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It’s All Going to Be Okay: Debunking Application Myths

While it is true that applying for MD/PhD programs is stressful and difficult, in my experience applying, there were many people with the best of intentions who tried to lower my expectations and tell me that I wasn’t ready in one area or another.  I talked to other very successful students who had similar experiences.  The truth is that admissions officers and committees for MD/PhD programs truly try to get to know you as a whole person, so I want to dispel some myths and worries that I encountered in my experience applying.


  1. My MCAT score isn’t good enough.

Your MCAT score is the least interesting thing about you.  It is essentially a checkbox that allows you to get to the point of the interview (which is the most important part of your application).  However, do you need a perfect score to get in?  No.  Not even close.  That said, it is important to know what the average score is for students who matriculated into programs you are interested in attending. Most programs will post this information on their website. Remember, it’s an average so if you are in range, don’t let it stop you from applying. On average, MD/PhD students tend to have higher MCAT scores than MD students, but that really doesn’t mean anything for you as an individual.  So long as you have a reasonable score, no one really cares how you did.  Besides, if your grades are fabulous and you have a mediocre MCAT score, admissions will probably take that into account.


  1. My grades aren’t good enough.

Yes, grades are important.   However, what you learn and how your classes shaped you are more important.  Applications will give you a box to describe any shortcomings you may feel you have, and you can explain any circumstances or difficulties there.  Again, do your homework and learn what the average GPAs are for students who matriculated into programs you are interested in attending. Most programs will post this information on their website.


  1. I’m not ready for the interview.

Lucky for you there is a great resource for you about interviewing here.


  1. I haven’t published a paper.

That’s okay.  I have several classmates who hadn’t yet published by the time they applied.  Papers are nice but definitely not necessary.


  1. I don’t have enough clinical/research experience.

I definitely had the impression while applying that I was expected to simultaneously be an outstanding graduate school applicant and an outstanding medical school applicant.  Admissions will know that there simply aren’t enough hours in the day for you to be working full time in a hospital, working full time as a student, and working full time in lab.  Yes, you do need clinical experience so that you know this is the path you want to take.  You also do need research experience (I have heard at least 1.5 years cumulative from different sources).  However, you can’t be expected to have as much as your colleagues applying MD-only or PhD-only because you are trying to do both, and that in and of itself is remarkable.  Also note that in most schools, you will have maybe 2 hours of medical school interviews and up to 8 hours of graduate school interviews, so make sure you have enough research experience that you could talk with research faculty about your work. Also make sure you have enough clinically-related experiences that you can describe your interest in becoming a doctor.


Take away message: Even if you don’t get in this cycle, or even if you decide to do MD first or PhD first, remember that there are many paths to the same goal.  Short of overtly immoral or illegal behavior, you shouldn’t be discouraged from applying because of a few areas of your application that you feel are less than amazing.