Planes2Doc's Ultimate Guide to Maximizing Your Medical School Application (Non-Traditional))

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*Non-Traditional Applicants*

I used to be one of you. :) Non-traditional applicants are considered pre-meds who didn't follow the typical path by doing it during their undergraduate years. Many of them are often older with previous work experience. I also figured that I would lump in SMP programs as well.

-SMP Programs... Are they worth it?-

SMP stands for "Special Masters Program." These are programs for medical school applicants who have decent MCAT scores but low GPAs. These programs are a Hail Mary for getting into medical school. If you ace the program, you'll likely get into a medical school. But what happens if you end up bombing it? Well at that point you can kiss your chances of going to medical school goodbye. These are a last-ditch attempt to getting into medical school. If you blow an SMP, you probably lost your chance for going to medical school, plus a very large sum of money. It's probably better to go the Osteopathic route, so you can take advantage of their grade replacement policy. With the grade replacement policy, you can retake even failures, and quickly increase your GPA. This is one thing I love about Osteopathic schools, their more holistic approach to medical school admissions. In my opinion, retaking poor classes is far safer (and cheaper) than doing a risky (and very expensive) SMP program.

-Choosing a Post-Bacc Program-

If you're non-traditional, chances are that you haven't taken the medical school pre-requisitite courses. You'll need to take these courses in order to gain the knowledge you need to take the MCAT. Both of these things are vital for getting into medical school. There are two ways of going about this. You can either do a structured post-bacc program (which I did), or you can piece-meal your own post-bacc program by taking classes at the local four-year college or community college (it's better to do it at the four-year college). Structured post-bacc programs will often provide you with some perks which include advising, and schools with a committee letter will allow you do the process as well. These programs also probably have a reputation among medical schools. If you piece-meal your own classes together, then you're on your own in terms of guidance and there will be no committee letter. SDN makes for pretty good guidance (and people knock on pre-med advisors all the time), but of course it drives some people crazy, and makes others go a little too far with activities. :p

Let me tell you about my personal experience picking a post-bacc program. I was looking to stay local in Chicago, and there are a few programs to choose from. One of them includes a structured post-bacc program at Northwestern University (School of Continuing Studies). I was thinking that taking the program at one of Chicago's most prestigious schools would be better. So I went to the information session for prospective students. The person in charge spent a lot of time talking about how difficult the program is, and how it's just as difficult as the day school. Well, I know that Northwestern at the time had (or still has) a notoriously difficult chemistry program, which was a huge weed-out for pre-meds. Look, I just quit a very cushy highly sought-after airline job. I wasn't looking to put myself in a compromising position where I would either be weeded out, or kill my chances of attending medical school because of bad grades. Then what would I do with my life? I wanted to prepare myself for the MCAT and get good grades for medical school admissions, not become a chemistry PhD! Great marketing Northwestern, you really sold the school to me. :rolleyes: I actually noticed that when I did my post-bacc, I saw some people who also attended the Northwestern information session with me.

So what's the moral of the story? Don't go based on school prestige. At this point, schools aren't going to care where you did your post-bacc program. As long as it was at a four year college, you shouldn't have a problem anywhere. I realize that Northwestern really wanted to challenge its students, but when people are quitting jobs and putting everything on the line to pursue what they want most, it's not exactly the most convenient time to challenge yourself for the sake of kicks and giggles. Therefore, you should pursue a post-bacc at a school which is conveniently close to you and one that will prepare you well for the MCAT, but not one that promises to try and weed you out! After making the big sacrifice to be here, that's not what you want to do. So choose wisely, and don't make a decision based on school rankings. A more prestigious school is not always better. I would try to talk to students who either have attended the programs, or find out all you can here on SDN. Before picking a post-bacc program, always do your research!

-Extra Curriculars as a Non-Trad-

I've talked to non-trads that were at two opposite ends of the spectrum. Some of them thought that because they had work experience or were currently working, that they didn't need to do volunteer work or other ECs. There are also some that freak out because they apparently didn't spend their undergrad doing the things "that they were passionate about." :rolleyes:

As a non-traditional student, you're still responsible for putting in your time. I would go about this using the same methods which I recommended in the traditional college student section. You'll want to pick up clinical volunteering. That's a given. Start it as soon as you start your post-bacc program, and continue doing it until you get an acceptance. You need shadowing too, and I would try to rack up 50 hours. If you have plenty of former work experience, I don't think you'll need non-clinical volunteering, since you will already fill up your application with a bunch of other interesting stuff. You especially won't need any if you actually are a service-minded person, and have been volunteering on your own before you ever thought about going to medical school. Be sure to list everything from your past on your AMCAS after high school, no matter how long ago college was. You want to make your application as interesting as possible!

Now let me tell you about something which I find very painful... There is nothing that hurts me more when I see a non-trad saying how they don't have very many activities, and then take off an extra year despite good grades and MCAT to do something like entry-level clinical work. Look, you can't turn back time and do all the things you were supposed to be passionate about in undergrad. If non-trads were penalized for not having the "required" ECs in undergrad, then non-trads would never get into medical school. Think about it, seriously... If you start volunteering at the start of your post-bacc and do shadowing, you should be fine. If your goal is to become a doctor, then why are you going to take an extra year off to do EMT or scribing? You're already older than the average student. Do you seriously want to spend an entire year of your life doing something that will be irrelevant to your future? Also don't forget about the potential earnings that you're giving up by taking off this gap year. Don't freak out if you don't have hundreds or thousands of volunteer hours compared to traditional students. ADCOMs will understand this and give you a pass on that, as long as you still do your time while you're actually pre-med. Please don't take an extra year off if you don't need it, it's like shoving a burning dagger through my heart. :bigtears:

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Great post! THANK YOU.
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Just read all of your posts on this topic. I really appreciate the insight. Thank you.
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