How to Go to Medical School for Older Adults and Nontraditional Applicants

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Basic Medical School Admission Requirements

All medical schools have basic requirements for all applicants, older non-traditional and traditional alike. These include a bachelor’s degree with a year each of physics, general chemistry, organic chemistry, biology, and some may require a year of math and English. You should have good grades (usually B or better) in all of these classes. There is also the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT), the entrance examination required by most medical schools in North America. In addition, although not required but expected is some kind of scientific and or clinical research experience and some experience in a hospital environment. There is a variety of activities to pursue and ways of meeting these requirements.

Meeting the Academic Requirements

Some people who decide to go to medical school as older adults may not have a science background and therefore did not take the required classes listed above while in college. Others may have taken them but their grades leave much to be desired or they graduated too long ago. If this applies to you, then the easiest way to get ready for medical school and take the required pre-med classes is to enroll in a post-baccalaureate program. There are many such programs tailored towards people who already have a college degree without the required classes and background. In addition you will be exposed to special programs and classes designed to help you succeed in the medical school application process. Post baccalaureate programs usually run for two years but if taking two years off to be in a a post-bacc program is not an option, then you can take the same required classes from your local community college or possibly through distance learning.

Research Experience

As stated above, you will need to demonstrate some kind of scientific and or clinical research experience. Most college students do this by interning in a research laboratory during the summer or engaging in a long-term research project during the school year. If your job involves some kind of basic science or clinical research, such as working in public health or as laboratory assistant in a pharmaceutical company, then your job already fulfills this requirement. However if that is not the case and you never did get this kind of experience while you were in college, you will need to get it now.

If you have a job that allows you to take summers off (such as teaching), you may be able to arrange a research internship for yourself. Start with your own research interests and look at the websites of science professors in the local colleges in your area with similar research interests. Approach them by email stating briefly why you will like to work with them and your career plans. This may be paid or unpaid. You may be able to make a similar arrangement for evenings and weekends if that is all your work schedule permits. The most important thing is to find a way to have some relevant research experience. You can also arrange clinical research experience in the same way. Approach your local hospital research office or ask your basic science professors at your community college or other people in your network for recommendations on possible people to intern with. You can also volunteer in your local hospital to get exposure to patients.

Other Relevant Experience

As an older adult you have lots of experience, some of which you may not think is relevant to the medical school admissions committee. Whether you spent a year backpacking in South America while learning Spanish, or five years teaching high school French, or playing professional sports, you have acquired significant experience, both life and professional. It is now your job to convince the medical school admission committees that the experience is relevant to making you a better doctor and how so. It is also this rich experience in addition to the fact that as a mature student you are more likely to be focused and prepared for the rigors of medical school that makes the non-traditional, older adult appealing to medical schools. Also included in this category are your other extracurricular and volunteer activities both in and since leaving college.

Preparing for the MCAT

Once you have met the premed requirements and acquired research experience, you would still need to take the MCAT if applying to most medical schools in the United States and Canada. The exam, which is designed to test your understanding of biology, chemistry and physics, contains four sections (Physical Sciences, Verbal Reasoning, Writing Sample and Biological Sciences), with a highest obtainable score of 45 (15 in each of the non-writing sections). The writing sample is scored on a scale of J to T corresponding to the scores 2 to 12. While just the MCAT score does not determine admission to a particular medical school, it is advisable to research the average score for recent entering classes in the schools you are interested in to give yourself a benchmark score to work toward while preparing for the test. There is a variety of ways in which to prepare for the test ranging from taking a classroom or online test preparation course with test preparation giants like Princeton Review and Kaplan, to working with a private tutor or studying on your own using the appropriate study materials. It is always a good idea to start by taking a diagnostic test to determine your current performance level.

The Application Process

After satisfactorily meeting all the requirements described above, it is now time to begin the medical school application process. It is a very involved process and you will need to be highly organized to ensure that your transcripts, test scores and recommendations get to your schools of choice on time. This is usually coordinated through the American Medical College Application Service (AMCAS) so you should become very familiar with the AMCAS website as it is not only a rich resource for information on the medical schools but also necessary for your application process.

How Much will it Cost?

The next logical question is of course, how much will all of this cost? The total cost will vary for each individual and will depend on the particular pathway to medical school one chooses. However, one thing is clear: Going to medical school, for the older adult, is a process that requires a significant financial commitment which only gets bigger once you are in medical school, so you should be prepared for it. You will need to do your research. The cost of meeting premed requirements if you don’t have them or taking refresher courses if it has been long since you solved those organic chemistry problems can range from the cost per credit hour at your local community college to the cost of a complete two-year post baccalaureate program. Post bacc programs could cost as much as $50,000. For example Johns Hopkins’ post bacc premed program costs about $47,000 (in 2010) for the fall and spring semesters alone.

When it comes to preparation for the MCAT, how much it costs you depends on the path you choose. You can decide to study on your own and buy the study materials for a few hundred dollars or spend as much as a few thousand dollars for in-class test preparation. There is also the cost of the MCAT itself ($230 in 2010), application fees, which includes the AMCAS fee and secondary application fee for each school to which you apply. The costs could add up and easily run into the thousands if you apply to say 10 schools.

In Summary

This article has attempted to help you learn how to go to medical school as an older adult. It is a multi-pronged process that involves a significant investment in time, energy and money. After giving it considerable thought and you decide that this is for you, give yourself at least three years. Go through your educational records to see if you have the basic premed requirements, research experience and experience working in a hospital environment. If you don’t have any of these, go out and get them. Start studying for the MCAT. At the end of this process when you start receiving medical school acceptance letters and you look back on your journey, it would have been worth the effort you put in.