Kaplan survey, admissions officers discuss how to get into medical school

Meghan Sharma | Contributing Reporter

Following the release of Kaplan Test Prep’s 12th annual survey on medical school admissions Nov. 27, administrators from Washington University School of Medicine discussed what they look for most when reviewing applications.

The survey conducted by Kaplan Test Prep involved talking to 66 medical schools in the U.S. and Canada from September through October 2017. The test prep company found that 54 percent of admissions officers say a low Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) score is “the biggest application deal-breaker,” followed by a low undergraduate GPA, which 36 percent indicated as a deal-breaker.

According to Dr. Valerie Ratts, associate dean for admissions at the Washington University School of Medicine, quantitative measurements are important when reviewing an application, but they are only one part of what an admissions committee will review.

“We follow the EAM model, which looks at the experiences, attributes and metrics of students when we are thinking about applications. The goal is to consider applications in a holistic manner. Metrics, including MCAT, GPA and rigor of coursework, are a part of that model,” Ratts said. “The other pieces of that model are experiences and attributes—[this is where] all the other pieces of the application become important.”

When it comes to experiences and attributes, Ratts believes essays are important because they help the admissions committee know what a student’s motivation is to study medicine, learn what a student has done in research, volunteering, shadowing or another activity that has shaped his or her interest in medicine and see the student’s writing skills.

“For Wash. U. Medical School, when we are creating a medical school class, we say we are ‘building’ a class. We are looking for students that have unique experiences and perspectives in the things that they’ve done,” she said.

While administrators say that essays are important, the recent survey shows that MCAT scores are still the primary element of a medical student’s application. Senior Sarah Wang, the president of pre-health fraternity Alpha Epsilon Delta, believes having a high MCAT score is critical in the application process.

“I think that GPA and MCAT are the ‘first look’ that medical schools look at. If you don’t [meet] some minimum range, they won’t look at the rest of application,” Wang said. “There is a stage between turning in primaries and [receiving] secondaries, and I think that MCAT and GPA make the biggest impact in receiving the secondaries.”

Eric Chiu, Kaplan’s executive director of pre-health programs, believes that this study confirms that quantitative measures like MCAT and GPA remain essential in the medical school admissions process.

“According to the survey data, the number one application deal breaker is a low MCAT score,” Chiu said. “[Medical schools] are looking for students who have the academic potential to succeed in their programs—so, your GPA, as well as your MCAT score, are predictors for how well you will do in medical school. They use these methods as a way of telling who’s likely to be able to handle the rigors of a medical school education and who’s going to be able to keep up with the science content.”

The Kaplan survey also revealed that other, nontraditional factors may impact an application. For instance, 29 percent of the admissions officers surveyed stated that they have looked at an applicant’s social media profile, and a majority of those officers found content that could harm the applicant’s chance of admission. Some Washington University pre-meds are taking measures to avoid being found on social media.

“I’ve seen my friends completely changing their Facebook names to something not even remotely related to their actual name,” Wang said.

The survey also found that applying early makes a difference in admission: 41 percent of surveyed admissions officers said that students have a “significant advantage” when applying early, 70 percent of surveyed admissions officers said that students who apply early have an “advantage.”

Ratts confirmed that this applies to Washington University School of Medicine admissions as well.

“[Applying early] only helps you because admissions officers get so many applications, and it’s important to be at the beginning of that,” Ratts said.

Although this Kaplan survey has found several factors that may negatively or positively impact the application process. Ratts stressed that there isn’t one set formula for how to get into medical school.

“I think [the important thing is] to not stress out about a single path to medical school. There are many paths to get to medical school, and those paths require you to really think about why you are applying to medical school and what your motivations are. We look for people who are curious, and being curious can be many different things,” she said. “Take advantage of all [opportunities]—especially at a place like Wash. U. where there are so many things that you can do as an undergraduate to grow yourself.”