get a committee letter. That raises a question as to why you don't have a good relationship with your premed office. So we highly advise that you just go on your own and do your own individual letters. 

"There's a place for everyone's opinion in the process."

However, it's fairly rare that an admissions committee is going to say that a committee letter is going to say they don't like the person for various reasons. In general, they're going to be very supportive. 

Most faculty committees at the undergraduate level are really trying to do the right thing, or really trying to help the medical stand out. And it's totally up to the medical school what they want to do with that.

Dr. Wright is leading a six-week series, a workshop session about personal traits that medical schools expect to see in premeds are numbered. 

[36:46] Letters of Recommendation: How Early is Too Early?

Q: "Is now a good time to ask professors for letters of recommendation and store them on Interfolio for the next cycle?"

A: Wait until at least after the first of the year to get a letter so they're as recent as possible. This way, you're still able to build a better relationship with your professor. 

Additionally, try to set expectations early on. You can tell the professor that you're applying to medical. Tell them you think it's a little too soon for you to ask for a letter. Then politely ask if they could write you a letter at the beginning of the year. This way, you're also rekindling that relationship if it's been a little while.

[38:30] Non-Science-Related Job

Q: "How will I explain to a committee that the most part of my time is dedicated to my job that is not related at all to science?"

A: Admissions committees do recognize that some students have to work and maybe even work full-time. And that's a reality. That, however, does not replace getting some experiences. You can't just say you work full time so you can't do anything. You still want to go to medical school, but you've never done anything. That's not going to work. 

“Take opportunities to get some experiences and to know what you're getting into and what the real life of a doctor is.”

It’s not a disadvantage completely to say you have a full-time job and you don't have a whole lot of time on your hands to do a lot of shadowing or clinical activities.

[40:28] A Military Wife

Q:I'm a military wife and I've moved a lot. I don't know what state I'll be in the year before I apply. I'd like to be able to make my school list and no prereqs. Any suggestions?"

A: If you're stuck, you just throw it in there before you matriculate, and you will be okay. So doing basic prereqs is fine. In fact, it's the wisest thing to do. Then if you can throw in an additional one for a given school, that could be done later easily if you want to.

[43:21] Letter of Recommendation from a Dean

Q: "How would a letter recommendation from a dean be looked at?"

A: Who writes the letter of recommendation can definitely affect how the letter is viewed. A letter coming from a professor with 30 years of experience who writes you a good letter says a lot. Whereas it's going to have as much impact if it's coming from an assistant professor or an instructor, or a graduate student, who has only been working for a couple of years.

"The person that's writing the recommendation letter, particularly within an academic context, can affect how the letter is viewed."

That being said, it's not necessarily how big the name of the person is. They're going to look at how they know you and how impactful the relationship was.

[47:05] Geographical Challenges

Q: "I live in a state that has only one medical school, I'm planning on applying in 2021, should I move to a different state with more med schools to have a better chance?"

A: Where you are a resident has some impact on where you can apply to schools and your potential chances based on those state schools and your debts coming out of medical school. If you're a Texas resident, you are a solid applicant, and you come out of medical school in Texas then it improves your chances of being where you're at. 

Calculate into that timeline if you're moving to a different state in order to establish residence and that residency in that state may take a year.

“There is a difference between being considered a resident for admissions purposes as opposed to for tuition purposes after you matriculate.”

In Texas, they're going to consider you as a resident of wherever you're coming from. Whether you're going to establish residence in that coming year, it doesn't impact what they're going to consider you right now. In other words, they would not project into the future some residency change because something may happen and you don't get in. So think about the timeline and what the requirements are for the state that you're interested in going to.




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