How Do I Get To Medical School?


    It seems like a simple question, doesn't it? Well, the answer is somewhat more complicated. To get from undergraduate school (Coe) to medical school, you must complete certain courses, take a standardized test, secure letters of recommendation, and distinguish yourself both inside and outside the classroom. Easy enough?
First, you must take certain courses. Please see the "Coe's Pre-Med Courses" tab on this website to see what courses are required for the MCAT. Check with various medical schools to see what courses they require prior to enrollment. This information is easily accessible via their website. Alternatively, consider purchasing a copy of the most updated Medical School Admissions Requirements (MSAR). This book (about $25 on Amazon) contains admission requirements for all MD schools in the United States, Canada, and the Caribbean. An excellent resource for all pre-meds, this book is also available in the Chemistry Library (3rd Floor Peterson).
If you're a science major, you will likely take a sufficient number of science classes to meet the minimum standards. However, if you're choosing to major outside the natural sciences, be mindful that you'll need to boost your basic science coursework (General Bio, Chem, Physics, and Organic Chem) with additional upper-division courses. Those majoring in the social sciences (Psychology or Sociology) or other disciplines should check with an advisor in the sciences (Dr. Maria Dean-Chemistry, Dr. Paul Storer-Biology, Dr. Randy Christensen-Biology, or Dr. Mike Leonardo-Biology) to see what courses are offered during which semesters.
A note about grades: while you don't need a 4.0 to get into medical school, you won't get much attention unless your GPA (particularly in the sciences) is well above 3.50. I encourage you to do your very best from the start of your preparation so you won't have to overcome a bad semester or year in your GPA trend. Although admissions committees do look at grade trends, they're still concerned with your performance overall. Ideally, you'll be in the 3.7+ range (3.8 is helpful) unless you're applying to your state school and they give breaks to residents (University of Iowa-Carver does). MAKE SURE that you don't dip back down in your grades over time. In other words, once you start getting A- and A grades, don't slip backwards. Work hard to avoid that, because trends are also important.
You should generally elect to take a rigorous science course in place of an easier one. For example, skip Coe's "Microbiology for Nursing students" and take BIO 515 "Microbiology." It might be harder to earn an A, but admissions committees don't want to see that you've taken the easy way out. Take "Developmental Biology" in place of "Human Anatomy." Again, Human Anatomy is taught for nursing students (although Biology majors are allowed to enroll), and it is therefore a bit easier. Skip it, because it won't help you prepare for medical school anatomy, which is taught in a VERY different manner. Taking Developmental Biology will expose you to the pathways of development that will make learning anatomy much easier in medical school. Additionally, most medical schools aren't interested in seeing Human Anatomy on your transcript. They'd rather teach you their way. That does NOT hold true for Physiology, though. Take Experimental Human Physiology and, if you have time, Cell Physiology (BIO 525). The exception to this rule is Physics. The admissions committees do not care if you take algebra-based or calculus-based Physics. In fact, because you'll need to memorize the formulae for the MCAT (you likely won't have time to derive them), algebra-based might be the way to go.
As always, see your advisor if you have questions about what courses are suitable for medical school preparation.
The MCAT is a painful, grueling, back-breaking....wait. No it isn't. The MCAT is a standardized test (much like the ACT), but you needn't be afraid of it. Students who say "I'm not a good test-taker" must either punt or cowboy up. You can overcome poor test-taking with practice. Buy a review book (I recommend Kaplan over Princeton Review), and get crackin'!
The MCAT has four sections: Biological Sciences, Physical Sciences, Verbal Reasoning, and a Writing Sample. The first three sections are scored out of a possible 15 points (for a total of 45). The Writing Sample is scored on a letter scale, and you can read all about that on the MCAT website (it's still a tad confusing to me). The bottom line is that the Writing Sample is unlikely to significantly help or hurt you in the eyes of the admissions committee unless you really rock it or bomb it. Why? The committee will read a GREAT DEAL of your writing (your personal statement and your secondary essays), and they will therefore get their own sense of your ability. They won't need some MCAT reader's opinion.
Register for the MCAT early! Then, prepare. Don't kill yourself preparing; you'll burn out. Rather, make a nice schedule of the chapters in your review book, and decide to review each several times. Make a schedule (I used a spreadsheet), and made a reasonable goal of reviewing one chapter per day. That was easy. If you don't give yourself sufficient time to do that, review more chapters per day. Find as many practice questions as you can, and use them.
Take advantage of practice exams. If you purchase some of the Kaplan packages, there will be practice exams (with scoring!) included. If not, or for extra practice, purchase old exams (actual MCATs from days gone by) from AAMC on their website.
Some people plan to take a (very expensive) class to prepare for the MCAT. This is an option, certainly, but the major downfall is that it's very pricey. You will likely spend $2,000 (or more), and there's no real guarantee involved. They'll tell you that you'll improve your score from your diagnostic exam, but...duh?! You would have done the same thing with studying on your own, anyway. Additionally, many students in such classes are taking the MCAT for the second or even third time. This is their "last chance," so to speak, and they're generally not looking to improve from a 30 to a 35 composite. More likely, they're trying to move into the somewhat competitive range (27+).
A note about MCAT scores: In a perfect world, you'd get every question correct and get a 45. I wish you luck with that. Realistically, you're hoping for somewhere north of 30. 36 is a great score and wouldn't cause you any problems at any medical school in the USA. This doesn't mean you'd be admitted, but it means that MCAT scores would NOT be the reason for rejection. That's still tough, though. So your goal should be to score at least 10 on every section (that's at least 30 composite if you're keeping score). That makes you competitive at most mid-level programs and likely your in-state school. Get a little higher (32-33), and you could realistically shoot for a couple of "home-run" schools in the upper tier. No guarantees, but you might get lucky if the rest of your application is stellar.