Ask the Dean: Premed Questions Answered

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

18 Premed Questions Answered: Low MCAT Section Scores, Premed Mentors, & More

In this episode, we delve into concerns regarding activity description for research, risks in applying to a new med school, virtual med school interviews, 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.

[2:38] New Mappd Features

Q: What are the new Mappd Features?

A: Mappd has an Applications tab coming along. It has AMCAS, AACOMAS, and TMDSAS applications, but right now, the platform just has the personal statement, where you can view your drafts. You can create a new draft and just start pasting text and highlight.

When you give your advisor access, your advisor can leave comments on your application. Soon, you can input all of your extracurricular descriptions and similar information. We'll keep adding features, starting with personal comments and the other primary application essays.

Although this won't be a complete application simulator yet, you can get started as early as possible with what Mappd offers. Those of you who have been actively using Mappd and are applying this year should start working on your personal comments essay, as you already received some feedback from us since January. Start thinking about your story and the seed that got you interested in this field. 

“The whole point of Mappd is to help you stay on track with your timeline.”

[5:53] How to Write Activity Descriptions for Research

Q: When writing about research in activity descriptions, would it be too "negative" to write about how the experience made me realize that I don't want to do research as a career? Also, would it be appropriate to give a description of the overall project and my part in it? 

A: You can say that you didn't really connect with the work, but don't go on and on about how much you hated it. In describing the overall project, a short description of the project and your part in it is fine. You have to quickly move on to how this is beneficial to you. 

“Why did this help lead you along the path that you're on? – is the key to activity descriptions.”

[8:57] Finding a Mentor as a Nontraditional Premed Student

Q: Can you please advise on how to get mentorship as a nontraditional student? 

A: You have to ask people. They're not just going to show up and say, "Hey, can I mentor you?" So anytime you're doing shadowing or any clinical experience and you find a connection with someone whom you sense would be a good mentor, you have to ask them. But don't just blurt it out. Approach them during break time, for instance, and ask if you can talk for a few minutes, perhaps over coffee, before saying, "Would you be willing to mentor me a little bit?" 

Since many of them are busy, you have to explain what you mean by mentorship, so they won't think it will take a lot of time. 

Make them understand what you expect from them. Ask if you could meet them once a month or exchange email once a month. Just lay out what your expectations are, and then let them respond to that. 

“It is crucial to identify the mentor based on what you want out of a mentoring relationship.”

If you want wisdom and direction in life, your choice of a mentor doesn't necessarily have to be a clinician or somebody connected to the medical school process. If you want guidance in terms of your career choice in medicine, then you need a healthcare provider who can mentor you along the way. 

[11:37] Are there Risks in Applying to a Brand New Medical School?

Q: What are your thoughts about brand new DO schools that won't be accredited until the year before you graduate? Would that be a barrier to getting into residency?

A: New schools go through an accreditation process. First, a new school applies for preliminary accreditation, and the licensing body reviews the application. Once the school gets a preliminary accreditation, it can start offering its first class.

A new medical school can't get fully accredited until its first-class graduates. Once it gets full accreditation, the school then goes through a regular cycle of review to retain its accreditation. Students considering enrolling or applying to a new medical school must determine what they expect to get out of the experience.

“There's zero-risk in going to a new school since the accreditation process is well thought out.”

[15:05] 123 in CARS or another MCAT section, is it bad?

Q: How bad is a 123 in CARS or another MCAT section? 

A: It's more an issue of the overall picture of an application. Schools do look at the subscores to see if there are any hints of difficulties. CARS is a difficult section for some people, particularly if they're science majors who don't concentrate on studying it as much. 

[18:24] Getting Started in Research Without Experience

Q: ​How can I get started in research without any experience?

A: The good thing about being on a college campus is many research labs get inexperienced people for cheap labor. So it's a matter of just going around and asking and keeping your eyes and ears open to what opportunities are out there.

As a student at a university or college, you need to ask professors if you can come to work at their lab. Nothing will happen if you don't ask. 

[19:38] Discussing Media Inspiration in the Application

Q: In a personal statement, is it a bad idea to talk about what I read in books or saw in documentaries about medicine that impacted me? Or, do I only need to talk about real-life experiences?

A: If you have a lot of experience or clinical hours, then mentioning that you read this in some book, or that you saw this on a documentary can be a jump-off point to everything that you've done, then it's not a problem if it can be done effectively. 

But if you're limited in terms of clinical context, making this point highlights that you don't have much clinical experience. And that would be a bad thing. This is something you need to be careful with when writing your application. 

It's a common question that comes up with students when talking about shadowing in a personal statement. Because it's a very passive experience, shadowing is one of the weaker experiences to talk about in a personal statement. 

What typically happens is that you'd write that you saw the doctor do this and that.  So what's the difference between writing about what you saw in shadowing and you talking about the TV show that you watched? Ultimately, you're using it as a cover for the lack of experience so your personal statement becomes less impactful.

[12:03] Finishing College in Summer then Start Med School the Same Year?

Q: Can you finish college in the summer, then start med school the same year?

A: That's not possible. Medical schools don't start in the fall, they start in the summer. Most medical schools start in June or July,  some in early August. If you're graduating at the end of the summer, then you should apply to enter the next summer. That would be the appropriate process for that. 

[24:40] Listing Hours for Hobbies since Childhood

Q: For hobbies that go back to childhood, how many hours should I list? Should I state only what I've done since starting college?

A: The rule of thumb for the application for the experiences section is that you should only include hours after high school graduation

For a student who has been doing something for a long time, it's generally considered okay to just go ahead and put the whole time frame in there. 

You can estimate total hours either from the very beginning or just from college. But to avoid confusion, it's advisable to be consistent throughout the application when it comes to the time frame. 

[26:32] Listing Caregiving Hours

Q: I was caregiving 24/7 for my dad while he had cancer and went to all his doctor's appointments. How should I list caregiving for a family member on my med school application?

A: The AAMC has said that being a care provider counts as clinical experience. In terms of hours, you just have to make an estimate. But you don't count 24 hours daily, since you're not working when you're sleeping or on vacation. You could consider it as a full-time job, so about eight hours. 

[28:04] Listing Hobby Hours

Q: Should you list your hobbies as "0 hours" or estimate the number?

A: Zero hours is an acceptable number. But if it's a hobby you're obviously doing it for more than zero hours. So why not put a real number there? If a question about that comes up in an interview, you can just try to guesstimate, and, maybe, that would lead to a conversation. 

[28:54] C+ or P/F Grade?

Q: If I got a C+ on my Biogenetics class, should I opt for a Pass/Fail grade and retake it, or should I keep the C+?

A: If you change it to Pass/Fail and you retake it, the assumption is you did poorly the first time around. That record is going to be there. You could keep the C+ because it's a passing grade, and the class is not a prereq. So it might be okay if a C+ plus just hurts your GPA calculations, nothing more. But if you're trying to recover from poor grades, then you should opt for a Pass/Fail and just retake it.

[31:55] Will Computer Science Masters be of Help for a Med School App

Q: Will a computer science master's degree help me get into med school?

A: It depends on why you're doing the Master's, to begin with. If you're doing a Master's because you need to show academic capability for med school, a computer science degree isn't going to show that. 

If the student is already questioning whether or not he should be doing computer science as opposed to medical school, then there are some bigger discussions that need to be had with the student.  

[34:14] Virtual Med School Interviews

Q: Will medical school interviews be virtual again in the upcoming cycle?

A: Compared to last year, more medical schools will do in-person interviews this year. But the majority of schools will resume virtual interviews this year. 

“Virtual interviews save a lot of money both for the medical school and for the students.” 

That said, the current situation is a big opportunity for medical schools to project themselves into the 21st century and recognize that there's plenty of value in the virtual world. 

[37:05] General Disaster Recovery Casework Experience

Q: Is general disaster recovery casework considered clinical experience?

A: It's a valuable experience, but it can't be considered clinical experience. However, you can talk about that in your application. 

Many substantial tangibles and intangibles can come out of general disaster recovery casework, such as how to deal empathetically with people who are going through horrific times. And from such an experience, you also learned valuable skills that can help you later on as a physician.

[39:09] Listing Activities that will Start after Med School App

Q: I am doing a healthcare-related internship in the summer. Should I put it on my application or wait for updates? 

A: It depends on when you submit your application. There are questions on the application that ask what you're going to do between now and matriculation. You can put the internship in there. But if you want to put it on as current activity, you might want to delay it a little bit.

[41:16] Promotion from Clinical Work into an Admin Position

Q: I did clinical research for a couple of years but transitioned to an administrative role in the research lab. Although I still do some educational research, would the switch from clinical to non-clinical roles reflect poorly? 

A: It's a common question among students who are in clinical roles and then go to admin because they're good at their job. A lot of students are fearful of taking a "promotion" because of less clinical experience. But there's nothing that says you can't take on that bigger role that will give you other skills, and then go find some clinical experience on the side to bolster those skills.

What you can do is negotiate with management and say you're willing to take on this administrative role as long as you can still do research and clinical activities.

[43:13] Consistency in Clinical Experience

Q: I started earning clinical experience full-time in December of 2020 and will be applying in 2022. I'm trying to juggle full-time in the hospital with postbac classes while still working my valet job in downtown Las Vegas. How consistently does my clinical experience have to be? 

A: Consistency is important. Because you're juggling stuff, you need to work on your timeline as well as your commitment to what you're doing. Is it possible that you could do part-time for both instead of full-time?

Apart from that, are you doing postbac to improve your grades. But since you also have full-time clinical work and a part-time valet job, what are the chances that your grades would start slipping? Are you sure you're setting yourself up for success and not starting too early too fast?

[46:03] Listing Scribe Training Hours

Q: Should I list scribe training hours on my application even if I didn't pass it? I had 64 hours of scribing. Are these too low?

A: If you put this on your application, the first question of the interviewer would be why you’re not scribing now, and why only 64 hours. Of course, you would answer that you didn’t pass the training and that's a big red flag, so you should leave it off completely. 

And this is a real-time for reflection before continuing on this premed path. Why didn't you pass the training? What was going on?" Maybe you need an advisor or someone to help you think through. 



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