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Need some serious advice from SDNers

Discussion in 'Pre-Medical - MD' started by Garibaldo, Jul 26, 2002.

  1. Garibaldo

    Garibaldo Membership Revoked
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    I need some advice about what to do now. Here's my history:

    Graduated from UC Berkeley (May 2002)
    Major - Molecular and Cell Biology
    Undergraduate GPAs
    Overall - 3.25
    Science - 3.05

    My lower division GPA was MISERABLE and then I brought it around and got almost all A\A-'s in my upper division coursework.

    MCATs: 10,10,10 and R in the writing sample

    Research Experience:
    1. Summer internship as a student researcher at UC Davis Dept. of Environmental Health and Toxicology (1999)
    2. Student researcher\assistant in a Microbiology lab at UC Berkeley, worked there for 7 months, learned many different microbiology techniques, I assisted in publishing a paper and I was given a notation of thanks in the paper
    3. I am currently working as a volunteer full-time researcher at a nearby Shriner's Children Hospital for two months. There's the possibility of publishing with them or at least getting another notation of thanks in a research paper

    I have NO clinical volunteer experience

    Ok, I applied to a postbacc program through Harvard Extension school. This program is mostly filled with people desiring the core premed classes, but it can also suit the needs of people looking to raise their undergrad GPA. They sent me a letter back saying that they didn't think the program was for me because I've taken a lot of upper division science courses. They offer courses in upperdiv genetics, immunobiology, biostat, etc that I haven't taken yet. They also offer a committee letter of rec if I meet a minimum GPA (~3.0-3.3?). They said if I really wanted to go, I could, but they suggested that a master's program (i.e. Boston U, MCP, Georgetown,etc) would be better for me. The problem is that I can't afford to pay their outrageous fees and the deadlines have already passed. The Harvard program is only $660 per course!!!

    What do you guys suggest I do now? I think my best chance is to go into this program, take 5-6 upper division courses, raise my undergraduate GPA (remember, this isn't a graduate degree), get some clinical exp on the side and apply next summer. Can anyone give me any suggestions? I'm sorry for the lengthy post. I just wanted to make sure that you understand my situation completely.
     
  2. tBw

    tBw totally deluded
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    Well, it's definitely a tough call. The advantage of the masters programs is that some like Georgetown and Finch have reserved places in their next years medical class for a subset of the masters class that meet various criteria. No such program exists with the Harvard extension program. That alone makes it worth additional consideration.

    The Harvard extension program is a good one, it is an amazing price, and the people there are helpful. However, it is also tough and they demand high standards of their participants. In order to be "sponsored" and receive the recommendation letter I believe you need 20-24 credits all with a minimum grade of B. Who exactly at Harvard said you were not suited to the program? If this was a letter direct from the program committee you should take such a statement seriously as they are the ones that make the decisions on who gets sponsored by the program and who gets a strong letter.

    If you have already taken many upper division courses I think maybe you need to concentrate on the other areas you are weak in. After all, at this stage, how high are you really going to be able to drag that undergrad GPA? Either look at establishing a graduate GPA or look to other weak areas. You say you have no clinical experience. An extreme solution to this would be to do clinical volunteer work abroad. It would solve both the lack of clinical experience and make you stand out somewhat. 6 months to a year abroad would suggest a more passionate committment than taking further courses and would give you strong material for essays and interviews. More so than a couple extra courses. It would also give you an experience that could be valuable to you no matter what happens in the long run. You can look back on such experience as time well spent, not just time spent preparing for med school. It will give you something to stand out for other jobs. It will also give you something to do which you CANNOT fail - it's not a graded experience. Whatever happens with it you have something to talk about. With the Harvard program, if you don't maintain the B on every course, then what do you have? With that route, you CAN 'fail' - there's a grade to achieve. And no matter how high you get that GPA, there will always be other students that got the numbers "right" the first time. I really think that at this stage you need to look at things that will help distinguish you from the crowd, not do the typical pre-med things.

    You note research experience and thats great if you want to go into research but if you just want to be a practicing doctor the schools you apply to for that will probably care about this considerably less. Having said that you mention "special notes" in papers about you. I am not trying to bring you down but these are essentially worthless. I work in the research area and all that an acknowledgement says is that the person was a competent technician but did not contribute anything original, significant, imaginative or proactive to the project - they just did what they were told. If you want papers to count, you need to get on the authorship list. Anything else in the research arena at this stage is pretty much a waste of your time.

    As I said, it's definitely a tough call. I can see how the Harvard program, with the name and the price tag, would be tempting. However, I'm not sure from what you have told us that it would best serve your particular weaknesses. Good luck whatever you decide to do - and whatever path you take, give it your all.
     
  3. Garibaldo

    Garibaldo Membership Revoked
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    My concern is that I think I could be removed from the admission pool in the first cut with my current GPA. That's why I want to bring that up instead of focusing completely on extracirricular activities. I think 5-6 classes can potentially bring my GPA up to a 3.4. I understand that the program will be difficult, but considering my background wasn't easy and Harvard is known for inflated grades, I think I have a good chance to get a B or better. You're the first person I've heard say that research is essentially worthless if you're going into medicine. I've talked to several people on med school admission committees (UCSF, UCD, etc) and they said that research is a big plus. Where have you heard otherwise? Don't you think leaving the country to distinguish myself is a little extreme?
     
  4. souljah1

    souljah1 Attending
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    Many admissions committees take trends into consideration. If you received A's in MCB110, but B-'s in Ochem...they might begin to think that you are now approaching academia more seriously. Were you just goofing around while taking your lower division reqs? Or was there something in your life that was preventing your from diving into your classes? The personal statement is a valuable tool, so if there was something that was preventing you from excelling...I would be sure to mention it in your personal statement.

    Your numbers aren't terribly bad, and I think that they would pass most cutoffs. Usually, when a school uses mcat and gpa as a primary cutoff, they also take into consideration the competitiveness of their undergraduate education. Berkeley isn't a joke.

    Instead of only bolstering your gpa by taking a postbac or upper division courses, why don't you attempt to get deeply involved with a clinical project, certify yourself in cpr, consider EMT training, etc. In addition, perhaps you could take a few courses.

    I would do that for a year and then apply to a wide range of schools. You have to remember that the statistics concerning gpa and mcat that you see are averages.

    I'd try to add to your uniqueness.

    However, I understand your concern, especially if you want to stay in CA for school. All of the UCs have cutoffs (but noone knows what they are). What you have to figure out is how much better would your gpa be if you only took one more year of classes (you mentioned 5, i think). Will that really make a difference?

    I wish you the best.
     
  5. Jalby

    Jalby I fight crime at day when Batman are sleeping.
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    I actually think he's right. I think a lot of schools do have almost strait cutoffs based on undergrad GPA. I had a bad first 2 years, then a great second 2 and a great MCAT, but there were a lot of schools that I didn't get interviews at that I thought I should have easily if you looked at the upward trend. Not that this helps the OP at all, but just wanted to make the point.
     
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  6. tBw

    tBw totally deluded
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    I'm sorry if my statements weren't clear. I did not say research was worthless; I was trying to address what you need to do next. (I said "If you want papers to count, you need to get on the authorship list. Anything else in the research arena AT THIS STAGE is pretty much a waste of your time.")

    In answering that you need to think what your long term goals are. If you are truly interested in research and want to go to a research intensive school then yes, continue research, but bare in mind that you need to do *more* than you have to date. Otherwise, you're just not adding very much to your application ie 3 years research doesn't look much different on a resume than 2 years research, and 3 years WITHOUT authorship on papers actually looks worse. If you want to do further research then you need to get authorship. If you don't, in my opinion, it will not add to your application.

    If you want to go to a more clinically-oriented school they will like that you have done research but I doubt further research will make any difference - ie they will see you have it, great, but they probably aren't going to look at more as necessarily better.

    I just think that there are other things you can do that will help your application more.

    Yes, and thats why I said (and I quote) "An extreme solution to this would be...". But you see people are different - to me it would be exciting, fun and interesting. If it doesn't appeal to you, don't do it. It's not about doing what I or any one else thinks would be good for med school, so much as being yourself. If you're someone who enjoys people, then go work with people. If you're someone who enjoys doing classwork, then go to Harvard and do classes. There's no point re-inventing yourself for a committee.

    However, to be blunt, you are so far an unremarkable candidate. You can focus on bringing the GPA up if that is where your heart is. However, as I said before, at the end of the day if you succeed in doing this you will just be a slightly less unremarkable candidate that needed extra classes to make the cut versus all those other applicants who "got it right the first time". It will strengthen your application but I'm unconvinced its the best or most efficient way to do so. If you were on an admissions committee and you were faced with 1000 pre-meds which would you admit? Because of the number of applicants, most of whom are emminently qualified med schools have to take into account more than just GPA. They accept those who are distinct, unique, or memorable for whatever reason. There are many ways to be that but I don't think class after class is the way. No, that doesn't mean you have to board a plane for the third world tomorrow. There are plenty of opportunities right at home. My advice is to just make sure they are original ones. Volunteering in an ER for example while good experience would not be particularly original...

    I'm not trying to critisize you, so try not to take it personally. You asked for "serious advice" so I wasted my own limited time typing it in. You can ignore it, you can use it. s'up to you.
     
  7. Bikini Princess

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    Don't do a Master's, it won't improve your undergraduate gpa, which is the most important thing you need to improve. See if you can get a lower cost post-bacc program. And try to get some clinical experience - you don't know if you want to go to med school until you do. :)

    FYI- If your 3.25 gpa is from an ivy league school, you might not be in as bad of shape as you think. Some schools multiply a "school factor" ranging between 1-1.2 for the best schools...so think, 1.2 * 3.25 might not be so bad.
     
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  8. imtiaz

    imtiaz i cant translate stupid
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    i had a 2.77 ug gpa. i went to graduate school and got a 3.7 grad gpa. if your ugrad gpa is low, it's tough to bring it up to something impressive. grad school allows you to start a "new" gpa. it's true you will have a post-bac gpa but since they are undergrad courses your cumulative ugrad gpa won't move much without ALOT of courses. if you go to grad school you get a brand new gpa and it won't be clumped in with your past "mistakes" my mcat was close to yours too (just 1 pt higher). i was accepted this year, keep at it. don't give up. good luck! :)

    also, get some clinical volunteer experience under your belt, it helps.
     
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  9. Drako

    Drako Senior Member
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    I will second (or third or fourth) the clinical experience exposure advice. I will add that it would be very good for you if you could find a local community clinic, serving the poor, to spend your free time in every week. If you still have some time, add to that volunteer list a hospital. Work in the ER and don't be shy about asking questions and show interest. Some docs might not take you seriously, but some will be more than happy to teach. Most of the nurses will let you do things. Of course, it depends on the hospital's policy. You will gather some material for writing your personal statement at these places.
     
  10. geneman

    geneman The Transgenic Hobo
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    I'm not so sure they do this, that is for the best schools, multiply by higher than 1.0. Grade inflation is well known amongst the Ivy League. The formula may be much more complex and specific to schools.

    Just curious but which school do you think has a 1.2 "school factor"? That would suggest a 3.33 (B's and B+'s) is equivalent to a perfect academic record (all A's) at another university.

     
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  11. Garibaldo

    Garibaldo Membership Revoked
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    *bump*

    How about applying to DO schools? Which ones would I have a chance at right now? I might get a paper published in early September. Should I wait until then to turn in my application?
     
  12. imtiaz

    imtiaz i cant translate stupid
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    don't wait. there's a couple advantages to having an incomplete paper while applying.

    1) it allows you to send updates to your file and check your status without bugging them too much (ie. "i'm just calling to check and see if you recieved the papers i sent you? by the way, what is my status?")

    2) upon subsequent revisions of the paper (of which there will be alot) you can even go in personally (i did this alot) and update your file and chit chat with the adcom people. it helps out!
     
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  13. jonquille

    jonquille Senior Member
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    I would say you MUST have both clinical experience AND more classes!!!!

    It's hard to know whether you should take grad-level courses or more undergrad level courses. Have you already taken a lot of upper level undergrad classes? It would be important to calculate how many classes you would need to increase your undergrad GPA to see if you can sneak under some of those cut off levels, and decide if that is worth it, or if you should start a graduate level GPA. The advantage to grad-level science work is that adcoms view it as challenging work similar to the challenge of medical school science classes. Doing well in graduate level courses will help reassure them that you are capable of doing med school work. And your upward trend in GPA is very helpful.

    I'll tell you my story if it helps at all. I graduated several years ago from one of those schools termed to have "grade inflation" -- Yale -- where ACTUALLY, in my *science* courses, the average grade was often a C+ (grade inflation seemed to strike the humanities more often). My GPA was not too dissimilar from yours. After graduating, I did clinical research for four years, working very closely with patients, doctors and nurses. I also took, at Harvard Extension school, two grad-level science courses, and also three semesters of Spanish (undergrad level).

    I applied this past year to 27 schools. This was essential. I could have never predicted where I got interviews, and where I got waitlisted/accepted. You will definitely have to apply to many schools -- most will not honestly reveal if they use a GPA cut off. If you have any prereq grades below a C, this may cut you out of the pool. I know of some schools that automatically cut you if you have such grades. If this is the case for you, I would call a number of admissions offices and see what their policy is. I think this is something they will share.

    When I applied, I made it clear that my GPA was not what I would have liked due to a serious family and medical crisis, but that I was past that point -- and I proved it with performing well in my post-college classes, and working like crazy at my job (often 65-80 hours/week), etc. I also emphasized my clinical experience, and how I understood what was involved in committing myself to medicine.

    After I received a some rejection letters from schools I would have thought I had a shot at, I requested phone appointments with the directors of admissions to hear specifically from them what they would have liked to see in my application, if I had to apply again this year.

    From them (and granted, only a few schools responded to my request, and all schools are different), I learned a few valuable things. First, my clinical experience was VERY important. Second, my classes post-college had been very important. One school liked that I had taken grad-level courses, but they would have wanted to see one or two more. Another school said that unfortunately I had been cut out of the running automatically because I had a grade lower than a C in a pre-req class -- but that starting next year, they would view candidates like me differently -- better (unclear what this means).

    Whether you should take grad-level or undergrad level courses depends probably on your specific transcript and on knowledge none of us has because we are not on admissions committees and because schools are so different. Why don't you ask Judy Levine, the former director of admissions for New York Medical College at http://www.examkrackers.com/forum. Or request a full consultation with her (I never did this, and have no clue how much it costs). Your premed advisor may be helpful, but it's best to hear stuff straight from med school admissions people. The nice thing is that taking ANY additional classes, whether undergrad or grad-level, will make your application stronger and more appealing!

    I think that it could really make sense to go to Harvard Extension school, but NOT through their official post-bac program. Why can't you just take classes with them like I did? After all, your undergrad institution is where your committee letter/pre-med services should/will usually come from. I used Yale for all of my pre-med services.

    A plan I would suggest is: Get a job at a hospital in the Boston area with lots of CLINICAL exposure. Also take some classes at Harvard Extension, tailored to what will specifically improve your application. Or live in whatever city you want to live in that has both hospitals you can work in, and good classes to take. I don't think an expensive post-bac (BU, Georgetown) program is where you need to go.

    An added bonus to this plan is: Many hospital employers will pay significant portions of any science classes you take. This will help make it even less expensive. Most hospitals have this sort of tuition reimbursement program, but be sure to inquire about it when you are looking for jobs.

    Good luck, and please also consult the *real* experts! (Judy Levine, your UCLA premed advisor, the med school offices themselves). After reading this board, I thought I would have to take a million more undergrad classes so that I could bring up my undergrad GPA, and that I'd have to go back to school full time etc -- but it turned out that there isn't just one way to go. Each of our backgrounds are a little different, and there isn't always a one-size-fits-all approach. You could probably do a number of different things and have it still end up ok (ie: go to Georgetown, do clinical work abroad, go back to school full time, do something like I suggest, etc. It depends on what fits you and how you want to spend your time and money too.) All med schools will view you differently, which makes this all that much harder!

    SDN *did* teach me tons about the application process and secrets of it, and for that I will be forever grateful (maybe I even owe my acceptance to medical school to SDN!) Thanks all from SDN and good luck again, Garibaldo.
     
  14. jonquille

    jonquille Senior Member
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    I forgot to mention that the MCAT is also really important here! I did very well on the MCAT, and that was essential.

    Have you taken the MCAT? If you got less than 30, or maybe even 32, can you take it again?

    Check out this thread: Low GPA and high MCAT.
     
  15. Garibaldo

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    Thanks for the long reply. Your situation isn't exactly like mine. I didn't have a high MCAT (all 10s and R in writing). I took it again, but it balanced out to the same score and I am hesitant to take it three times. What school did you eventually get accepted to? I'm going through the postbac program for the committee letter. Berkeley doesn't have a committee to make such a letter for me and I believe that this letter can potentially be fairly impressive. I really don't want to go through 4 years of clinical research to get into medical school like you did. That seems like a LONG time to wait.
     

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