Myths vs. Facts

images-1MYTH: If I don’t go into medical school following college it will appear weak to medical schools.

FACT: Very false! If you take time off you are likely to appear even more well-rounded to medical schools. Students with some life experience often work better with patients. Medical schools know this and very often prefer mature students with more interesting life experience. The average age for medical students entering most medical schools is at least 24 years old.

MYTH: Medical school admissions decisions are based on GPA and MCAT scores.

FACT: You do want to achieve an overall strong performance in the biological and physical sciences. However, no specific grade point average or Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT) score guarantees acceptance into medical school. Students with a science grade point average of B+ or better have the best chance of being accepted, but students with some grades below B do get into medical school. Your personal qualities, experiences, and motivation are critical factors in determining whether you are admitted to a medical school. Medical school admissions committees look favorably on students who have tested their interest in medicine through community service, health-related internships, extracurricular activities, or significant research. Each medical school develops its own criteria and priorities for admission, reflecting the goals of the respective school. For some medical schools, potential for service to an underserved community is very important; for other medical schools, a determining factor may be leadership qualities. To assess these qualities, medical school admissions committees will use the statements and essays in your application, letters of evaluation, your coursework (including trends in academic performance and level of course difficulty), and personal interviews.

MYTH: I just received a C in a science course; I should give up any dream of becoming a physician. Given the grade, I should repeat the course.

FACT: In the vast majority of the cases, NO. Generally speaking, it is rarely recommended that premedical and related coursework be repeated unless the grade is below C. To repeat a course where you received a C, please know that any repeated grade below an “A” would not be looked upon favorably. A much better strategy is to take an advanced biomedical science course that will be valued by medical schools and achieve a strong grade. In other words, an average grade in a prerequisite course can be redeemed partially by a strong performance in a higher-level course. Remember, a single (or small number of) low grade is not going to keep you out of medical school as long as your grade trend is favorable going forward. Furthermore, while it is true that your science grade point average is important, admissions committees look at a single grade within the context of the whole picture. If you have questions about your specific situation, you should set up an appointment with an advisor in the Pre-Prof. Office.

MYTH: If I really want to go to medical school, I should concentrate in one of the sciences.

FACT: You must demonstrate competency in science and an ability to handle the science-intensive curriculum of medical school. However, medical schools do not require that you major in a science. The area of study that interests you the most and that you wish to explore extensively is the one you can and should choose for your concentration. There is no “premedical program” at Johns Hopkins. While it is important to know and fulfill the necessary requirements for admission to medical school, it is neither necessary nor preferable to commit yourself at this time to a tightly focused curriculum directed at pursuing this particular profession. Non-science concentrators who apply to medical school are as successful as science concentrators if they have comparable grades in science courses. However, choosing a non-science concentration just for the sake of “looking different” offers no advantage in the application process. In general, medical schools are more concerned with the quality and scope of your undergraduate work than with your specific area of concentration. Taking advanced courses, choosing an honors concentration, and pursuing independent research are all ways to explore an academic area of interest in-depth.

MYTH: If I want to be a doctor, I need to start preparing during my first year at Johns Hopkins, or I’ll be behind schedule.

FACT: There is no rush to complete premedical requirements and no set schedule that needs to be followed. It is important that you realize that nearly two-thirds of applicants to medical school from Johns Hopkins apply as alumni (with a “bridge” year) and spread out premedical coursework over all four years. Your first year is really about getting adjusted and making a successful transition from high school. Most important is that you become accustomed to the academics at Johns Hopkins, learn how to manage your time effectively, and develop strong and effective study skills. Some first year students get involved in research or volunteer work, but it is not necessary. As time passes, however, you will pursue a balance of activities, inducing medically-related experience and volunteering in a community setting that will contribute to your candidacy for medical school.

MYTH: If I do really well as a freshman, it will impress medical schools.

FACT: Not really. Medical schools pay much more attention to the trends of your grades. Your freshman grades are not a great indicator of your medical school performance. Your grades will, however, become increasingly more important until you actually apply to medical school. Naturally, it would be better to do well than to do poorly as a freshman, but your overall and science GPAs are more important than freshman performance. Grade trend through college is even more significant.

MYTH: If I take a lot of classes per term and don’t do as well, then medical schools will take into account that I took a heavy load.

FACT: False. There is no doubt that it is better to have a higher GPA with an average course load than an average or low GPA with a heavy class load. On the AMCAS (universal medical school application) form it is difficult to tease out what classes were taken together. Few medical school admissions officers will have the time to tally how many units you took during individual terms. Take home point: Torturing yourself academically as a freshman won’t win any points with medical schools, won’t impress your classmates, and can easily backfire (and backfires more often than not).

MYTH: Medical schools won’t look at me if I don’t do lab research.

FACT: False. Statistically speaking, you are very unlikely to end up doing lab research as a doctor. If you like lab research, pursue it with passion. Also realize that there are many other options such as clinical research or even social science/humanities research that are also beneficial and received well by admissions committees. Most schools are interested in a student’s research experience because it demonstrates the ability to look critically at a topic, explore at a deep and incisive scholastic level, and demonstrate the ability to follow through and compete a project. It is not necessarily about what you do, but rather that you did it and did it well. Take home point: If you don’t really like the lab you don’t have to spend your undergraduate years working with test tubes, you can look for other opportunities that highlight your creativity, skills, and dedication.