One of my main goals when I sit down with a client is to discuss at length with them their direction, hopes, and aspirations in regards to pursing a medical degree. How far are they willing to go? What level of commitment do they have, even when faced with life’s unexpected challenges? Can they do what needs to be done in order to achieve their goals?

This discussion is important because it helps me see what kind of medical student – and future practitioner – they can be. Sometimes, these students possess great MCAT and GPA scores, attend excellent collegiate programs, but are at a complete loss on how to represent themselves in order to really stand out to medical school admissions committees.

I remember one client of mine – Jay – who fit this mold. His MCAT score was at the top end of the average and he possessed an excellent GPA. But he was highly concerned regarding his schooling. He had attended M.I.T. his first year of college and did marginally well – his GPA was good, but not exceptional. However, he was unhappy.

M.I.T.’s program is very academically oriented with little time for the practical experience and hands-on development of the type Jay desired. Jay wanted to follow an Emergency Medical Technician track for his life, however, which demands a lot of practical skills and direction. That type of experience was not available at M.I.T. Now, Jay knew he could finish with a degree from M.I.T. with a decent GPA. But he knew it wouldn’t get him closer to his goal.

So Jay transferred to a ‘lesser’ program, one which had a program more suited to the type of skills and experience he needed. He excelled in his academics, netting close to a 4.0, and had a lot of time to engage in activities and practices that really built on his desired EMT direction.

However, when Jay came to me, he was very concerned that the admissions boards would see his transfer as a ‘cop out,’ despite the better academic performance and experience he had gained. He had no confidence in telling his story – why he had done what he did, and what direction he really wanted to take.

He was falling in the same trap that many medical school applicants do – getting too wrapped up in their application’s image and not really understanding the value of their own assets.

I helped Jay understand that these medical admissions boards weren’t just looking for great numbers and grades – they were looking for great people who would make excellent practitioners in the medical field. He had done what was best for him and his life goals by transferring from M.I.T.; he needed to communicate that in a decisive, effective manner that showed his level of commitment as well as his willingness to make the hard decisions in order to pursue his dreams.

The fact that he’d been accepted to M.I.T. in the first place was a great point in his favor, his grades – while good but not stellar – showed his competency, despite not being a great fit to his personal goals. By doing even better academically in a ‘lower’ school that had the programs and experiences he really wanted, he could show the admissions committee that he would be a great addition to their program.

I know Jay’s application communicated his story well – he had a hard time choosing what school to attend after nearly all of his target schools offered him slots in their programs!

– Contributed by Wayne Shelton, Ph.D. Wayne served for ten years as a member of a medical admissions committee and made thousands of accept / reject / waitlist decisions during that time.

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