WAMC/School List (3.87, 521)

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May 11, 2023
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Hi all,

I'm currently a senior planning to take a gap year while I apply to MD-PhD programs. I just got my MCAT retake score back, so I was wondering if I could get some feedback on my application and my school list. Thank you!

cGPA: 3.87
sGPA: 3.83
MCAT: 516 (129/127/131/129) -> 521 (132/130/130/129)
CA resident, ORM (Asian)
T30 undergrad, neuroscience major

Research interests: most of my current research has to do with a mix of neuroimaging, behavioral data, and hormone data, but I want to expand upon that and apply my previous research experiences to more medical contexts (e.g. a specific disease)

Research experience:
  • Lab 1: 1500 hours, currently completing an honors thesis in this lab, presented in 2 poster sessions at my school. No pubs yet but hoping to have one soon after completing my thesis.
  • Lab 2: 800 hours
  • Lab 3: 300 hours so far, this is the lab where I will be working during my gap year as a research coordinator, so most of my hours have been training for the role.
  • 2 different summer full-time research programs at other institutions (~400 hours each)
Clinical experience:
  • 70 hours volunteering at a hospital waiting room
  • 30 hours shadowing neurosurgery (one of the surgeons I shadowed is an MD-PhD)
  • 15 hours shadowing pediatrics
  • In process of getting a phlebotomy certification
Non-clinical volunteering:
  • 100 hours volunteering at a residential facility where cancer patients stay while getting treatment
  • 100 hours volunteering with an arts + service crochet club — donating crocheted supplies to hospitals, teaching classes at nursing homes, etc.
  • 200 hours volunteering at an animal rescue
Other extracurricular activities:
  • Vice president of a rural health club
  • Service chair of an arts + service crochet club
  • 300 hours TA'ing for a neuroscience class
  • 500 hours writing for a student-run medical review journal

I feel like my MCAT score retake wasn't a huge improvement, so I'm worried that might be a red flag. I'm also a little bummed that I don't have any pubs yet, but fingers crossed! I know that my clinical hours are on the lower side, but I'm hoping that getting my phlebotomy certification will help open more opportunities to get clinical experience during my gap year.

School list: I am definitely planning to apply to all the MSTP programs in California to stay close to home as well as the MSTP program at my undergrad institution, but other than that I don't really know whether I should aim for higher-tier schools with my current application.

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Your stats and experiences are just fine. Keep doing research.... Overall, you should be fine (i.e.: find a MSTP home in CA), but as usual if you choose only top 30, you will be sweating it until near the end.
My standard advice:
I tell applicants to be very open to applying broadly. Take AAMC table B-8 in excel from the AAMC FACTS tables webpage. Calculate number of applicants per matriculating slot of all programs. Select the list of MSTP programs from the NIGMS website. Arrange the spreadsheet by size of entry class. Examine table B-12 to see if a particular year was odd with more matriculants than it seems. Check their websites. For example, my program takes 7 applicants every year since 2018, we used to take 4-5 prior to that. We just received an Impact Score of top 5% in our T32 MSTP renewal, and we will be adding an extra slot per year (now 8/yr since 2022). Examine NIH funding tables at the Blue Ridge or NIH websites, particularly looking at funding from the NIH Institute of your area of interest (NCI, NIA, etc.). Depending upon your stats, you will group the 53 MSTPs by groups of 15-20, and select several from each group for your list... You have to have different levels of difficulty to make sure that you get into the best program for you (interest, fit, location, etc. low in the scale is USNWR ranking or perceived prestige). Choose at least 5-10 from each tier (more in top tier if you wish)... Apply early, if you need to triage interviews, that would be a good problem to have. If you follow my advice, you will get MD/PhD acceptance early from the bottom tier, and might end up in one of your dream schools by matriculation date.

Another piece... Apply initially for 5 schools as you submit your Primary application. Apply early and get your transcripts (and LORs) uploaded Once the verification process by AMCAS occurs (takes 4-6 weeks), programs receive your application, which triggers Secondary applications. If you were applying to 30 schools, that is a lot of secondary applications at once. Schools monitor how quickly you reply to secondary applications (one week or so is fine, two weeks are ok, but 30 at once might take you more than that). Here is my suggestion, if you apply 5 additional schools every week, they appear into the respective school portals within a couple of hours. That is, you are able to apply early and stage your secondary application delivery as most are automatically triggered by computers. Adding 5 schools per week means that within 3 weeks (+/-1 day), you can apply to 20 MD/PhD programs and be more responsive to secondaries. My school has no secondary (no added fees/barriers, just adding a school)....
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Thank you so much, I appreciate it!
Choose at least 5-10 from each tier (more in top tier if you wish)... Apply early, if you need to triage interviews, that would be a good problem to have. If you follow my advice, you will get MD/PhD acceptance early from the bottom tier, and might end up in one of your dream schools by matriculation date.
I think I'm a little confused on how to group MSTPs by tiers… is this solely based on stats/rankings? And if so, where is the best place to find more information on the stats of specifically MSTP matriculants? Most information seems to be based on the entire medical school class as a whole.