The Torment of Medical Admissions

You’re a pre-med college freshman sitting in your intro chem class. You understand your professor’s statements about atomic orbitals. You sink back in your chair and start thinking of attending your first biochemistry class in medical school. Life is good. What you may not know at this point is that only about 17% of freshman pre-meds get into medical school. Four people in your five-person study group aren’t getting in. Yet, you sit blissfully unaware of the facts surrounding medical admissions.

Admission into medical school remains one of the single most daunting feats any undergraduate student can hope to achieve. The requirements may vary by school, but overall, the consensus is that high GPA and MCAT scores are required. I tell my pre-med students the safest course of action is to maintain a science GPA of A-. Medical school admission is so competitive they don’t merely look at a student’s overall GPA. There are three types of GPAs, at least in the realm of medical admissions: the Science GPA, non-Science GPA and the overall GPA. One might say that the very existence of such statistics is a reflection of the competitive nature of medical admissions.

Great, so you’ve maintained an A- GPA among your science courses. And you’ve taken the MCAT, and you can’t wait to apply! Not so fast! First, you have to ensure you’ve taken all prerequisite courses. That’s right, the simple act of applying to med schools has prerequisite courses. You can apply without having taken all required courses, but you won’t be seriously considered as an applicant. Not only that, but an advisor from one’s undergraduate program usually compiles and submits all documents needed for admissions after stamping them with a seal of approval.

By now you’ve probably pictured med admissions as running a set of hurdles. The first hurdle is freshman science. The second hurdle is the dreaded organic chemistry class. The third hurdle is hoping your professors know you well enough to write you decent letters of reference. The list goes on, but ultimately a strong application has a good GPA, MCAT scores, your CV, letters of reference and your university’s seal of approval. Following that are interviews, for which you may need to fly over to a different state to attend. Post-COVID era, online interviews are gaining acceptance but many med schools still require face-to-face meetings.

So, you get off the plane from your last interview. You get home, face down on bed. You start decompressing from the toll the last four years of college has taken on you. You weren’t there to make friends, hang out and go to business school internships; you were there to legitimately study. Days go by, then weeks, as you eagerly await admissions results from the twenty or so schools you’ve applied to. You know your parents are debating whether the three grand spent on admissions fees were worth it. And then… right before you bite off your last nail…your email notifications pop up, and you see the name of a medical school you’ve applied to. You struggle to go to your inbox with your clammy fingertips. You tremble as you await the email to load after tapping on it. And the first word you see: Congratulations. What follows is a deluge of tears of joy. When the alternative feels like outright failure, these tears of joy – hopefully – come once a lifetime. What you feel is pure happiness.

Luka graduated from Cornell University’s School of Arts & Sciences in 2009 with a B.S. in Chemistry. He obtained an MPH in Epidemiology from UMDNJ in 2010 and an MD from Columbia University in 2015. He now tutors all levels of science and is a lecturer of Biochemistry at Columbia University. He is also passionate about poetry, prose and science research.