From anxious questions about extracurricular activities to outright obsession with admission statistics, medical school applicants put a lot of effort into trying to understand the medical school admissions process. Perhaps it is reassuring, then, to know that medical schools also put a great deal of effort into understanding how they admit students. “What!” you say, “They don’t know what they are doing! I knew it!” Well, who are “they?” While it seems like a single behemoth, medical school admissions is comprised of many different institutions and the decisions of numerous groups and individuals. They are all rather different and, being human, are subject to irrationality, bad judgment, and habit as well as wisdom, insight and innovation.
On an ongoing basis, the American Association of Medical Colleges (AAMC) analyzes and evaluates how medical students are admitted across schools. As a group, and by committee, they consider whether the admissions practices are identifying the “best” medical students. What are the most important qualities a medical student can possess? How do you identify them? Nobody uses “just numbers,” for admissions decisions. Yet, they are important. And they are very easy to assess when faced with thousands of applications.
A recent analysis of the admissions process at 113 public and private U.S. medical schools shows that it isn’t all about grades. The AAMC’s September 2011 “Analysis in Brief,” reports, “…approximately eight percent of applicants with UGPAs [undergraduate GPAs] ranging from 3.80 to 4.00 and MCAT total scores ranging from 39 to 45 were rejected by all of the medical schools to which they applied. In contrast, about 18 percent of applicants with UGPs ranging from 3.20 to 3.39 and MCAT scores ranging from 24 to 26 were accepted by at least one school.”
Moreover, the report demonstrates what your pre-health advisors have shared with applicants many times. Getting an interview is one thing. Getting in after the interview is another. Clinical volunteering is important. The five most significant pieces of data for making interview offers are, in order:
1) Science and math GPA (BCPM)
2) Cumulative GPA
3) Total MCAT score
4) Letters of Recommendation
5) Medical community service
Yet, the five most important pieces of data for making offers of acceptance are, in order:
1) Interview recommendation
2) Letters of recommendation
3) Science and math GPA (BCPM)
4) Medical community service
5) Cumulative GPA
The MCAT and grades drop in importance. The interview, letters of recommendation, and medical community service rise.
MCAT and grades are very important, but they don’t rule the roost, so to speak. Increasingly, people in medical school admissions are considering ways to more easily assess the personal qualities of applicants, hoping to find those people who really have what it takes to serve as physicians.