Makomed's Weblog

Letters to Medical School

Posted on: March 27, 2007

This was a popular entry from my old blog, so I decided to reprint it here.
Three Basic Questions from a Community College Student

So I fired off an email to five med schools I really like and hope to apply to. I’m a nontraditional applicant so I’m always trying to figure out the best way to make a strong application because I want to go to the best possible school for me.

The three questions I asked admissions were:

1. I believe that Santa Monica College is an accredited institution of postsecondary education. Therefore, is it safe to finish my pre-requisites here? Do you think it may affect the strength of my application? (The tuition is cheaper).

2. My college doesn’t have an official pre-med advisor, only a self-designated one. Will he be sufficient to act as my advisor? For example, if you require a letter of recommendation from him, will it be acknowledged by you and your admissions committee?

3. I work full-time as a medical researcher, so it may take me two years before completely finishing my pre-reqs, and perhaps an extra year or so to obtain a bachelor’s degree. Will this time restraint severely handicap my application towards [your] medical school? Actually, I am really looking to apply sans bachelor’s degree, but I would like to see if I’m competitive enough to do so. You see, I am a licensed vocational nurse in CA, I have had 6 years of experience as a medic for the Marine Corps, and I now do drug company-sponsored research full time. If my GPA and MCAT is average, will the aforementioned experiences that I’ve garnered strengthen my application enough to be admitted to your medical school without a bachelor’s degree?

The answers I got from some of my favorite universities were as follows:

UCSD:

Comment: UCSD replied the fastest, and had the most thorough answers (compare this to Harvard, who gave a slim reply, or to UCLA and Johns Hopkins, who never even replied back). The reason why I like UCSD is because I think San Diego is the most pleasant city in California for guys my age and USNEWS ranked them 14th out of all other research medical schools. I’m also a resident of California so tuition will be cheaper.

1. You can indeed complete your pre-requisites at Santa Monica College. We understand the financial advantages of going to a community college…we look at the entire application in evaluating applicants. The best way to answer you question about the strength of your application is that if two applicants have exactly equal qualifications, and one did their prerequisties at Santa Monica College and the other at UCLA, then the UCLA student would have an advantage. The catch though, is that never are two applications exactly equal. Your extracurricular activities, MCAT scores, letters of recommendation are all very important. I can tell you that each year we have many successful applicants who took pre-requisite courses at a community college.

2. We don’t require an “advisor” letter or a “committee” letter. We require two letters from science professors, and one from a non-science professor. We do accept a maximum of five letters, so if your advisor were to write you a letter, we would accept it – but it is not required.

3. We do not discriminate based on age or how long it may have taken somebody to complete their degree/courswork. The only “time restriction” we have is that applicants must take the MCAT within 3 years of their intended matriculation date. In your case, I would guess that you were not planning to take the MCAT until you complete the required science courses.

UCSF:

Comment: It weren’t for AAMC’s book of med school requirements (MSAR) , I wouldn’t have even known that UC San Francisco is one of the heavy hitters of research med schools. Perhaps they keep a low profile, or that I was merely ignorant. USNEWS ranked it the 4th highest and it’s in California, so it’s definitely one of my faves. It didn’t really seem like they liked how I worded my questions though, since they basically referred me to their website and forgot to answer my third question:

In answer to your questions, you can complete the prerequisites at Santa Monica College, however, you must complete a minimum of one year of study at an accredited four year college before you can be eligible to enter the medical school. We require 3 letters of recommendation and at least two must be from instructors who have had you in class, but you do not have to send a letter from your premedical advisor. Please review additional information on our website at http://www.medsch.ucsf.edu/admissions.

Harvard:

Comment: Obviously Harvard is a name-brand school that almost becomes part of the title for those fortunate enough to have attended there. But hey, what if you ever screw-up, the first thing they’ll say is “why did you mess up?!? I thought you were from Harvard!” Anyway, they seem to have a very busy admissions office because I don’t think the guy who responded really answered my questions all that well. I suspect he’s a med student who’s just volunteering at the admissions office.

1. We would accept the credits. Though, it is preferable to do your pre-reqs at the institution from which you will earn a bachelor’s degree.

2. We will accept the letter.

3. No

Well that’s it…for now. I’ll submit the responses from the other schools when I get them. Stay tuned!

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