Medical school is expensive; paying for it can be both burdensome and complicated. But financial aid, usually in the form of loans, does exist and medical school financial aid offices facilitate the application process. In addition, these offices are good sources of information for medical school applicants. The Association of American Medical Colleges also has a wealth of information about financial aid to help applicants navigate the process. The AAMC provides a step-by-step list in regard to applying for financial aid; the first step is filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Some examples of comprehensive and good sources of information provided by medical schools’ financial aid offices are the following:  Johns Hopkins, Vanderbilt, the University of Chicago’s Pritzker School of Medicine, Alpert Medical School at Brown, Stanford, and the University of Michigan. In addition, Dartmouth’s Geisel School of Medicine has a helpful guide in regard to financial aid for medical students.

–Liza Thompson, Expert Medical School Admissions Consultant

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A recent article in the New York Times about the Bard Hall Players, a theater company consisting of medical students at Columbia’s College of Physicians and Surgeons, highlights the importance of engaging in stress-reducing activities during medical school. Many medical students find creative pursuits to be enjoyable while also enhancing their understanding of the human condition.  As a second-year medical student says in the article, “When you have the ability to see other people’s lives and put yourself into them, then it helps you serve them better and understand what they’re going through in a different way.”

Columbia is not the only medical school with opportunities for students to engage in creative outlets. Harvard’s Arts and Humanities Initiative promotes involvement in the arts and states that, “The arts and humanities are powerful tools in medical education that have the potential to improve professionalism, reflection and empathy among physicians and trainees, foster humanism, reduce burnout, enhance perspective, sharpen physicians’ analytic and diagnostic skills, and improve teamwork and communication.” More information about Harvard Medical School’s focus on arts education can be found here.

At Yale, they have incorporated a course in observational skills—at the Yale Art Museum—for its first-year medical students. At Penn State, there is a required humanities elective. The Music and Medicine program at Cornell provides opportunities for musicians to collaborate and create music. More medical schools seem to be adopting creative programs in an effort to incorporate both creativity and reflection into their training programs.

–Liza Thompson, Expert Medical School Admissions Consulting

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The US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit ruled in favor of a medical student with a hearing disability at Creighton. The court stated that the student was not given ample accommodations so that he could perform at an equal level as his med school colleagues.  Many medical schools will consider this court decision, and it will perhaps have an impact on their issuing of accommodations for those with disabilities.  

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The median medical school debt is $189,165 according to the Association of American Medical Colleges. While this figure might seem daunting, it’s manageable over time according to many experts. The Association of American Medical Colleges recently published an article titled “Taking the Sting Out of Medical School Debt” and there is fairly extensive information on its website in regard to medical school costs.
Grants and scholarships rarely cover the full cost of attending medical school; most med students take out loans to cover the difference. There are only a few schools which offer “full-ride” scholarships, usually based on merit. Sallie Mae also has helpful tips about paying for medical school.

Medscape recently reported that more medical students are graduating debt free but this is likely due to wealthier students going to medical school, not because scholarship money has increased.

–Liza Thompson, Expert Medical School Admissions Consulting

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As a premedical advisor and medical school admissions consultant I encourage premedical students to read books that will expand their view of the medical profession. Reading literature allows us to better understand the human condition which, in turn, makes doctors better practitioners. In addition, during medical school interviews applicants are sometimes asked about books they have read about the medical profession; interviewers want to know whether the applicant has been curious enough to read about his or her chosen profession.

The books I have selected cover different aspects of the medical profession, from practicing medicine to understanding global health challenges to navigating the complexities of cultural competency. I have compiled a list of helpful books for premed and med students. Out of that list of 38 books, I have chosen 10 as essential reading material:

  1. The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman
  2. Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder
  3. How Doctors Think by Jerome Groopman
  4. Better: A Surgeon’s Notes on Performance by Atul Gawande
  5. My Own Country: A Doctor’s Story by Abraham Verghese
  6. Caring for Patients from Different Cultures by Geri-Ann Galanti
  7. Strong at the Broken Places by Richard Cohen
  8. On Death and Dying by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross
  9. The Citadel by A.J. Cronin
  10. The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande

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Photo courtesy of

Photo courtesy of

An increasing number of students are opting to take a “gap year” (or two) before enrolling in medical school. There are tremendous benefits to taking a year after graduating from college to engage with the world and learn more about the medical profession. Data from the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) show that the average age for entering medical students is now 24 for both men and women.
It’s common—and preferable—for applicants to have some real-world experience before starting medical school.
The benefits are obvious:  those who take gap years have jobs that show they can meet professional responsibilities and they often gain very valuable experiences either in research or with patients (or both, if conducting clinical research).

A recent article in the Harvard Crimson describes the trend in its students to take time prior to applying to medical school to explore the medical profession and gain work experience. In the article, Dr. Robert Mayer, associate dean of admissions at Harvard Medical School, states that only 35% of Harvard medical students come directly from college; thus a majority of applicants take time after graduating to engage with the world and do professional work.

The website for the Office of Pre-Professional Programs & Advising at Johns Hopkins is an excellent resource for those planning a gap or “bridge” year. The University of Michigan also has a list of opportunities for those wishing to take a gap year. In addition, the AAMC’s website has helpful information about “Making the Most of Your Gap Year.” Continue reading

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As the former director of both the Johns Hopkins and Goucher Post-Baccalaureate Premedical Programs, I have in-depth knowledge of the post-bac application process and have screened, interviewed, and made decisions on thousands of post-bac applicants. The post-baccalaureate premedical program application process entails submitting an application with essay(s), transcript(s), and letters of recommendation. Once your materials are complete your application will be reviewed and you may make it to the next step of the admissions process for the more selective career-changer programs: the post-baccalaureate premedical program interview.

Just as with the medical school interview, the post-bac program interview assesses several important elements:

  • Do you match your written materials?  In other words, is there synergy between your application and your actual persona?
  • Are you a good fit for the program? Will you thrive in that particular institution’s academic environment? Are you ready to handle the academic demands in a post-bac program?
  • What will you contribute to the program? Will your personal traits and attributes make you a welcome addition to the program?
  • Is your enthusiasm—for both the program and for a career in medicine—palpable?
  • Will you be a collegial student and help foster a positive learning community?
  • Can you handle the rigor of medical school?

All of these factors are assessed during the interview. While post-bac programs have different ways they interview applicants, here is a synopsis of the various interview formats: Continue reading

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Photo courtesy of the New York Times

Photo courtesy of the New York Times








Does studying art enhance your observation skills as a physician, thereby allowing you to pick up subtle signs of illness? In recent years, there has been a general acknowledgment that studying art–and fine-tuning the art of seeing–helps medical students hone their skills. More medical schools are incorporating gallery visits and art classes into their curricula in an effort to sharpen students’ observational acuity. Arts Practica was founded by Alexa Miller to help medical professionals gain more skill in what they see. Arts Practica offers training programs, gallery visits, and classes which encourage med students to “learn to see.”  An article in the New York Times describes a forum that took place at the Museum of Modern Art which convened educators and doctors to discuss teaching strategies in programs melding art with medical education. An additional article in the Times describes “What Doctors Can Learn From Looking at Art.”

More medical schools are adding an arts component to their curriculum, and some examples are below:

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A list has been published by US News, ranking schools according to those which receive the most applications. Ironically, many premed students perceive some of these schools to be “safeties” and thus more students apply to them, making the competition to be admitted fierce–much more stringent than most people realize. Overall, 53,029 people applied to medical school in that application cycle.

Lake Erie College of Osteopathic medicine tops the list with 16,187 applicants. The schools in the top 10 for volume of applications in the 2016 cycle are:

1. Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine

2. Georgetown

3. George Washington


5. Drexel

6. Western University of Health Sciences

7. Thomas Jefferson

8. Brown

9. Temple

10. New York Medical College

–Liza Thompson, Expert Medical School Admissions Consulting

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Receiving an invitation to interview is an exciting step in the medical school application process. If you’ve been selected to interview it means that the med school has vetted your application and you have passed the academic threshold for enrollment. Congratulations!

Now the medical school wants to meet you to gather more information through an interview. To prepare fully for the interview you should understand its purpose, which is multifaceted. During the interview the following elements are assessed:

  • Communication skills. Are you comfortable interacting with others, both students and faculty? Would you be a good member of a team and work well with your peers and others?
  • Personal traits and characteristics. Do your interpersonal skills project that you would be comfortable caring for patients? Do you add depth and breadth to a medical school class? Are you mature and able to handle the responsibility of patient care?
  • Experiences and knowledge of the medical profession. Can you speak convincingly about your past experiences and how they have informed your goal of a career in medicine? Do you truly know what you’re getting into?
  • Good fit. Are you a good “fit” for that particular medical school?  Do your goals and personality align with the school’s ethos?

The medical interview is also used as a recruitment tool; it’s a chance for the school to showcase its offerings and to entice you to enroll if admitted. Also remember that the interview is your chance to vet the school and decide whether it’s a good fit for you.

While the prospect of a medical school interview is incredibly exciting for medical school applicants, it can also induce fear. Rest assured that the vast majority of medical school interviews are not stressful. Think of the interview as an opportunity to have a conversation with someone who is interested in learning more about you, your background, and your motivation for a career in medicine.

The key to doing well at a medical school interview is to prepare well and be yourself. You’ve toiled long and hard to get to this point and your excitement for medical school should be palpable. Prior to going to an actual interview you should have some idea as to the format offered at the school. There are several different kinds of interviews, described in a previous blog post. Some schools offer blind interviews (the interviewer has not seen your file) while others have an open file policy (the interviewer/s have access to your credentials). Still other schools offer the Multiple Mini Interview (MMI) format. Some schools do one-on-one interviews and others use a group format. No matter the format applicants should use the following guidelines to prepare:

1. Know your story. This sounds obvious but it’s crucial to be able to clearly articulate your path to medicine. If asked, “So tell me about yourself,” a query often used in the blind interview, you should be able to give a quick synopsis (<5 minutes) of your background, motivation for a career in medicine, and the experiences you’ve had which have reinforced your focus on the medical profession. Be sure to review the secondary you submitted to the medical school where you are interviewing. No doubt you wrote essays for many secondaries in the medical school application process, and it is often hard to remember what you wrote for each school. Continue reading

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