The First Cut

You have to imagine for yourselves what it’s like to be on an admission committee. You have 100 slots for next year’s class and you have 1000 applicants. That’s about the volume I was dealing with each year. How are you going to approach this process? It’s a finite process — the applications coming in around January/February for the school year beginning in August. So how can you separate these — where are you going to begin?

Well, you begin with something that’s easy to manage, and that’s going to mean some kind of numbers. The first cut almost inevitably begins with GPAs and MCAT scores. There’s no question about that. And it’s going to be the same everywhere. And for no other reason that expediency. It’s the easiest way to take this pile and make it smaller, more manageable. And we make that cut based on academic performance. Because it was numerical, objective, and it can’t be criticized. Somebody can’t come along and say that it was biased in some way racially, ethnically, sexually, in any sense. What we do is look at numbers and rank them.

There is a relationship between the successful completion of medical school and MCAT scores. There’s less of a relationship with undergraduate GPA. And remember that from the stand point of the admissions committee, what they want to assure to the university, what they’re responsible for, is that the student that they give a slot to is going to complete the program. That’s what they’re interested in. They’re not concerned with deciding who the next famous physician for the university will be, who will cure AIDS, or cure polio, or whatever. They’re concerned with finding someone who will be able to complete the program.

O.K., so this admissions committee has looked at this stack of 1000 applications and culled it down to 500 based on the scores. Simply ranked the scores. Some people ask, “What GPA do you need, or what MCAT score do you have to have?” It’s not like that. There are 1000 applications, we just rank them, take half of them, and look at those. The other half we’re not going to look at this year. Because we know that last year we needed 400 applications to fill our class of 100. Why is that? People apply to multiple medical schools. I may have applied to 5 schools in Texas. If I get an offer from 4 of them, I can only take one. That means there are 3 open spots. So the committee ranks the top 400 applications and goes down the list offering the first 100 a position. They write back and 25% say “thank you we’re coming” the other 75% say “Thank you, we’re going somewhere else,” and we go on down the list.

So that does mean that depending on the year and depending on where you are, the grades are different. In New York I understand the cut is very often between a 3.6 or a 3.8 grade point average (I’m not very well calibrated in MCAT scores). If you’re in Texas or Montana, 3.0 from the same school might get you an interview. The settings are different. So you cannot just say, "Well, I have a 3.2. I might as well just hang it up; I’m not ever going to ever make it." That’s not right thinking. If you have the right desire and you’re willing to make the right sacrifices, then there’s probably a place for you.

Again, most of it boils down to desire.

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