Pre-med at Pitt

A comprehensive guide for pre-medical students at the University of Pittsburgh
Pre-professional Health Advising Career Services ♦ Division of Student Affairs
University of Pittsburgh ♦ 224 William Pitt Union ♦ Pittsburgh, PA 15260 (412) 648-7130 ♦ Revised 1/2005

Career Services
A stop on the Pitt Pathway

Welcome to the world of medicine! Just by reading this, you’re taking the first step to a challenging and rewarding career as a physician! However, you have a long and difficult journey ahead of you. Statistically speaking, less than half of the students who apply to medical school across the nation are actually accepted, so the time to begin preparing is now. This guide has been designed to help you, the pre-med student, to make the most of your undergraduate education and to prepare you for the medical school application process. You’ll read about the courses you’ll be taking, gaining experience through volunteering and research, preparing and registering for the MCAT, using the Pre-professional Health Committee and actually applying to the medical schools of your choice. Sounds like a lot, doesn’t it? Well, it is – but remember, you always have someone to help you through the process: the Health Professions Counselor in Career Services. The Health Professions Counselor is available to you regardless of your major or academic year, and can answer all of your questions about preparing for and applying to medical school. Feel free to schedule an appointment by calling 412-648-7130, or by stopping by 224 William Pitt Union. So now, let’s begin at the beginning…


Getting Started: Your Freshman Year
Even though med school is still a long time away, there are several things that you should be doing at the beginning of your education to ensure your success later on. Get off to a good start by doing the following during your freshman year: Become involved in the Pitt Pathway. The Pitt Pathway is a 4-step, self-development program that is designed to assist you in choosing and implementing your career. Many of the offices on campus participate in the Pitt Pathway and are available to help you in all of the stages of the Pathway: Self Discovery, Career Exploration, Gain Experience and Implement the Plan. Although you may be certain that you want to pursue a career in medicine, it makes a lot of sense to confirm your decision by working through the Pitt Pathway, starting in your first year.


Establish good study habits. Your grades will be one of the most important factors in determining your acceptance to medical school. The only way to earn good grades is to establish good study habits, right from the beginning. If you need some help, contact the Academic Support Center or find a tutor. Develop a close relationship with your academic advisor. Your academic advisor is one of your best resources on campus; he or she can help you to outline your academic curriculum, can make course recommendations, can point you to important campus resources and can act as your guide throughout your education at the University of Pittsburgh. Because your advisor is so important, it is crucial that you get to know this person! Be sure to keep regular advising appointments, and feel free to turn to your advisor when you have questions. Get involved in campus organizations. Although medical schools first look for applicants with good grades, they also want to see that candidates are well-rounded. Getting involved with campus organizations and activities is a great way to round out your education, get leadership experience and meet new people. Contact the Student Life office for a complete listing of campus organizations. Enjoy learning for learning’s sake. Your undergraduate education should not just be preparation for graduate school – be sure to take advantage of all of the learning opportunities available to you, even those that are not related to medicine. Because you will use almost half of your credits to fulfill general education requirements, you have lots of room to take courses in the arts, humanities and social sciences. Work with your academic advisor to plan your class schedules around your interests, as well as your requirements. Also, get in touch with the Study Abroad and Semester at Sea offices to explore opportunities to give your education an international perspective. Get to know your professors. Your professors are outstanding resources for information in their chosen fields. Many of them are doing cutting-edge research and have years of experience working in the sciences or humanities. Take the time to get to know your professors – stop by their office hours or talk to them after class. Developing a relationship with your professors is also important because you will need them to write letters of evaluation for you when you are applying to the Pre-professional Health Committee; you will get a much better letter from a faculty member who knows you personally and is enthusiastic about your application than a professor that barely remembers you and can only write about your grade in his/her class. Participate in pre-med workshops. The Health Professions Counselor offers several workshops each term for students who are interested in a career in medicine. There are always a few that are designed especially for freshmen, so be sure to attend one of these workshops if you get a chance. Begin to take courses in the required sciences. Because you will need to complete all of your required math and sciences (biology, chemistry, physics and calculus) before the end of your junior year, it is important to start to take these courses in your first year. It is especially important to begin the course sequence in chemistry, as


you will need to complete a minimum of 2 terms of general chemistry and 2 terms of organic chemistry before applying to any medical school. Below are the science and math courses that are required for entrance to medical schools. Please remember that your performance in these courses is VERY IMPORTANT, and will play a significant role in your acceptance to medical school. It is also important to do well in these courses the FIRST time you take them, as medical schools average all of your grades in these courses, not just your most recent grades.

Biological Sciences
BIOSC 0150 BIOSC 0050 BIOSC 0160 BIOSC 0060 Foundations of Biology 1 Foundations of Biology 1 Lab Foundations of Biology 2 Foundations of Biology 2 Lab General Chemistry 1 General Chemistry 2 Organic Chemistry 1 Organic Chemistry 1 Lab Organic Chemistry 2 Organic Chemistry 2 Lab Introduction to Physics 1 Introduction to Physics 2 Introduction to Laboratory Physics Analytic Geometry and Calculus 1

8 credits
3 credits 1 credit 3 credits 1 credit

CHEM 0110 CHEM 0120 CHEM 0310 CHEM 0330 CHEM 0320 CHEM 0340 PHYS 0110 PHYS 0111 PHYS 0212

16 credits
4 credits 4 credits 3 credits 1 credit 3 credits 1 credit

Physics (algebra-based; calculus-based also acceptable)

8 credits
3 credits 3 credits 2 credits

MATH 0220

4 credits
4 credits

Besides taking the required courses, you’ll also need to take some upper-level science courses. If you’re majoring in one of the hard sciences this won’t be a problem (since your curriculum requires so many science courses anyway), but if you’re a humanities or social sciences major, you’ll need to work closely with your academic advisor to fit additional science courses into your plan of study. Biochemistry, human physiology and genetics are highly recommended (try to finish these before you take the MCAT); statistics and neuroscience are also good choices. In addition to taking courses in math and science, most medical schools also require at least 6 credits in English. If you are enrolled in the College of Arts and Sciences, this requirement is easy to fulfill, since you’ll probably have to take General Writing (ENGCMP 0200) and a literature course to complete your general education requirements. Just make sure that the course you choose for your literature requirement is a class offered by the English Department. If you are not enrolled in CAS, be sure to work with your academic advisor to make sure that 6 credits in English will fit into your curriculum. If you can’t fit English in, you may want to consider taking a couple courses over the summer, just to be sure that you fulfill the requirement.



What is the best major for medical school?
The answer is: there isn’t one best major that will prepare you for medical school. Actually, medical schools don’t really care what you choose to major in, as long as you demonstrate that you’re able to perform well in the sciences. Having said that, most pre-med students do choose to major in one of the natural sciences because they like those fields and tend to do well in them (hence the interest in attending medical school). At Pitt, biology and neuroscience are the most popular choices; chemistry is also a common major for pre-meds. However, if you have a very strong interest in one of the arts, humanities or social sciences, feel free to pursue that field as a major. Just be sure to work closely with your academic advisor to integrate the needed science courses into your plan of study. If you are unsure about your interests and having a hard time deciding on a major, please contact a career counselor in Career Services. There are many ways a counselor can help you to define your interests and to choose the major that will work best for you.


Special Advice for Sophomores
The poor sophomore – no longer a new student, and not quite an applicant, the sophomore is often overlooked in the world of pre-med advising. Well, not anymore! Sophomores, this section is for you! All kidding aside, there are some important things you should be doing during your sophomore year. In addition to continuing to take courses in the required sciences and earning good grades, this is the year when you should begin to VOLUNTEER. It is through volunteering that you demonstrate to the medical schools that you have a realistic idea of what medicine is (and is not); volunteering also allows you to become familiar with the hospital environment and to develop your communication skills with patients. Because the University of Pittsburgh is close to so many hospitals, opportunities abound and are easily accessible. Most hospitals will allow you to choose the unit in which you volunteer – you may want to spend some time in the Emergency Room or the Operating Room, in addition to working in one of the general Medical-Surgical units. Regardless of where you choose to volunteer, be sure that you spend some quality time interacting with patients. This will not only give you the opportunity to develop your communication skills, but will also give you exposure to a variety of diseases and disorders. There is not a “required” number of hours that you must spend volunteering, but it’s a good idea to spend at least 3 to 4 hours per week for a couple of years in the hospital.


In addition to volunteer work, you may also want to gain some experience by participating in RESEARCH. Although designing and implementing your own research project is a very valuable experience, you will probably need to start out by working in someone else’s lab. This is where it’s helpful to know your faculty – many professors are not only teachers, but also researchers and have their own labs where they are carrying out their own projects. Talk to your professors to see if they need help in their labs – many of them do, and some of their student positions are paid. Also check out this website: The UROP site was designed to highlight undergraduate research opportunities and links to many of the academic departments that have projects underway. If you have a special research interest in the health sciences, you may also want to log on to – the webpage for all of the schools of the health sciences here at Pitt. This page has a great search engine that will allow you to search for faculty by department or by area of interest. Also take some time during your sophomore year to assess where you are in the application process: are you doing everything that you can to make yourself a competitive candidate? How does your QPA look? Do you have a plan that will allow you to complete all of your required sciences by the end of your junior year? Have you been volunteering? Have you been making the most of your educational experience? These are important questions to ask yourself. Also, this may be a good time to make an appointment with the Health Professions Counselor. In your appointment, you will have the opportunity to ask any questions you may have, and will get a good idea as to what you still have to do to prepare for the application process.


Junior Year: Preparing to Apply
In addition to continuing to fulfill your requirements for graduation, you will need to spend your junior year making sure that you are prepared to apply to medical school. This is your last opportunity to make yourself the best-looking candidate that you can be, so be sure to complete everything on this list by the end of your junior year: Finish your required courses. Remember that the medical schools will be making a decision based on the grades from the classes that you have completed by the end of this year, so make sure that all of your required courses (science, math and English) are done. It’s also a good idea to have biochemistry and human physiology done by this time, so that you’ll have some background in these subjects before you take the MCAT. Make sure your volunteer and research experiences are in place. Although you should have done both of these by now, if you have not had a chance to volunteer or have not tried a research experience, this is your last opportunity to do these things before applying. Prepare for and take the MCAT. The MCAT is only offered twice each year: in April and in August. We’ll talk more about the MCAT later, but preparing for this test is very important and should take up a significant amount of your time and energy this year.


Meet with the Health Professions Counselor. Even if you’ve done so already, it’s a good idea to meet with the Health Professions Counselor during this year, just to make sure that you’ve finished everything that you need to have done. It’s helpful to get some feedback about how you are stacking up against other candidates and about the timeline for the application process. You will also need to see the Health Professions Counselor to get the application materials for the Pre-professional Health Committee. Gather your materials for the Pre-professional Health Committee. Again, we’ll talk more about this in a later section, but you will need to apply for review by the Pre-professional Health Committee during this year. Because all materials are due by the end of May, you’ll need to spend time during your junior year making sure that your Committee application is complete. Making sure that all of the items above are finished by the end of your junior year will help to ensure that you won’t encounter any surprises during your review by the Pre-professional Health Committee or during the actual medical school application process.


The Medical College Admission Test (a.k.a., the MCAT) is a very important and, often, very difficult part of the application process for medical school. As stated above, the MCAT is only offered twice each year, typically on the third Saturdays in April and in August. If you can, it is best to take the MCAT in April, as opposed to August, for 2 reasons: 1. You will know your MCAT score when you actually apply to the medical schools – this is very helpful when selecting the schools to which you will apply (also, if you don’t like your score on the April test, you can take it again in August and still participate in the same application cycle) and;

2. Taking the April test allows your application to be reviewed much earlier in the process than waiting until the August test, since most medical schools will not even look at an application without an MCAT score (meaning that your application won’t be reviewed until October, at the earliest, since it takes about 8 weeks to get your MCAT scores). Also, many medical schools practice rolling admissions, which means that many candidates will have already been interviewed and/or accepted by the time that your application is getting a first review (which is why it’s helpful to be reviewed earlier, rather than later in the application process). Of course, this means working closely with your academic advisor to plan a schedule for the spring term of your junior year that will give you the time to prepare for the MCAT. Also keep in mind that the April MCAT and finals week usually coincide, so it will be important to study ahead for your finals during this term. The MCAT actually consists of 4 different exams: verbal reasoning, a writing sample, biological sciences (biology and organic chemistry) and physical sciences (general chemistry and physics). The writing sample is scored on a letter scale, with “J” being the lowest score and “T” being the highest.


The other 3 sections are scored on a numerical scale, with “1” being the lowest score and “15” being the highest. Often you will hear of the scores on the verbal reasoning, biological sciences and physical sciences sections being added together for a “total” MCAT score, that can range from “3” to “45”. Although medical schools vary in their required and average MCAT scores, a score above “30” will probably make you competitive at most schools (this assumes that you’ve scored a “10” in each of the 3 sections). Although it’s not required, many students choose to take a prep course for the MCAT. Both Kaplan and The Princeton Review offer courses in the Oakland area; both courses offer a structured review and will allow you to take several practice tests. Unfortunately, these courses are pretty expensive (typically $900 - $1500), so be prepared for the cost. Please keep in mind that many students successfully complete the MCAT without taking a course – if you are disciplined, you can save yourself a significant amount of money by reviewing and practicing for the test yourself. Regardless of how you structure your review, please take this test VERY SERIOUSLY. Aside from your grades, your MCAT score is probably the most important factor in determining whether you are invited to interview, as well as whether you are admitted to medical school. Be sure to invest the proper amount of time and energy into your preparation for the MCAT, and don’t take it until you’re really ready. You should have completed all of your required science courses before taking the MCAT, and it’s strongly recommended that you have finished a course in biochemistry, as well.


The Pre-professional Health Committee
The Pre-professional Health Committee (PHC) is a group of faculty from the University of Pittsburgh that will evaluate your credentials for medical school (with the exception of your MCAT scores) in the same way that they will be evaluated by a medical school admissions committee; the PHC then writes a composite evaluation (sometimes referred to as a “Committee letter”) that you can have Career Services send to medical schools in support of your application. Medical schools prefer (and some require) that you have a composite evaluation as a part of your application, so it’s important to participate in this process. You should apply for evaluation by the PHC in your application year. The PHC meets only during the summer months, so all of your materials for Committee must be submitted by the end of May (typically May 31st). This is a firm deadline, and there are no excuses that are good enough to allow you to submit your PHC application packet after the deadline. The Committee will evaluate your application over the summer, and makes every effort to have all composite evaluation letters finished by the end of August. In order to be evaluated by the PHC, you will need to provide the following: ♦ A PRE-PROFESSIONAL HEALTH COMMITTEE APPLICATION FORM. The application form is available from the Health Professions Counselor. You will be asked to provide academic and biographical information, as well as information about volunteer and research experiences on the application.


♦ ♦ ♦

A PERSONAL STATEMENT. Your personal statement should be 1 to 2 pages in length and should outline your motivation for pursuing a career in medicine. OFFICIAL COLLEGE TRANSCRIPTS. You will need to provide official transcripts for every college/university that you have attended since high school. 5 LETTERS OF EVALUATION. Science faculty should provide at least 3 of the 5 required letters of evaluation. Each letter of evaluation should be sent directly to Career Services, and should have an “Evaluation for Graduate Study in the Health Professions” form attached. A $35 CREDENTIAL SERVICE FEE. This fee covers the cost of establishing a credential file with Career Services, as well as the printing and mailing costs for 10 packets. AGAIN, ALL MATERIALS FOR YOUR PRE-PROFESSIONAL HEALTH COMMITTEE FILE ARE DUE IN CAREER SERVICES BY THE END OF MAY.

After the PHC has evaluated your application materials, it will create a composite letter for you. The PHC ranks you as a candidate for medical school, using the following scale: Outstanding Strong Competitive With Reservation Well Below Average Because of confidentiality laws, if you have waived your right to read your individual letters of evaluation, you will also not be allowed to read your composite evaluation. However, you are encouraged to schedule an appointment with the Health Professions Counselor to discuss your Committee letter. You will be told your rank and will be given the general “gist” of the letter. After this point, you can request that your composite evaluation (in addition to your individual letters of recommendation) be sent to the schools to which you have applied. You must complete the "Composite Evaluation Packet Release" form and submit it to Career Services before your letters can be sent. If the schools to which you are applying ask that your AMCAS ID number or your Social Security Number appear on your letters, you are responsible for providing Career Services with labels containing this information – Career Services staff will affix these labels to each of your letters as they are sent. Please allow 3 to 5 business days for your letters to be sent after your request. Career Services is very conscientious about sending letter packets, and encloses a postcard with each packet that the medical schools are asked to complete and return, documenting the receipt of your letters.



Your Application Year
Once you have finished your coursework, volunteered in the hospital, worked in a research lab, taken the MCAT and been reviewed by the Pre-professional Health Committee, you are ready to apply to medical school. Finally! Well, not really -- the application process is a very time, energy and money consuming process, but well worth it if you are accepted. Remember that the application process begins over a year before you actually start medical school, so following this timeline is crucial. Here are the steps that you will need to take to apply: MAY - JUNE - JULY Apply for admission through the medical school application services. AMCAS - American Medical College Application Service This is the service you use for allopathic schools of medicine.

AACOMAS - American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine Application Service This is the service you use for osteopathic schools of medicine.

Both of these services allow you to submit one application, one set of transcripts and one set of MCAT scores to apply to participating schools. These applications are both available on-line and will require you to complete information on your academic background, volunteer work, research experience, extracurricular activities and work history, and will ask you to write a personal statement. Each application service also comes with its own set of application fees, so be prepared to submit a check at the same time you submit your applications. Obviously, these are not forms that you complete in a couple of minutes – it often takes applicants several days to complete all of the sections on the applications. Be sure to check the MSAR (Medical School Admissions Requirements) for allopathic schools that do not participate in AMCAS. If you plan to apply to a non-AMCAS school, you will need to contact the medical school directly for an application. All osteopathic schools participate in AACOMAS. Each medical school has its own AMCAS or AACOMAS application deadline – be sure to adhere to these dates. Although most medical schools do not have AMCAS or AACOMAS application deadlines until October or November (at the earliest), it is best to have your application completed by the end of June. First, this allows you to fully focus on your classes when the fall semester begins. Second, it is much better to be reviewed earlier, rather than later, by medical school admissions committees, since many schools have already started to interview and admit candidates by the application deadline. Most students choose to apply to about 10 different schools, although you may want to apply to a few more or a few less. Be sure to research the schools to which you are applying by reviewing the MSAR or the Osteopathic Medical College Information Book; visiting the schools’ websites is also a good idea. You should consider a number of factors when choosing medical schools, including programs, affiliated hospitals, location, cost and the residency match rates and programs. This information is typically available in the school’s admissions literature or on their website.


Unfortunately, the admissions offices at almost all medical schools will not have time to spend with you before you apply, so it may be difficult to visit (or even to speak to someone on the phone), but there may be a general tour available that you can take. AUGUST – SEPTEMBER – OCTOBER – NOVEMBER - DECEMBER Complete secondary applications. Once you have submitted your AMCAS or AACOMAS applications, the medical schools will review your information, and, if they are still interested in you as a candidate, they will ask you to complete secondary applications. You will need to complete these application forms and return them by their deadlines. Unfortunately, secondary applications also come with secondary application fees, so, again, be prepared to send checks along with your application forms. When you are sending your secondary applications, you will also need to contact the Career Services Credential Service to have your composite evaluation letter packets sent to the medical schools. You are responsible for providing Career Services with a typed list of the medical schools and addresses to which you want to have your packets sent. Your packets will not be sent until you have paid the Credential Service fees and have submitted a signed “Composite Evaluation Packet Release” form. SEPTEMBER – OCTOBER – NOVEMBER – DECEMBER – JANUARY – FEBRUARY - MARCH Interview. If you are still a viable candidate, medical schools will invite you to interview after they have reviewed your secondary applications and letters of evaluation. Interviews usually take place at the medical schools and you are expected to cover the costs of travel, lodging and meals while you are there (although some schools will provide breakfast or lunch on the day of the interview). Many schools will arrange for you to stay with a current medical student if you request to do so. You may also want to request to meet minority students and/or faculty if you are a minority student. We’ll talk about the interview in more detail in the next section. ANY TIME AFTER YOUR INTERVIEW Receive letter informing you of your status: accepted, wait-listed, rejected. After you have interviewed, you should receive a letter letting you know if you have been accepted, wait-listed or rejected by the medical school. Some schools write letters on a rolling basis, while others wait until their interviews are completed to send letters. Don’t panic if you don’t hear from the school right after your interview, especially if you interview early – it may be one of the schools that waits to write letters. If you have been rejected, it’s very normal to feel disappointed, but try not to let it get you down too much. You may want to schedule an appointment with the Health Professions Counselor to talk about your next step – either planning to apply in the next application cycle, or making another career choice altogether. If you have been wait-listed, you will likely not hear about admission or rejection until May or June. Although some schools will answer questions about your rank on the wait-list, many do


not, so making repeated calls to the schools will probably not be very productive. The best thing that you can do in this situation is be patient and hope for the best, although you may want to write a letter to the school, indicating your enthusiasm and interest in attending there. If you do receive and accept an offer of admission from another medical school, you will need to contact the school at which you have been wait-listed to inform them of your admission to another school. If you receive an offer of admission, you will need to decide if you want to attend that particular medical school. Your decision may be based on a number of factors, including the school’s programs, location, facilities, available housing, cost and financial aid package. When making a decision, consider all of these factors (making pros and cons lists can help), but don’t discount your gut feelings about the school. If something inside is telling you that you won’t be happy at a school, don’t go there! On the flip side, if you fall in love with a particular school, it’s probably the right choice for you. Your intuition knows more than you think, so trust it when making your decision. Usually, you will be given a few weeks to accept or decline; once you have decided, you are responsible for informing the school of your decision. The AAMC (American Association of Medical Colleges) and the AACOM (American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine) expect applicants to only hold one acceptance at a time, so that the medical schools may fill the seats that have been declined. The AAMC doesn't become too picky about his issue, though, until May 15th – after that date, schools may begin to revoke your offers of admission if you are still holding multiple acceptances.


The Medical School Interview
A few more words about the medical school interview: Always be nice! It is very important that you are courteous and respectful to everyone you meet, including secretaries and current students. These people often have influence in admissions decisions, so remember to treat everyone with the same respect you would give to the Dean of Admissions. Keep telephone calls to a minimum. The people in the admissions offices at medical schools are very busy, and may be unable to devote a lot of time (if any) to talking to you on the telephone. If you do call them, ask about their timeline, and do not call back until deadlines have passed. Stick with your assigned interview date. If you are absolutely unable to attend an interview date to which you have been assigned, call the medical school well in advance of the date and ask to have your interview changed. Some schools will be able to accommodate this, others will not. If you can make it, it is best to stick with the date you have been assigned. On the positive side, some schools do allow you to choose your own interview date.

Things you should do to prepare for your interview:
Review your application materials. This includes your AMCAS or AACOMAS application and your supplemental application. Because interviewers may have your file sitting in front of them during


your interview, it is likely that you will be asked about your volunteer work, your research experience and your essays. Be prepared for this, and review these things ahead of time. Research the medical school. Before you walk in the door, you should have a good idea about the medical school: its programs, its curriculum, its faculty, its method of instruction and its grading policies. You should also know something about the city in which the school is located. The school’s website is an excellent source of information, so be sure to review it before you leave. Review is a website specifically for pre-med and medical students; one of the features of this website is that applicants can post information about their medical school interviews, so that others may read their comments. You can search according to school and read everything that has been posted. There’s a standard questionnaire, as well as space for comments. It’s likely that you’ll find information here that you won’t find anywhere else, so it’s worth the time on-line. Do other applicants a favor and post your own comments after you come home, too. Read. Reading articles and journals about current events and issues in the field of medicine is very important, as someone is probably going to ask you your opinion about some issue during one of your interviews. JAMA, The New England Journal of Medicine and The Lancet are good choices; you may also want to pick up The New York Times, Time, Newsweek or U.S. News and World Report every now and then to keep current with world events, as well. Make travel plans well in advance. Try to make your travel plans as early as possible, to get the best rates on airfare, hotels, etc. Again, when planning your visit, you may want to ask the medical school if they have current students who are willing to host applicants overnight – many schools do this, and it’s a great way to save some money and get the “inside scoop” on the school.

Keep these things in mind when getting dressed for your interview:
BE CONSERVATIVE!! This cannot be overemphasized! Medical schools are using the interview to assess your judgment – do not use this opportunity to make a wild fashion statement (thereby showing poor judgment). You should look polished, pressed and professional. A word about piercings: if you are female, pierced ears are okay. Everything else is not. If you are male, even ears are not okay. Doctors and medical professors are usually pretty conservative people, which means they will not be impressed by the many holes in your head (or other parts), so take the rings out or cover them up. The same goes for tattoos – be sure they don’t show. Wear a suit. Both men and women should wear a suit (although women can also wear a nice dress with a coordinating jacket). Suits should be dark and should be wool or a wool blend. Navy blue is the classic choice, but charcoal or black are also acceptable. Be sure your suit fits you well and does not have any holes, frayed cuffs or stains. Men should wear a white shirt and conservative tie. Women should wear a coordinating blouse. Wear dark shoes (black or cordovan for men, black or navy blue for women); make sure your shoes are comfortable, as you will probably do quite a bit of walking. Men should wear dark socks, while women should wear neutral hose. Keep accessories to a minimum. The only accessory a man should wear to an interview is a watch (well, a wedding ring or class ring is also okay). Men should not wear anything that could be construed as “feminine”. Women have a little more latitude in their choice of accessories, but


should still be conservative. A nice scarf is fine; tasteful jewelry is also okay. Don’t wear anything that jingles together or could be considered flashy.

Things to do the day before the interview:
Arrive at your destination. It’s always a good idea to arrive in the city in which the medical school is located a day before your interview. This allows you to find your way around and settle down before you’re actually in the interview. Anything that you can do to keep yourself from feeling stress will be helpful at this point. Organize everything you need for the next day. Make sure you iron your clothes, put together your briefcase or attaché and have your travel plans to the school worked out before you go to bed. Again, you’ll be saving yourself a lot of stress if you don’t have to worry about these things the morning of your interview. Get a good night’s sleep. Although it may be tempting to stay up late (and may be hard to sleep, if you’re nervous), try to get at least 8 hours of sleep the night before your interview. Double check your alarm clock (this is not a good day to oversleep) or schedule a wake-up call if you’re at a hotel.

On the day of the interview:
Get there early. Arriving 10 to 15 minutes ahead of time is a good idea because it allows you to find where you’re going and get settled before your interview actually begins. It also allows a little time for you to get lost and still make it to the interview on time. What to expect. Each school tends to structure their interviews a little differently, so there is some variety as to what you may encounter. Some schools will feed you first; some schools may start off with a group presentation about their school, their city or financial aid; some schools may take you on a tour; some schools may have you jump right into an interview. Chances are, you’ll experience all of the above before your day is over. As far as the actual interview goes, you will probably sit down with more than one person during your time at the school – these people usually include a faculty person (basic science or clinical) and may include an administrator, an affiliated physician, an admissions staff person or a current medical student. These people may or may not have access to your file (students usually do not) – it depends on the school. Remember that every person you encounter is judging you; not to put on the pressure, but it is critical to treat every person you encounter as though his/her opinion counts. What you may be asked. Again, this depends on the individual school. Most schools do not believe in doing stress interviews, but they will expect you to answer questions about yourself, your experience and current issues in the medical field. This is where your preparation shows, so be sure to do your homework. Typical questions include: Tell me about yourself. Where do you see yourself in 10 years? What is the biggest problem facing medicine today? What do you think about stem cell research (or other hot topic)? Why do you want to be a doctor? Why did you choose to apply to this school? What are your strengths? Your weaknesses? What are your hobbies?/How do you spend your free time?


Are you thinking of specializing? In what field? Why? What will you do if you are not accepted? How do you plan to finance your medical education? What you should ask. Yes, you should have some questions prepared. Questions about residencies or special programs can be useful, as well as some of the following: Are there opportunities for students to design, conduct and publish research? Is there flexibility in the curriculum during the pre-clinical years? How do your students perform on the national board examinations? How are students evaluated during the clinical years? What kind of supportive and counseling services do you have for students? What types of clinical sites are available? Will I need a car to get to clinical rotations? Are students involved in volunteer work or community service? It is required? Remember that the interview is what really makes or breaks your acceptance to medical school – if you’re there they know you can handle the academic coursework, now they want to discover what kind of a person you are, and what kind of a doctor you’ll be. Preparing for the interview is just as important as getting good grades and doing well on the MCAT, so be sure to spend some time practicing your interviewing skills.


What Comes Next?
What comes after the application process naturally depends on whether or not you have been accepted. If you have been accepted, CONGRATULATIONS!! You’re on your way! The medical school that accepted you will guide you after this point: the admissions or student services office will let you know about financial aid, tuition deposits, housing and everything else you need to know about attending their school. Be sure to continue to be polite (you never know when someone from these offices will be able to help you out) and meet all deadlines you are given, especially the financial ones. If you didn’t get accepted, you’ll need to make a decision about your future: do you plan to reapply (and continue to keep medical school as your goal), or do you move on to something else? The answer to this question is a very personal one, and depends on a number of factors. Although many people choose to reapply to medical school (and a number of them are accepted), it doesn’t make much sense to reapply unless you plan to do something substantial to improve your application. This could include taking additional coursework (through a post-baccalaureate or graduate program), retaking the MCAT, gaining additional volunteer, research or work experience or practicing your interviewing skills. If you take additional courses, or choose to pursue additional volunteer or research opportunities, you may also want to be re-evaluated by the Pre-professional Health Committee, so that these changes will be reflected in your composite evaluation. Please talk to the Health Professions Counselor to get an objective view of your situation, and to discuss strategies to improve your candidacy.


If you choose not to reapply, you will obviously need to make other plans. Your options here are pretty much unlimited, but usually include getting a job or attending graduate school in another field. Remember that there are many health professions outside of medicine: dentistry, optometry, podiatry, chiropractic medicine, physician’s assistant, nursing, physical therapy, occupational therapy, pharmacy and public health, just to name a few. There are also career options in research, or you may want to choose something completely different from health and science altogether. Again, seeing the Health Professions Counselor can be helpful, as you can access interest inventories, values assessments and career information through this person. Regardless of what you choose to do, remember that your acceptance (or non-acceptance) to medical school is not a reflection of your worth as a person, or of the contribution you can make to society.


A Few Notes About Money
Unfortunately, becoming a doctor is not cheap. As I’m sure you noticed when reading the material above, you are required to pay fees to take the MCAT, to submit your applications to AMCAS and AACOMAS, and to submit secondary applications to the individual medical schools (some of these fees may be waived or reduced if you can document financial need). You will also need to have money to travel to interviews. It is not unusual for applicants to spend over $1,000 on application fees alone, so be sure to plan for these expenses well in advance. It is also important for you to determine how you will pay for your medical education (you may be asked this in your interview, so it’s a good idea to think about it now). A few schools have scholarship money available (as does the military, if you’re interested in serving your country after you graduate), but most will expect you to apply for financial aid programs and/or take out loans. Be sure to complete your tax forms early (and encourage your parents to do the same, since many financial aid programs will consider their income as well as yours in determining your need for aid); also file financial aid application forms by the deadlines. You need to realize that the typical medical school graduate leaves with about $100,000 in student loan debt. This is a lot of money to owe to anyone; granted, physicians tend to make more money than the average person, but managed care has made a dent in the earnings of doctors in the past few years, so be sure to have a sound financial plan for repaying any loans you may incur while in medical school. Fortunately, there are a few things that you can do now, as an undergrad, to prepare yourself financially for medical school. The most important of these is STAY AWAY FROM CREDIT CARDS!! If you already have credit cards, work hard to eliminate the debt that you have outstanding before you begin med school. Remember that you will not be able to work while you’re attending classes during the academic year (and medical schools do not consider credit card payments as a “living expense” when putting together your financial aid package), so you really need to have your credit cards paid off by the time you begin medical school. Also, try to take out as little student loan money as possible during your undergraduate years. It can be tempting to borrow the maximum amount allowed so that you get a refund each semester, but you are going to have to pay all of that money back someday, so try to only borrow what you absolutely need.



Frequently Asked Questions
What if I don’t decide until later in college that I want to go to medical school? Is it too late? No, it is not too late for you to pursue a career in medicine. However, you will still need to do all of the things listed above before you will be ready to apply. Be sure to schedule an appointment with your academic advisor to discuss the science and math courses you will need to take and how those courses will fit into your curriculum. Also schedule an appointment with the Health Professions Counselor to talk about the application process, and how you can become the best candidate that you can be. You’ll also need to decide – realistically—when you should apply. Trying to cram a lot of courses, volunteer work, research experience and studying for the MCAT into a few months, just so you’ll be able to meet deadlines, doesn’t make too much sense if you could wait for a year, get better grades, experiences and scores and be a much more attractive candidate. After working for a few years after graduation, I’ve decided that I want to be a doctor. Am I too old to go to medical school? NO!!! Actually, the average age of medical students has increased slightly over the past few years, so you’re certainly not alone in your decision to wait for a couple of years. Again, you’ll need to assess your credentials (coursework, grades, volunteer and research experience) to see what you need to do to make yourself a good candidate. Many schools accept people in their 30’s and 40’s every year; if you are older than 50, however, you may have a more difficult time gaining entrance – not that it’s impossible, mind you, but older candidates do sometimes have more difficulty getting admitted than those in the younger age brackets. Again, focusing on the quality of your candidacy is what will be most important. How many times can I take the MCAT? You can take the MCAT up to 3 times before you will have to provide documentation (either a completed AMCAS or AACOMAS application, a letter of rejection from a medical school or a letter from the Health Professions Counselor) indicating why it’s necessary for you to take the test a fourth time. If you are taking the MCAT, it is expected that you do intend to apply to medical school and pursue a career as a physician. Keep in mind, though, that MCAT scores rarely change by more than a point or two, and there’s always the possibility of earning a lower score, as well as a higher one; also, most medical schools are very wary of candidates who have taken the MCAT more than twice. I know my grades are too low to get accepted to medical school. How can I improve my application? There are several ways to improve your grades and prove to admissions committees that you can handle the advanced level science coursework required of a medical student. You may choose to only repeat a few courses, if most of your science grades were good, but you struggled with a few


classes. You could also consider enrolling in a post-baccalaureate program or a Master’s Program in one of the hard sciences (other Master’s programs will probably not help your application much). I keep hearing about post-baccalaureate programs. What are they and should I enroll in one? Post-baccalaureate (or post-bacc, for short) programs seem to come in two varieties: programs for career changers, who have little or no science background; and programs for application improvers, who have a background in the sciences, but need to strengthen their credentials before applying (or re-applying) to medical school. These programs are offered by a number of colleges, universities and medical schools, and usually offer enrollees an opportunity to take courses in both the required and upper-level sciences. Some schools integrate preparation for the MCAT into their programs and some programs actually lead to a Master’s degree (usually in a subject like “medical studies”). Many applicants do not enroll in a post-bacc program until they have gone through an application cycle and have been rejected by all the schools to which they applied. However, you may want to consider a post-bacc program before you ever apply if you know your grades will be an issue. Obviously, people who have little or no coursework in the sciences should complete a post-bacc program before applying or taking the MCAT. The AAMC maintains a list of post-bacc programs on their website at What is osteopathic medicine, and how is it different from allopathic medicine? Osteopathic medicine is a branch of medicine that differs somewhat in philosophy and practice from allopathic medicine, although the training and licensure procedures are very similar. Osteopathic physicians earn the D.O. degree, instead of the M.D., and tend to have a focus on preventative and primary care, as opposed to specializing in a branch of medicine (not to say that osteopathic doctors don’t specialize, but it’s not as common). Also, osteopathic physicians learn and are able to practice Osteopathic Manipulative Therapy (OMT), a method of adjusting the musculoskeletal system and the spine. The requirements to enter an osteopathic medical school are the same as those required for allopathic schools, although some osteopathic schools ask for a letter of recommendation from an osteopathic physician, in addition to letters from faculty. There are 20 schools of osteopathic medicine in the United States – all of them are outlined in the Osteopathic Medical College Information Book.



University of Pittsburgh Health Professions Counselor .........................................................................................................412-648-7130 224 William Pitt Union Career Services .................................................................................................................................412-648-7130 224 William Pitt Union Academic Support Center ..............................................................................................................412-648-7920 311 William Pitt Union Office of Experiential Learning....................................................................................................412-624-5428 B4 Thaw Hall Semester at Sea...............................................................................................................................412-648-7490 811 William Pitt Union Student Life ......................................................................................................................................412-648-7830 140 William Pitt Union Student Volunteer Outreach..........................................................................................................412-648-1486 920 William Pitt Union Study Abroad .....................................................................................................................................412-648-7413 802 William Pitt Union Transcript Requests ........................................................................................................................412-624-7620 G3 Thackeray Hall University Honors College ..............................................................................................................412-624-6884 3500 Cathedral of Learning Writing Center..................................................................................................................................412-624-6556 501 Cathedral of Learning Others Association of American Medical Colleges ................................................................................ 202-828-0600 2450 N Street NW Washington, DC 20037-1123

American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine...................................................301-968-4100 5550 Friendship Boulevard, Suite 310 Chevy Chase, MD 20815-7231

MCAT Program Office .....................................................................................................................319-337-1357 P.O. Box 4056 Iowa City, IA 52243-4056


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