Med School: Frequently Asked Questions

In the course of advising students I’ve noticed many similar questions that are shared among pre-meds. I will continue to update this list so send any questions you may have.

Med School Frequently Asked Questions

Should I apply late or apply next year?

The most accurate answer for this question is, it depends. There are many factors that would guide me toward advising students to do one or the other but generally the safer route is to apply early next year. There are reasons for this.

When you apply late you are rushed, you will not have enough time to put together a well thought out application and it will show. The AMCAS and AACOMAS applications take far more work and time than people realize. It is not something that should be taken lightly. Your personal statement should be well thought out and methodically manufactured using a gentle balance of prose and poetry. It should be interesting while also describing yourself. It should be read and reread, and edited by yourself and others. You cannot do this if it is rushed. Similarly the descriptions of your extracurriculars should be well thought out and well written. The task of importing your grades, ordering your transcripts, and requesting your LORs has to be factored in too. When you actually do put all this together and submit it will be time to wait for verification, which takes upwards of 8 weeks especially during the “late” period.  After verification you will have to complete secondaries, which can take 1-2 weeks depending on how many schools you apply to.

In addition, your application will be looked at in the order it is received. This is not just to respect the queue, it is because the people who apply early obviously care enough about applying to medical school that they were prepared, they were organized, and they were responsible. None of these will be assumed of a late applicant. A 30/3.8 student who applied early will have a much better shot of getting in than a student of similar stats who applies late, that’s the way the system works.

That being said you CAN apply late and get in. Generally, you better have pretty good stats and be interesting. You will be at a disadvantage and have to accept the fact that you may be throwing thousands of dollars away only to have to do it again next year, with the “reapplicant” stigma.

This is a source of debate, but it is generally thought that being a reapplicant can hurt you. As a reapplicant, you will have to have significant improvements the second time around more than just applying earlier this time. Also, some medical schools have specific policies concerning whether they will accept applications from applicants who applied the previous year. You must take all of this into consideration.

Will my non-traditional status hurt or help me?

Non-traditional student is a vague term, but it typically applies to anyone who didn’t come straight out of undergrad knowing they wanted to become a doctor. As such they may have gotten a masters/PhD, or held a job in the workforce for a time. They might have a family or even had a career and then decided they wanted to pursue that dream of becoming a doctor.

I fell about halfway into this category, I wanted to do research and I was actually in a PhD program for a time before realizing medicine was right for me. As a result I am between 3-4 years older than the majority of my classmates.

In any case, non-traditional status is unlikely to bolster or harm your application directly. It can drastically affect your application overall.

How it makes it better

Non-trads typically have more real-world experience and training that reflects well on an application. They are interesting and mature. They know how to behave professionally and easily develop a rapport with interviewers. All of these traits are crucial, as standing out in medical school interviews is key.

How it makes it worse

Non-Trads often have responsibilities that preclude them from getting quite as many hours of the traditional extracurriculars like volunteering, shadowing, or research. They may find it difficult to match traditional students when it comes to MCAT/GPA performance as dedicated study time is hard to come by.

Overall, it’s a toss up. Don’t use Non-trad status as an excuse though, get out and get it done.

Extracurriculars for people with full-time jobs

I was in this group, I have always had to work. Unfortunately, even if you’ve had a full time job for X amount of years you’ll still be expected to have the same extracurriculars as everybody else. The good thing is that your work experience will be well regarded. They will see you as more mature and responsible than the kids who had everything paid for through college. This won’t excuse you from your requirements though so get out there and volunteer/shadow.

What to do after applying

The temptation after finally applying to med school is to sit back and wait for the interviews and acceptances to roll in. Unless your application is a slam-dunk, it would be wise to keep going as if you never applied. Keep volunteering, keep researching, keep shadowing, keep taking classes. This way, in the interview you’ll have more things to talk about and will overall boost what they already have on paper. Worst case scenario you don’t get in and then you have another year’s worth of experiences and new grades to add to next years application. When you finally get accepted, you can relax a little. Don’t relax too long, you can shift your attention toward preparing for med school.

Best health-related Job to have while in undergrad

There are many health-related jobs one can have but there are two that I’d recommend: EMT and Scribe. Both of them will prepare you for the hospital environment, you will learn a lot of basic medicine and you will have a leg up when you start med school. Scribing will give you a huge advantage on note writing and overall terminology. EMT will give you a lot of experience with actually providing patient care in tough situations. Choosing between the two would be tough, but you can’t go wrong with either.

When I get into dental/medical school can I have a job to reduce loans?


I say that as a medical student with a job but do as I say, not as I do.

Some schools will actually forbid you from having employment during school and may force you to sign a contract agreeing to this. Others will strongly dissuade you from seeking a job, with good reason. The opportunity cost of having a job in medical school is huge, you just don’t have enough spare time to sacrifice to working. Med school is nothing like undergrad. Every spare moment should be used for either studying or resting so you can study more later.

There are always caveats. If you are offered a job that is well paying for minimal work, you may consider it. However, you should realize that you will receive plenty of loan money and whatever money you make working on the side is unlikely to make much of a dent in your monthly budget, and will certainly not be worth the time you give up to do it.

Should I change my name or delete my facebook?

When applying to medical school many people do this. There have been many rumors of potential employers snooping through facebook/social media profiles of potential employees, but it is unlikely this is happening in medical schools very frequently. The reason is because schools receive THOUSANDS of applications and likely don’t have the time to snoop through each one. The faintest of a possibility is usually enough for neurotic premeds to become paranoid, so here’s my advice: Don’t change your name or delete your page. You can clean up your profile, however. This may take some time but it is time to grow up anyways. In medical school and beyond you will be expected to be professional in your personal and professional life so you might as well accept it now. Root through pictures that are unprofessional and delete, make private or untag. Delete inappropriate posts and refrain from posting future nonsense. This way you put forward a better image of yourself and you don’t have to hide.

How do I go about getting volunteering in a hospital or shadowing?

This is a simple one, you go to any hospital front desk and you ask how to get to “volunteer services.” They will print you a visitor badge and direct you to the office. You go to said office and let them know you would like to volunteer and that you want as much contact with patients as possible.  You may be assigned to wheelchair pushing, to folding blankets, restocking supplies, working with childlife specialists, etc. Feel free to volunteer at multiple hospitals and pick the one that gives you the best experience. You’re looking for places that let you get involved and provide a memorable experience. This is also a good time to talk to physicians and ask about shadowing, but don’t nag them too much.

How do I get a research position, and how do I ask to be included on a paper?

Finding research can be tough, but it is much easier when you have a subject that you’re interested in. In this case, you find a local researcher/physician who is doing research on that subject field and you call/email/go to their office telling them about your interest and volunteering your services. Let them know you’re willing to help out in any capacity and you hope that you can prove yourself useful and get more responsibility in the future.

If you don’t have a burning interest in a field it can be more difficult. You may have to ask a lot of professors before you find one that will take you, especially if you have little to no research experience. The key here is to ask any and everybody, ask post-docs ask undergraduates who are already doing research, and ask professors. If they say their lab is full then thank them for their time and ask if they know any other labs that could use a hand. Brush up on your networking skills. Free labor is something researchers like to have on hand because grant money is precious, so get out there and find something to do. Also, you do not necessarily have to do research in a science or medically related field. You can do research with psychology, social science, or anything else that interests you. If you’re genuinely interested in the work, it will make the endless lab hours less painful and will give you something you’re passionate about sharing during your interviews.

How do you pay for medical school?

You take out loans. Next question.

No, but seriously, you take out loans. Some people sign up for the military (who will then pay for school and give you a stipend) and some have mommy/daddy pay for it, but the vast majority will have to take at least some loans. Don’t sweat them. You can refer to my previous post but once you’re accepted to a US medical school, you’re going to be a physician. Focus on providing yourself with enough loan money to be comfortable, you’ll make plenty of money in the future. Although loan money will add up (with interest), this is not the time to go hungry or live in squalor to save a couple hundred a month. You can’t put a price on comfort. In addition, there are plenty of programs available where if you work in a public hospital or in an underserved area for a certain amount of years your loans are forgiven. I’ll spare you the details look more into these toward 3rd and 4th year. Don’t try to work to save money, your free time is too precious in medical school.

You do want to budget appropriately, however. I will make a future post on finances in med school including loan repayment plans.

What kind of living accommodations do med students typically have/recommend?

Students living arrangements vary wildly depending on the student and depending on the school year. Some students live on or near campus and some live off campus. Some live alone and some have roommates from class. It really is up to you but you should make a decision that will provide you with the best environment for studying. If you like being on campus all the time studying at the library you might want to live close so you can walk to the library. If you like to be in a quieter area by all means, commute. Don’t jump into living with classmates unless you are sure it’s good for you. Also, some students still live at home with family.  If this environment is okay for your optimal studying, then fine. But if it isn’t, take out the loans and get yourself an apartment.

Is it possible to have a social life in medical school?

You can, it will be a much different definition of a social life, but you can. There is downtime in medical school, and you can use it how you please. The trick is, finding the balance between using that downtime for studying and using it to relax with friends. Plenty of my classmates did too much on either spectrum. Too much studying and you can burn out, too much partying and you can fail out. You can, and should spend at least some time relaxing, doing whatever it is that you find relaxing.

How do you approach professors about asking for LORs? Specifically non-science professors or people who do not work at the university

Letters of recommendation can make or break your application. It is rare that a letter writer will actually say negative things in the LOR, but it is quite possible that you may end up with a mediocre letter. A mediocre letter is generic, possibly copied and pasted from a previous one, and says nothing specific about why they are recommending you. This happens when a student asks a professor/physician for a letter when they probably shouldn’t have. If the person doesn’t know you very well, chances are that the letter will be mediocre.

Avoid this by being proactive. Get to know the professor/physician well ahead of time. Talk to them before/after class about whatever it is you’re learning, do extra research and bring it up, ask them questions that show your knowledge/understanding without being pedantic.

When you feel it is time to ask them, don’t be nervous. Thank them for all their advice and remind them that you are going to apply to medical school, then ask them if they would feel comfortable writing you a good letter of recommendation. If they agree let them know the time frame of when you would need the letter (give them at least a months notice) and that you would be happy to provide them with a copy of your personal statement and AAMC application (or resume if you haven’t written your app yet) if that would help them.

How many schools should I apply to?

This depends on you, what you want out of your applications, and your financial situation. Do you have a certain school or type of program you want to attend? Or do you want to maximize your chances and apply broadly? The average amount of schools students apply to is 15. I know pre-meds who applied to 3 schools, and others who applied to over 25. Create a realistic list using the MSAR and your stats. You should have a good balance between reach schools, schools whose stats you meet, and safety schools. Also, consider the amount of money you have or are willing to spend. Each school can cost upwards of $100 each just to apply (primary + secondary applications). You should also only apply to schools that you would actually attend. If you hate the snow, don’t apply to schools in NYC just to do it. You should have a good, genuine reason for applying to every school that’s on your list.

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