Thinking about med school?

Here’s what you need to know

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If you’re in high school and thinking about one day applying to med school, here’s what you need to know right now.

It all starts with choosing your undergraduate degree. The first thing to consider: you don’t necessarily have to go into the sciences. Although a degree in the health sciences is the traditional route to med school , it’s certainly not your only option. Most med schools across Canada treat every undergraduate degree equally, and embrace “well-rounded applicants.” Meaning, a degree in music or sociology might actually give you an advantage in terms of standing out from the crowd.

However, there’s a huge barrier facing non-science students: the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT), an exam that assesses problem solving, critical thinking, writing skills, and scientific knowledge. In order to score well on the MCAT, med school hopefuls should have at least a basic background in the sciences, something that a music or sociology degree doesn’t exactly cover. Further, many med schools have prerequisite science courses, such as organic chemistry or physics.  A more traditional pre-med program- such as the Biomedical Sciences- has the prerequisite science courses automatically built-in, which also has the helpful side-effect of preparing you for the MCAT.

Of course, a music or sociology student can still take these science courses as electives and prepare for the MCAT. Not to mention, some med schools don’t require the MCAT, such as the Faculty of Medicine at McGill and the Northern Ontario School of Medicine. The bottom line: although there is no “right” undergraduate degree, when pursuing a non-traditional degree, you have to chase down those science prerequisites and keep the MCAT in mind.

Secondly, pay attention to the details. Specific admissions requirements vary between particular schools, and you don’t want to ruin your chances by missing something minor. For instance, to be considered at the University of Western Ontario’s Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry, each year of undergraduate study must contain at least 3 full course equivalents whose published academic level is at or above the year of study. This means in your second year of study, 3 of 5 full course equivalents must be at the second year or above, and in your third year of study, 3 of 5 full course equivalents must be at the third year or above (in your fourth year, a mix of third and fourth year courses is acceptable).

There are plenty of other details that vary from school to school: Western considers an applicant’s two best years of study (the whole “3 full course equivalents” rule only applies to these two years), whereas McMaster’s Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine considers every single undergraduate course ever taken. Other med schools consider your two most recent years of study, while others let you drop a certain number of low marks.

Most importantly: although high marks will help your chances of success at any med school, they’re only one part of your application. Most med schools consider extracurricular experience and hobbies, volunteer work, medically-related experience, research experience, and so on.

-Photo courtesy of The National Guard