Nontraditional Medical Student
Getting into Medical School: A Guide for Older Nontraditional Students
Introduction

Prerequisites
Motivation
Planning
Requirements
MCAT

Application
Where_to_Apply
Application
Waiting_Game
Second_Chance

Other Topics
My_Background
FAQ
Books
Links

FAQ - Frequently Asked Questions
  1. Am I too old to get into medical school?
  2. Do medical schools discriminate against older applicants?
  3. How can I get my family to support my decision to go to medical school?
  4. How can I get my spouse to support my decision to go to medical school?
  5. Will I have time for my family or to have children?
  6. Can I get into medical school with a GPA below 3.0?
  7. Will it really take 2 or 3 years to complete the prerequisites before I can start medical school?
  8. Are there any medical schools that do not require the MCAT or the standard premedical courses?
  9. Should I take the MCAT in April or August?
  10. If I don't get in the first time, can I reapply to medical school?
  11. How can I afford medical school if I have a family to support?
  12. Will problems in my past  prevent me from getting into medical school (eg, academic problems, bankruptcy, drug use, criminal record)?
  13. Should I consider Osteopathic or Caribbean medical schools?
  14. Do you have any regrets about changing careers later in life?

Am I too old to get into medical school?

You should never let age be the deciding factor for anything you do in life. If becoming a physician is what you really want, if you have the ability and the energy, if you are willing to make the necessary sacrifices, and if you have the ability to make sure you existing obligations (spouse, children, mortgage, etc.) will be taken care of, then go for it. A friend of mine, Bruce Stafford started medical school at age 49, and just completed a residency in Family Medicine in his mid-fifties.

Do medical schools discriminate against older applicants?

There likely are some medical schools that may disqualify you because of your age. But these programs are in the minority. If you have a strong GPA and MCAT scores, and if you can demonstrate that your decision to go to medical school is logical and well thought out, then most schools should consider you to be a legitimate applicant. Just make sure you apply to a large number of schools to hedge against the few programs that may frown on older applicants.

How can I get my family to support my decision to go to medical school?

It's not uncommon for family and friends to be unsupportive of your decision to go to medical school later in life. Most of them have good intentions, and are concerned that your decision was not well thought out, or that your existing obligations (spouse, children, mortgage) won't be taken care of. The good news is that they will eventually support your decision as they see you excelling in medical school and as they see that your existing obligations are well taken care of.

How can I get my spouse to support my decision to go to medical school?

Your spouse is at a disadvantage. She (or he) knows what your desires are, and that you want her support. You need to do the same for her. You need to sit down with your spouse and talk about her dreams. Find out what she wants most out of life over the next 5 years, and come up with a way to make them compatible with medical school. Make her goals your goals, and give them as much importance as your objective to get through medical school.

Will I have time for my family or to have children?

The first 2 years of medical school are the most flexible. You'll mostly be involved in classroom learning. It'll be intense, but much of your time will be your own. The second 2 years are more clinical. During this time, when you're on a tough rotation, you won't have much free time at all. But there should be a number of not-so-tough rotations where you'll have some time to be home.

During residency, your time will get even shorter. This depends on which residency you choose. During these years, your time will no longer be your own. You'll spend up to 80 hours a week at the hospital (possibly a bit more at times). Some months will be better than others, but you'll be busy the majority of the time. Most residencies are front-loaded, so your first year will likely be your busiest.

There is no ideal time to start a family during your training, and everyone's situation will be different. During medical school, if you want to take a year off to have a child, the best times are probably after your 2nd or 3rd year. If you only want to take a few weeks off, the best times are likely during your 3rd year and 4th years of medical school. Your residency should have a policy for maternity and paternity leave, where you can take a number of weeks off. You can also take a year off during residency, for example, after your internship year.

Can I get into medical school with a GPA below 3.0?

The most important factors for getting into medical school are GPA and MCAT scores. You need a 3.6 GPA and a 30 MCAT to be competitive, and probably at least a 3.25 GPA and a 27 MCAT to have the very slimmest of chances. There may be ways to redeem yourself, which I talk about under the topic Second Chance. The following is only a guideline, but it should make you a competitive applicant. In short, you need to establish a 4.0 post-bacc GPA (or very close to this) over 30 to 60 credits, get a 33 or better on the MCAT, strengthen your letters of recommendation, and broaden your clinical exposure.

Will it really take 2 or 3 years to complete the prerequisites before I can start medical school?

When I started looking into medical school, I quickly learned that I couldn't just apply and go. At first, the thought of taking 2 or 3 years to get in was very discouraging. And I think, for some, this can be a deal-breaker. But for me, it came down to what I really wanted in life, and what I was willing to sacrifice to attain it. The clincher for me was that, 10 years down the road, it wouldn't matter if it had taken me 3 days or 3 years to get into medical school.

Are there any medical schools that do not require the MCAT or the standard premedical courses?

Every U.S. medical school requires you to take the MCAT and to complete your undergraduate prerequisite courses. For a nontraditional student who already has a bachelor's degree, it will likely take 1 or 2 years to complete the prerequisites, and another year to go through the application process. The exceptions are some post-baccalaureate programs with direct linkages to medical schools, that will allow you to complete all prerequisites and the application process in only one year.

In addition, some foreign medical schools may have more lenient entrance requirement. But 67% to 75% of all international medical graduates (IMG's) fail to get licensed to practice medicine in the U.S. The failure rate is higher for IMG's who were born in the U.S. and attend medical school overseas.

Should I take the MCAT in April or August?

The best scenario is to take the MCAT in April, before you apply to medical school on June 1st. (Note that June 1st is the beginning of the application cycle, for acceptance the following September, in 15 months). This way your application will be processed as early as possible, which will maximize your chances of getting accepted.

If instead you take the MCAT in the middle of the application cycle, you'll be at a disadvantage. (For example, taking the MCAT in August, with plans to start medical school the following September, in 13 months.) The problem is that your application won't be processed by AMCAS until your MCAT scores are reported, which won't be until late October. By then, most schools have selected the students they will interview, and typically only leave a few slots open for exceptional people who apply late. If circumstances outside your control require you to take the August MCAT, that's okay. But be prepared to reapply to medical school the following year.

If I don't get in the first time, can I reapply to medical school?

Reapplying to medical school is common. One-third of applicants each year are reapplicants. But it will help if you can do some things to improve yourself before you reapply. For example, before reapplying, you can take additional courses, complete a graduate degree, get additional volunteer experience, or complete a research project.

How can I afford medical school if I have a family to support?

There are a number of ways to pay for medical school. The military will pay your tuition and give you a stipend while in school in exchange for military service. If you would rather borrow the money, your medical school will make sure you get enough student loans to pay for tuition and living expenses while in medical school. After medical school, there are several ways to have these loans forgiven. The federal government's National Health Service Corp and most state governments will pay off your student loans if you agree to work in an underserved area and/or an understaffed specialty for up to 4 years. The NIH has several loan repayment programs first-time MD grant recipients. 

Will problems in my past  prevent me from getting into medical school (eg, academic problems, bankruptcy, drug use, criminal record)?

Talk to your premed advisor about the need to discuss this problem on your medical school application. If you decide it needs to be addressed, then here's what I suggest. You should take 2 or 3 sentences to briefly state that you had this problem, that this was in your past, and list the specific steps you have taken to make amends. This should be done without making excuses or blaming others. For example: "I had a substance abuse problem for about 3 years, successfully completed rehab in 1991, and have been drug-free since then. This experience inspired me to help others with similar problems, and I have been working as a counselor at such-and-such drug rehab center for the last 8 years."

Should I consider Osteopathic or Caribbean medical schools?

Take a look at the following link on foreign medical schools and other alternatives.

Do you have any regrets about changing careers later in life?

I have no regrets about my decision to change careers and go to medical school. But there are definitely a number of significant sacrifices I had to make, as did most people who made this same decision. For me, however, there is nothing else I'd rather be doing in life, to the exclusion of everything else. The privilege of helping people in a unique way, the challenges of medicine and life-long learning, and the opportunity to answer important research questions all make medicine the greatest field to be in. If you feel this way too, then you should have no regrets.