If you're someone who put off applying to medical school for a few years or developed a passion for medicine later in life, you're likely wondering "am I too old for medical school?" Although everyone's situation is different, and there are plenty of ways someone might end up as a non-traditional medical school applicant, the answer to that question might pleasantly surprise you. In this article, we're going to look at some of the most common reasons people decide to pursue med school later in life, some challenges that come with being an older applicant to medical school, the benefits of pursuing medical studies later in life, some tips on how to improve your chances of being accepted to medical school as an older applicant, and lastly, we'll answer some frequently asked questions.
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You Are Not Alone: Why People Wait to Apply to Medical School
Everyone's journey in life takes them on their own unique adventure. For some people, this means a straight trajectory from high school to their undergraduate degree to medical school. For others, it means discovering they're passionate about medicine later in life. And for others still, it can mean wanting to pursue medicine from an early age but being unable to chase that dream until later in life. Although there is a variety of reasons for postponing a career in medicine, some of the more common ones include financial instability, family obligations, not feeling mature enough, because career paths are never straightforward, and fear of being rejected from medical school due to low GPAs.
Attending medical school is a costly endeavor. On average, students can expect to spend roughly $53,000 a year on medical school tuition and the amount only increases for international students hoping to study medicine. This isn't including the amount that students can expect to spend on their undergraduate degree, attending a post-baccalaureate program for medical school, or a special masters program that some individuals elect to attend to better their chances of admission to medical school. When you're young, it can be difficult to afford the price tag that comes with medical school. For some people, it makes more fiscal sense for them to work, gain real-world experience, and accrue savings before taking the leap to study medicine.
There are also family obligations that can hold people back from applying to med school when they're younger. Everything from caring for younger siblings to helping elderly family members can keep students from applying to medical school. Family obligations can get in the way when we least expect it and for some prospective med school students, it's the main reason why they've put off applying for so long. Unfortunately, family obligations can get more burdensome and complicated with age, something we're going to talk about a little later.
Another reason some people wait to apply to medical school is that they don't feel they're mature enough for such a serious endeavor. Pursuing medicine is a big commitment and one which will ultimately shape the rest of your life. When you're younger, that can be a really scary and overwhelming idea! This is why some people just don't feel like they're mature enough to continue their studies or ready to dedicate their lives to learning medicine. (Which is a really mature thing to realize!)
It's also important to remember that career paths aren't always straightforward! For some people, their love of science and medicine inspired them to pursue careers in research and lab work. For others, med school was never on their radar and was instead a passion that developed later in life. Everyone has a different story but for a lot of students who attended med school in their 40s, according to the AAMC, it often boils down to being unsatisfied or feeling like a sense of purpose is missing from a person's current career.
Another reason someone might decide to attend medical school later in life is because of a disparity between their medical education and the one necessary for them to practice medicine in North America. If you are an international medical graduate and want to practice medicine in the United States or Canada, then you need to meet the requirements outlined by the Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates (ECFMG) or Medical Council of Canada. Unfortunately, if you graduated from a foreign medical school that is not recognized by the US or Canada, then you may have to attend medical school in Canada or the US even if you practiced medicine abroad.
Lastly, some people are hesitant to apply to medical school due to low grades received during their studies. Navigating the medical school application process can be tough enough without having to wonder how to get into medical school with a low GPA. Not everyone knows they want to pursue medicine from an early age. For some people, they only realize that they want to go to med school after neglecting their academic success. Although there are obstacles that come with applying to medical school with a low GPA, it doesn't mean that all hope is lost. There are plenty of post-bacc programs and special masters programs you can take to help raise your grades and show an improvement in your work ethic, you can limit your applications to some of the easiest medical schools to get into, and we'd highly suggest speaking with a BeMo academic consultant to create a game plan to help get you closer to your dreams of studying medicine.
It’s important to remember that even if your reason for attending medical school later in life isn’t the same as any of the ones on this list, they’re still valid! It’s never too late to pursue your dreams, and medical school is no exception!
Check out this infographic for tips on how to get into med school as a non-traditional applicant:
How to Succeed as an Older Medical School Applicant
Although there are plenty of good reasons people decide to postpone studying at medical school, attending as a mature student still comes with its own challenges. Again, while everyone's experience is unique to them, there are some common struggles faced by students who attend med school when they're older. Some of these include meeting prerequisite courses, obtaining letters of reference, gaining relevant experiences to include in your AMCAS work and activities section, and which schools to consider when sending out your application.
Retake or Complete Prerequisite Courses
One of the biggest challenges a student faces when applying to medical school later in life is making sure they don't lack the necessary medical school prerequisites. These include:
There are other prerequisite classes that are encouraged, but not mandatory including classes like biochemistry and psychology. Before applying, make sure you’re up-to-date on all the medical school requirements you need to know so that you improve your chances of getting into med school.
Another thing to keep in mind is that some institutions require that students have taken their prerequisite sciences classes within three to five years of their medical school application, meaning you may need to complete these courses before your application even if you've already done them before.
Get Strong Letters of Reference
During the medical school application process, applicants are asked to submit medical school recommendation letters. Depending on which school you’re applying to, you could be asked to submit anywhere from three to five letters of reference from academic and non academic referees. If you’ve been out of school for a while and need a letter from one of your professors, it might seem like an overwhelming task. However, there are a few simple things you can do:
- Ask to meet with your old professor, either in person or over the phone, and discuss with them your desire to go to medical school. Even if it’s been a while since you graduated, speaking with your professor may be enough to jog their memory about your success in their class.
- Reach out to one of the TAs you worked with during your studies. It’s possible that they’ll remember you better than your professor and would be able to assist you in securing a letter of reference.
- Take some additional recommended prerequisite classes and ask your professor for a letter of reference following the successful completion of the course.
For your letters of reference, you’ll also have the opportunity to include non-academic sources. If your references from school are slightly older, then it’s always a good idea to include written recommendations from doctors you’ve shadowed, medical organizations you’ve volunteered with, and even your employer if you’re pursuing medicine after a career in another field.
Remember, asking for medical school recommendation letters might seem scary, but professionals are used to the request and are often happy to oblige.
Emphasize Right Experiences in AMCAS Work and Activities Section
It’s important that you put your best foot forward when applying to medical school. As a mature student who’s likely taken time away from their studies to pursue a different career, this means showcasing your real-world experience in your AMCAS work and activities section. If you worked in a field that was adjacent to medicine—like pharmaceuticals or research—then this is the perfect opportunity to list this information.
If you haven’t, or if you’re looking to give your application an edge, then you might want to consider volunteering with local organizations to highlight your dedication to medicine and demonstrate your ability to give back to the community. When looking for volunteer opportunities, it’s important to make sure:
- You focus on medical-related volunteer work as much as possible.
- Record the number of hours you volunteered, as well as who supervised you. This is important, as both will be asked for in your application.
- Commit to your position. Having multiple interests is fine when volunteering, but it’s always helpful to demonstrate that you are a dedicated and responsible member of your community who wants to make a real difference in your field.
- Prioritize quality over quantity! How many places you volunteered isn’t what’s important. Instead, the focus should be on the quality of your work, how you gave back to the community, and the professional relationships you built.
In addition to volunteer work, consider participating in clinical observations and shadowing a physician. Clinical observations are a great way to actively participate in the medical industry before you get to study medicine, while shadowing a doctor allows you to observe how they work and their day to day responsibilities. Shadowing several doctors in specialties you’re interested in is especially helpful in both demonstrating your eagerness to learn and ability to pursue your passions. Just remember to check out how many shadowing hours for medical school are required before you get started.
Carefully Choose Med Schools
How to choose a medical school to apply to? When looking to apply to medical school, it’s important to send your application out to schools where you have the best possible chance of success. This is why focusing your efforts on schools that are friendlier to non-traditional medical school applicants is the best course of action. Some other schools we’d recommend include:
Before submitting your application, remember to do your due diligence in how to get into med school as a non-traditional mature candidate and to consider speaking with an academic advisor to get your application submission ready.
Struggling to choose which schools to apply to? This video will help:
Conclusion: Benefits of Attending Medical School Later in Life
Although there are plenty of challenges that come with applying to medical school as an older student, there are plenty of benefits too. Some of these include being able to better afford medical school, knowing that medicine is the right career path for you thanks to real-world experience, and having more disciplined.
Attending medical school later in life can make all the difference when it comes to being able to afford the price of tuition. Although there are plenty of medical school scholarships, not everyone can get one. Studying medicine often comes with a hefty tuition price tag that's most frequently paid off through student loans, part-time work while studying, and earnings from your career later in life. But if you've worked for a few years before applying to medical school, then there's a good chance that you've saved up at least some of the money needed to offset the price of your tuition. It also shows medical schools that you can afford to attend their institutions and demonstrates to banks that you're able to pay your loans down, should you need to take one out as well.
Mature students are also more likely to know that medical school is the right choice for them. Chances are, they've done their research and have worked in another industry before concluding that they wanted to be a doctor. Older students are more likely to have tried other career paths and interests before settling on medicine, meaning they're less likely to drop out of medical school because they're not passionate about medicine or because it doesn't align with their expectations. Waiting to apply shows admission departments that they're not rushing into this decision, but have instead made a careful choice. This real-world experience is also highly valued by medical schools and can help give you the edge on your application, especially if you're coming from an industry that's adjacent to medicine. Work experience shows that you know how to get along and possibly even manage people and that you know what you want out of life.
Lastly, mature students are likely to be more disciplined than their younger peers. Although they may struggle with all-nighters, they're also less likely to be encouraged to party or slack off when compared to their younger cohorts. Mature students also tend to be more driven and focused when it comes to their education because they don't want to waste any more time than they feel like they already have.
1. Can I still apply to medical school if I'm in my 30s? 40s? 50s?
Yes! When it comes to studying medicine, age is only a number. The important thing for medical schools is that you've completed your prerequisite courses, that you've demonstrated a passion for medicine in your application, and that you're the best fit for their program.
2. Do I need to retake my prerequisite classes if I'm applying to medical school later in life?
Possibly. Most schools ask that an applicant's prerequisite courses be completed anywhere within three to five years of their medical school application. If your courses were completed more than five years ago, then it's likely you'll need to retake them before applying to med school.
3. Will medical school be harder for me as a mature student?
Medical school is challenging no matter what your age. For mature students, medical school isn't necessarily harder but it does present its own set of unique challenges. You may struggle to balance your relationships and school more than your younger counterparts, and you may have a harder time making friends. But being older and attending medical school also comes with its own benefits! You're likely to be more focused and disciplined than other students and have more real-life experience too. (Which is an invaluable asset!)
4. Should I talk about my age in my personal statement?
Absolutely! Admission departments will know your age when you apply to medical school, so pretending to be younger than you are or avoiding the topic won't benefit you in any way. However, discussing why medical school is the right decision for you at this stage in your life can be a great way to explore your past experience and present motivation for applying to med school.
5. Are my chances of getting into medical school as a mature student lower?
No! Your chances of getting into medical school as a mature student are the same as any other non-traditional medical school applicant. What's important is making sure you have the prerequisites, the grades, and a solid application.
6. What if I want to attend medical school but don't have a background in science? Can I still be a doctor?
It depends. If you don't have a background in science, then your chances of getting into medical school are slim. Medicine is a competitive field and applicants with a background in science are highly preferred to non-science applicants. With that being said, you could always consider pursuing a degree in sciences before applying to medical school to bolster your chances of getting in.
7. Will medical schools still accept me if I'm looking to start a family soon?
Yes! People from all walks of life attend medical school, including those looking to have a family or those already with one. What's important to keep in mind is how these responsibilities will impact your studies. When it comes to medical school and being a doctor, there's no ideal time to start a family since life is frequently hectic. What is important is knowing how to divide your time so that you can succeed in school while also being an active parent.
8. My GPA is low. Does this mean I shouldn't apply?
A low GPA can certainly impact your ability to get into medical school, but that doesn't mean all hope is lost. Retaking classes, attending post-bacc programs or special masters programs are some great ways to boost your GPA and demonstrate your work ethic. It might also be a good idea to focus your applications on some of the easiest medical schools to get into. Of course, if you're worried about your grades and the application process, the best thing you can do is schedule an appointment with a BeMo academic advisor. We even offer free strategy calls to help you decide the best plan of action for your medical school application.
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