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FAQs in Premedicine

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Some questions that Premedicine / Health Pre-Professional Advisers are often asked.

Please select the question of interest below for more information. 

1. What is the accept rate of Penn State students to medical school?

In answering this question, you must first realize that Penn State has a large group of non-traditional applicants (graduate students and older students who have returned to school for additional undergraduate study) applying for medical school admission each year.  Also, there is no mechanism in operation at Penn State where students are pre-screened to determine who can or who cannot apply for medical school admission.  With this in mind, the application/accept figures for the past several years show that of all students across the University who applied for medical school admission, about 60% were accepted.  If you consider just the junior year undergraduate students who applied, about 65% were accepted.  And finally, in looking at just the undergraduate Premedicine majors who applied, about 70% were accepted.  These above figures compare with an overall national accept rate of about 40%.

2. Where do most Penn State students go to medical school?

Generally, about 70% of our accepted applicants matriculate at Pennsylvania medical schools.  However, we currently have over 500 Penn State students enrolled in one or another of 60 plus different medical schools across the country.

3. Do I have to be a Premedicine major at Penn State to prepare for medical school admission?

About 75% of all students accepted to medical school have majored somewhere in the Eberly College of Science.  The two most popular majors are Premedicine and Biology, but there are many other students who have majored in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Microbiology, Chemistry and General Science.  Various majors in the colleges of Liberal Arts, Engineering, Agriculture, and Health and Human Development also often have students who are preparing for medical school admission.  Regardless of chosen major or college, it is most important that the student complete the basic courses required by most medical school admission committees before making application to medical school.  These courses are:  1 year of English composition, 1 year of general chemistry with lab, 1 year of general biology with lab, 1 year of physics with lab, 1 year of organic chemistry with lab (many schools specify 8 semester hours of organic), and usually 1/2 - 1 year of mathematics (preferably calculus). Biochemistry is often required or strongly recommended.

4. What if I am a Premedicine major and then not accepted to medical school?

If a Premedicine major is not accepted, there is usually a good reason.  Most Premedicine students will find out the cause(s) for their rejection and attempt to rectify the situation.  In many cases, this requires attending graduate school for one or two years and then reapplying for admission.  Premedicine majors have a good background for most areas of graduate study in the sciences and generally have no problem gaining admission to good graduate programs.

5. What grade point average (GPA) should I have to be a competitive applicant for medicalschool admission?

We tell students that by the end of their freshman year they should have at least a 3.0, by the end of their sophomore year at least a 3.3, and by the end of their junior year, when they normally apply, they should have at least a 3.5.  The average GPA for Penn State students accepted to medical school last year was 3.6, and if one has less than a 3.3, he or she should probably consider waiting a year to apply, and bolster their academic preparation.

6. How do medical schools feel about Withdraw (W) and Satisfactory (SA)/Unsatisfactory (UN) grades?

Students interested in applying to medical and graduate school programs should try to avoid W and SA/UN grades.  There are exceptions to this general recommendation, however, and the student should seek advice from his/her faculty adviser.

7. Why do Premedicine majors have to take foreign language and biochemistry or physical chemistry?

The Premedicine curriculum is designed to have students take the basic science courses required by all 130 medical schools in the United States.  In addition, many medical schools recommend courses such as physical chemistry, biochemistry and foreign language, and so the Premedicine major also requires these courses.  At the same time, however, the Premedicine major is designed to provide a large number of free elective credits.  We encourage students to use these elective credits for more non-science courses as well as additional science courses.  It is possible that a Premedicine major could graduate with nearly an equal number of science and non-science credits.

8. When should I take the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT)?

Most students plan to take the MCAT exam in the Spring of their junior year.  This time is preferable in order to get an early review, and if one does not do well, they can repeat the exam during the fall of the same year and have scores still available for that year’s application.  Assuming that a student has completed their organic chemistry and physics by the end of their sophomore year, there is no reason they cannot take the exam during fall of their junior year.  Most medical schools will only use a student’s best complete set of scores in their evaluation process.  Some schools will average the scores of multiple testing dates.  However, medical schools will see all sets of scores, and so students should never take these exams until they are fully prepared.

9. What about taking an MCAT prep course?

It is our estimate that about half of Penn State students take some sort of prep course to get ready for the MCAT exam.  For many students, enrolling in such a course can be of great value, but of course that is largely dependent upon the nature and quality of the course.  Also, such courses are usually quite expensive, so the student must weigh the benefit against the cost.  For additional information, we suggest students contact the Kaplan Educational Center at 522 East College Avenue, State College (814-238-1423) or Princeton Review at 1-800-273-8439.  Furthermore, students may want to consider reviewing the text, The Official Guide to the MCAT Exam, as well an online MCAT materials published by AAMC. https://www.aamc.org/students/applying/mcat/preparing/

10. What electives should I take as an undergraduate student?

First of all, you should always try to schedule 1 or 2 non-sciences courses along with your science courses each and every semester.  Some medical schools require courses in psychology, social science and humanities, so you should definitely check medical school catalogs before making these elective course decisions.  It is often a good idea to take several elective courses in a series (e.g., HIST 001, HIST 120, HIST 420).  Taking additional courses in English composition could prove useful since a written essay is part of the MCAT exam.  Also, don’t overlook relevant courses in such areas as business, political science or religious studies.  Many Premedicine majors actually complete a non-science minor along with their major.

11. Can you recommend any specific extracurricular activities in which I should become involved?

The important thing is not so much in what you become involved, but rather that you do really and truly become involved.  We are generally much more impressed by a student that accepts a leadership position and makes a significant contribution to one organization than we are by a student who is simply a passive member of numerous organizations.  Also, extracurricular activities do not necessarily have to involve participation in organized student groups.  Many students make meaningful contributions or develop out-of-class skills in other ways - e.g., the Collegian, I.M. sports, volunteer work, serious hobbies, etc.

12. What is the Premedicine Honor Society?

Alpha Epsilon Delta (AED) is the National Health Professions Honor Society.  The Penn State chapter was established in 1938 and has a yearly initiation of about 75 students of high academic standing who are preparing for graduate study in one of the health professions.  The Society has monthly programs open to the public which are of special interest to students preparing for a health professions career.  Additional information about AED programs or membership can be found directly on the Union and Student Activities organization Web site, sites.psu.edu/alphaepsilondelta/.

13. How important is it for an undergraduate to find part-time or summer work in a hospital setting?

Medical school admission committees look for ways in which they can be certain that applicants know as much as possible about what they are getting themselves in for.  Finding work in a healthcare setting (hospital, nursing home, clinic, etc.) is one way to demonstrate your willingness to help sick people while at the same time familiarizing yourself with healthcare delivery systems.  In lieu of hospital work, one might also consider volunteering time to health service agencies such as American Cancer Society, Red Cross, or Mental Health.

14. When should I actually apply for medical school admissions?

One must apply for medical school admission one year prior to the anticipated date of matriculation.  For some students, this means making application during the summer between the junior and senior years.  It is possible, however, that with an outstanding academic record, one might consider applying after the sophomore year for admission after the junior year.  If you are a Premedicine major and leave for medical or dental school after your junior year, Penn State can still award you a B.S. degree after completion of your first year of professional school.  Other students who have academic records not quite competitive enough at the end of their junior year will often decide to delay their application until completion of their senior year (see also http://www.science.psu.edu/premed/apply_next_year.html).  Application to most all medical schools is made through a central application service, American Medical College Application Service (AMCAS), https://www.aamc.org/students/applying/, and American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine Application Service (AACOMAS), http://www.aacom.org/InfoFor/applicants/Pages/default.aspx.  The average number of schools to which most students apply is 14.

15. What is the Health Sciences Preprofessional Evaluation Committee?

This is a committee composed of numerous faculty and advisers from various colleges within the university who assist in preparing a committee letter of evaluation for support of students applying to health profession schools.  It is not required by Penn State that students use this committee, but many medical schools require such a committee letter, and most students find the process helpful.  For additional information on the operation of this committee, pick up material in 213 Whitmore Laboratory or download the instructions and forms from our Premedicine Web site, http://science.psu.edu/premed/applying-to-medical-school/committeeinfo.

16. How do I go about getting letters of recommendation?

If a student uses the Health Sciences Pre-professional Evaluation Committee, there are forms available for individual faculty letters of recommendation.  Students take these forms to between 3 and 6 faculty members/references of their choice and request that they be completed and returned to the Evaluation Committee.  The committee uses  this information in their overall evaluation, and also includes copies of these individual letters along with the committee letter to each medical school.  These faculty letters can be requested at any time from the freshman year on and will remain on file with the committee until a student makes application.  It’s a good idea to provide your letter writer with a short biographical sketch of yourself, a current resume, and a copy of your transcript.

17. How can I possibly afford medical school?

Medical school tuition is extremely expensive, but all Penn State students generally find the funds to cover these expenses.  The most usual sources of money are low-interest Federal loans with deferred payback until after medical school completion.  Scholarship money is another possibility.  Most medical schools have merit and need scholarships, and the Armed Services and Public Health Service have tuition scholarships contingent upon payback time as a physician.  Additional information is available in 213 Whitmore Laboratory, on the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) Web site, https://www.aamc.org/students/aspiring/paying/, and through Financial Aid Offices at individual medical schools.

18. What about osteopathic schools of medicine?

There are currently 30 colleges of osteopathic medicine in the United States.  Following completion of a 4-year program (in many ways similar to an M.D. program) a student receives the D.O. degree, which entitles him/her in all 50 states to the use of all diagnostic and therapeutic techniques for the prevention and treatment of human illness, including drugs and operative surgery.  Osteopathy emphasizes treatment of the entire person and recognizes the importance of the musculoskeletal systems in the proper functioning of all body systems.  Manipulative therapy is an important part of osteopathy, but only one part of the D.O.’s total service.  Many osteopathic physicians are in general practice with special emphasis on preventive medicine, in addition to practicing in many specialty areas too.  Application to osteopathic schools is through the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine Application Service (AACOMAS).  For more information visit the following Web site.  http://www.aacom.org

19. What about foreign medical schools?

There are many U.S. students who are successfully entering the medical profession after completing some or all of their education at a foreign medical school.  Attending a foreign school is usually a last resort after a couple of unsuccessful attempts at gaining admission to a U.S. school.  Some students are successful in transferring back into a U.S. school after completion of the first two years at a foreign school.  It appears that the biggest problem with the foreign medical school route is going to be attaining residency positions back in the U.S. after graduation at the foreign school.  There are clearly a number of risks involved with foreign medical school education, and a student should be well aware of these before making that commitment.

20. What is meant by “academic medicine”?

This generally refers to physicians who have decided to base their careers in an academic setting, usually a College of Medicine.  Such individuals are most often members of a medical school faculty and usually divide their time between research, teaching and medical practice.  Many physicians who choose academic medicine earn combined M.D./Ph.D. degrees.  Typically full scholarship packages support students in M.D./Ph.D. programs. Additional information concerning M.D./Ph.D. programs can be found on the the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) Web site, https://www.aamc.org/students/research/mdphd/.  Additionally there are some Osteopathic medical colleges that offer D.O./Ph.D. programs. Information concerning these programs can be found on the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine site, http://www.aacom.org .

21. Should I consider taking a "gap year"?

Advisers are often asked if taking a “gap year” is detrimental to an application for medical school. In our experience and conversations with admissions deans, taking a gap year or two between your undergraduate education and professional school most often makes you a stronger candidate! The gap experience can be a personally enriching, you emerge more mature and this can help you to confirm that you are making the right career decision for you.

Some students are looking for some good reasons why it might be better to apply to medical or other professional schools at the end of the 4th year of college or later. Here are a few reasons that might be helpful:

1.  More time for application preparation and to get organized so you can apply early (personal statement, committee letter application, letters of recommendation, schools to research). Earlier is better for rolling admissions.

2.  More study time for MCAT. Target May exam date, so that you can focus on studying for finals first.

3.  An extra year of undergraduate coursework (senior year) can possibly improve your GPA with challenging upper division courses.

4.  Allows more time to develop meaningful relationships with faculty, which could improve the quality of information for your recommendation letters.

5.  In tight economic times, numbers of applications to professional schools increase. Chances of acceptance in a future year could improve if the economy improves.

6.  Applying upon graduation allows you to work full-time for a year may so that you can make payments on loans, and save money for future medical school expenses.

7.  Admissions committees can often detect an enhanced level of maturity and commitment because of the extra year of growth.

8.  Allows more time to acquire further health care experiences as a volunteer or in a paid position.

9.  Allows more time for you to articulate your career goals (spoken and written) using your experiences.

10.  It is wise to be a strong first-time applicant, versus a strong re-applicant.

11.  A break from rigorous academics could be positive for your mental and physical readiness for medical school.

Modified from Kate Fukawa-Connelly’s NEAAHP listserv contribution on February 5, 2008 (Brandeis University)

22. What do students do during a "gap year"?

Ronald A. Markle, Ph.D.

Professor of Biology

In Charge, Premedicine and Science Programs

East Wing Ritenour Building, First Floor

(814) 865-7620

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