Ah, the Internet. A boundless source of information and networking opportunities, right? Unfortunately, it isn’t always easy to tell what’s good, honest, well-researched information, what’s pure opinion, and what’s just plain wrong.
As far as applying to medical school goes, there’s a lot of general information available about requirements, prerequisites, applications, etc. on school websites, as well as official exam and application sites (i.e. AMCAS and MCAT). These are very reliable and generally reflect the most up-to-date information. But what if you have more specific questions about your own personal situation? When you’re a non-traditional student, you don’t always have a pre-med advisor at your disposal, so you’d probably do the logical thing and ask Dr. Google.
Odds are, if you’ve ever searched on the internet about medical school application, you’ve probably come across a certain forum oriented at aspiring medical school students (and other forums like it). I’ll cut the BS here and just tell you that in my personal opinion, backed up by both personal and colleagues’ experience – and I cannot stress this enough – please don’t waste your time with forums like those if you can avoid it. Whatever scant hints of valid information that are actually nested in the comments are surrounded by absolute garbage, and it can be a monumental undertaking to discover the diamonds in the rough. For example, when I was studying for the MCAT I made some inquiries on one of the particularly virulent forums about the best methods to study and what certain scores would mean for me based on my resume. Some people claimed to have barely studied at all and gotten 40+ (100th percentile on the old scale). Others haughtily declared that getting anything under a 30 (roughly 80th percentile on the old scale) meant that you’d never get into medical school so you should quit trying while you were ahead (NOT true, btw). Others outlined detailed study programs that wouldn’t be realistic unless there were 30 hours in a day and you were on a trust fund. Numerous posts made dubious claims under the guise of having “inside information” into the admissions process. If you listen to these sorts of posts, all you’re going to get is bent out of shape over something that you have no way to validate.
Just…just don’t do that to yourself.
BUT. The general lack of information oriented specifically at non-traditional students MIGHT mean that the only answer–good or bad–to your specific question simply cannot be found anywhere else. So…what now?
Again, I would really advise against seeking advice on forums in the first place. However, if you’re stuck with nowhere else to go, these are a few things you can do to protect yourself from potentially inaccurate claims.
Treat responses on forums the way you would treat online customer reviews. Most issues surrounding applications to medical school or post-bacc programs do not have one singular “yes or no” answer. Keep this in mind when perusing answers on forums and never, ever trust the first statement you see. Maintain a healthy level of skepticism and try to read between the lines. Know that a lot of opinions are based on the individual experiences of the author and/or the culture specific to certain institutions. Also keep in mind that some of the most vocal people are going to be those who were unsatisfied with their experience during the process, aka those who didn’t get the outcome they expected. Avoid absolutist statements and instead seek out for answers that seem well-reasoned and backed up by some kind of evidence.
Seek out consensus across multiple posts. Many questions get asked several times and take the form of multiple posts over the years. Search specific keywords to see if your question has been asked more than once or in a different way, and – if you can – compare the answers for common themes or trends. For example, if you’re trying to figure out how your college GPA score stacks up against other applicants, first you’ll want to see if any answers were written by people with a GPA similar to yours; then check if there are any common themes. Maybe most people with a 3.5 undergrad GPA don’t seem to be faring well at Ivy League schools but have had plenty of success applying to and being accepted by state schools.
What was true 5 or 10 years ago may not be true now. Medical schools are constantly changing the way they weigh and evaluate the contents of your application. Certain experiences, coursework, or test scores may be viewed differently in this coming application cycle than they were a decade ago, so in general it’s not a good idea to take advice from a post written way back in 2008 (so “Two-Thousand-and-Late”).
Be willing to put in some leg work–the best way to find out the truth is to go directly to the source. Sometimes it’s worth getting actual data from past application cycles and using it to paint a more realistic picture of your situation. For example, do a little digging to find out which MCAT scores fit each percentile last year and see where you stand. Then check and see if schools you’re interested in have published the average MCAT scores of applicants in the past. Maybe even <gasp> create your own spreadsheet to compare metrics across multiple programs. Now you have a frame of reference to compare yourself to the typical student at your target schools, and you can figure out if your score is going to help you, hurt you, or be a non-issue. Just as an example, let’s say your score is at the 75th percentile and the average score of an accepted student at University of State was at the 80th percentile last year…your score is a little below average but probably not so low that it can’t be overcome. In fact, it’s likely well within their standard distribution of scores. Discovering that by doing some of your own math is a lot more productive than simply asking a big group of malicious randos on the Internet whether a 500 is good enough to go to Harvard.
Maintain your sanity. No matter what, keep in mind that this entire process of completing your pre-reqs, applying, attending medical school, and then going on to residency is a marathon and not a sprint. The worst thing you can do at this point in time is exhaust yourself at the very beginning of the race by making poor choices based on dubious claims from people who have no idea who you are and what your personal road is going to look like.
Hit us up for answers. Vet2MD’s raison d’etre is to be a constantly evolving source of information specifically intended to answer your questions. If what you’re looking for isn’t already on the site, shoot us an email. If we don’t have an answer for you, we will find a way to get it. You can also pose your question to our LinkedIn Group and ask others who have already gone through the process to weigh in.
Good luck out there!