5 Questions Medical School Applicants Are Afraid to Ask

Failing to ask questions means students won’t get needed information about their medical school choices.

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Asking schools for an honest assessment about your admissions chances can reduce the number of expensive applications and interviews.
Asking schools for an honest assessment about your admissions chances can reduce the number of expensive applications and interviews.

Medical school applicants want to make the best possible impression on admissions officers, but as a result they may be hesitant to ask certain questions and get the facts they need to make a reasoned decision about the medical school they select.

Students should ask the following challenging questions, as well as understand when and under what circumstances it may be less risky for students to ask them. 

[Understand the factors behind medical school admissions decisions.] 

1. Am I aiming too high to get into your school? Students don't want to draw attention to their weaknesses, but applications and interviews with medical schools are expensive. Most applicants don't want to waste their resources on schools unlikely to admit them. 

I would ask this question in the late spring or early summer when acceptances are over and before screening starts. The admissions office is calmer and makes time for an applicant to discuss their plans. 

Besides providing GPA, MCAT scores and volunteer activities, show or send some of your research or your unique qualifications. Be sincere about requesting a truly honest answer. 

2. Will a minor misdemeanor or alcohol infraction hurt my chances of acceptance? Listen carefully for the pause before they answer. Admissions staff will likely ask for more information and you should be prepared to provide accurate detail if you want a realistic answer. 

Medical schools now generally run a criminal background check on applicants they're considering admitting, so honesty is the best policy. One student answered no to the question thinking she could get it expunged. She was very distressed when she called the office to say she had lied. 

It is not advisable to spin the truth. Why apply there if past actions will screen you out? 

[Remember to balance medical school with extracurriculars.] 

3. What are your school's weaknesses? All schools have their strengths and weaknesses. Just like the applicant who could be asked a very similar question, the admissions officer will need to pause and thoughtfully reflect before answering. 

Some programs won't want to answer that clearly, but if they really care about continued improvement, they will give you a thoughtful response. If you are a competitive applicant, it will be important for you to have as much in-depth knowledge as possible to make your decision. 

4. Do admissions teams look at sources of social media? Yes, they do. It's not all the time and not on every student, but it happens frequently enough that you should clean up whatever you possibly can. 

If there is something you have been unable to eradicate but has a reasonable explanation, try to figure out a way to manage the repercussions. Professionalism is a very serious piece of the selection process. 

Anyone you're connected with on social networks should have the same serious perspective on that quality. If they don't, this isn't the time for them to be on your page. We are known by the values others perceive in us or those on our social media profiles. 

[Learn how medical schools are using social media.] 

5. What are my chances if I have to reapply? No one wants to be in that situation, but some good candidates will be. Some aim for unrealistic schools considering their qualifications. 

Sometimes they apply late in the cycle, didn't have good counseling or applied to too few schools. Ask for advice to increase your odds for success and then do those things. We do compare the applications from one year to the next. 

I remember spending time with one applicant and going over interview assessments. Interviewers didn't believe he showed compassion for others. We talked about volunteer efforts to demonstrate he was willing to make the sacrifices for others. Instead he chose to increase the time he spent gaming and did not fare any better the next year. 

Recommendations will vary from candidate to candidate. Some might include more undergraduate science courses, a post-baccalaureate program, a master's degree in an area of interest, research, more volunteer effort, more shadowing or others. 

If you ask too late, you won't be able to squeeze in what is needed. Keep in mind that good doctors take constructive feedback and build careers on it. 

Kathleen Franco, M.D., is associate dean of admissions and student affairs at the Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine of Case Western Reserve University. She previously served both as director of residency training and director of medical student training in psychiatry at Cleveland Clinic. She is board-certified in psychiatry, geriatric psychiatry and psychosomatic medicine and attended Medical College of Ohio – Toledo.