Ask the Dean: Premed Questions Answered

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

16 Premed Questions Answered: Postbacs, Taking Time Off for the MCAT, and More

In this episode, we delve into concerns regarding taking time off to study for the MCAT, the relevance of SAT stores when applying to med school, the relevance of international degrees, how to decide if you need a postbac, how LORs may change due to COVID, and 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. 

Joining me are Mappd co-founder Rachel Grubbs and Dr. Scott Wright, our VP of Academic Advising. More than 1,400 students are using it to track their progress to medical school. If this is something you're interested in, check it all out for a free two-week trial. Also, check out

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

[2:24] How Do Med Schools View a One-semester Dip in Your GPA? 

Q: My semester GPA dropped significantly to 2.0 for the Fall of 2019 while I was grieving the deaths of multiple close family members. Ever since, I've been performing well in my courses with a majority of A's and a few B's and B+’s. But I’m worried this isn't enough time to show an upward trend. How many credits or semesters do you recommend?

A: An admissions committee is going to want to know what happened that semester. Unless that semester was recent and you bottomed out, then it will take a couple of additional semesters. 

So if you’re applying this year, or wondering whether to apply this year or not, then you only have one semester this spring to show that it was just a dip and not a trend of any sort. And if you recover this semester, I would go ahead and apply this year. 

“An admissions committee can basically do whatever they want to do”

An admissions committee can throw out a semester and recalculate the GPA if they want to. Or if they want to accommodate that, then they can do that as well. They have a wide latitude to do whatever they want to do. 

Most of the admissions committees are very focused on doing things, especially these days, in a legally defensible way. And so they're really careful to make sure anything they do has a good paper trail and a good degree of justification to it, and that they treat everyone with a similar circumstance the same way.

[08:58] How Do You Know If You Need A Postbac To Improve Your GPA? 

Q:  What are the indications that a student needs a postbac before applying after this upcoming spring semester? My projected science GPA is 3.3 and an overall 3.53, which makes me think that it might be better to do a postbac and hold off applying until 2022.

A: This requires a little bit more information to make a judgment on it. But a postbac wouldn't harm a student in this case.

[10:51] Is It A Bad Idea To Apply At A Med School Where You've Been Hospitalized?

Q: Is it a conflict of interest or a disadvantage to applying to a medical school at a hospital that had been hospitalized that numerous times? Or is it followed at for a chronic condition?

A: They happen to share an agreement that medical students can go there and rotate so it would not be a conflict of interest or a disadvantage. It would be illegal for the admissions committee to even know anything about their medical history. This questioner really should have no concerns at all about that.

“The hospital is not the medical school, and the medical school is not the hospital. They're separate institutions.” 

[13:20] How Do You Know If Your Postbac Gpa Is High Enough Yet? 

Q: I have a question regarding my GPA map that shows that I currently have a 3.1 cumulative GPA for AMCAS and a t3.3 science GPA with a strong upward trend. I'm not finished with all my prereqs. Should I plan to take more upper-division courses to raise that? Should I focus on the MCAT? I also work a full-time career position as a postbac student

A: More courses are necessary. The concerning thing here is that this is a postbac student, if they're already in a postbac program, and they're performing at a 3/1 level, that concerns me. I'd want to see that trend line. Because if the trend is particularly what the postbac GPA is, in and of itself,  that's what I want to know. And so if I have any knowledge about this student’s postbac GPA, it would be helpful in answering this question.

[15:13] What Do Med Schools Think About Taking AP Credit for English? 

Q: So I've seen a lot of medical schools prefer that students take some sort of English or writing-intensive class during undergrad, or that they have strong skills and reading comprehension. Would it be wise to claim credit for AP English literature and composition in order to fulfill my University's core English requirement? Or should I actually take an English class to meet the class requirements that med schools asked for?

A: If there's any course then it's totally fine to take AP credit for English. The English requirement is sort of a holdover from past years from decades ago. And they just never have removed it.  

What is shown in writing skills is critical thinking, and the ability to communicate, because you're going to be communicating as a physician through writing a lot. And so you're going to have to have some skills to show but just to show that you can communicate and get across what you're wanting to get across in written format. But that doesn't have anything to do with a literature class, unfortunately.

[18:20] If You Do Well In An Smp, Can Your Low Undergrad Gpa Still Limit You? 

Q: If you've completed an SMP, will an undergraduate GPA still take priority And/or get your application filtered before viewing the improved SMP GPA?

A:  No, when admissions committees see a graduate program, SMP or even just post undergrad postbac classes and see that distinct postbac GPA, they're going to notice that. And they are going to give credit for that. GPA would replace the undergraduate GPA. And then we would essentially be going to ignore the undergrad GPA and just use this postbac GPA for the process. 

But to answer this question, don’t worry about that because they're going to see the GPA and the SMP GPA and act accordingly depending on what they want to do with your application.

[20:00] How Many Semesters and Credits Do You Need For a DIY Postbac? 

Q: How many quarters for a do-it-yourself postbac and units per quarter is needed to show successful academic performance? How do you explain a quarter of postbac with two CS student quarters?

A:  A semester system typically means at least 12 hours. If you're doing a postbac, even if it's a do-it-yourself postbac, you're going to want full-time coursework. The way you explain an illness and a substandard GPA for a semester is you just are a quarter and you just explain it.  Then they'll make a decision based on what they want to do. 

The concern is going to be of course, what happens if you get sick in med school and are the wheels going to fall off? 

“The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior.” 

[24:45] Do Hs Grades Or Sat Scores Matter For Medical School Admissions? 

Q: As a 43-year-old, nontraditional student, I'm curious how heavily high school transcripts and LSAT scores play in defense applications. 

A:  If I can look at an MCAT score, let's say it's a 502. And I look back at the SAT and this is not generally admissions committee members. This would be the admissions officer because admissions committee members often don't know what the scale is for a CTS or a CTS. So this may well be a testing issue for the students. You may want to look beyond this to see what else is going on here that we can hang our hat on.

[28:27] Will Requirements for LORs From Doctors Be Changed Due to COVID? 

Q: What are your thoughts on a letter of recommendation from a doctor for the 2021 application cycle? I planned on in-person shadowing starting in March, but then COVID hit, I only have virtual hours. 

A:  In this particular situation, I would avoid that letter because it may not be very meaningful in the process. When you talk about letters of recommendation, it's what Scott would call an inverted bell curve. Most letters of recommendation don't really help. And there are some in the tails that are so great, and it's clear that this person knows the applicant really well. But there's a very limited number on the other end of the spectrum. And so what that just means is they're looking for outliers in the letters.

[30:54] What's Better: Full-time Formal Postbac vs. Part-time DIY Postbac?

Q: I'm considering doing a postbac formal full-time, which would count for graduate credit. Why not necessarily, but I don't know if that is more or less valuable. If I’m doing a do-it-yourself postbac at my undergraduate University part-time, how would you weigh the pros and cons of doing either of these? 

A:  That's just going to be the best scenario that some students can't do that, and I totally get it, and I understand. But, again, optimally, that full-time coursework, all sciences, and I would say probably not at your undergraduate institution. 

The problem with doing a DIY at your undergrad institution is if you were a biology major, you may easily run out of courses to take. Depending on the size of the institution, and how specific they get with some of the classes, but some schools are going to butt up against not having any other classes to take.

[34:04] Is it bad to ONLY study for the MCAT during your gap year?

Q: Are your thoughts on premeds not being able to find a job within the medical field and COVID-19 also, how about not being able to do much during the gap year during those tough times?

A: If you're taking a gap year just to study for the MCAT, that would be a little bit of a concern to me as an admissions officer or to an admissions committee member. Because we're talking about lots of students out there who have tons of irons in the fire, and are doing great, are doing well with all that they have going on. 

“Most people study for the MCAT during their gap years, and admissions committees do not like to see people only studying for the MCAT during their gap years.”

And so, when you encounter a student who is basically shutting their life down to study for the MCAT, that can be a bit of a concern.  It may not necessarily be going to be a huge black ball to you. But it could raise a red flag why you had to do that because they're not going to have that in medical school.

You're not going to have that kind of focus. And gap year, doing only MCAT is not right because they also want to see a lot of volunteer work or clinical activities, whether they're paid or not.

[36:50] What Should You Provide To Your LOR Writers To Get A Strong Letter?

Q: May I please know what students should provide their letter of recommendation writer so that they can write the best possible advocacy alert for the application?

A: A lot of students delay asking for a letter of recommendation until they finish their personal statement. If it's someone new, who doesn't know how to write a letter, the one thing that I definitely recommend is the AAMC has their letter writer guidelines. Check out the AAMC guidelines to have a base level of what the letter writer should be thinking about when they're writing their letter of recommendation.

[41:29] Does This Student Need a Postbac with a 2.9 GPA?

Q: I'm a fourth-year at UC Berkeley with a steady 2.9 GPA. And I am planning to take two gap years. I want to gain research experience by working in a lab. But my premed advisor wants me to do a postbac or master's to raise my GPA. What factors should I consider when deciding what to do during my gap years?

A: With a 2.9, getting research experience is not going to help you get to where you want to go. Research experience is great. And if you like research, and you really want to do research in your future, then absolutely get involved with research.

But research doesn't address the issue in your application. The issue is, can you go to school and do really well?

[44:21] Is It Okay to Stop My Clinical Work to Study for the MCAT?

Q: I am currently working in a COVID unit as a CNA full-time racking up 160 hours a month, I plan on applying in 2022 for 2023. Class. If I work for six months until 2021 month and put in thousands of clinical hours, would that be sufficient for medical school?

A: Definitely, that's going to be really in your favor. It would be better if you could just go part-time in your work and then do MCAT part-time, that would look a lot better. And this kind of goes back to the previous question about, you know, shutting everything down to study for the MCAT. And just to clarify, right, the number of hours is plenty at this point. 

“Stopping cold-turkey to focus on the MCAT is going to raise a lot of questions you don't want to raise.”

[46:56] Will Perfect Grades in a Foreign Master's Degree Help Me at All?

Q: I have a 3.5 GPA and undergrad and decided to do a master's program to get some more experience and see if med school was the route, I wanted to go down. I chose to do a master's program in the UK. Not knowing that the MCAT doesn't accept foreign transcripts. My UK grades converted into the US GPS GPA scale would be a 4.0, but will I get any academic improvement value for the master's program? I can talk extensively about the research I did in the program. But I was hoping to show a bit more of an academic program.

A: Unfortunately, the impact is not going to be as great as it would have been with going to school in the U.S. There's really not anything you can do about it. 

So now is just the time to really talk up your research experience and talk about the conversion that you did really well. And then get some good recommendation letters out of the UK experience. When the application is being presented to the entire committee, the admissions officer is there to give background about what's the situation here and why this is. AMCAS definitely accepts foreign transcripts.



AAMC guidelines


Watch on

Get immediate access with a FREE 2-week trial!
Mappd is designed for premeds who plan to start medical school in 2-5 years. If you're not ready to join Mappd yet, join our email list and we'll keep in touch with updates.
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.