November 3, 2000

Applicants Drop, But Acceptance to Med School Difficult

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The medical students who matriculated to Cornell this year were among the few and the lucky.

According to an Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) briefing last week, more than 37,000 people applied to U.S. medical schools for the 2000-01 school year. Even though the number of applicants dropped 3.6 percent from last year, there were over twice as many candidates as there were spaces for new students.

“The national statistics of course are much worse than Cornell statistics,” said Judy Jensvold, senior associate director of health careers and graduate studies at Cornell.

It’s still a competitive process, but Cornell undergraduates are admitted in greater percentages than other applicants, Jensvold explained.

Seventy percent of Cornell applicants are accepted to medical school, as compared with forty-five percent of national applicants, Jensvold added.

Therefore, Cornellians should estimate their chances for admission by looking at the Cornell acceptance rate at a particular school.

For example, in this year’s incoming class at Weill Cornell Medical College, Cornell students nabbed 17 places in the class of 101 students.

“Frequently, Cornell students make up fifteen percent of Cornell Medical College’s class each year,” Jensvold said.

“I think [the highly-selective admissions process] just makes me question myself to make sure this is exactly what I want to do … something that I can see myself doing for the rest of my life,” said Sagar Munkegar ’01, a medical school applicant.

“When one looks at Medical College Admission Test scores and grade-point averages (GPA) — two of the many factors used to evaluate candidates — the quality of those who are applying keeps getting better,” said AAMC President Dr. Jordan J. Cohen in a U.S. Newswire report.

And, according to the AAMC report, the average GPA of accepted students keeps rising. This year’s class average was a 3.6.

“You really want a 3.4 [GPA] to be competitive,” Eberhard said. However, she outlined the three other equally important areas of concentration as social service and medical experience.

Experience is what often sets high scoring students apart from others in the competitive applicant pool. Students with aspirations of attending medical school should do activities to explore their interests, and “to get exposure to people who have health problems,” Jensvold said.

“They really want you to know what medicine is like,” said Dr. Carolyn Eberhard, senior lecturer in the plant science department.

Jensvold recommended using the externship program at Cornell Career Services in Barnes Hall, which matches students up with alumni in the fields that interest them.

There is also a mentor program through Gannett Health Center, as well as listings of activities on campus and in Tompkins County.

Another resource that can give applicants an edge is the Health Careers Evaluation Committee (HCEC), a group comprised of Cornell faculty and staff that writes a letter of evaluation about each student who registers for the service. Students should register with the committee in their junior year.

It is not a requirement, “but your chances are way lower [if you don’t use HCEC],” Eberhard said.

“It’s good to have Cornell’s backing. It can’t do anything but help you when it comes to applications,” said Vanessa Baxter ’01.

Each student collects three letters of recommendation and has an interview with committee member similar to the medical school admission interview.

“You may only get an interview at one school, and you want to do your best,” Eberhard said.

Even if the worst happens, “There is life after being rejected from medical school,” Eberhard said.

Students have the option then to boost their chances for later admission by getting research experience, getting EMT certified or going to graduate school, or going into a parallel field such as public health.

Medical school candidates must be motivated to reach their goal.

“I’ve wanted to be a doctor for as long as I can remember,” Baxter said. “If it is so competitive I obviously have to work really hard to be accepted, and the level of competition doesn’t affect my decision,” she added.

“I’m going to do it regardless of whether or not it’s competitive,” she said.

Many students change their career plans somewhere between freshman orientation and graduation.

“I would suspect that every year there’s a certain amount that start out pre-med but don’t end up pre-med,” Munkegar said.

“That’s probably not a bad thing,” Jensvold said about students who develop stronger interests in other fields. “They’re a very focused and motivated group of people who continue on with this. They’re seeing the possibilities and getting close to that experience,” she said.

Archived article by Heather Schroeder