Cornell University

"Bill: Taking a Gap Year Before Medical School"

Weak MCAT scores

Bill felt confident about reaching his goal of becoming a doctor. At the end of five semesters at Cornell he had a 3.6 GPA. He had also been active in research. The spring semester of his junior year he registered with the Health Careers Evaluation Committee (HCEC) and prepared to take the MCAT. When he received his scores in June he was very disappointed. His total score was 24, the national average. Verbal Reasoning was 6, Physical Sciences was 9, Biological Sciences was 9 and the Writing Sample was N. He thought he would go ahead and apply anyway and re-take the MCATs but he was unsure if this was the best course of action.

Evaluating his situation with an advisor

Undecided about what he should do, he spoke with a health careers advisor. Bill told her that English was his second language and that he had avoided classes that required a lot of reading and writing because he was a somewhat slow reader and was concerned about not getting good grades in those classes. Therefore, early on, he had taken as few courses as possible outside of the natural sciences, which were his main strength and also the area that interested him the most. To further avoid humanities and social science classes he had used courses in his native language when possible to fulfill distribution requirements. He also admitted that he rarely read materials outside of the sciences, and those that he did read were generally not challenging or complex in content or style. The advisor told him that these tactics, while they let him build on his strengths and attain his competitive GPA, had worked against him when it came to taking the MCAT. The MCAT is designed to not only test scientific knowledge but also breadth of education and verbal reasoning skills developed over a period of years.

Applying a year "late"

Based on the discussion with the advisor he decided to postpone applying until the end of his senior year. During his senior year he planned to take humanities and social science courses to build his verbal reasoning skills and add breadth to his academic profile. He also decided to consult with the Learning Strategies Center to find ways to increase his reading speed and other verbal reasoning skills. Additionally, he saw waiting to apply as giving him a chance to get more clinical experience; his last such experience had been in high school.

New MCAT scores

Bill followed through with his plans and retook the MCAT in May of his senior year. This time his score was 30: Verbal Reasoning 9, Physical Sciences 11, Biological Sciences 10, and Writing Sample O. He had significantly improved his scores. To his surprise his senior coursework outside the sciences did not cause a drop in his GPA. He applied after graduation and was successful in gaining admission to medical school.

(11/16/2011)

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