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



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Achievement is largely the product of steadily raising
one’s levels of aspiration and expectation
. – Jack Nicklaus


Pick a College or Post-Baccalaureate Program
The first thing you should do is find a decent four-year university with an
active premedical program. Talk to the premedical advisor at this school as soon
as you can. This person will help you identify any missing requirements and
guide you through the admissions process. You should also read a book or two on
how to get into medical school, several of which are listed
on this site

If you already have an undergraduate degree, and are only missing the medical
school prerequisites, you may want to consider a
post-baccalaureate program. These programs vary in length (from 12 to 24
months) and admissions requirements. The better programs have
medical school
. A linkage program guarantees you a seat at an affiliated medical
school if you perform at a certain level in your post-baccalaureate program.
This often occurs without having to go through the one-year medical school
application process after you complete the post-baccalaureate program (also
called the glide or transition year).

A third choice is to take these courses at a
community or junior college. While community colleges are important
institutions, they have a different mission than
the typical university. As a result, they tend to offer easier courses and have
no real premedical advisement. (They may have allied health advisors, but this
is not the same thing.) This means you may be less prepared for the MCAT, medical
schools may not respect your GPA, and you may not receive the best guidance. In
the end, taking your premed courses at a community college may be a reasonable
alternative if you have a good GPA, you’ve already earned A’s in science courses
at a 4-year college, and you have access to a premed committee through a prior
school you attended. But if you have something to prove academically, or if
you’ve never demonstrated that you can get A’s in science courses at the
university level, then this may not be the best choice.

Most every medical school requires a baccalaureate degree in any major along
with the following prerequisites. You can obtain the specifics directly from the
schools you are interested in or from the
School Admission Requirements

  • One year of General Biology with lab.
  • One year of General Chemistry with lab.
  • One year of Organic Chemistry with lab.
  • One year of Physics with lab (does not need to be calculus-based).
  • One year of English (66% of all schools).
  • College Math and/or Calculus (32% of all schools).
  • Humanities Electives (17% of all schools) .

Your Major
If you never completed your undergraduate degree, you’ll need to do this before
starting medical school. However, you do not have to major in Biology or some other area of science. In fact,
students with nonscience majors have a higher acceptance rate than science
majors. You shouldn’t read too much into this, other than the fact that
admissions committees are willing to accept nonscience applicants without
prejudice. In addition, you won’t impress anyone by enrolling in a tough
undergraduate program if you don’t perform well. An English major with a 3.7 GPA
is significantly more likely to be accepted to medical school than a
biochemistry major with a 3.2 GPA. Your priorities for selecting a major should
be as follows.

  • The most important thing is to major in something you can get A’s in.
  • Select a major that gives you the time to complete the medical school
    prerequisites and volunteer activities.
  • Major in something you can fall back on if medical school does not work out.

Review Courses
As and older applicant, you may need to take additional courses before applying
to medical school. This may be to fulfill missing medical school requirements,
to improve your grade point average, or to prepare for the MCAT.  Some
medical schools will require you to take additional science courses if it has
been at least five years since you completed your prerequisites.

Letters of Recommendation
If your undergraduate institution has a premedical committee, it is preferable
to have a composite letter sent by them. Otherwise, most medical schools require
individual letters of recommendation from two science and one nonscience
professor. Make sure you select faculty who have experience doing this and who
know the proper way to write a strong letter of recommendation (many do not know
how to do this). You should be planning for this from day one. Get to know your
instructors by going to their office hours. Talk to them about their courses and
let them know of your plans to be a physician. If you have the opportunity,
offer to assist them in some way. For example, while taking Cell Biology I
helped my instructor post course information on his web site. If you have a
positive relationship with your teachers, it will be much easier come up with
strong letters of recommendation.

Exposure to Clinical Medicine
It is important to have some meaningful exposure to clinical medicine. This
needs to be direct experience in a clinical setting with sick patients. Medical
schools want to make sure you know what you are getting into before you send in
your application. If you work in the healthcare field, then this requirement may
already be satisfied. For everyone else, call the volunteer office of any local
hospital. Tell them you are applying to medical school and are looking to
volunteer in a clinical area such as the emergency department. While 100 to 200
hours of experience is a good target, many applicants complete as many as 500 hours of clinical experience
(one day a
week for two semesters or one summer full time). The exact number of hours isn’t
the main issue. More importantly, you should have enough volunteer hours to
convince yourself that this is what you really want to do, and so that you are
able to talk confidently about your experiences if asked during your interviews.