Frequently Asked Questions

Questions about Requirements

What are the lowest GPA and MCAT medical schools accept?
  • It depends on the med school, of course, but for a U.S. M.D. school you should have at least a 510 with at least 125 in each of the subject areas. This is >80 percentile. U.S. Doctor of Osteopathy schools and Caribbean Medical schools will accept lower scores. Also, you will need at least a 3.5 GPA in overall and science, but higher is better.
How do people apply to medical schools?
  • The usual route is through the AMCAS system. This is a central application service. You submit one application to AMCAS and select which schools to send it to. Each school will have an application fee, and a secondary application with a second fee, so you need to be judicious in how many schools you apply to.
What are research opportunities for students?
  • You can look at each professor’s research interests in their department’s web page. If you find a project interesting, go and talk to the professor. Keep in mind that while research is a great extracurricular activity it is not a requirement for applying to med school. Only do this if you really have an interest (i.e., doing a half-hearted try at it will not help).
How do you build a good resume for medical schools?
  • The key, as always, is GPA and MCAT. Once you pass these barriers, your extracurricular activities come into play. Do something you love and impress people. Show leadership. Show mastery of your talents. Impress people enough to get good letters for recommendation from them. Show compassion — volunteer your time. Whatever you do, excel at it.
What are medical schools looking for in a student?
  • Intelligence, diligence, focus, perseverance, compassion, dedication. Excellence in all areas of your life.
What special classes do I need to take before going to medical school?
  • Prerequisites are typically 2 semesters each of intro biology, intro chemistry, organic chemistry, physics, and English 101. Some schools will require biochemistry, and/or calculus, but to many. I advise taking Biochemistry, PSY101 and SOC101 to prepare for the MCATs. Also, if you are a bio major it is a good idea to take micro for your organismal component and Anatomy and Physiology I & II for your physiology requirement. This will help you when you get to Med School, although they are not prerequisites. You will get all of these prerequisites in either the Biology B.S. or Biomedical Sciences B.S. degrees, although you can be any major as long as you get the prerequisites.

MCAT

Are there any options to help prepare us for the MCAT?
  • There are many on-line opportunities as well as classes you can take. I am often in touch with people from Kaplan. They run some really good programs that vary in price from the cheapest (on-line exams only) to a 4 week boot camp that is really expensive. You can decide which option is best for you. There are other options as well, including Kahn Academy, Exam Krackers, Altrius, Axilogy … many resources of varying quality Google “MCAT Exam Prep”. From what I’ve heard, you get more out of taking full length practice exams (as many as 10–20) than studying the course MCAT prep books. It’s all about time management, skimming quickly through readings, and answering quickly and correctly. It’s all about learning how to take the exam.
How hard should I study for the MCAT?
  • As if your future depended on it, because it does. I had a student a few years ago with an almost perfect application. All his ducks were in a row (high GPA, letters of recommendation, great extracurriculars) except for one thing: one of the 4 scores on the MCAT. He got 79 percentile in CPFBS, 97 percentile in BBFLS, and 86 percentile in PSBFB, but scored 37 percentile on CARS. His overall score was 508 (79 th percentile!), but he got no interviews because of that low CARS score. MCATS are vital!!!!
When should I start preparing for it? When should I take the MCAT?
  • You should start after your sophomore year. At this point you should have most, if not all, of the prerequisites done. Then after the spring semester of your junior year take at least a month, if not a month and a half, to focus only on the MCAT. Take the exam in the summer between junior and senior years.

Internships and Other Activities

What should I do in college to help me get into medical school?
  • First and foremost, make sure you are on strong academic ground. High GPA and MCAT are going to get you into med school. Everything else is important if your GPA and MCAT are border line. Outside of academics, find some extracurricular activity that you enjoy and excel at. Most people think of volunteering and research, which are great, but also music, sports, student government, military service — almost anything that shows that you are more than just your grades and excel at everything you do. Impress people with your work, in and out of school. Also, don’t feel like you need to do everything (research, volunteer, shadow doctors, play an instrument … ). If you do everything, but do it all poorly, this doesn’t look good. Find something important and stick to it. For example, if you like research, do it for 2 years and make presentations/publications, don‘t sign up for 1 semester so you can put on your application. This shows through as a lack of commitment.
Do I need any special research experience?
  • No. It is a good extracurricular activity but not a requirement. Don’t get sucked into the mentality that you need to do X, Y, and Z to apply to med school. Do fewer things but do them all the best.
What volunteer work would help me be a more attractive choice for medical school?
  • Any volunteer activity is good, but make sure you are doing it for the right reason. Again, you are not just checking off a box on the application that says “Did you do any volunteering?” Find a cause that you are passionate about and give 100%. Be assertive; make the opportunities for yourself; be a leader.

Letters of Recommendation

Do you ask professors for reference letters?
  • Yes, but only professors who you feel you have impressed. Make connections with your professors. I often have people ask me for letters and all I can say is he/she was in my class and got an A. That’s not a particularly strong letter. Also, ask people who aren’t professors — maybe a supervisor where you work or volunteer or a doctor you shadow. When you excel at your extracurricular experiences people will recognize this and be happy to write you a letter. The more letters, the stronger your case will be for your character.
How long can I go with letters of recommendation until I have to get new ones?
  • About 3–5 years. If the person has been very instrumental in your life, the letter can last longer. You should ask for the letters soon after you have worked with the person, if your time with them is ending. People forget; lock in that good letter of recommendation before it’s too late. You can have the letters sent to me and I will keep them in your PHPAC file.

The Interview

What is the interview process like?
  • After you have applied through the AMCAS system, schools that are interested in you will ask you to fill out a secondary application with more specific questions. If you make it past this screening you will be asked to come for an interview. These are typically held from November to February. Getting an earlier interview is better as most schools have rolling admissions. Usually the interview involves a tour of the campus and about 2 one-on-one interviews with people associated with the medical school (doctors or admission counselors).
Do you have any tips for the interview process?
  • The interviewer is going to evaluate your character, personality, communication skills, how easy it is to get along with you, how confident, honest and sincere you are, and if you are truly interested in medicine. The best tips is try to be calm and confident. Have some questions for them prepared (which means researching the school and knowing what is important about it). Look the interviewer in the eye, like and equal, but be humble, not arrogant. Above all, be yourself. Nothing turns an interviewer off more than an obsequious phony.

Additional Concerns

What other options are out there in the unfortunate case that you don’t get into medical school?
  • Most people in med school didn’t get there on their first try. Plan on re-applying in 2 years and take the time to build your application (you probably can’t make a big enough difference in one year). If your GPA is weak, go to grad school and build a stronger academic record to apply with. Get a job in a health field and gain more experience and good letters of recommendation. Also, always have a Plan B. You may never make it into med school; let your decisions going forward lead you to an alternate career if med school doesn’t work out.
Does it matter what college I attend before I apply for medical school?
  • Unfortunately, yes.  A 3.5 from Harvard is much more appealing to med schools than a 3.5 from a state school. This is why you need to have the highest GPA possible.
How competitive are certain schools?
  • New York schools are very competitive, even for in-state applicants. About 1–5% of applicants will eventually matriculate. Other states are less competitive for in-stat applicants. Vermont, for example, will accept up to 40% of in-state applicants. The key is to move there, gain residence, and then apply.
What is SUNY Plattsburgh’s acceptance rate?
  • It is really hard to say because some students apply without ever contacting me and some are accepted and don’t tell me. Of the students who eventually apply, I feel that approximately 3-4 per year are truly qualified and these students typically get in, if not in the first year then by years 3–5.
Is race a factor? Are there quotas?
  • Providing healthcare to underserved minorities is a struggle in this country. Med schools are aware of this and make an effort to recruit qualified minority applicants. They don’t have quotas and would never accept an unqualified applicant, but being from an underserved minority group can be an advantage. Also, many schools offer minority summer research programs, which are excellent opportunities to get a foot in the door of the medical school.
How long can medical schools be?
  • Med schools in the U.S. are all 4 years. The first 2 years are academic work with minimal patient contact and the second 2 years are rotations through clinical departments. After med school there will be 2-8 years of further training, depending on the specialty that you decide on.
Is it better to study medicine abroad or here?
  • It is better to study here. During medical school you will make connections that will help you get a good residency. People in the U.S. have a better chance of “matching” at their choice of residency program. There are 4 Caribbean schools that we recommend for their ability to match residents in the U.S., mainly because they prepare the students for the USMLE exams and provide clinical rotations in the U.S. for the third and fourth years of med school. European medical schools are on a different medical system and it is difficult to move back to the U.S.   You would need to take the USMLE step I, II, and III exams without help from the schools in passing them if you returned to the U.S.
Should I apply right after graduation or take some time off?
  • This is a personal decision. There are many reasons to delay applying to med school and with more experience your application will only get stronger. Med schools are wary of students that are very strong academically but don’t have the necessary maturity to be a physician. Experiences after undergraduate school can help build that.
How much free time will I have as a doctor?
  • Almost none as a med student, little as a resident, and adequate time as an M.D., although it depends on the specialty. Some M.D.s work a 9–5 and go home (e.g. dermatology). Some will have call every other night. It depends on what specialty you go into.

Questions, Comments, Suggestions?

For more information about pre-health professions advisement at SUNY Plattsburgh, please contact

Donald Slish
Pre-Health Professions Advisory Committee Chairperson
Office: Hudson Hall 325
Phone: (518) 564-5160
Email: slishdf@plattsburgh.edu