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Cornell University

Mythbusting

Myth: Admissions committees look unfavorably upon taking “bridge” years (aka “gap” years).

Truth: Medical schools prefer for candidates to apply when they are sure about their dedication to the field of medicine and can demonstrate readiness for medical school through academics, experience, and maturity. Many students use time after graduation to explore career options or to improve their credentials through academic work, clinical experiences, or service opportunities. Medical schools do not look unfavorably upon applying after taking “bridge” years. In fact, the average age of the 2018 entering medical school class was over 24 years of age, clearly reflecting that many students apply after a bridge year or more.

Myth: It will “look better” to medical schools if I double major or add another minor.

Truth: In fact, an applicant’s primary undergraduate major has little to no effect on acceptance rates to medical school. National data from AMCAS show that, if anything, there is a slightly lower acceptance rate for health science majors versus other majors such as biology, chemistry, mathematics, or humanities. Cornell-specific data show no significant difference in acceptance rates by college or by major. You should excel in what you do; the best way to do that is to undertake a course of study that is interesting and engaging, whether or not those courses amount to a double major or a minor. An applicant with one major and a 3.6 GPA is certainly more competitive than an applicant with a double major and a 3.2 GPA.

Myth: A high GPA will make up for a low MCAT score or vice versa.

Truth: While academic credentials are certainly an important piece of a student’s application, they are just pieces of a bigger picture. Many other factors—including letters of evaluation, letters of recommendation, experiences, personal statement, and personal characteristics—will be evaluated in addition to the academic factors. Admissions committees may, however, question a “mismatch” between GPA and MCAT score (i.e., lower GPA and higher MCAT score or higher GPA and lower MCAT score), because they value academic excellence in all arenas in addition to test-taking skills. Remember, medical education is "book-ended" by standardized exams, the MCAT and the USMLE, and admissions committees need to have the confidence that students will succeed in medical school and beyond.

Myth: I can take challenging courses over the summer or plan light semesters to maintain a high GPA.

Truth: Medical schools review an applicant’s academic performance as a whole and on a semester-by-semester basis. Students should not plan light semesters with the aim of maintaining a high GPA as schools will note the avoidance of taking challenging courses during the regular semesters or while taking other challenging courses. Schools may allow some leeway or may be impressed by high achievement during a particularly challenging semester, however. Students should plan to take prerequisite courses during the regular semesters, if at all possible.

Myth: It doesn’t matter when I get clinical experience. I can do this right before I apply.

Truth: Medical schools are interested in applicants who are well-informed and committed to the field of medicine and to the service of others. This commitment needs to be sustained and demonstrable through a student’s application. You should be able to use concrete examples and experiences to answer the question, “Why do you want to be a doctor?” It is not enough to have family members or close family friends who are in the medical field. Your experiences need to demonstrate your motivation for this career path; pressure from family or friends is not enough.

Myth: If I am driven enough, I will be admitted to medical school one day.

Truth: Admission to medical school is an extremely competitive process. In 2019, 53,371 students applied for the 21,869 available first-year seats in medical school, a 41% acceptance rate. Nationally, the average number of applications filed per applicant was over 15, leading to large numbers of applications filed at each of the medical schools. For example, Weill Cornell Medicine received over 7,000 applications in 2019. Some schools receive many more than that. A strong motivation is not enough to gain admittance to medical school. Because the process is so competitive, students should be prepared with an alternate career path, which may also be in the healthcare field. There are also post-baccalaureate academic record enhancement programs for those looking to improve their academic credentials, but these are very costly and do not ensure admission to medical school. If you have experienced challenges during your Cornell education, speak to a Health Careers Advisor for assistance in developing a successful strategy.

Myth: Applying to medical school is just like applying to undergraduate institutions.

Truth: The application process, including standardized examinations, common application platforms, personal statements, and letters of recommendation, make the two processes seem very similar. In reality, these processes could not be more different. In fact, more than 80% of all undergraduate institutions accept more than half of their applicants, and most applicants receive at least one offer of admission, usually more. In contrast, the acceptance rates to individual medical schools range from less than 1% for private institutions to approximately 3% for in-state applicants to public institutions—in contrast to 4.8% for the most selective undergraduate institution (Curtis School of Music, Philadelphia, PA). Undergraduate institutions such as Cornell are very selective, but applicants to Cornell were, most likely, also accepted to another undergraduate institution. Receipt of multiple acceptances, while expected during the process of undergraduate admissions, is much less likely during the medical school application process. In 2019, of the Cornell students who were accepted to schools of allopathic medicine, 35% were accepted to one school, 22% were accepted to two schools, 15% were accepted to three schools, 11% were accepted to four schools, and 17% were accepted to five or more schools. Thus, over half of those accepted to medical school were accepted to 1 or 2 schools.