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My successful application as a non-traditional student with a foreign education

Discussion in 'Nontraditional Students' started by mouseben, Dec 8, 2008.

  1. mouseben

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    I am a non-traditional applicant, married and with a 6-month-old baby, and with a foreign undergraduate education in an Asian country. I applied to medical schools for the entering year of 2009. I have been very lucky in this application cycle, with 7 acceptances already and still waiting to hear back from a few others (post-interview and post-secondary). Before and during my application, like many non-traditional applicants, I was stressful and a little scared, not sure what would happy. I got tremendous help and encouragement from many kind SDNers. I would never have done it so successfully without all your help. Today I am writing my story and my insight regarding the application process based on my own experience. Hopefully it will be helpful for some non-traditional applicants. :luck:

    1) Undergraduate degree and prerequisite courses

    I did my undergraduate in an Asian country, so English is my second language. I came to the U.S. for a Ph.D. degree in Physics. During my third year of my Ph.D. program, I realized that I wanted to pursue medicine. I went to a medical school counseling and they basically told me that it was almost impossible for me to get in medical school (at that time, I did not know about SDN). They said that I had to have an undergraduate degree in the U.S. to apply (which is NOT true) and I had to take all the prerequisite courses in the U.S. including math and physics even though I was in a Physics Ph.D. program (again, not completely true, see below).

    For my undergraduate degree, I could not change the fact that it was done in a foreign country. I figured since I would be holding a U.S. advanced degree, it should be all right. It turned out I was right. But I did take the advice of using credential evaluation service WES to evaluate my undergraduate degree and transcript. I was planning to order one report from WES to every school, so whenever possible during the secondary application (such as in place of "do you have any other comments") I would write that I had done a WES evaluation and would order an official report to be sent from WES. However, ordering report from WES was too costly (~$20 per copy) and I decided to hold a while to see if I would get interview invitations without the report from WES. Fortunately, interview invitations started to roll in at mid-August. So I haven't ordered any copy from WES yet and I think I probably only need one copy for my final-decision school. Isn't that sweet? :p:p:p

    For the prerequisite courses, I took them selectively. Since I have taken many physics on the graduate level I figured they should be able to substitute the general physics, so I did not retake the general physics as those counselors suggested. I did not retake math neither, because I figured I had taken many in my foreign college and my math skills should not be doubted because of my advanced degree in Physics. For general chemistry (w/ lab), organic chemistry (w/lab), biology (w/lab) and English, I decided to take them in the U.S. But as a graduate student working in the lab full time, I could only take one course per semester as allowed by my Ph.D. advisor. I laid out a time frame, and it did not seem that I had enough time to finish all four courses before 2008, the year of my application. I prioritized the courses in the order of: organic chemistry, biology, general chemistry, English. My graduate school is a very good private school, so I took organic chemistry and biology at my graduate school in two years, while took general chemistry and English in a state public school during two summers. In this way, I finished all the 4 courses in two years while doing my Ph.D. study at the same time.

    I learned from some SDNers that an applicant with a foreign undergraduate degree need to have >= 90 class credits (or >=60 for some schools) in the U.S. to be considered in medical school application. I am not sure how strict that requirement is, but I did not have that many credits. Combing the undergraduate prerequisite classes and my graduate classes, I had only 68 credits, and this did not seem to be a problem for most schools (I applied to 20 schools in total, have received 13 interviews).

    2) Mcat

    I knew I had to have a good mcat score to succeed in the application, so I took this beast with a lot of respect :D. I took Kaplan online course, together with Exam Crackers books. There was a lot of excellent advice given on SDN regarding how to attack each session and I do not really have much to say. I just want to stress the importance of "smart" practice--taking notes of the mistakes you made and understanding every question you got right. Since English is my second language, Verbal session was my biggest challenge. I remember I started with a 4 or 5 in Kaplan practice, and got really concerned when it did seem to improve after I reached 8 or 9. I got Exam Crackers 101 and practiced a lot. Before the real exam, my verbal was around 9/10 (or 8 if I was not giving my full concentration). I told myself to stop freaking out and just try my best to score 9 or 10. Fortunately I got 10 in the real mcat. I think CONCENTRATION is the key to do well in mcat. During Verbal session, I was fully focused on just my screen and did not really notice when people around me getting up and going in and out the room. I got really hungry during my last Bio session (I was about 4-month pregnant :p) and got distracted. I barely finished the bio session and got 11, which is lower than my practice (~12-13). So CONCENTRATION is the key. In case you wonder, my mcat score is V10+P14+B11 =35 O.

    For those who are struggling on verbal, do not give up. If I can do it, you can do it. Practice and Concentration!

    3) Clinical experience


    I started to volunteer at a hospital at the same time I started to take the prerequisite courses. Because of my tight schedule, I only did one ~4 hour shift every week on Sundays for about 1.5 years. I figured that since I was going to be weak in this area compared to other applicants who might have done clinical work for many years, I needed to make my volunteer experience really valuable. So I chose a volunteer work that had a lot of patient contact. It turned out this was very important because I got asked about my volunteer work during almost every interview and the interviewer was happy to learn that I had the experience of close patient contact so I knew what it was like to work with patients. Therefore I highly recommend doing volunteer work that involves a lot patient contact.

    I stopped my volunteer work when I got really busy preparing for Mcat. I was not sure if my 1.5 years of volunteer work was enough in the category of clinical experience. After I got back my mcat score and decided for sure that I was going to apply in the summer of 2008, I asked for advice from a few SDNers. They all told me that my clinical experience was too scarce and I needed to do some more. They especially recommended shadowing with doctors. I knew that shadowing with doctors was standard clinical experience for almost every medical school applicant, so in the early March of 2008 (when I was ~6 month pregnant) I decided to do some shadowing. However, I could not really find a doctor to shadow. So I went back to my ex volunteer coordinator to see if she had anything for me. My coordinator kindly arranged me a volunteer work where I could have even more in-depth patient contact (I interviewed a lot of patients and selectively enroll them in some patient-care program). It turned out this rather short two-month volunteer experience (had to stop it because my baby was coming :) ) was very important because during the interview when being asked "what ELSE clinical experience do you have?" I had something nice to say. I would not have done this two-month volunteer work if not for the advice I got from those SDNers. Therefore, it is very important to get feedback about your application package before you apply, and be sure to leave some time to fix those weak points.

    As for shadowing with doctors, I think it is a necessary for traditional applicants because the AdCom need to make sure that you know what you are getting yourself into. But for non-traditional applicants, especially those who have explored other career choices and in their late-20s or early 30s, I feel shadowing may not be a necessary. Do it if you have the opportunity, but do not loose hope if you just cannot find a doctor to shadow with. Just make sure you have two or more than two clinical experiences that involve some patient contact. During one of my interview, when being asked "what do you think is a weakness in your application?" I mentioned my lacking of shadowing experience. My interviewer told me that shadowing was not necessarily needed for my case. He said that giving my life experience and my age, he knew that I was mature enough to have a realistic view toward medicine.

    4) Application
    Again, the general wisdom, APPLY EARLY. I submitted my primary application on the very first day when it was open, and submitted all the secondary within 2 or 3 weeks after getting it. That was one reason why I got interview invitations in August. After I submitted my primary, I actually added Vanderbilt about 1 month later after learning that I only needed to submit secondary if got an interview. But let me tell you, I have not heard a word from Vanderbilt yet. I would think I was a good candidate for Vanderbilt giving my research background and apparently just applying a month late hurt my chance (maybe Vanderbilt did not want me even I applied on June 1st :p ).

    Everybody knows the importance of PS. So be sure to find as many readers as possible. I got a lot of help from the volunteer readers on SDN. In total my PS was read by about 12 people and I got a lot of valuable advice. If you get similar critical advice from many readers, then that is something you want to change. Based on the advice I got, I made major changes 3 times regarding to the content of my PS and I think these changes really made a difference in my application. For my secondary essays, I got help from one kind SDNer with grammars and flows.

    5) Interview
    During an interview, you really have to stand out among all the promising candidates to get an acceptance. My interviews overall went pretty well and I have a few tips here.
    1) Being confident
    Do not be nervous. When you are selected for an interview, you must have certain qualities the school likes and you must be a promising candidate. So be confident. Walk into the interviewing room with a confident smile.

    2) Think before you give an answer.
    It is OK to take a few seconds to think about your answer when being asked a question that you do not have a ready answer. Actually this is much better than rushing out a quick answer without thinking, because that few seconds' thinking demonstrates your maturity.

    3) Knowing your strength and weakness.
    Be prepared to address your weakness. Do not bring it up voluntarily, but be prepared to talk about it when being asked. When talking about it, do not sound too defensive, but provide the reasons for your weakness and ways to improve it if you can.

    Knowing your strength, this is the most important part, in my opinion, more important than knowing your weakness. You have to make sure that after the interview your interviewer knows your strength—the qualities in you that will make you a successful student and a good physician, and what you can bring to the school. Sometimes you have to use a little bit communication skills to get these points crossed. For example, when being asked about what I do for fun, I would tell them about my hobbies and how these hobbies helped me deal with stress (which lets the interviewer know that I could handle the stress in medical school); I would also indicate how these hobbies make me unique and interesting (which lets the interviewer know that I could add to the diversity of the class). Sometimes if your interviewer did not give you the chance to talk about your strength X, you could direct the conversation by saying something like " Oh, I have not got a chance to talked about X," 99% of possibility your interviewer would say "Yes, tell me about it." Then you could go on and talk about your strength X. Therefore you, as the interviewee, has some control over where the conversation goes.

    I realize how long this post is. It is the longest one I ever posted online. :p Thank you for your patience to read it through, and I hope it is helpful to you in some way. :luck:
     
    #1 mouseben, Dec 8, 2008
    Last edited: Dec 9, 2008
    Menguante likes this.
  2. NTF

    NTF PGY-6
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    congrats on all your success!
     
  3. funkymunkytoes

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    V10+p15+b11 =35 o.

    10+15+11= 36...
     
  4. mouseben

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    Oops! A typo , P14. :D:D
     
  5. mouseben

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    Thanks! Same to you, nontradfogie. Congrats on your many acceptances!:p
     
  6. Moki

    Moki Junior Member
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    Thank you for taking the time to put all of this information together. It is most appreciated. Best of luck to you in your obviously bright future. : )
     
  7. dragonfly99

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    That is awesome.
    congrats!
    I am sorry that you got bad advice from your initial premed advisor. I think for someone getting a PhD in physics, the advice about taking undergrad physics was asinine (duh).

    I think for someone who just did undergrad in another country, they should retake all the prerequisites over here because the US schools likely won't be able to evaluate their undergrad classes from another country.

    Also, as the OP mentioned, the MCAT score becomes more important if one hasn't done an entire bachelor's degree in the US.

    The verbal score is super impressive for someone with English as the 2nd language. So is the 1.5 years of continuous volunteer work in 1 location. US native premeds could learn something from your level of dedication.
     
  8. namsu

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    Thank you so much for spending the time to post up your experiences. Your post gives me hope and inspiration! Congratulations as well!
     
  9. Mobius1985

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  10. QofQuimica

    QofQuimica Seriously, dude, I think you're overreacting....
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    Good idea. I will copy mouseben's post and add it.

    Congrats on all of your success, mouseben. I think you will be a real inspiration for many people on this forum. :)
     
  11. CremasterFlash

    CremasterFlash Born yesterday.
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    Congrats. What you've done is huge. I can't imagine going through this crapstorm while pregnant. I mean... come on.
     
  12. dragonfly99

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    She has what it takes. Notice the complete lack of whining/excuses.
     
  13. Jacq

    Jacq New Member
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    Congratulations on your acceptances! Your hard work and dedication is inspiring! I hope to follow in your foot steps one day!
     
  14. YIC10

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    Congratulations! It's a real inspiration for many people here and especially for me. I have a very similar background like you. English is also my second language. I am in the Ph.D. program in Biomedical Science right now and hopefully I can graduate next summer. Doing full time research, taking two classes a semester and 3-hr volunteering every week is really tough (my case). Yet I guess we both have a very supportive husband and family on our backs. You are really awesome and did all these while you were pregnant. I guess I will put this plan on hold. :) Thank you very much for sharing.
     
    #14 YIC10, Dec 12, 2008
    Last edited: Dec 12, 2008
  15. mouseben

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    Thanks, dragonfly99. :p:p
    I agree with you that those with a foreign undergraduate education should take all the prerequisite courses in the U.S., unless you have an advanced degree in one particular subject, then maybe you do not need to take that particular one course. For example, if you have a master or Ph.D in Biology in the U.S., then IMO you do not need to retake general Biology.
     
  16. mouseben

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    Thanks, QofQuimica. You know you were my inspiration during my application. :D:D:D
     
  17. mouseben

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    Thanks. Good luck to you!:p

    Thanks. Good luck to you too. I am glad that my experience can be somewhat helpful to you.:luck:
     
  18. anavistas

    anavistas Junior Member
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    Congrates mouseben!!Thanks for sharing your experience...I'm kindda exactly in your shoes!and what you mentioned are the answers to questions nobody could simply answer ....:luck::clap:
     
  19. travelbug73

    travelbug73 Member
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    Mouseben, Congratulations! on all your acceptances.

    I have a similar background (undergraduate degree from a foreign institution) and I'm a parent of a toddler as well, but with a Ph.D. in the biomedical sciences. I have been accepted to 3 schools among the 9 that I applied to. There are a few things I would like to add to the OP's post.

    1) International students are not easily accepted to most schools. It makes your application cycle easier if you have a permanent resident card. Though there are some schools that accept international students, they are far and few in-between. Work on permanent residency before you apply, it will make your life so much easier.

    2) There are schools that will not accept your application if you have not got your Bachelor's from the US. So, do your research and save yourself some dollars.

    3) I'm assuming Mouseben has 68 credit hours of classes, but has quite a few research hours, some schools consider those as well toward the count of 60/90 credit hours.

    4) If you only take a few credit hours a semester, some adcoms might question your ability to succeed in the first two years of med school. I have not taken a full course load in 5 years, I was asked about it at some interviews and but I was still accepted.

    5) Like Mouseben said, I did not retake any freshman Biology courses given my background in Biology. I did not ever take Physiology and Anatomy, so I had to study on my own.

    6) I have not been asked about my undergraduate transcripts and I do not think I will be asked before school starts either.

    Please feel to PM me if you have specific questions.
     
  20. vachihera

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    Thanks for your post!

    It gives me hope. I too have a foreign undergraduate degree from the University of South Africa in Accounting Science. I also have a post graduate diploma in Accounting and am a Certified Internal Auditor. I have been working in Accounting and auditing for 10 years. I too have a toddler, a 20 month old son.

    Medicine has always been my passion but have been caught up in "life". I actually took Chemistry and Biology for my Advanced level classes in Zimbabwe.

    I have decided to make the change to medicine, and I will take my pre-requisites at the local community college here in Texas. I have just put in my citizenship application (I am currently a permanent resident).

    I am so determined to do this, and finding other people who have done it (though you all had research degrees in science!) makes me truly hopeful.

    Others have told me that my only hope is at Carribean Medical Schools.

    (I am also looking at DO schools as I aspire to be a primary care practitioner.)

    I beg to differ. I plan on taking the MCAT and scoring high, and also acing my college classes. Fall 2010, here I come.

    I would appreciate any pointers to make my application more of a possibility.
     
  21. mckenna

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    Hi,
    Your story is very inspiring! I have a very similar back ground. I have an BSEE from India and MSEE from Purdue(IN). I am now thinking of Med school -as I realize that has been my passion all along!

    Can you help me with the following:
    a) How many credits are required in chemsitry?
    I have 8 credits from my undergrad.

    b) How many credits are required in bio?
    I have 10 credits in pipeline for this quarter

    c) How many credits in phy?
    I have 11 credits from my undergrad

    d) Math?
    I think I have way too many, so no worries!


    Thanks and wish you the very best with your M school!
     
  22. travelbug73

    travelbug73 Member
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    I would strongly suggest that you take your courses at a University instead of at a CC because there is a perception (whether right or wrong) that CC courses are easier. Take the MCAT only after you have taken all your courses. In the process, do not forget to get clinical and non-clinical volunteer experiences under your belt. Shadow various physicians if you get a chance. I think volunteering is more important than shadowing, others might differ. You can make it happen if you will it to. It is not an unsurmountable hurdle.
     
  23. Nasem

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    Very nice post, what kind of schools did you mostly apply to (allopathic or Oseopathic) ?

    I ask because I think osteopathic schools tend to favor students like you a little more, however, with the story you posted, I don't think either school would have a problem accepting you (obviously, you got 7 acceptances :) )

    The only thing is, I am kind of intimidated with what you said, 1.5 years of volunteer experience is CRAZY alot, by time I apply this summer for the first time, I will only have about 9 months of hospital volunteering, and it is similar to your type, patient contact (My position = care giver volunteer)

    Seriously, if you think 1.5 years are not alot, then defently my 9 months are nothing but a disappointment
     
  24. Scottish Chap

    Physician PhD Moderator Emeritus 15+ Year Member

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    Don't worry about the length of time someone commits to voluntary work as much as the substance and quality of that exposure.

    I never shadowed a physician a day in my life before starting medical school. When I applied in 2004, I had some voluntary work in a psychiatric hospital in another country (from 1996). However, my career before medical school saw me working very closely with physicians in the U.S. and, honestly, I knew what I was getting into based on that. For what it's worth, medical schools must have felt the same way. I did, however, have tons of varied voluntary work with inner city kids, teaching, in the church etc. I did those before I even thought about medical school, and so it didn't look like a 'canned CV for med school'.

    I also applied to U.S. schools with a foreign undergraduate degree. I was accepted on my first attempt. I'm an average student. I've posted many times in the past on SDN about my own experiences.

    Bottom Line: you must look as much like a typical U.S. applicant as possible if you have a foreign undergraduate degree, but you also need to show schools that you know what you're getting into. If you have something additional that gets the attention of the Admissions Committee.....even better. Good luck!
     
  25. mouseben

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    I agree with what Scottish Chap said above. If you can continue your volunteer service for a longer time, do it to show your dedication. If you just couldn't, then do not worry about it too much. Quality is more important than Quantity. However, I do recommend having more than one clinical experiences if you can. Good luck!
     
  26. mouseben

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    I only applied to allopathic schools.

    Sorry for the confusion. When I said I felt that my clinical experience was weak, I meant I only had ONE experience (Later I took up another one). I think your 9-month volunteer work is good enough. Try to get another clinical experience if you can since sometimes your interviewer would ask you "what else clinical experience do you have". Good luck.
     
  27. mouseben

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    Most schools require one year of General Chemistry with lab (8 credits), one year of Organic Chemistry with lab (8 credits).


    One year of Bio with lab (8 credits).

    One year of general physics with lab (8 credits). Many schools also require one year of English (some schools want a year of English composition). I took one year of English composition to satisfy this requirement (no other English courses).
     
  28. mouseben

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    Good luck to you. It is definitely durable and I have seen many people with similar backgrounds succeed. I agree with Travelbug 73 that you'd better take the prerequisites in a college or university instead of CC. Try to get a great MCAT and get some nice clinical experiences, and together with your unique background, you will be a competitive applicant. Permanant residency is good enough and citizenship is not necessary for this purpose. Good luck in 2009.:luck:
     
  29. mouseben

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    Congrats to you too. Thank you for adding your insight. I agree with you that having a GC makes this process so much easier. I myself applied as a GC holder. However, we all know how hard it is to get a GC in the current time and it can take many years. For those that do not have GC, you can still apply. Some schools (mostly research-heavy top schools) still consider non-GC international students and I personally know someone who got accepted to medical schools without a GC.

    As for the total credits, I know some universities will count research as class credits. However, my university does not. 68 is the total number of credits in my transcript. If in your transcript, a certain number of credits is given for research, then you can count it in your total credit.
     
  30. SonyaB

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    mouseben, thank you so much for posting your encouraging story. it offers a lot to learn for me. i wish you best luck with your future (and i'm sure you can succeed without any blessing;)).
    i did my BS in a foreign country too and am currently taking pre-reqs from a undergrad state school. hopefully i can succeed in two years.
     
  31. CrazMo

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    Thank you,mouseben. And it's really inspiring!:thumbup:
    Yet, could we know which schools you applied and which of them gave you IVs? What do you think of their standard for selecting applicants?

    Thanks! Good luck to your med study.:)
     
  32. mouseben

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    Well, it is kind of hard to say what is exactly they are looking for in selecting applicants. Based on my own experience, I feel research-oriented schools tend to be more forgiving for foreign education background. Also private schools tend to be more "friendly" for such students. I applied to about 20 schools, got interview invite from Pitts, UVM, AECOM, Case, CCLCM, NYU, Mount Sinai, Tufts, Wake Forest, Northwestern, Duke, Washington U in St. Louis. and got 9 acceptances so far. Got rejected from AECOM and U of Chicago, also probably silent rejection from Yale, Harvard, Upen, and Columbia. Hope it helps. Good luck.:luck:
     
    #32 mouseben, Feb 2, 2009
    Last edited: Feb 2, 2009
  33. bluepolka

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    Wow! Mouseben, your story is exactly the kind of story I was looking for. My situation is similar except I have a post bac degree from an Asian country. And I got that 4 years ago. I moved to the US because I got married to a US citizen. I always wanted to do medicine but I never did because I wanted to move to the US and decided that with an MD degree it would be very difficult. Turns out, fate had US in store for me either way. Now, I feel like its time to make my dream come true. It's a magnanimous task ahead. I'm taking one step at a time. I really need some solid advice. The schools I'm talking to say that I need to complete atleast a year of schooling in the US to be eligible for applying to them. What do they mean by that? Do theywill mean I have to take pre reqs? because I studied hard core science for five years in my University in Asia. What do you think I should do? Also, would one year be enough to cover all the pre reqs. I believe I just need the eng and phy pre reqs. The rest my earlier credits should cover. I have a plan to shadow a doctor and volunteer in a hospital. Should I take classes, volunteer and prepare for MCAT in that one year? Will it be possible? I am so confused. I hope you can advice me!!!
     
  34. Amygdarya

    7+ Year Member

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    @bluepolka: This thread is more than 5 year old. I'm not sure if mouseben comes here anymore, and, in any case, medical school admissions seems to become more and more competitive each year for anyone and international applicants/applicants with foreign coursework in particular. You should check out more recent threads:
    http://forums.studentdoctor.net/threads/non-traditional-medschool-applicant-with-foreign-coursework.1062988/
    http://forums.studentdoctor.net/threads/med-school-applicants-with-foreign-coursework.1062987/
     
  35. bluepolka

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    @Amygdarya haha! I realized this after I posted and well thought I'd give it a shot! Thanks for redirecting me :)
     

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