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Pre-medical Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Q. Does it matter to medical schools where I earn my undergraduate degree?
A. Medical schools do not have a preference for one undergraduate institution over another; they consider applicants from any accredited college or university. However, when students select an undergraduate institution, it is important to consider whether the institution has pre-medical advising services and relevant coursework and to consider how much opportunity there is to learn about medicine in the area where the institution is located. Access to such services and opportunities helps to facilitate your ability to become a competitive candidate.

Q. What should I major in? What major do medical schools prefer?
A. Medical schools do not prefer one major over another. They are looking for well-rounded, broadly educated applicants who do well in the science coursework required to prepare for medical school. With a liberal education like the one offered at PSU, students can be well-rounded regardless of the major they choose. Students are recommended to select a major they find interesting and in which they expect they can perform well. Some students also take efficiency into consideration, evaluating how many credits a particular major requires and how much overlap exists between the requirements for the major and the requirements for medical school. Majors commonly chosen by pre-medical students include Science, Biology, Health Studies (with a Health Sciences concentration), Psychology, and Chemistry or Biochemistry. However, pre-medical students have been known to major in Spanish, Music, English, and more. In addition, with the amount of content covered on the MCAT scheduled to broaden in 2015, the Liberal Studies major is an increasingly compelling option for some students. The majors offered at PSU, along with their requirements, can be found in the PSU Bulletin.

Q. If I repeat a course, will the grade I receive the second time replace the grade I received the first time I took the course?
A. Although PSU has a Repeated Course Policy that says if one earns a D or an F in a course the first time and then repeats the course, only the second grade will be calculated into the GPA, the allopathic medical school application (AMCAS) disregards the repeated course policies of undergraduate institutions. Applicants to allopathic medical school must report every grade earned, regardless of the undergraduate institution's policies. Every grade is then calculated into the grade point averages generated by the AMCAS application. In contrast, the osteopathic medical school application (AACOMAS) requires that all coursework and grades be entered (even if repeated) but with repeated courses will only count the second grade earned in the GPA calculations generated by the AACOMAS application.

Q. How many hours of volunteer service and shadowing/observation experience do I need?
A. Most medical schools do not specify a certain number of hours for volunteer service or shadowing/observation. This is because their decisions are not formulaic; the quality of the experience itself and the ability of the applicant to articulate the meaning behind the experience are just as important as the number of hours the applicant spent in the activity. A general rule of thumb is that applicants should have several, long-term, high-quality experiences in the field. This tends to give applicants both depth and breadth of exposure to the field and helps to demonstrate a long-term commitment to the field.

Q. When do I apply to medical school?
A. You would apply to medical school more than a year before you expect to begin medical school. If you wish to begin medical school right after completing your degree, you would apply at the end of your junior year. If you want to have a “year off” between finishing your bachelor’s degree and beginning medical school, you would wait until the end of your senior year of college to apply to medical school. The “year off” is commonly referred to as a “glide year” or “gap year”; many students spend it gaining relevant experience in healthcare and/or taking additional recommended coursework.

Q. How do I apply to medical school?
A. Students apply to medical school by completing and submitting a primary application through a central application service (AMCAS or AACOMAS). This service verifies and standardizes the information from the application and forwards it to the medical schools indicated by the applicant. The next step of the application process is the secondary application. In secondary applications, medical schools request additional information from students, such as letters of evaluation and responses to essay questions. Some medical schools automatically invite all applicants to complete secondary applications, while others only invite applicants who meet minimum GPA and MCAT score criteria to complete them.

Students typically send their evaluation letters to medical schools by using PSU’s Health Sciences Advising (HSA) Letter service. See the “Health Sciences Advising Letter Service” link at the left menu to learn more.

Q. What are AMCAS and AACOMAS?
A. AMCAS and AACOMAS are the online, centralized application services for allopathic medical school and osteopathic medical school, respectively. Applicants fill out the application(s) and designate the schools to which they would like their application to be sent. AMCAS and AACOMAS do not render any admission decisions or advise applicants where to submit applications. Each medical school is completely autonomous in its admission decisions. AMCAS and AACOMAS only provide the application processing service.

The AMCAS and AACOMAS applications usually become available in May and the earliest that applicants can submit the applications is typically the first week of June.

American Medical College Application Service (AMCAS) information

American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine’s Application Service (AACOMAS)

Q. When will I interview at medical schools?

A. Interviews normally take place between September and approximately March for acceptance the following fall (although some schools continue to interview into the spring). Most admissions offers are made during fall and winter terms but some schools, including Oregon Health & Science University School of Medicine, continue to make offers through spring term (and even later in some cases for applicants who are pulled off of wait lists).

Q. What GPA and MCAT scores do I need to be competitive?
A. Competitive applicants typically have a GPA of 3.6 or higher and double digit MCAT scores (10 or higher) on each of the individual sections. However, there is no set of magic numbers that guarantee acceptance to medical school. See the “Student Success” link at the left menu to learn more about what makes an applicant competitive for medical school.

Q. How do I get letters of evaluation?
A. Letters of evaluation are an important part of your application to medical school. Since the admission committee members at the medical schools do not know you personally, they rely heavily on the comments from people who do know you and are in a position to comment on your potential to complete the medical school curriculum and become a competent and caring physician.

Most medical schools require a Committee/Adviser Letter or a minimum of three letters of evaluation. The goal of committee or adviser letters of evaluation is to provide additional insight into the candidates preparation and skills, while also demonstrating that the applicant has been engaged in the advising process to prepare for their application.  If a student opts to obtain individual letters of evaluation, it is advisable to include at least two academic evaluations (at least one from the sciences) and at least one non-academic evaluation (employer, volunteer coordinator, a physician under which you have worked). To learn more about PSU’s Health Sciences Advising Letter Service, see the link at the left menu.

Q. What is an “application cycle”?
A. The application cycle for medical school begins in June and runs approximately through the June of the following year. For example, a student who wishes to begin medical school in 2014 is applying in the 2013-2014 application cycle and it runs from June 2013 to approximately June 2014 (however, sometimes students are pulled from wait lists as late as July or in rare cases, August). During the application cycle, applicants submit their applications for review and medical schools review applications and make interview offers; they then make offers of admission, deny admission, or waitlist applicants. Some medical schools will make these decisions rapidly, while others might take a long time to notify you about decisions. For example, one medical school might notify you about whether you have been denied or invited for an interview within a week or two of receiving your application, while another might take months to notify you of this decision. Similarly, some medical schools will notify you within two weeks of your completed interview about whether you have been admitted, while others will continue to consider you after the interview and might wait months before notifying you of your admissions status.

Q. What is rolling admissions?
A. Rolling admissions is an approach used by many medical schools wherein they review applications and make decisions about whom will be interviewed and admitted as applications are received. In other words, they do not wait until their application deadline hits to review applications and make admissions decisions. Rolling admissions means that spaces in a medical school’s incoming class begin to fill early in the application cycle and as the application cycle progresses, the available spaces become fewer and the competition therefore greater.

Q. What are the important dates and deadlines?
A. For fall matriculation at U.S. medical schools, here are some important deadlines:

Deadline for MCAT: It is ideal to take the MCAT by May of the year in which you are applying to medical school, but some students take it in June, July, or even August in order to study more. The latest you can take the MCAT for a given application cycle is September, though applicants are recommended to take the exam prior to September due to rolling admissions.

Deadline for AMCAS/AACOMAS application: Deadlines for applying vary by medical school (there is no uniform deadline for submitting the application). Due to the “rolling admissions” approach utilized by many medical schools, students are generally recommended to apply early in the application cycle. Applicants are recommended to be aware of the deadlines for the various medical schools to which they will apply and to plan to submit their application ahead of these deadlines (ideally several months ahead of the deadline).

The AMCAS and AACOMAS applications typically become available in May. The earliest you can submit the applications is typically the first week of June. Most PSU students wait until spring term grades post (third week of June) to submit their application.If you submit the application by the end of June, you are applying early in the application process. The appropriate timing for submitting your application depends on a variety of factors that are unique to each applicant; it is important to discuss the timing of the submission of your application with your pre-medical adviser.

Deadline for Health Sciences Advising (HSA) Letter Service: HSA Letter Service packets are available as a PDF on the CLAS Advising website by clicking the "Health Sciences Advising Letter Service" link in the left menu above. All eligibility requirements and required materials outlined in the HSA packet, including all letters of evaluation, must be met. Click on “Health Sciences Advising Letter Service” at the left menu for more information.

Q. How do I choose the medical schools to which I will apply?
A. Information regarding specific U.S. and Canadian medical schools can be found in Medical School Admission Requirements (MSAR), a primarily online resource you can purchase access to by visiting the AAMC Web site.

You can utilize the MSAR to develop a long list of schools, and then visit the Web site for each school on your long list to shorten it into your final list of medical schools. We recommend that applicants apply to between ten and twenty medical schools. When considering medical schools, here are some of the factors you should consider:

Residency: Public medical schools give significant preference to residents of that state. Residents also pay lower tuition rates. However, it is important to note that it is strategic to apply to some state schools, even if you are not a resident of that state. This is because even though they give preference to their own residents, some state schools still rely upon non-residents to fill their classes. In contrast, other state schools give exclusive or near-exclusive preference to residents of their own state and it would not be strategic to apply to these schools as a non-resident.

Location: Where are you willing to live?

Curriculum: Curricular approaches vary among institutions. The focus and approach of the curriculum should be investigated to ensure it matches your philosophical views and learning style.

Cost: The cost of medical school can vary a great deal.

Religious Affiliation: Some schools give preference to applicants of particular religions.