Applying to Medical School with the Assistance of the Medical Careers Advisory Committee
The Medical Careers Advisory Committee (MCAC) exists to assist TCNJ students and alumni who are interested in applying to medical school or any other post-graduate health professional school. Although the committee is housed within the Biology Department, students from ANY major who are interested in pursuing medical school are encouraged to meet with and be counseled by members of the committee as to courses of action to take to gain admission to medical (allopathic or osteopathic) or dental school.
The Medical Careers Advisory Committee consists of Dr. Marcia O’Connell, Chair, and Drs. Jeff Erickson, Sudhir Nayak, Dennis Shevlin, and Tracy Kress in Biology; David Hunt in Chemistry; Connie Hall in Engineering; and Andrew Leynes in Psychology. Office support and some basic advising is provided by Helen Kull, Biology Department Program Assistant (firstname.lastname@example.org).
For information regarding the process for other health professions, students should contact the Med Careers Committee Chair, Dr. Marcia O’Connell (email@example.com).
Information on the following topics can be accessed by clicking on the cascading text links below:
- Courses a student should take to prepare for medical school
- Questions to ask yourself as you consider a career in medicine
- Steps to take during your academic career as you prepare for med school
- The medical school file a student should set up with the Med Careers Committee
- The timeline a student should follow, and relevant deadlines
The standard Biology Liberal Arts curriculum will more than sufficiently prepare a student for medical school:
Required Bio courses – Themes, Eukaryotic Cell, Ecology, Genetics, and Bio Seminar
Bio options courses (5), one of which is an “organismal” course
Correlate courses of Gen Chem 1 & 2, and Organic Chem 1 & 2
Calculus A and Physics I (pre-meds will also need Physics II)
For students in a major other than Biology, the basic requirements are:
Biology courses: Two semesters of biology courses with labs are usually the minimum required by med schools. At TCNJ, this actually means three courses: Themes in Biology (and its lab); Eukaryotic Cell (which does not have a lab, but is now a pre-requisite for the other course); and Genetics (and its lab) – the second recommended lab course.
Other courses: Gen Chem 1 & 2, Organic Chem 1 & 2, Physics 1 & 2, and Calculus A
The physics requirement should be completed before taking the MCAT, typically by the end of the junior year.
Students intending to apply to medical school should NOT take Human Anatomy and Physiology.
Pre-Veterinary students are required by several vet schools to take Biostatistics or a biometry course.
Medical schools look very favorably on the well-rounded student, who is strong in areas besides the life sciences. Take courses in areas that you’re interested in – perhaps the humanities, or social sciences – and enjoy the opportunity to broaden your understanding of the world before you focus your future on a highly specialized pathway. Taking courses that you’re interested in will help keep that GPA up high, too!
Independent research is NOT required of pre-med students. The only reason to engage in research is to further your own personal education, and to engage deeply in an area of discovery in which you are interested. That being said, it is true that medical schools tend to look favorably on those students who do further their education, learn and absorb all that they can, and engage in new areas of discovery. BUT it is not REQUIRED of pre-medical students, and many students DO get to medical school without engaging in research.
Questions to ask yourself (and to be prepared to answer when others ask!)
From the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) website:
- Do I care deeply about other people, their problems, and their pain?
- Do I enjoy helping people with my skills and knowledge?
- Do I enjoy learning, gaining new understanding? Do I often dig deeper into a subject than my teacher requires? Do I understand the value of learning beyond just making good grades?
- Am I interested in how the human body functions? Am I intrigued by the ways medicine can be used to improve life?
From the MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) career planning website:
- Why do I want to go to medical school?
- What has influenced this decision? Is it my own decision, or the result of pressure from others?
- Have I considered and explored alternative career options?
- Have I explored alternative health related careers such as bioinformatics, biostatistics, or biomedical engineering?
- Have I talked to others currently or recently in medical school, and asked them about their experiences?
- Have I considered taking time off after college before applying to medical school?
- Am I prepared for the medical school lifestyle?
- What do I want to do with my degree once I am finished?
- When is the best time for me to apply?
- Do I like working with people?
Additional questions to consider:
- Do I understand the difference between allopathic and osteopathic medicine? Am I better suited to one than the other?
- Have I considered other related medical fields, such as dental, veterinary, podiatric, etc?
Additional sources of information and resources can be found at:
www.aamc.org – American Association of Medical Colleges
www.amsa.org – American Medical Students Association
www.aacom.org – American Assoc. of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine
Steps to Take While You are an Undergraduate
- Do well in your courses
- Establish good relationships with faculty members
- Do well in your courses
- Get involved in volunteer work (test your interest in medicine)
Summer after Sophomore Year
- Volunteer at a hospital or clinic; or engage in research activities
- Do well in your courses
- Request letters of recommendation from faculty and mentors
- (form available on our website, and from Biology Office)
- Prepare to take the MCAT – and take it!
Summer after Junior Year
- Complete your application and send it in
- Keep working hard
- Submit and follow progress of your applications
- Keep Biology Office informed of your progress, interviews, acceptances and selection
Additional Suggestions and Advice:
Begin early to create your “résumé,” and add to it on a regular basis, instead of suddenly trying to remember three or four years of activities and achievements when it’s time to complete your application.
Attend meetings of AMSA (American Medical Students Association) and MAPS (Minority Association of Pre-health Students).
Get to know at least one faculty member well each semester. Speak up in class, and chat with them in the hallway. A strong letter of recommendation from a faculty member who really knows you is worth its weight in gold!
Find an extracurricular activity that you really enjoy, and have fun with it! Don’t engage in an activity for the sole reason that “it will look good on your résumé.”
Consider enrolling in a “health careers summer enrichment program.” The Northeast Regional Alliance MedPrep Scholars Program (more info) is one such program offered jointly by NJ Med School, Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, and Mount Sinai School of Medicine. Another similar program is the Summer Medical and Dental Education Program (SMDEP) at NJ Med School. These programs can improve your chances of being accepted into medical school.
A student wishing to pursue admission to medical school must first meet with the chair of the Medical Careers Committee for the purpose of establishing a file. This meeting is typically scheduled in the spring of the student’s junior year, but it can be scheduled sooner. Currently, the MCAC Chair is Dr. Marcia O’Connell (firstname.lastname@example.org), and it is best to email her directly to set up your appointment. Eventually, the file should contain the following items:
- A copy (electronic or hard) of your application to the appropriate application service (AMCAS for MD, AACOMAS for DO, AADSAS for dental). These applications become available on line in May/June, and can be copies of them can be placed in your file as soon as they are complete. If you are applying to a program with a less detailed application (dental, optometry, etc.), please provide us with a copy of your resume, citing activities, volunteerism, etc.
- If the application service requires a Letter of Recommendation Letter ID Form or Cover Form, please provide us with that as well.
- All transcripts, both from TCNJ and from any other institutions attended during or after your time at TCNJ. The TCNJ transcript can be “unofficial” (printed out from PAWS), and should reflect the student’s record through their completed junior year. PLEASE NOTE that the Committee’s request for your transcript is different from the request by the application service for your transcript. We need only to have an unofficial copy of your TCNJ transcript for our file. The application service working with the schools to which you are applying (AMCAS, etc) will need an official transcript, which must come from Records and Registration.
- Your MCAT score (reported directly to the committee by the test administrators)
- A list of the schools to which you are applying.
- A list of the people (references) who have been asked to write letters of recommendation on your behalf (see additional information below)
- All letters of recommendation (minimum of five) which are obtained by submitting to each of your references a Letter of Recommendation Request Form
Letters of recommendation are a key component of your application. You should seek at least five substantive letters from people who know you well: professors, research advisors, persons in the medical field, and/or professional mentors (e.g., a supervisor from the tutoring center). Ideally, at least three letters would come from professors in the sciences, and often an additional letter from a faculty member from outside the sciences. If you are applying to DO schools, it is strongly recommended (and required by PCOM) that one of your letters of reference is from a DO.
These confidential letters are sent (either electronically or by standard mail, or preferably both) directly to the committee chair by the reference – not by the student – so that the integrity of the comments is unquestioned. The hard copies of these letters should be on appropriate letterhead and signed by the recommender. Medical schools will often refuse to accept a letter which is unsigned or on plain paper, as its integrity is at issue. Letters of recommendation should NEVER come from a family member, not even one in an appropriate medical/professional field.
When the file is complete, it is reviewed by the committee in order to determine whether the committee will prepare a composite letter of recommendation, which provides an overall assessment of potential and “stamp of approval” by the committee for the applicant. A composite letter is strongly recommended for those students applying to MD, DO, veterinary, optometry, podiatry and dental school.
As will the medical schools, the committee looks for a strong GPA, a high MCAT score, and any experience in clinically-related volunteer work: in a hospital, shadowing a physician, or with an EMS squad, for example. The ideal minimal qualifications for the committee to write a composite letter are a score of 30 or above on the MCAT, and a 3.6 or above for the GPA – but those numbers can vary slightly based on a number of factors and issues, including the types of schools to which the student is applying, whether the school is in-state or not, the specific degree program, or perhaps a slight, relative imbalance of GPA and MCAT (ie, perhaps a slightly low MCAT score with a very high GPA to offset). The committee clearly wants to help as many of our students as possible to gain admission to medical school, and so will err on the side of writing letters when there is one of these borderline situations.
The composite letter pulls together the exact comments and reflections offered by each of the references, and adds to those observations introductory and closing remarks pertaining to the student, their interest in science and medicine, and the committee’s sense of their potential for success in medical school. It is a significant piece of the applicant’s package, and assists the respective medical admissions committees in making their determinations, by virtue of both the specific candidate information, and the history of credibility established between the medical schools and the individual medical advisory committees.
However, all is not lost if the committee declines to write a composite letter of recommendation! Students in this situation are encouraged to meet with the chair of the committee, and to consider a variety of options, including whether the student would still like to apply without a composite letter, or whether it would be best for the student to work to improve their credentials (ie, re-take the MCAT) in order to apply at a later date. The chair will make specific recommendations for improving a student’s chance for success in the future. If, for whatever reason, a composite letter is not approved, the MCAC is still able to make copies of all individual, original letters of recommendation it has received on the student’s behalf, and to forward them to the admissions committees of the medical schools of choice. This is a potentially viable path to acceptance as well, and should not be overlooked.
Once your file is complete, and it has been determined that a composite letter will be written, it generally takes about two weeks for that letter to be put in the mail; however, it can take up to 4 weeks or longer, depending on the seasonal work load and the schedule of the committee members.
Please recognize that if you are re-applying to medical school, after having a composite letter written by the committee in the past, you may need to request some new letters of recommendation from mentors or supervisors with whom you have worked recently, as well as some current information about your situation and status, so that your composite letter can be updated accordingly.
Due to the highly competitive nature of the medical school admissions process, it is imperative to have everything submitted in a timely manner. And the reality is, the earlier an application is complete, the better your chances.
That being said, it is first and foremost the responsibility of the student to ensure that their completed application (including a composite letter from the MCAC) reaches the medical schools on time. All students should have submitted all of their materials to the med schools and to their file preferably by September 1st, or October 1st at the latest.
If you intend to apply to medical school in order to attend the fall following graduation, you must adhere to the following timeline in order to have your application facilitated by the department. If you have already graduated, you must start the process by February 15th (or thereabouts) of the year in which you apply.
By Feb 15 of Junior year
Via email or in person, inform chair of MCAC (currently Dr. O’Connell) of your intent to apply to med school
Feb – Mar of Junior year
Meet with the chair to discuss your status and establish a file
Early Decision applicants’ files must be complete
AMCAS Early Decision
Senior Year – soon after MCAT scores are received
for completion of your file
preferably by Sep 1;
Oct 1 at the latest!
ALL materials should be submitted by this date
Deadline for Letters of Rec to be received at MD Schools (DO schools have a slightly later date)
Please note that not all of the allied health fields below require letters of support and recommendation from a medical careers advising committee. We have included some of these for your convenience only.
|American Association of Medical Colleges||American Medical College Application Service|
|American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine||American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine Application Service|
|American Dental Education Association||American Association of Dental Schools Application Service|
|Physician Assistant Education Association||Central Application Service for Physician Assistants|
|Association of Schools and Colleges of Optometry||Optometry Centralized Application Service|
|American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy||Pharmacy College Application Service|
|Association of Schools of Public Health||Schools of Public Health Application Service|
|Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges||Veterinary Medical College Application Service|