In this series of articles, I will be sharing excerpts of case studies on several of my former students (with their permission, of course). Names and other identifying information have been changed, but the material facts — MCAT score, GPA, etc. — are unchanged. The full case studies are published in my book, Pre-Med Success Stories.
I’ll present each case study in three parts — an introduction of the student, followed by an in-depth assessment of the student’s profile and chances for admission to medical school, and then finally I’ll explain what happened to the student once s/he applied.
In this article, I start with a client of mine who I shall call Aziz.
Part One — Who Is Aziz?
Aziz is 26 years old, born in Egypt, and has been in the United States for over a decade, but has felt isolated throughout his college education — he’s changed majors many times, and has finally settled on pursuing medicine. Before I get into his personal story, I can immediately see from his academic performance that it has been an uphill battle for him. His stats are listed below.
- He finished his undergraduate education at Columbia University and received a cumulative GPA 2.75 with a major in psychology.
- After undergrad, he attend the University of California in San Diego where he studied biology and received a GPA of 3.75.
- His MCAT score stands at a 34.
Aziz has been steadily improving since he was first admitted into undergraduate school. However, where he feels he truly excels is in his outside volunteer work. He hopes that, although he is older than most candidates, this also means he has more experience than most, and it shows in his application.
- He has clocked 500 hours as a UCSD Medical Center volunteer, 50 hours at a Cost Rica medical clinic program, 20 hours at the Premedical Peer Program and has worked for one year as a full-time employee at the Mental Health Association.
- His community service work consisted of 80 hours at the UCSD Peer Helpline, and 15 hours at the La Jolla Gerontology Research Group.
- He has also been involved in multiple clinical research programs: the Thesis Project which researched retinoic acid in relation to schizophrenia, the Neurosciences Laboratory in Alvarado Medical Center working with cell biological mechanisms of synaptic rearrangement involved in mental retardation, and the Sloan-Swartz Center for Theoretical Neurobiology at the Salk Institute where he was investigating the molecular basis of schizophrenia.
Aside from these activities, Aziz has taken active leadership roles in various organizations which definitely need to be mentioned.
- He has put in 75 hours as an UCSD Medical Center Volunteer Program Orientation/Interview Coordinator.
- 60 hours as a Teaching Assistant for Life Sciences.
- 10 hours as part of the Triton Leaders Project.
- And 30 hours working as a class instructive at the Healthy Livelihoods Assistance.
So far, Aziz’s application is full of experience. However, he still has some hurdles to overcome if he ever wishes to become a doctor.
Aziz’s Personal Story
Aziz is a personable and comfortable young man, who is intent on what he calls his “comeback story.” He wants to explain to the medical admissions committee that his climb upwards was not easy — it took a lot of effort, and time, and oftentimes he felt incredibly lonely throughout it. He is very conscious of his lackluster undergraduate performance, but he is confident that his experience and graduate studies show that he is a committed student nonetheless.
Aziz also struggled paying for school which he hopes will help put in context his undergraduate career. He father refused to help him afford his undergraduate school, which meant he needed to do work study, for 10 hours a week, for three years. He had a difficult time improving his GPA because of complications with getting into the classes he wanted. His father also passed away during his junior year which further put a damper on his academic performance, having had a falling out with him once college began over the high costs.
If Aziz wants to get into medical school, he needs to fully explain his growth throughout college as a student and, more generally as an individual in his personal statement and, later, his interview. He must prove that this was a conscious decision on his part. However, when it actually came down to it, Aziz was a bit too eager to explain his success story — against other’s suggestions, he inflated his academic growth instead of letting his recommendations attest to his abilities. Moreover, his impatience and restlessness was very visible during his brainstorming writing. If Aziz wants to be a successful candidate, he needs to channel this energy into eagerness instead of recklessness.
However, it is very important I acknowledge the sudden death of Aziz’s father as crucial to understanding his academic performance. Aziz needs to coherently explain this if he wishes to have a good chance of pursuing medicine.
Now that I have all of the background info, I can begin to assess Aziz’s application and see if he has what it takes to be accepted into medical school. Here’s part two.