Medical College Admission Test

Interview with Incoming Stanford M1 Accepted

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 Hello Everyone!

As promised, here’s the confidential(identity) interview from the accepted Stanford student. They’ll be starting this year as a M1. As a nontraditional premed, switching majors several times before finally deciding to apply to medical school.

It’s interesting to note we both applied to Boston University and Stanford, however we both never received interview invitations from each other’s respective current medical school — it really goes to show there’s interpretation about what constitutes a good fit for their institution, and we found our own fit.  For myself another interesting point of this person is that, like me, it took them many years to finish their college career — we both took multiple breaks for work and switched majors innumerable times before deciding on applying to medical school.

Anyways, I had to distill a nearly two hour conversation where we easily went into tangents (mostly entirely my fault). After laughing and removing the tangents, here is the more educational and likely useful results:

Q. 1. When did you decide that medicine was for you, and why?

Basically, I realized medicine could be a career for me because of the position it occupies in relation to other fields. As a community college student, I had the opportunity to take a wide variety of classes in different fields, without needing to prematurely declare a major. I had always been interested in fields where I thought I could make a difference, I dipped my toes in psychology, sociology, political science, “hard” sciences (thought about a PhD), public health, and even art (documentary photography). For me, medicine fits snugly between public health and the hard sciences, and gives me the best of both worlds (well, what I feel is the best of both worlds). Public health was hard for me because it was a bit far removed from the individual level, obviously since it’s more focused on populations. This is great of course! But that was hard for me to work with, because actually seeing change takes a LONG time, if you see it at all. Bench research is cool too, I still love it, but couldn’t see myself devoting my life to it because it was easy to get caught up in the little things, without the human perspective, and I felt a little lost there, honestly. Medicine allows me to inform both fields with a clinical perspective, work with both fields as part of the health team, and still enjoy what I do


Q. So, do you think being a nontraditional gave you a different point of view? For example while studying.

I think so. I can’t say that more traditional premeds didn’t learn the same things I did, but I can say that I wouldn’t have the perspective I do without doing it my way. Having studied a variety of topics, I kind of felt that medicine was just one career path that could be taken. It fits a small niche in between all the other things people can do with their lives, or to help others. Plus, being nontraditional, working through school, all of that…I had to learn to prioritize and really figure out WHY I needed to do some of these things. I think premeds often get caught up in “the list”, the list of shit we’re supposed to do to be competitive. And a lot of us end up with huge resumes of shit we did that had no impact on us or our communities

The end goal is to be a great doctor…so these experiences should be towards that goal. Activities aren’t just there for filler. Med schools look for these activities because they think we have something to learn from them. And as a nontraditional student, I think I may have had an easier time figuring that out


Q. Lately, schools have really been pushing for diversity, how do/will you bring diversity to your program?

As for the diversity question…I STILL have trouble answering it. I think it’s because there’s no single factor that stands out as HI THERE DIVERSITY. I’ve mentioned before that I am certain that all of us are really diverse. We have our collections of scores and activities on the applications that look the same in bullet-point form, but different students get into different schools. In any case, I think being a nontraditional premed has given me some interesting opportunities. I took extra time in school; it took me eight years to finish up my degree, so I was able to explore a number of different areas of study and work part-time throughout undergrad.  After all of that…I can’t help but see medicine as integrated with every other field, and my approach to healthcare in general requires that we don’t separate “health” from the rest of our patient’s lives. I also had time to make big commitments to projects that I cared about, and learned more than I could have imagined. I helped get a nonprofit global health organization started, which taught me as much about public health as it did about team work, leadership, and resource management. I worked in a research lab for a few years doing more engineering-based health projects, and was inspired by the potential future of stem-cell based diagnostic devices and therapies. I think the biggest opportunity I had while being nontrad, and perhaps bringing some diversity to the mix is my restaurant work history. I got my first job at 16 working in a cafe and bakery, and from there moved on to other cafes and finally ended up serving and bar-tending at a restaurant as I got older. It seems like working during undergrad isn’t typical for a lot of premeds, so I’m so glad I had a chance to do it. Of course, I hated it at the time and it was stressful, but being forced to talk to strangers day in and day out will probably help my bedside manner more than any amount of shadowing doctors could do. I learned a lot about making people feel comfortable and responding appropriately to misplaced anger by waiting tables. Although it isn’t directly related to medicine, waiting tables taught me a lot about professional communication in strained situations. People can get really upset about their food, it seems! Or parking, or having to wait for a table…about a lot of things outside my control. And I feel that happens in everyday medical practice often, so having a little bit of experience managing those situations will likely help me in the future. Waiting tables was also a great teamwork exercise; you really can’t survive the floor without working together, even if you don’t always get along with your coworkers. Maybe that gives me some of that coveted diversity? Who knows, I think it’s the summation of our experiences that gives all of us a unique perspective.


Q. So, as a nontraditional or traditional premeds was there anyone who mentored you? Also, applying to medschool is pretty nebulous; have any guidance or tips along the way?

I’m lucky to have had a great mentor in this whole thing. I think as you’ve pointed out a few times, there are a lot of people who are just waiting for us to fail, to not make it. So, I had my mom, who is a doctor and a teacher. When I have questions about how to be a great doctor, I always turn to her. For the premed-y things though, I kind of just went with it. Internet-searching. Berkeley doesn’t have official premed advisors, so I kind of went at it based on anecdotes from friends and the internet

As for my tips…I think the best ones I have are to do what you love…pick a few key activities that will help define and shape you, and give them your all. Don’t mess around with 100+ random activities that you only contribute 10 hours to.

Also, keep a journal of everything. Not only does it make it so much easier to learn from and reflect on your experiences, but you will thank yourself SO MUCH when applications roll around.

And surround yourself with good people, even if they’re not premed or doing the same things you are. Don’t let negative folks discourage you, don’t take SDN too damn seriously, and don’t put other people down because we never know where they’ve been

Regarding the question of, “For premeds without a committee or reliable advisors do you have any tips?” that’s a hard one. Reliable information is difficult to come by, and you don’t want to get sucked into the anecdotes too much, because they may be wrong! I think some of the books out there are pretty good –the ones written by previous admissions officers. I guess my major tip for anyone is just always frame your activities or potential activities by thinking “How will this make me a better doctor? What am I learning or contributing?” If you can come up with solid answers to that, then it’s a worthwhile activity lol.

And the usual: don’t let your GPA slide, set study schedules to keep it up, check school websites to meet prereqs, and don’t think the MCAT will be a breeze.


Q. I suppose you should probably jot down that answer [from the journal etc.] as well for later during secondary/interviews?

  • YES, absolutely. Take notes, always. Makes life so much easier down the line when time is of the essence. I was lucky that I had some notes and journals, but I WISH i had an updated CV.
  •  Oh…another pro tip. Start saving a lot of money — like yesterday. Charging app fees to your credit card is awful (that was me, it sucked).


Q. As you already know, I don’t report MCAT scores; but, you did very well, do you have any study tips?

Well, since everyone studies a bit differently, it’s kind of a hard thing to say for sure. The one thing that I think will work for everyone is to set a study schedule. Like map out every single day, what you’re going to review, how many problems you’re doing to try, etc. Even map out your break days

  • I also tend to think that you shouldn’t review all of one area, then the next. Should probably do one chapter of physics, one chem, one orgo, one bio, then repeat with the next chapters
  • Practice problems are golden, obviously. do as many as possible, but I think it’s best if you don’t re-do the same ones. I saved all my AAMC practice exams for the last month
  • Flashcards are great for random facts, and can be taken anywhere for quick review (on the bus, between classes, etc)
  • Always focus on understanding and connecting concepts, rather than memorizing shit

*Doctoorbust: a caveat, remember pick tips that work for you, ignore any that don’t.


Q. I know you’re tired of hearing this but, any idea what you’re going to specialize in?

Not a clue! I’m trying to go into it with an open mind, simply because I know I haven’t seen even half of what specialties are out there. Even for the ones I have “seen”…it’s difficult to know if my experience in them as a premed was anything like the way they actually are. So, I’m trying to be open.

Plus, it’s hard to know where the field will be in 4-5 years. Things change. The structure of medical practice is undergoing some pretty significant changes, and I’m not really sure where it will all end up.


Q. How do you feel about the coming changes (healthcare)? There’s a lot of anxiety in some groups about it.

I honestly don’t know. I see it as a good thing, a step in the right direction for expanding patient coverage, but I can also understand the concerns from a doctor’s point of view, as far as who is getting reimbursed for what, and additional constraints on their time I think it is easy for us to say, as folks who have yet to enter the medical field for real, that expanding coverage is GREAT and it’s easy and things like that. But I’m not sure we really know what it’s like in the trenches. I’m thinking specifically of primary care, it seems that it’s going downhill fast for those currently in family practice and internal medicine.

For the record, my personal opinion is that expanding coverage equates to awesome. But I don’t think we can neglect the concerns that have been brought to the table by our colleagues, either.


Q. What are some things you wish you did as a premed now that you’re going into medschool?

I wish I had traveled more, and taken more time for non-premed activities. I definitely enjoyed all the work I did in preparation for becoming a doctor, but I let some things slip too

I would just advise people to always make time for hobbies, for themselves. This is because hobbies are every bit as important as engaging in research or volunteering. Being healthy and happy will make you a better doctor, too.

Maintain relationships! Friends, family, don’t let it slide because you’re too busy studying.


Q. Now, you’ve been there and done that. What are some misinformation points you’ve heard about being a premed or applying that you believe to be false, at least from your experience?

 The biggest thing I think is that you need a perfect GPA and perfect MCAT score, or that having X hours of these activities are all it takes. Or that it’s guaranteed to get in if you have those things. And you see this everywhere. “My friend has a 4.0 and a 42 MCAT and thousands of hours of volunteering and research and didn’t get in” or the other commonly seen thing “I need a 4.0 and a 42 etc in order to have a shot.”

Yes, you need decent numbers, but that will only get you so far. We have to learn from our experiences in order for them to count. The hours spent doing an activity are usually correlated with learning and reflecting, but the hours themselves don’t mean anything

The other thing about applying that I saw a lot is the obsession with school rank and the numbers. It’s not all a numbers game. Schools have different missions, different focus points that they look for in their applicants

The smart applicant will choose schools that they will fit into, whose goals are in line with the applicant’s, or the applicant feels he/she can contribute to

The process feels like a crapshoot. To some extent, it probably is, but that doesn’t mean that applicants can’t maximize their chances. Obsessing over numbers won’t get you anywhere. and the thing is, just because your experiences don’t fit into one school doesn’t mean they don’t fit somewhere else. For instance, I was rejected outright from BU! But I got in somewhere. And you got into BU! And were rejected from other places we all have different strengths, just have to play to them. it takes some serious self-reflection and honesty on the applicant’s part. Still, no one’s saying it’s not competitive. But…always remember the numbers aren’t everything. My GPA sucked, and I got in somewhere.


Thanks for reading!  I’ll try to keep posting while moving!



Accrued Medical School Costs: With Fancy Numbers

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This post will be devoted to discussing how much I’ve spent so far on applying to medical school. Applying to medical school is pretty pricey as you probably already know, I knew this going into it. I tried to adjust accordingly, paring costs when possible. I’ll be the first to admit that I didn’t really want to sit down and calculate my costs, it’s sort of depressing to see the final number because I’m currently pretty poor and my car isn’t even running. Good times, but hey, I’m going to be a doctor!

People have asked how much have I paid in total, it’s a hard question to answer because the process of applying to medical school can extend into April, and it has multiple phases. Although, the secondary application period is closing soon, so schools will no longer accept secondaries and will only be issuing applicants a series of responses: interview invites, and acceptances, wait-list, and rejections.  I can only gain an acceptance after interviewing, but I can be rejected at any point of the AMCAS application process. As for me, like many others, I am in the interviewing stage of the process, and there’s a relative calm so I have time to reflect and lament on my lightened wallet.

Save yourself the headache and sacrifice a goat to receive  FAP, I didn’t get it but go for it, a lot of people do receive it!

So you can better compare your costs with mine I’ll layout my own experience. I didn’t qualify for FAP, if you did then your costs won’t be as high as mine, so don’t be discouraged there’s hope! Myself, it was a Catch-22, the FAP uses your parents tax returns regardless of your independence status and age. A similar situation happened to me when I was young and applying for FAFSA (FAFSA will finally separate your parents W-2’s when you hit 25), not a great system for those who fall through the cracks.

For the primaries I applied to twenty schools, then from those twenty I completed twelve secondaries. From those twelve secondaries I have received eight interview invitations and one rejection, I’m convinced the other four schools set my application on fire. I was offered four acceptances, I took three and turned down one school. It’s best to withdraw acceptances if you’re truly not interested in attending to make space for others who might be wait-listed. I am awaiting to hear back from one more school this week, if I got in it would mean a lot to me.  I also have one more out of state interview lined up that I’ll probably cancel later this week or the next — especially now that I’ve calculated the cost so far.

You might of wondered what happened to the other eight or so. One school I withdrew my primary because I changed my mind about their program. I received two rejections: school 3 primary alone, school 4 after completing their secondary. It didn’t sting that bad because I was already accepted into one program by the time I received my first rejection — I applied very early and interviewed on the first date available. School 5-8 I didn’t complete their secondaries because by that time I had two interviews (including my top choice) completed, several lines up, and I had received two acceptances by that time.

Primaries alone:

I applied to 20 schools during primaries, the first school was $160 and $35 thereafter, so my primaries cost: $860

Secondaries alone:

I completed 12 secondaries (*update 13 II), the prices ranged from a ‘low’ $85 to $150, I’ll go with the low end of $110 per secondary as an average so that makes the secondaries: $1,320

Primary + Secondary: $2,145

Interviews (flights, room & board, transportation):

I have attended 5 interviews so far, all of them a few time zones away. I couldn’t group two of my interviews together, but I was able to group the other three together. Grouping them together is pretty stressful logistically, mentally, and physically, but it’s a lot cheaper to buy a multi-stop ticket than not. To shave costs on room and board I stayed with hosts whenever possible, in one state a friend on twitter housed me (go technology). In case your curious I booked everything on Priceline, and I downloaded an application on my phone to make finding rental cars easier and find coupons.

Plane tickets – $1,800

Hotel – $1,000, I slept in O’Hare Airport on one night *not fun*

Food – $300

Car Rentals – $400

Suit (tailoring for charcoal assemble – $200

Interview total cost $3,700

If you can be competitive within your state you can skip a large chunk of these costs. If you are from California sign up for frequent flyer miles now.

Time off work: another $1,000

Deposits for acceptances: although I was offered four acceptances, I turned down one, and took three acceptances (two didn’t require deposits, and one didn’t). So it cost me ‘mere’ $100. If I get accepted into the program I’m waiting for next month then I’ll have to plop down a cool $500.

Well, that brings our grand total thus far to $6,980 or $7,480 if I was accepted into my top pick — fortunately, I do get the deposits back in a few months.

Estimating your costs:

So, here are some projections if you apply to medical school the primary applications will cost you in dollars: f(x) = 160+35x (x is #schools for primaries ). However, the cost of the first application may change over time, so let’s assign this a constant, so the first application is $160 + f (x). The secondary applications, g (x),will run you anywhere from 85y and 150y, but really probably somewhere around 110y (where y is the number of secondaries you complete). It’s possible and very likely you won’t complete as many secondaries as you did primaries, that is why I made  x and y separate independent variable. However, it is obvious that y is dependent on x, that is the number of schools you get to apply to for secondaries is related to your primaries. So, all that’s left is to make a representation for the cost of interviews, this will vary from none, to a deluge. I can’t predict if you’ll apply in state only etc., so let’s just agree to call all interview costs C. So, the fruit of this dry paragraph is the following equation for you to use to estimate your AMCAS cost (not including the MCAT and possible deposits, variation in application strategies etc.):

cost = A+35x+110y+C , where A = 160, and C varies by person. So cost = A + f (x) +g (x) + C

  • A = $160, cost of first application. Cost my change over time.
  • x = number of schools you apply to during your primaries. A lot of people apply to around 15-20 schools.
  • y = number of schools you put a secondary through, it will be equal or less than x. I went with a conservative $110, you can try anything from $85-150 if you want a range from super cheap to top dollar.
  • C = estimation of room & board costs, misc costs.

The largest part of applying to medical school is commitment, I like to consider this sacrifice of my blood to be some type of rite of passage. A symbolic token to say that I’m serious about medicine, at least that’s what I tell myself when I empty my coffers.

Here’s a table of the expenses you should expect at the minimum assuming the fees I stated before:

#Schools Applied

Cost of 1st

Cost of 2nd

Cost of 1st + 2nd













































































Thank GSM for the 99 cent store.

Medical School Prerequisites: Masochism?

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As a future physician it is your duty to have sound “scientific literacy”.   In in fell swoop I’ve answered the question stem to my blog entry, job well done me, time for a pint — oh wait, you were expecting an actual entry, back to work me.  Alright, so you’ve decided to take the physician plunge (make sure you learn the secret premed handshake) so let’s discuss those arduous prerequisites.  It’s a time honored tradition for premeds to bemoan the seemingly esoteric course work required just to get into [US] medical schools.  But, I believe most premeds miss the intent of the rigorous coarse work, falsely associating it with some type of twisted sadism created with the sole intent to crush your soul.  As a reminder, the typical premed course work consists of a year of:

  • Biology
  • General Chemistry
  • Organic Chemistry
  • Biochemistry *optional at most schools
  • Physics
  • English
  • Upper level math

Along your coursework you’ll probably eventually encounter this famous quotation incantation or another “Biology is just chemistry, chemistry is just physics, and physics is life”.  If that doesn’t encapsulate the importance of the medical school prerequisite consider that, as a physician, you will be expected to not only have an empirical understanding of medicine, you are also expected to be able to understand and even take educated guesses.   The prerequisites will serve as your foundation, when you become well versed in these courses making the leap into the MCAT will seem less intrepid.  In addition to science content topics, the MCAT will test scientific inquiry and reasoning skills:

  1. Knowledge of scientific concepts and principles
  2. Scientific reasoning and evidence-based problem solving
  3. Reasoning about the design and execution of research
  4. Data-based and statistical reasoning

(Hilborn & Friedlander, 2013)

Medicine is changing faster than ever, and it will likely continue to do so.  To stay in lock step with this evolution requires physicians to not merely be clinicians, and this requires premeds to obtain more than a sophomoric understanding of the core science breadth.

Besides, getting nerdy jokes like this is part of the experience.
Besides, getting nerdy jokes like this is part of the experience.

Don’t get me wrong, you can get pretty far on empirical data, typically it’s more important to know which medicine to use at a given instance than understanding which amino acid residue is phosphorylated.  However, at the same time, if you limit yourself to not understanding how things work you’ll be doomed to memorize everything because you won’t notice the patterns except from experience (not that there will always be one).  Personally, I feel doctors should understand the medicine and tools they are using: you should know how hydrogen atoms correlate to MRI scans while searching for tumors, understand how lens properties effect focal length and power of the eyes,  and why high doses of potassium can be fatal.   There’s a lot more to being a doctor than being a scientist, but if you don’t revel in the thought of science meshing with medicine than you have long torturous journey ahead of you.


There’s a lot of ways for you to deliver positive outcomes to your fellow man, and a lot of them wouldn’t require these prerequisites, MCAT, nor over a decade of education and nearly a quarter million dollars in debt.  But, it takes a special type of sadomasochist to enjoy what it takes to serve people as their physician.  I don’t want to discourage anyone from medicine, but just remember if you’re going to be a patient advocate, a physician, you better be okay with having deep ‘scientific literacy’.  It’s just your responsibility.

twitter: For more research literature about the MCAT see: