March 25, 2020

How to Get Accepted into Medical School as a Non-Traditional Student

Miscellaneous
Ryan Karmouta MD, MBA

Getting into Med School for Non-Traditional Student Checklist

There is an increasing number of non-traditional medical students applying to medical school.

According to the AAMC, the mean age of matriculating medical students was 24 years old and over 50% were older, between ages 23 and 29. This means it is becoming more conventional for students to take gap years before starting medical school. For most students that gap year usually means taking 2 years off, but somet take 7 years off before starting medical school. You don’t have to be the straight out of college senior, with perfect credentials, who majored in biology to get accepted into a competitive medical school. In fact, medical schools consider diversity when filling their medical school classes and applying as a non-traditional student can be an advantage. 

There are (mostly) two types of non-traditional applicants: the late bloomers and the career changers.

Non-traditional applicants are thought of in two groups, usually the late bloomers who are typically age 24-28 and the non-traditional students ages 29 and older. The late bloomers are usually the applicants who needed to do something to address a weakness in their applications. These are applicants who needed to improve their MCAT scores or take more classes to show an upward trend in their grades. The career changers are usually those who have been in the workforce and built successful careers, but they decided to make sacrifices and to pursue their dreams to become a physician. 

It's is not “too late to apply to medical school” as a non-traditional applicant and in some ways there are benefits to applying to medical school as a non-traditional applicant.

If you are a non-traditional applicant, you may feel like it is too late to go to medical school or that you are at a disadvantage. Medical school admissions committees do not see it that way and see your application adds to the diversity of the medical school class. Through your gap years, you’ve gained maturity and experience. Although this is not a measured part of the medical school admissions algorithm, maturity and experience counts as intangibles that can set you apart from other applicants. 

There are also challenges that non-traditional applicants face, such as becoming a student again after being in the workforce for x amount of years being out of school. 

You have a much more significant mindset and lifestyle shift, especially if you have been out of school for a long period of time. This is why it is important to have all your ducks in a row, so to speak, when applying to medical schools. To help you make sure you are set up for success, here is a 5 part checklist of things you should have in order for  this upcoming medical school cycle. 


5-Part Application Checklist for non-traditional Students applying to medical school

1. Have a strong why and conviction to pursue a medical career. 

After working hard to build your current life and career, why make the shift now? This road will come with sacrifices, changes in your lifestyle, and emotional and mental strain. You have to have a strong why to get you through this stressful application cycle ahead (and beyond as you enter a rigorous medical school and residency path).

2. Recent completion of all your pre-med requirements (within 5 years). 

For most schools, this means a year of biology, organic chemistry, physics, chemistry, and biochemistry. Especially if it has been more than 5 years since your last science class, it might be beneficial to retake these pre-med requirements to show admissions committees that you still have a strong science foundation. Having recent pre-med requirements successfully completed is further evidence to medical admissions committees that you will be able to keep up with a rigorous science curriculum. 

3. Recent MCAT score. 

Your MCAT total score is the sum of your section scores, ranging from 472–528). Students admitted to an MD program in the United States scored 512, with a GPA of 3.71. These are averages, but having an MCAT score around the average or better keeps you competitive. Although you have not been in a classroom for x amount of years, a high MCAT score is evidence for medical school admissions committees to believe in your ability to successfully complete science coursework and succeed in medical school. 

4. Consider all the application options. 

If you have lower MCAT scores and GPA, medical school can still be in the cards for you if you are determined to pursue this career path. The averages scores of 512 MCAT and 3.71 GPA are for MD programs in the United States. Explore other options such as applying to DO schools or Carribean schools and figure out which application options are right for you. You may have to apply to more than one (i.e. MD and DO schools or DO and Carribean schools). Some DO schools have an average matriculant age that is 27 or older. As you do your research on which schools to apply to, look at the medical school’s profile and get a sense for what type of applicants the school accepts. Some schools accept more career-changers and look more favorably on applicants with diverse backgrounds and experiences. 

5. Use your nontraditional background to your advantage.

Write your personal statements and secondaries to highlight your non-traditional background. For example, did you spend those two years abroad working on a cause you were passionate about or working in a start-up tech company where you learned unique skills? Bring up something different from what the run of the mill, pre-med biology major undergraduate would talk about. Bring up stories that speak to your non-traditional background during your interviews. You have a few more years of life and work experiences under your belt than your traditional counterparts, which stands out to medical school admissions committees. Tell your story and be proud of it. Emphasize how the time away from school helped you create a unique perspective you can add to the medical school class. 

5-Part Application Checklist for non-traditional Students Applying to Medical School

Use this checklist as a reference guide as you plan your medical school application process.

non-traditional medical school application tips


The decision to apply to medical school as a non-traditional applicant can be difficult. This 5-Part Application Checklist for Non-traditional students makes the process look streamlined and simple, but it can get complicated when considering all the details. Everyone has a different story and it may help to have more personalized, professional advice to talk through specific parts of this checklist.


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