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View Full Version : Will applying to medical school at the age of 19 hurt my chances?


threemae
09-26-2004, 02:37 AM
Well, my question is pretty straight forward along the lines of the title. I'm 19 right now, and I can apply to medical schools in the coming months due to AP credit and having taken O-Chem over the summer.

Since I can graduate, and I'm sure that medicine is what I want to do professionally, my argument is why wait? Age is a number that correlates strongly with maturity, etc., but a medical school should be willing to look beyond simply that number and evaluate me as a whole candidate. College isn't getting any cheaper.

On the other side of the coin: who the hell wants some punk ass 22 year old serving in a clerkship rotation to help you out when you really need it? And why can't I just wait around a little bit and apply later like most people do?

What I am asking for is pretty general advice from anyone here that has a good deal of experience with the modern medical school admission process. More importantly, will having taken the MCAT and applied so early hurt my chances later on when I'm applying to a medical school for the third year in a row?

testride
09-26-2004, 02:53 AM
More importantly, will having taken the MCAT and applied so early hurt my chances later on when I'm applying to a medical school for the third year in a row?

What does this mean? Are you actually graduating from college this year and you want to start medical school next year, or are you hoping to go to medical school without graduating from college, or do you just want to apply now to get familiar with the process so you can do it better when it counts? Why would you be applying for the third year in a row, unless you're assuming you're going to be rejected twice?

threemae
09-26-2004, 03:26 AM
What does this mean? Are you actually graduating from college this year and you want to start medical school next year, or are you hoping to go to medical school without graduating from college, or do you just want to apply now to get familiar with the process so you can do it better when it counts? Why would you be applying for the third year in a row, unless you're assuming you're going to be rejected twice?

I can graduate from college this year after two years of course work. I'm operating under the assumption that I will be rejected from all of my schools.

Qadgop the Mercotan
09-26-2004, 12:35 PM
Why are you in such a hurry to apply to medical school? Besides finances, that is.

What are your goals?

I'm speaking only as a former student member of the Admissions committee at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, and that was over 20 years ago. But back then, the committee was not looking for the student who tore thru college in record time. It was looking for someone who was academically "acceptable" (at the Hop, this meant pretty damn good scholarship) who also demonstrated the ability to accomplish things outside of the academic arena. One successful applicant spent a year as a paramedic for the Dole pineapple company on the island of Lanai. Another built and flew an experimental aircraft.

That was the Hop. Over 20 years ago. YMMV at other schools, and by quite a bit. But I know for a fact that many med schools are leery of younger applicants as the risk of burnout and dropout is higher.

If someone really, really wants to be a doctor (and I won't open that can of worms here), I would suggest it's well worth their time to become the best candidate that they can be. Which would probably preclude applying too prematurely.

On the other hand, I've been out of the admissions process for an ungodly long time, and get to lecture at the local medical schools infrequently. And those schools have only agreed to give me one medical student a year for me to play with, uh, I mean train. So what the hell do I know?

Just think about what credentials you can show the med schools now, vs. those you might be able to show them in a year or two, and make your decision. And I have known many doctors who did not get into med school the first time they applied.

CrazyCatLady
09-26-2004, 01:13 PM
Near as I can tell, things haven't changed all that much from Qadgop's experience. A whole lot still depends on what you bring to the table besides academics. There was a Pit thread a while back (I think this past spring, and for some reason I'm thinking WesleyClark started it) about someone's brother not getting into med school, and there was a whole lot of discussion about admissions criteria then. The general concensus was that the guy was rejected because he had nothing to offer besides grades and test scores.

I don't think that your age, per se, will count against you, nor will the fact that you tore through college in two years. I think, though, that by being so young and having torn through college in two years, you probably don't have the patient experience or the outside interests they're going to want to see, and that will almost certainly sink you. The patient experience doesn't necessarily have to be a whole lot, depending on the school you're applying to, but you do need to have demonstrated that this is important enough for you take time out of your busy schedule and spend some time with sick people. I believe Dr.J volunteered at a center where they provided respite care for Alzheimer's patients an afternoon or two a week. The patient contact stuff also helps demonstrate that you realize there's more to being a doctor than sitting on your ass in an office forty hours a week and drawing a fat check. (Anyone with that particular misconception will get eaten alive by med school, should they make it past the admissions committee.)

My advice is to sit down and think carefully about what, exactly, you have to offer a medical school at this point in time. Grades, extracurricular activities, patient contact, outside interests besides school and medicine, the whole ball of wax. If you see anything that could stand to be stronger, take a year or two shoring that up, and then apply.

threemae
09-26-2004, 01:20 PM
Quadgop,

I suppose that I'm partly in a hurry to apply to medical school because I can and I'd rather be out of the most difficult sections of becoming a physician sooner rather than later. I've obviously had this discussion before with others, and they've advised me to take my time and enjoy my youth, but I feel strongly that I can and will do the exact same thing on the opposite side if medical school and residency.

Cycling is huge for me, and the absolute peak years for most riders are between around 30 and 34. The longer that I wait to enter medical school, the less likely I am to really be able to achieve my best performances in cycling. Perhaps I'm weighing a single sport too much into this decision, but it feels right. In the spring, Velonews did three page piece on a woman who had started riding in college, did a couple thousand miles a year in medical school, and then seriously began training after her residency finished. In under two years she became a "pro", she's still a practicing physician, but races a full load of National Calendar events. Now, she's one of the most dominant forces on the American women's road scene, but she's 35. She's past her "peak" and unlikely to be able to develop into the rider she could have been.

Is this something that is appropriate to express in an interview to an admissions committee? "I want to get through your program so that I can get onto what I really want to do." On the one hand, perhaps I should say that I really want medicine more than anything else in my life, but I don't think that's very realistic. I doubt that many residents stick around for extra shifts just for the hell of it becasue they're having fun. I doubt that you jump on the opportunity to hold extra office-hours for your prisoners at all hours of the night. There has to be balance in your life, correct? But what if I eventually hope to take that balance to the cycling side over medicine?

I guess that the most important question to get to the bottom of here is whether or not applying now will actively act against my chances of admission later on? Will applying to any particular medical school for the third year in a row hurt me, or do they really take a fresh look at an applicant every time? Will they question my decision to apply so early and apply that to me negatively later on?

I'm freaking out right now because I've gotten to know far too many practicing EMT's and paramedics through my volunteer work that are also planning on applying to medical school this year. I have to admit, that if I were a medical school choosing between a graduating sophmore with cycling, an RA position, and lots of volunteer work in both hospital and mountian rescue settings or someone who had done all of that, gone into emergency medicine professionally as an EMT for three years, and still volunteered for mountain rescue, I wouldn't have a hard time choosing either.

CrazyCatLady
09-26-2004, 02:20 PM
I feel strongly that I can and will do the exact same thing on the opposite side if medical school and residency.

Not to be negative, but hardly anyone does the same thing on the opposite side of med school and residency. That seven years makes a huge difference. Part of it is just the difference between 19 and 26, which tends to be fairly substantial. Part of it is the experience of med school and residency. Part of it is the responsibilities you have afterward, the debt you'll rack up in school, and the assorted surprises life throws at you. You should never, ever assume that you'll have the same opportunities later that you have now, or that you'll even want those opportunities if you do get them again, because life changes in the blink of an eye.

And no, "I want to hurry up and get this crap over with so I can get on with the important stuff in my life," is typically not going to endear you to most admission committees. "I didn't see any benefit to just hanging around for a few years," would probably be a better answer to that one. You should also have a plan in mind for when they ask what you'll do if you don't get in this year, and for when they ask what you'll do if you never get in.

Whether applying multiple times hurts your chances...it really depends on the school you're applying to, the strength of your first application and why you were rejected. If your first application was really strong, and the only reason you didn't get in was because of your youth, or you were just barely edged out by more qualified candidates, it shouldn't be an issue. If you were grossly unqualified in previous applications, or you were horrible in the interview or something like that, it could be a real problem.

Qadgop the Mercotan
09-26-2004, 02:26 PM
QuadgopCycling is huge for me
Then make this a strength in your application. Use it to emphasize interest in sports medicine, biophysical engineering, etc. Most med schools will like to see that an outside interest has led to an interest in a particular sphere of medicine.
Is this something that is appropriate to express in an interview to an admissions committee? "I want to get through your program so that I can get onto what I really want to do."
Don't say that.
On the one hand, perhaps I should say that I really want medicine more than anything else in my life
Don't say that either.
But what if I eventually hope to take that balance to the cycling side over medicine?
Then you're unbalanced again. Balance in the human context implies more than 2 poles. Let them know that both cycling and medicine are strong interests of yours, and things you plan on continuing, and even combining, in your life.
Will applying to any particular medical school for the third year in a row hurt me, or do they really take a fresh look at an applicant every time? Will they question my decision to apply so early and apply that to me negatively later on?
Oh, they'll remember you the next time around. And what they do with your application will depend on why they rejected you in the first place. If their summary was "interesting application, but needs more experience" then next time they'll look to see if you added enough experience. If they canned your application because "wore bicycling helmet in interview" then they'll probably not seriously consider your application again.

if I were a medical school choosing between a graduating sophmore with cycling, an RA position, and lots of volunteer work in both hospital and mountian rescue settings or someone who had done all of that, gone into emergency medicine professionally as an EMT for three years, and still volunteered for mountain rescue, I wouldn't have a hard time choosing either.
Well, it's a big med school class generally. Med schools like to have a mix, and either person you describe brings in things outside of academics that they tend to like to look for. And there are a lot of med schools out there. If the academics are there, a med school would prefer both candidates you describe over a 4.0 from college who had little notable experience outside the college campus.

USCDiver
09-26-2004, 05:01 PM
As a student member of the Admissions Committee last year at a medical school that has had several 19 year olds in the incoming class in recent years (and they didn't even finish undergrad), I'd say go ahead if you're ready.

As for all this about cycling, it can be a positive if you spin it that way. Are you competing in races or are you just riding a lot? Admissions committees like to see that you can maintain your grades while engaged in outside activities. One of the more popular concepts we discussed about applicants was whether they were 'dancing as fast as they can.' It was not a good thing if you had good grades but were 'dancing as fast as you could' because it would mean you'd see a drop in performance as medical school got more demanding. But if you're able to keep up with your grades and test scores at the same time you're devoting a lot of time to another pursuit it's a bonus. Varsity athletes were invariably attractive candidates because of this.

And might I recommend the message board at Student Doctor.net (http://forums.studentdoctor.net) as a more specialized site for advice.

edwino
09-26-2004, 05:16 PM
I had 19 year olds in my med school class and I have interviewed a few 19 year old as a student member of an MD/PhD admissions committee. You have to remember that the average age of a first year medical student is closer to 25 (at least when I started) than 22. So you are talking about a much bigger difference than just the 3 years of college. A large percentage, maybe even a majority, of first year medical students have done things beyond the 4 year college experience, either with real jobs, advanced degrees or double majors, or as volunteers and other outside experiences. The oldest person in my class was 38 and had worked as an engineer. Another was previously a stay-at-home mom with a 13 year old daughter.

The biggest concern that comes up in discussions of 19-year olds is always "maturity." There is a place on my interview sheet to rate maturity, as well as the standard things like academics, extracurricular stuff, motivation, etc. In my experience, the 19 year olds that have been accepted have always had stand-out experiences that prove their maturity. For instance, semesters abroad, putting themselves through college, lots of out-of-school experience especially in the health-care field without academics being compromised, etc. Of course, if you make yourself irresistable (over a 35 on the MCAT and a GPA better than 3.85), many of these can at least be downplayed.

So if you are middle-of-the-pack numbers wise (and that's pretty good, most people in the middle of the pack get accepted somewhere in my experience), what you need to be spinning is how mature you are and present yourself as an individual with an equivalent (or greater) amount of experience as the average 25-year old incoming medical student.

Boyo Jim
09-26-2004, 08:27 PM
I think an important underlying question is being missed here. The question being, if you apply and are rejected this year, will this rejected application possibly have some negative impact on future applications?

This is not my area, and others can possibly provide a better answer. I have worked with community college students who are trying to get into a 4 year school, and the answer in those cases is no. In fact, a rejection often provides quite useful information about the deficiences that led to it, allowing a student to make adjustments to rectify those deficiencies before their next application.

It's very hard for me to imagine that a failed application this year would count against you next year. In other words, what harm can it do, except possibly to your ego?

My best advice is to talk to an admissions officer at the schools you're considering. It's a very straightforward question that should have a straightforward answer.

alice_in_wonderland
09-27-2004, 12:30 AM
I participated in that other thread that CCL referenced earlier - as to why you may care about my opinion - I worked for the admissions office of a major Canadian medical school a few years ago - I've since changed positions within the Faculty, but I still offer student advice on occasion.

Sooo - that being said. Our medical school will accept people with only two years of college under their belt, but the preference is a degree - I'm unclear if you have a degree, or a pre-med type diploma.

Our school has accepted more than one 19 year old student - I have to say - those students were REMARKABLE. Not only fabulous grades and stellar MCAT scores, but really all round amazing people. Concert pianists that could speak 5 languages and had been volunteering with child burn victems since they were 10 (the candidates, that is). I'm serious - and I may be exagerating a little, but only a very little.

This year, you will probably not be accepted. However, at my school that wont prejudice your chances in future years. If you feel like this is something you really must do now, go for it, but be prepaired for dissapointment - this year anyway.

Get yerself a back-up plan. Admissions committees like to see people that are doing more than just applying to medical school - if you don't have any job experience, get some. If you don't have any volunteer experience, get some of that too. Research experience will help your chances also.

Regarding the MCAT - you can write it 3 times before you have to start justifying why. Your scores will be valid for 6 years from writing date. If you get super scores, they should do you until you get it. If you do choose to re-write it, most schools will only accept results from one complete exam - that is, they won't cherry pick for the best scores from different tests.

Let me wrap this up by repeating what I said earlier - at most schools a previously unsuccessful application will not negatively impact a future application. Assuming that you've done something productive with the year in between applications you should be fine if you apply now, and then apply again if unsuccessful.

Good luck - it's rare that people so young are so sure about their future career path. :)

Martin Hyde
09-27-2004, 02:29 AM
Extremely good grades and test scores goes a very long way in admissions processes for any graduate level institution. But you have to remember that sometimes you'll be going against tons of candidates with grades/scores as good or slightly better.

With that in mind I honestly think one of the best things to put on a application is real life work experience in a related field, or at least some professional-type field.

With medical schools the big thing they are looking for is ultimately, whether or not they think this person will graduate. And med schools tend to estimate that pretty well, because once you get in med school, nationwide the graduation rates are in the 90s so they choose candidates pretty well.

threemae
09-27-2004, 06:47 PM
Well, thank you to every one who responded. I've gotten a pretty strong impression that it won't actively work against me in later years if I apply this year and get rejected, so I'm relatively certain that I will go ahead and apply this year. I suppose that the best reason for applying to give to the admissions committe will simply be that I don't see any point in waiting to apply, not necessarily that I'm in a rush to get things over with.

The remaining question that I have mainly goes to edwino's comments. Namely, how do I go about convincing the admissions committee that I have this magical thing called "maturity"? Obviously I shouldn't go into an interview and start screaming about how my mom let me stay home alone at the age of nine, but seriously, what are they looking for when they discuss maturity? Obviously much more than academics goes into this; are they talking in terms of social interactions with patients? I know that younger people might tend to come off as more cocky or arrogant than older people, especially when you come to them asking questions. Is doctor-patient interaction actually something that they feel they can accurately gauge in interview sessions?

tygerbryght
09-28-2004, 11:34 PM
...

The remaining question that I have mainly goes to edwino's comments. Namely, how do I go about convincing the admissions committee that I have this magical thing called "maturity"?
... what are they looking for when they discuss maturity? Obviously much more than academics goes into this; are they talking in terms of social interactions with patients? I know that younger people might tend to come off as more cocky or arrogant than older people, especially when you come to them asking questions. Is doctor-patient interaction actually something that they feel they can accurately gauge in interview sessions?
They're looking for students who see the profession in a holistic way. The people who have advised you to get some work or volunteer experience in a health care setting were giving you excellent advice. However, most any kind of volunteer experience is good - even volunteering to help put on a race, instead of being in it. Doing things where you aren't the "star of the show," IOW. I do think that working or volunteering in a medical setting, particularly one that interests you, is highly beneficial. Among other things, you will get an inside view of how that specialty works. You may be in for some surprises. Don't you think it would be better to have the surprises first?? And if you get a paying job, and save all you can, it will impress them. No, of course you can't save up enough money to be useful for more than easing what I used to call "starving student syndrome."

The days when doctors were able to see themselves as the hub around which everything revolved are mostly past (Deo Gratias!). A doctor is a part of a health care team, and you will have to be a team player - less so if you're a surgeon in one of the more challenging specialties, perhaps, but still a team member: someone who is both willing and able to cooperate with others.

In the years when I worked at (two different) large universities, one with a med school, I got to know lots of pre-med students. Getting accepted still requires an excellent mind, but again, as others have pointed out, admissions committees want balanced personalities. I think someone also mentioned that it wouldn't hurt if you were able to demonstrate a third interest besides medicine and cycling. It needs to be something that's a real interest, mind you.

Good luck!