Compiled by Prof. Stephen
George , Chair, Health Professions Committee,
and Dean Carolyn Bassett, Health Professions Advisor
This is the fourth and last page of Part II of the Guide. At the end of the page are navigation buttons to help you get to other parts of the Guide and other Health Professions pages.
SELECTING MEDICAL SCHOOLS
When an Amherst applicant with good qualifications isn't accepted to medical school, the most common reason is that the student applied to the wrong number or choice of medical schools
Because of the competitiveness and unpredictability of medical school admissions, you need to apply to a larger number of well-chosen schools than you probably did when applying to collegethe average number for recent Amherst applicants is around 15.
It is also usually a mistake to apply to too many schools (more than about 20), because you won't have time to do a good and timely job on secondary applications for so many schools. Your list should include both "reach" schools as well as "safety" schools based on your circumstances, as discussed below.
Choose which schools to apply to based primarily on where you have reasonable chances of acceptance, not primarily on factors such as grading system, housing, social life, or curriculumall medical schools prepare you to pass national boards and to become a licensed physician. After you have been admitted to several schools, you'll have the luxury of selecting from among those the one that has the curriculum, size, atmosphere, housing, etc. that you prefer.
For information about medical schools, consult the Medical School Admissions Requirements book and school web sites. If you know your MCAT scores at the time of selecting schools (which means having taken the MCAT before June '07, then take into account MCAT scores, as well as your grades, in relation to each school’s selectivity for Amherst applicants. You can also include your own geographical preferences for particular cities or parts of the country. Discuss these issues with Dean Bassett as you formulate your school list.
Categories of medical schools
There are 127 medical schools in the U.S. Approximately 80 of these could be described as “state schools,” i.e. associated with public rather than private universities and usually greatly favoring residents of their particular state. Unless you have a good reason not to do so, you should apply to the state medical school(s) in your home state, since your chances of acceptance are usually higher, and tuition is lower than at private medical schools. In most cases you will have as good a medical education as at a private medical school. Conversely, in many cases it is futile to apply to state schools outside your own state of residence, so that eliminates a large number of schools from your list.
However, there is not always a sharp distinction between “state” and “private” medical schools. Some nominally private ones, e.g. Baylor and the University of Miami, receive state funding and therefore favor residents of Florida and Texas respectively. Some nominally public ones, e.g. the University of Michigan, Penn State, and the University of Vermont, accept substantial numbers of out-of-state residents. To help you sort through all this when you get down to choosing which schools to apply to, consult the table showing how favorable each school is to non-state residents.
Criteria for acceptance
If your science GPA as calculated for AMCAS on a 4-point scale is below about 3.5, or your MCAT total is below 32, it's unlikely you will be accepted at the half dozen most selective medical schools, unless you are an underrepresented minority student or have very unusual personal experience or other factors. However, as long as your science GPA is at least 3.1 and your MCAT total is at least 28, that leaves you in the running at more than three dozen private medical schools in addition to your state school(s).
Geography can enter your school choices in two ways. First, many private medical schools give preference to applicants from their state or region of the country. Second, you can exercise geographical likes and dislikes yourself to some degree, e.g. if you just don't want to live in certain big cities, or conversely if you want exposure to rare horrible diseases and bloody trauma cases that you might not get in more rural settings!
How to express your choices
Use the draft school list you received when you registered with Nadine Alexander to formulate your choices. Then mail or bring your blue school list to Nadine by July 15. Mail the actual blue "Allopathic Medical School List" that is provided by Nadine when you register - we can't accept phoned, e-mailed, or faxed school lists. Be sure to note schools marked with an asterisk - these schools won't accept our recommendation materials in the regular August mailing - they only accept them after contacting you and requesting them. So, it is up to you to let Nadine Alexander know by e-mail when you have been invited to have recommendations sent to those schools.
Changes and additions may be made in writing to Nadine Alexander by August 1. In order to send out approximately 900 Amherst recommendation packets (60 applicants times an average of 15 schools per applicant) by the last week of August, we cannot accommodate late additions to school lists until after the main group of recommendations has been sent. So your applications will be delayed if your list is not presented by the deadline and in complete form. Also, for schools you add after August 1, you must supply a 6"x9" flat mailing envelope (gummed, not clasped) with 83¢ in stamps affixed to the envelope, addressed to the admissions office exactly as in Medical School Admissions Requirements. Write your name under the flap so Nadine can see whose it is, but don’t put a return address on the envelope—we will supply it.
After receiving and reviewing applications, medical school admissions committees narrow down the pool and request interviews with those they are continuing to consider. Medical schools interview by their request only. Interviews are generally conducted from September to April. The percentage of students accepted from the interview pool can range from 10% to 40%.
The best pathway to a successful interview is preparation! Dean Bassett offers a workshop on interviews each fall, and has detailed handouts on the interview process for those who are no longer on campus. In addition, the Career Center offers a number of interview preparation workshops, and information to help prepare for interviews is available in the Medicine section of the Career Center library. Think about how to present yourself, how to talk about your experiences, and what your specific strengths, successes, and goals are.
You must have thoughtful answers ready to such questions as, "Why do you want to be a physician?" If it's because you want to help sick people, a fair question is, "Why should you be a physician rather than a nurse or medical social worker, or some other profession that also helps sick people?" Get to know the school beforehand by reading the catalog. Have some questions ready to ask the interviewer. Read up on current medical issues, such as managed care, physician assisted suicide, and rationing of high-tech procedures. Visit the interesting interview web site with students' accounts of recent interviews at many medical schools and lists of "most interesting questions" and "most difficult questions" asked at various interviews.
Schools will send a letter or e-mail requesting an interview--some schools will ask you to arrange a date with them and others will assign a date. These assigned dates can be changed, but you should plan ahead and try to change it no more than once, so as to inconvenience the admissions offices as little as possible. If you will be in a specific area of the country for a group of interviews (e.g., during a vacation), you may call or write to schools in the area you have not heard from yet, to see if you can arrange an interview while you are in the area.
Your first interview will be more anxiety-provoking than subsequent ones. While you are interviewing, be prepared to spend money, travel, and miss classes! It is the rare interviewer who is out to intimidate you. The interview is an opportunity for you to become acquainted with the school, as well as for the school to become acquainted with you. The interview format varies--some schools have teams of interviewers who interview one person at a time, while some have group interviews. The most common practice is to have two one-on-one interviews.
Some interviews are "blind," meaning that the interviewer has not seen your record or read your application. Go over your application to the school before your interview and feel free to reiterate or reemphasize anything you have written which may be important. If you feel that you have had an unfair interview, and especially if you have traveled to the school, you can request another interview promptly. There is no shame involved and you should ensure yourself of a fair chance. If the interviewer asks improper questions ("How are going to have kids and be a doctor also?" "Do you have a boyfriend/girlfriend?), you should report the incident to Dean Bassett.
If you can, to contact Amherst alumni who are studying, teaching, or practicing at the school you visit. A list of alumni physicians arranged by geographical location is available in Career Center.
Some schools offer admission by Early Decision. The deadline for applications is during the summer, and you should check the AAMC handbook for specific information. Under the E.D. program, you may submit an application to just one school. The admissions committee will evaluate your application and interview you (if you are chosen for one) by October 1. Until this date, you can not submit applications to any other schools. If you are accepted E.D., you are obliged to enroll. However, if you are deferred or receive no decision by October 1, you can then apply to other schools.
There is a risk in applying E.D.: if you are not accepted, your other applications will be submitted later than those of other students, putting you at a disadvantage. However, if you have a good record and a specific reason to attend a particular medical school, applying E.D. gives you a chance to resolve your future early in the application process. Consult Dean Bassett if you are considering this option.
The data on Amherst students reapplying if not admitted the first time are very encouraging: see our web page entitled "What are my chances?". Some factors which favor success in reapplying include: retaking the MCAT if your scores were not terrific (and studying to make them better), taking other science courses if your academic record is weak, and showing a sustained interest in the medical field by getting a job in the sciences, e.g. a lab job, during your interim year or years. Discuss your future plans and reasons why you were not accepted with Dean Bassett or Professor George. The Career Center has good listings of jobs in medical research. They also have listings of alumni in medicine and science who can be helpful contacts. Call or write to schools which did not admit you and ask where your record is weakest. Sometimes Admissions staff will agree to meet with you to provide advice on reapplying.
When you reapply, the Health Professions Committee will use the same letters of recommendation that you obtained for your first application - you do not need to ask faculty for letters, and we don't allow re-applicants to add letters. The only exception is if you are in a postion to request an additional outside letter, because you have now graduated, as explained in the Recommendations section. You need to register with the Health Professions Secretary exactly as you did before. You will provide an updated resume, and the Health Professions Committee will compile an update letter that will be attached to your original application materials.
An MD/PhD program is a superb opportunity, but it is not for everyone. It involves a commitment of 6 to 8 years of study and research with minimum vacations, in addition to residency once you specialize. You should be very clear in you own mind about why you need both degrees in order to accomplish your career goals.
The AAMC provides a complete list of MD/PhD programs on-line and in the Medical School Admissions Requirements book. The most selective and well-funded of these programs are those at the 39 schools funded by the Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP) of the National Institutes of Health. Another 70 or so MD/PhD programs are funded internally at non-MSTP medical schools.
About 200 new students per year in the whole country are accepted to MSTP programs, and Amherst students are almost always among them. The program pays tuition for both MD and PhD degrees, and provides a stipend of approximately $18,000 per year for living expenses. (If you add it all up, it comes to more than $300,000 in support!) If you drop the program midway, you must pay back the money they've spent on you.
You will also have an obligation to do research during at least part of your career after receiving the degrees. You should know what field you are interested in and apply to schools with appropriately strong departments. Apply only if you have already done substantial research, almost certainly including an Amherst science thesis. Most students accepted into M.D./Ph.D. programs are co-authors of one or more publications in scientific journals at the time they apply.
Most schools reserve some spots for second year medical students. AMCAS does not provide a service for applying to the Ph.D portion of these programs; you will need to submit completely separate applications, plus separate recommendations in addition to the Committee recommendation for the MD portion of the program. Interviews for these programs are gruelling, usually six to eight consecutive individual interviews, complete with specific science knowledge questions. You will have to interview separately for the MD and PhD programs, often over two days.
FINANCING MEDICAL SCHOOL
Medical school tuition and living expenses will come from some combination of personal income, family or spouse assistance, scholarships, work, and loans. It is not uncommon for new M.D.'s to have over $100,000 in loans outstanding. Most medical schools believe that it is the responsibility of the student to pay the primary cost of medical school. Medical schools in the United States typically require you to file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), and many schools also require you to file the College Board's CSS/Financial Aid Profile form. These forms may be completed on-line at http://www.fafsa.ed.gov/ and https://profileonline.collegeboard.com/. In addition, schools may have their own form to complete. Check the requirements and deadlines for each school to which you are applying. Financial aid application deadlines are typically in the early spring of the year in which you intend to start medical school. If you have particular financial aid questions or concerns, contact the financial aid officer at each school to which you have applied.
Chapter 7 of the Medical School Admissions Requirements contains up-to-date financial aid information. Also, Financing Medical Education is available in the Career Center resource library. Amherst College gives a number of John Woodruff Simpson Fellowships each year to students who will be attending medical school the following year. The fellowships vary in amount, depending on academic standing and financial need. The fellowship needs to be reapplied for each year the student is in medical school. For further information, contact the Fellowships Assistant, Denise Gagnon, Converse 101D.
Two federal programs grant substantial funding for medical school, and in turn require the recipient to practice where assigned for a number of years. One is the National Health Service Corps, designed to provide medical personnel in underserved rural and urban areas. The second is the Armed Forces Health Professions Scholarship Program, through the Army, Navy, or Air Force. This program may also limit residency and fellowship options after you have completed medical school. Prof. George has a handout with userful advice from a person who recently went through the Navy program. Additional information about these options is also available in the Career Center.
OK, you have made it to the end of the Guide! If you follow all of the advice offered here, you should have good prospects of succeeding in your goal of becoming a physician. The Amherst College Health Professions Advisor, Health Professions Committee, and Health Professions Secretary wish you success!
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