October 8, 2014

Which MCAT Test Date Is Best For You?

[caption id="attachment_1644" align="alignright" width="300"] BREAKING NEWS: AAMC just added an additional MCAT test date on Saturday, December 6, 2014! Find out more at https://services.aamc.org/20/mcat/[/caption] One of the first major hurdles you’ll face on your way to unlocking the good life as a doctor is taking the MCAT. And there are many things you have to consider as you prep, including when you should schedule your MCAT test date to maximize your score. Deciding when to take the exam isn’t always easy, and every student has his or her own unique situation, commitments, and timeline. Read on to find out what Kaplan recommends for you!  

Which MCAT test dates should you avoid?

While the test is administered year-round, there are definitely some MCAT test dates that are advisable to avoid, such as many that fall during your application year. The AMCAS primary application and ACOMAS open up in May and can be submitted beginning in June. These dates are important to keep in mind, since you want to send everything in as soon as possible. As for how this affects your MCAT exam date, taking the test in June and July of the year in which you plan to apply not only means that schools will receive your MCAT score later than those of most applicants, but it also leaves you with no chance for retaking the exam if you don’t do as well as you would have liked the first time around. Do yourself a favor now and cross those dates off your list.  

Should I take the MCAT in April or May?

April and May also make for very popular MCAT test dates, but ones you might want to avoid if you are a traditional university student. Many students decide they want to study through the semester and take the MCAT right after school ends. However, it can be difficult to find the right balance between studying for the MCAT and handling full-time coursework. Finals can also occupy several weeks in April or May, leaving you underprepared for a test date so soon after the semester. Set yourself up for success by taking your MCAT prep into account when planning your spring semester’s coursework.  

What are the best MCAT test dates?

The remaining MCAT test dates can be narrowed down based on your personal circumstances, but January and August dates are rather popular. Why? For most university students, those dates fall right after winter break and summer vacation, meaning there is a ton of class-free study time that can be used to focus solely on the MCAT. As an added bonus, if you don’t get the score you like, both of these test dates provide you the opportunity to take the test again—in September for a previous August administration and in March for a previous January administration. With the Kaplan Higher Score Guarantee, you’re covered if you want to take the test later for any reason!  

What date and time are best for my MCAT score?

While perhaps not as important as the test date itself, the day and time you choose to take the exam can also affect your MCAT score. Being in a good state of mind for the MCAT is imperative. If you’re busy during the week, taking the test on Saturday might be a good idea—sometime you can be well-rested and focused. If you have to travel to another city or state to take the MCAT, it may be prudent to get to the testing location early, spend the night at a hotel, and take the exam the next day, instead of traveling straight to the testing center. As far as test time goes, consider what works with your circadian rhythm. If you’re a morning person, then 8:00 a.m. exams are for you. If not, you might enjoy having some time to wake up, shower, get dressed, and eat something fulfilling before you hit the ground running for the 1:00 p.m. exam. One important tip to keep in mind: take your practice tests at the same time of day you plan to take the actual MCAT.  

One last piece of advice…

Most importantly, you want to take the MCAT when you feel ready for it. Keep a close eye on the gold, silver, and bronze deadlines created by the AAMC Registration Schedule. By taking our full-length practice exams, Kaplan students can get a good idea of whether or not they’re ready to take the MCAT prior to the bronze deadline. Congratulations on the huge step you’re taking toward becoming a doctor! Now you just need to explore the Kaplan resources that are at your disposal. Check out our road maps to the good life to see what the average MCAT score requirements are for your top schools, and, while you’re at it, enter our Good Life Sweepstakes for a chance to win $10K! ...read more
Applying to Med School
September 16, 2014

Med School Requirements: Letters of Recommendation, Part I

Identifying Your Recommenders

As an MCAT instructor, I routinely field questions about the med school application process, especially concerning credentials and Letters of Recommendation (LORs). Your med school application’s LORs carry the potential to pull admissions committees over to your side by showing them your many diverse attributes and personal qualities. To highlight these, you’ll want to submit excellent recommendations from professionals who can paint a flattering picture of you by way of vivid descriptions and sincere commendation. [embed]http://youtu.be/oBSH7v3UAC4[/embed]

Requirements for your Letters of Recommendation

Each medical school has its own set of standards and formats for the LOR, so you’ll want to do some research into the specific schools to which you’ll be applying. If you’re applying to US allopathic (MD) medical schools, visit the AMCAS website and check out the latest Medical School Admissions Requirements (MSAR) guide. If you’re applying to osteopathic (DO) medical programs, you should visit the AACOM website and check out the Osteopathic Medical College Information Book. Regardless, make sure you know the deadlines, number of letters required, and which recommenders you will need to approach for your varying types of recommendation letters.

Types of recommenders for your med school requirements:

  • Science Professors: You’ll want at least one recommender from a pre-med science, like biology or anatomy, to speak to your hard science credentials. The letter should not be written by a teaching assistant, though TAs are welcome to contribute their thoughts to the professor writing your letter. If you don’t have strong relationships with any of your professors, start visiting them during office hours to build a rapport.
  • Non-Science Professors: Reach out to a humanities or social sciences teacher (past or present) as well.
  • Physician: You want to find someone who knows you personally and If you’ve worked with or shadowed a physician during your pre-med extracurriculars, this is the perfect place to start.
  • Pre-Med Committee (only if your school performs this service): This is basically a cover letter that is written by your school’s pre-professional advising committee, pre-med office, or similar body at the institution.
In certain situations, it’s also recommended that you request letters from the following individuals:
  • Research Director or Principal Investigator, if you have research experience
  • Representative from Volunteer Programs, if you have medical-related volunteer experience
  • Graduate Program Director, if you are a graduate student or have completed your master’s degree
  • An Update…: A new letter accounting for your past year’s activities, credentials, and successes (if you are re-applying)

Characteristics too look for in med school recommenders:

When choosing the recommenders to help you meet your med school requirements, it’s important to note that the credentials of your letter writers do not carry more weight than what they write about you! In other words, just because someone is a well-respected authority in a specific field doesn’t necessarily make them the right person to pen one of your letters of recommendation—it’s far more important that they know you as an individual. Along the same lines, you want to avoid the dreaded form letter of recommendation because it says nothing unique about your personal attributes vs. those of any other applicant. Your goal is to identify writers who are knowledgeable about two things:
  1. Your unique characteristics and credentials
  2. The demands of medical school or the medical profession
Ideally, each letter will highlight just one or two of your many admirable qualities and specific experiences, so that when the letters are combined, the med school admissions committees at the schools you’re applying to can get a vivid and complete impression of your character. The AAMC & admissions committees have identified the following qualities as standards for people in the medical profession*:
  • adaptability
  • critical thinking
  • integrity
  • logical reasoning
  • oral communication skills
  • personal maturity
  • reliability
  • self-discipline
  • work habits
  • compassion
  • cultural competence
  • intellectual curiosity
  • motivation for medicine
  • persistence
  • professionalism
  • resilience
  • teamwork
Looking at the list above, which of these qualities do you possess? Who are the people in your life that can attest to this? Answering these questions will go a long way towards helping you identify and choose the people who will write your letters of recommendation. Check back next week for Part II of our discussion on letters of recommendation—requesting your letters!   *”Examples of attributes likely to be important to admissions committees,” 2011-2012 MSAR, p. 41, (c) 2010 by AAMC ...read more
September 4, 2014

How Many People Get Into Medical School?

Hello my med-school hopeful readers! Today I'd like to talk about a question you may be wondering: “how many people get into medical school?” Getting accepted is the first key to unlocking the "good life" through a career in medicine, so let's discuss the recent admissions stats in detail.

Medical School by the Numbers

According to the AAMC, in 2013, over 48,000 people applied to medical school in the U.S., which was a record number! Of those nearly fifty thousand applicants, just over 20,000 (20,055) of them matriculated into their first year of medical school. This is the first year that medical school matriculations topped 20,000! Fortunately for you hopeful applicants, medical schools continue to add spots to meet demand for future physicians. Fun Medical School Application Facts:
  • The application pool is nearly evenly split between males (53%) and females (47%).
  • Most applicants report backgrounds with research and/or community service, which is pretty typical.
  • In the past twenty or so years, medical school first-year enrollments have increased by almost 22%!
Okay so, less than half of applicants end up matriculating in a given cycle. What does that mean for you as a future applicant? Well, the same AAMC report states that the average applicant in 2013 had an undergraduate GPA of 3.54 and a median MCAT score of 29.

Should You Focus on Your GPA, the MCAT, or Both?

If you're early in your undergraduate career, focusing on your GPA to get it above the average is a great start. You want to build a solid foundation for your application and, more importantly, your knowledge base when you start medical school. Keep the MCAT in the back of your mind, but focus on your undergrad classes for the first two years. If you're later in your undergraduate career, say Junior or Senior year, or even graduated, the MCAT is where you want to focus your energy. That doesn't mean you can neglect your undergrad classes, but your GPA is less mobile at this point. That means the MCAT is one of the major admission factors, which you can impact to improve your application. The average applicant may have an MCAT score of 29, however the average matriculant score is closer to 31. What that means is, every MCAT point counts!

New Medical School Options

In the next two years, we can expect seven new medical schools to open in the United States in Washington, Alabama, Indiana, North Carolina, Mississippi, and Oregon. What’s even more interesting is that all of these programs are Osteopathic Medical Schools, which reflects on the growing popularity of these programs. Often, pre medical students forget that both M.D. (allopathically trained) and D.O. (osteopathically trained) physicians are licensed in the United States, and with the shift towards more primary care physicians, the osteopathic path is a natural fit since historically, the majority of its graduates practice as a primary care physician. But the news gets even better! Currently, there are 23 schools throughout the United States that are forming and awaiting accreditation and the split is about 50/50 between M.D. granting and D.O. granting programs. So the opportunities to study medicine in the U.S. will continue to be on the rise for current undergraduates. Be sure to explore all of your options, so you find the right fit! Kaplan can help you achieve your MCAT goals, guiding you toward a successful medical school application and a career in medicine.  Each point that you increase on the MCAT moves you past thousands of other applicants and moving towards your true goal of becoming a physician and living your version of the “good life”! We want to hear from you!Tell us what the good life means to you in the comments section, on Facebook, and on Twitter using #kaplangoodlife. We may share your story in an upcoming post. Then stay tuned for more articles to get you inspired! Visit kaptest.com/unlock to see what the good life has in store. Happy studying! ...read more
August 20, 2014

The 3 Phases of Applying to Medical School

[caption id="attachment_1526" align="alignright" width="300"] Most students will prep between October and April of their junior year. Click image to download.[/caption]

Intimidated by applying to medical school?

We get it; the medical school admissions process can be daunting. After all, the end result of becoming a doctor is something you’ve wanted for a long time—something that’s going to help you pursue your vision of the “good life.” So it’s only natural to want everything to be perfect when you submit your application. Today, we will break down and simplify the application process to take the edge off.  

3-phase process

Applying to medical school is both a three-phase process and a rolling one, meaning decisions at each stage are made on an ongoing basis—not at any one or two predetermined points in the year. In fact, while schools have a final submission deadline, it is often ill-advised to wait for that date to roll around, as classes are sometimes full by that point. Let's look at the phases of the medical school application process.  

1) The primary application

The primary application—as its name suggests—is the first portion you will submit, and generally the earliest it can be sent is the first week of June of the application year—the year immediately before your first year of attendance. So, if you wanted to start medical school in the fall of 2016, you would submit your primary application in June of 2015. Most U.S. medical schools use the American Medical College Application Service® (AMCAS®), which is the Association of American Medical Colleges' (AAMC) centralized medical school application processing service. The great thing about AMCAS participating schools is that, no matter how many med schools you apply to, you submit just one online application to AMCAS. If you apply to non-AMCAS schools, however, you will have to fill out primary applications specific for each one. Prior to submitting, start gathering all the materials that will go into your primary application. It’s best to begin this process in April and May. You will need to: For the month of May, you can input responses, grades, and a personal statement into the system so that it’s ready to send in early June when submissions open. Try to submit your primary application as soon as possible in June. However, don’t rush it, because once you submit the primary application, you can't go back and change anything!  

2) The secondary application

There are two possible outcomes at this phase in the application process:
  • the medical school will reject your application, and the process ends there for that school, or
  • the medical school will send you its secondary application
The secondary application is specific to each school you are applying to—this is where schools ask the specific questions they want answered. Many schools will just want an application fee and no additional info to continue the process, but some will want to know a great deal. The key here is a fast turnaround. In an ideal world, you will spend much of July and August submitting secondary applications. Once schools have your secondary application, they will review it along with the primary application and start dividing students into three groups: those they will invite for an interview at the school, those they will not, and the “unsures.”  

3) The medical school interview

If you do not get an interview from a particular medical school, they will notify you right away, and the process will end for that school. If a school wants an interview, they will also notify you, and you should schedule your interview at the earliest convenient time. Candidates in the third category, however, will not hear anything until that school moves them into one of the other two categories. As schools are interviewing applicants, they are making decisions. Usually, you will hear one way or another within a month of interviewing, but sometimes this phase takes longer: it all depends on the school’s individual process. Some candidates will not be rejected, but placed on a waiting list that will be reviewed as candidates accept and decline offers. It’s long process, but completely manageable with the right planning. In future posts, we will take a look at how to achieve the best outcome at different points in the application process. Stay tuned!   We want to hear from you! Tell us what the good life means to you and how you plan to get there in the comments below, on Facebook, and on Twitter using #kaplangoodlife. We may share your story in an upcoming post. Then stay tuned for more articles to get you inspired!. Visit kaptest.com/unlock to unlock the good life.   ...read more
July 8, 2014

Getting into Medical School: Tips for Secondary Applications

Hello my med school applicant readers! It's that time of year again when students are turning in their primary applications, getting them verified by AMCAS and thinking about completing their secondary applications. Unlike primary applications, every medical school's secondary application is different. That means each school will have a different fee, different form and different essays. If you've applied to 10+ schools, keeping track of all of your secondaries is a challenge and can be entirely overwhelming. So, what's an applicant to do? Here are some quick tips for successfully completing your secondary applications. 1) Be highly organized- Make an Excel spreadsheet or Word document where you keep the links to the applications, essay prompts, passwords, usernames and other minutiae. That way you can quickly and easily keep track of all the information necessary to access your secondary applications. 2) Be prompt- Most medical schools have rolling admissions. That means you're better off submitting your application sooner rather than later. If you're particularly interested in a school or if it's your best shot for getting in, you should prioritize completing that secondary application first. 3) Read ahead- Some medical schools will have past essay prompts available on their website. If they're available, you can get a head start brainstorming essay topics and language. You should also check out the school's mission, values and other information on their website. You want to be familiar with the school's core information, so that you can utilize it during your secondaries and potentially during your medical school interview! What’s been your experience so far with secondary applications? Tell us in the comments! ...read more
Applying to Med School
April 24, 2013

5 Days Until Med School Insider 2013!

Kaplan Test Prep will host our fourth annual Medical School Insider on Monday, April 29th at 8pm ET.  This is our biggest event of the year for pre-meds and you absolutely don’t want to miss it! The insights revealed at #medInsider are incredible, they’ll really change the way you look at the admissions process!  Be sure to mark your calendar now for this year’s live streaming event. Save your spot by clicking here now! A sneak peak from one of the questions last year:

What's the best way to be a premed?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Su71axT9g6k ...read more
Applying to Med School
April 23, 2013

6 Days Until Med School Insider 2013!

Kaplan Test Prep will host our fourth annual Medical School Insider on Monday, April 29th at 8pm ET.  This is our biggest event of the year for pre-meds and you absolutely don’t want to miss it! The insights revealed at #medInsider are incredible, they’ll really change the way you look at the admissions process!  Be sure to mark your calendar now for this year’s live streaming event. Save your spot by clicking here now! A sneak peak from one of the questions last year:

What activities and extracurriculars should premed students get involved in?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tutriY-mwLU&list=UUwZ7x4y5NY7tz-yEyz9gr4g&index=7 ...read more
April 8, 2013

MCAT 2015: What You Need to Know … Now!

With all of the buzz about the new MCAT 2015, Kaplan will be hosting a panel discussion tonight focusing on this test change, what it means for you as a pre-med student and future applicant, and how it fits into the current trajectory of medicine. Sign up using this link:  The Pulse Series - MCAT 2015:  What You Need to Know ... Now!

MCAT 2015:  What You Need to Know ... Now!

Monday, April 8, 2013  |  8 PM Eastern

Big changes are coming to the MCAT in 2015. At this event, we'll explore what those changes are, why they're happening and what you need to do now to be prepared. Admission is free -- and you don't want to miss this event!  Our panelists will include:
Judy Choe
Judy is a graduate of The University of Texas at Austin where she was appointed a faculty member in UT Austin's Chemistry department upon completing her Master's degree in 2005. After three years in Austin Judy moved to New York to join Kaplan's national MCAT product and curriculum development team. She left in 2011 to enroll as a medical student at DeBusk College of Osteopathic Medicine. When Judy's not teaching students or continuing her own training to become a physician, she enjoys running, outdoor adventures, and traveling.
Alex Macnow

Alex graduated from Boston University with a BA in Musicology and is currently a fourth-year medical student at the University of Pennsylvania. Alex is one of the Content Managers for Kaplan's new MCAT 2015 course. When not preparing for his residency in pathology or teaching MCAT, Alex enjoys playing classical piano, exploring new cuisines and traveling on road trips.

Paige McLaughlin
Paige graduated from Georgetown University in 2003 with a degree in mathematics and computer science. She attended Drexel University College of Medicine, and graduated from their MD program in 2009. She is currently an orthopedic surgical resident. She enjoys playing the guitar, running, and teaching the MCAT to the next generation of medical students!
Owen Farcy
Director, MCAT 2015
Owen Farcy is director of MCAT 2015 for Kaplan Test Prep, and is responsible primarily for operations and program development for the company's MCAT group. As a long-time top-rated faculty member for Kaplan, Owen is intimately familiar with the MCAT as well as other standardized exams for pre-health students including the DAT, OAT, and PCAT. An interest in global health and student advocacy has led him to work closely with several pre-health student groups, including the American Medical Student Association, Phi Delta Epsilon International Medical Fraternity, and Global Brigades. Owen has worked in a variety of roles within Kaplan and has been integral in the delivery of free online content to pre-med students throughout the world. He holds a BS in Biology from Emory University, and has previously worked in environmental education and sustainable development. We hope to see you tonight!
...read more
March 4, 2013

The Pre-Medical Experience: A Critical Review

June 1st will be here before we know it.  Every year the opening day for submission of the AMCAS application comes and pre-meds apply to medical schools across the country in hopes of a coveted spot to continue the journey in their medical education. This past month the International Journal of Medical Education released a an article The undergraduate premedical experience in the United States: a critical review that raises some interesting points for pre-meds to consider as they begin to gear up for application season. Some important points to highlight from the journal shows empirical evidence insists that there is a strong correlation between pre-medical academic performance and pre-clinical academic performance. This just highlights how important your grades are.  Others argue that students enter medical school with values and ethical points that may be difficult to influence or alter with the current ethical curricula in medical schools. Recent studies on physician depression and burnout indicate that physician well-being is diminishing by the stress of pre-medical and medical education.  It is important to be well-rounded and find that ability to have life-work balance, to maintain happiness. Another interesting study cited in the article notes that the “pre-medical syndrome” perception of being cut-throat and competitive is actually just a stereotype and many pre-meds go above and beyond to diversify their courses and make it a point to work together in cooperative studying. The main conclusion from the article notes that while some more research is going to be needed to further expand the insight into what pre-medical education “is” and “what it needs”.  It might be interesting to conclude that while being “pre-med” correlates to formal curriculum requirements and strong social norms that influences the identity of the “ideal” and “successful” premed student, pre-meds as a whole are a unique and diverse set of individuals. This article provides a unique opportunity for you as a student to ask yourself a couple questions…
  • Why medicine? What draws you to it?
  • What are you doing to further your understanding of the medical community and things taking place in it?
  • How are classes going? Do you need to seek out help to improve grades in a particular area of study?
  • Have you established close relationships with professors that can attest to your character and provide a meaningful Letter of Recommendation?
  • What experiences help you standout that you could write about in your personal statement?
The important point I would like to convey to everyone is that there are certain requirements of the pre-medical track i.e. the MCAT, volunteering, coursework, etc. However, each of you has unique experiences that are forming your character and skill set that will be integral to your medical education and practice. Don’t lose sight of the big goal, the privilege and opportunity to be a physician. Find confidence in what makes you, and bring that into the upcoming applications! So I leave this post not only with thoughts of #MCATdomination, but more importantly a check to find that confidence that you can bring great things to medicine.  The stress and the long days can be hard, but the hard work pays off. ...read more

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