The best medical schools for non-traditional applicants offer a wide range of programs and options for students who have not taken the traditional path to becoming a doctor. Non-traditional medical school applicants can be anyone who did not follow the high school to college to medical school trajectory that most doctors take. They may have taken a gap year before medical school and applied later than usual, which some schools consider non-traditional. They may have always wanted to be a doctor but took another career path, only to find they still loved medicine. The best medical schools for non-traditional applicants are not the easiest medical schools to get into, so this article will spotlight which schools are friendlier to non-traditional applicants.
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The Best Medical Schools for Non-Traditional Applicants
- Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine
- Baylor College of Medicine
- Albany Medical College
- Anne Burnett Marion School of Medicine
- Boston University School of Medicine
Want to know the easiest medical schools to get into? Check out this video:
1. Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine
Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine accepts out-of-state (the school is located in Ohio), Canadian, and international students, which is a definite sign it is more amenable to non-traditional applicants. According to the AAMC, 80–85% of students who apply to the medical school are non-Ohio residents, but only 2.43% out-of-state applicants are accepted.
The university does offer a Pre-Professional Scholars Program, which is a highly competitive program for exceptional undergraduates who have maintained a high Cumulative GPA. Students not accepted to the Pre-Professional Scholars Program can continue on as undergraduates. The school does not make applicants take the CASPer or Altus Suite tests for any of their medical school degrees.
Case Western has several combined programs, such as the MD/MBA, BS/MD, MD/MPH, and MD/PhD, so students from non-science-backgrounds can apply their knowledge to pursuing an MD, or traditional students can pursue other academic interests on top of their medical school studies. Case Western ranks 25th in the U.S. News & World Report college rankings list but is often ranked the #1 medical school in Ohio.
Median GPA: 3.86
Median MCAT: 518
Acceptance Rates: 3.76% (in-state), 2.43% (out-of-state), 0.96% (international)
Tuition & Fees: $68,858 (in-state and out-of-state)
2. Baylor College of Medicine
The Baylor College of Medicine located in Houston accepts out-of-state and international students (only Canadian applicants). It has low tuition fees compared to other similar programs: the one-year cost for an out-of-state student is $35,833, but Texas residents will pay only $22,733. One draw to Baylor for non-traditional applicants is that the program recognizes coursework from online and community colleges.
Successful candidates to Baylor should fulfill a few academic requirements apart from the science-based ones like Biology, Physics, and Chemistry. Candidates must also meet requirements like having at least one Humanities and Social Science course successfully completed, whether in high school, online, or community college. Baylor also offers combined programs for students interested in pursuing a Master of Public Health or MBA while they are also completing their MD requirements.
Median GPA: 3.92
Median MCAT: 518
Acceptance Rates: 6.82 (in-state), 0.50 (out-of-state), 0% (international)
Tuition & Fees: $22,733 in-state, $35,833 out-of-state
3. Albany Medical College
One standout feature that makes the Albany Medical College attractive to non-traditional applicants is its letters requirements. Many medical schools insist that any letters of recommendation or reference letters come from people with medical or scientific backgrounds. The college tells applicants, “You may provide a letter from a supervisor from either a paid or volunteer research or clinical experience,” which is an explicit accommodation for non-traditional applicants.
The college also stresses its commitment to diversity and strives to consider applicants from different racial, gendered, and socioeconomic backgrounds. Albany also has a strong Match rate with over 65% of graduates successfully matching with residency programs throughout the Northeast US.
Albany takes a holistic approach to considering all applications, but there are a few basic requirements that students must have, such as Biology, Chemistry, and Biochemistry coursework completed within three years. It also encourages students to take English Composition, Math, and Statistics courses to meet the admission requirements.
Median GPA: 3.73
Median MCAT: 510
Acceptance Rates: 2.15% (in-state), 0.82% (out-of-state)
Tuition Fees: $57,723 in-state/out-of-state
4. Anne Burnett Marion School of Medicine at TCU
The Anne Burnett Marion School of Medicine is one of the newest medical schools in Texas, even though it was a part of the Texas Christian University for many years. The newly renamed school is one of the most attractive to non-traditional applicants because of its stated mission to give “balanced and equal consideration of non-academic and academic factors, as well as the school-specific personal attributes required to be successful as a self-directed adult learner in the unique curriculum of training empathetic scholars.”
To this end, the school accepts applications from out-of-state and international students while also allowing applicants to submit letters of recommendation from various non-academic sources, including individual letters from applicants. The school does not require students to have a specific degree or background, or even a bachelor’s degree.
However, it does require at least 90 hours of completed coursework from a fully accredited college or university in North America with a passing grade of C or higher. As only 65% of enrolled students have science or math majors, this bodes well for non-science major applicants. Even with all these relaxed requirements, the acceptance rates for in-state, out-of-state, and international students are extremely competitive. The acceptance rate for in-state applicants sits at 1.2%, which is lower than those of more prestigious Ivy League medical schools.
The school does recommend that students – non-traditional or traditional – enter the 40th percentile with their MCAT scores, which, along with a 3.0 GPA, will ensure that applicants are invited for an interview or asked to complete the supplemental application.
Median GPA: 3.67
Median MCAT: 510
Acceptance Rates: 1.27% (in-state), 0.59% (out-of-state)
Tuition Fees: $60,318 in-state/out-of-state
5. Boston University Aram V. Chobanian & Edward Avedisian School of Medicine
The Boston University School of Medicine also gives applicants wide latitude for things like letters of recommendation, which can either be from premed advisors, faculty members, or, according to the school, “persons who know you well ‘as a person’ and who are able to describe the unique qualities you possess that will help you to be successful.”
The school also offers combined programs in several specialties, such as the MD/PhD, MD/MBA, and MD/MPH. High-performing applicants and students also have the unique opportunity to apply for the Seven-Year Liberal Arts/Medical Education Program that combines a Bachelor of Arts in Medical Science and a Doctor of Medicine degree, which may be an attractive option for mature students.
The BU School of Medicine also has a proud social justice background, and matriculated students are encouraged to participate in several community service initiatives that aim to integrate them into the local community, like the Outreach Van or any of the 12 affiliated community health centers that work with medically underserved populations.
Median GPA: 3.86
Median MCAT: 519
Acceptance Rates: 2% (in-state), 1.24% (out-of-state), 0.57% (international)
Tuition Fees: $65,890 in-state/out-of-state
Who Are Non-traditional Applicants?
Non-traditional applicants are people who took a roundabout way to becoming a medical doctor, meaning they did not follow the linear path from high school to college to medical school. People who take that path are considered traditional applicants. Non-traditional applicants can also, but not always, refer to people older than 25 years who have decided to take a shot at medical school.
Traditional applicants who follow the conventional pathway often become doctors by their mid to late 30s, if they start medical school at 24 years of age. Including an undergrad, 10–17 years is how long it takes to become a doctor. No medical school has an age limit for traditional or non-traditional applicants, so if you’re thinking, “am I too old for medical school?”, the answer is “no, you’re not.” You can become a doctor at any age.
Another difference between traditional and non-traditional applicants is that the former spent more time accumulating extracurriculars for medical school and decided early on that they wanted to be doctors. Traditional applicants focus primarily on premed research and foundational courses during their undergrad so that they meet medical school prerequisites for premed students.
However, non-traditional applicants may have taken another major during their undergrad, completely unrelated to medicine and science. They may have been economics, business, or arts and humanities students in university. Nevertheless, many medical schools make clear their desire to accept non-traditional applicants and encourage them to apply regardless of their academic background, as long they meet other requirements.
That said, people from non-science backgrounds could face an uphill battle, especially if they have little aptitude for subjects like biology and chemistry. One reality any non-traditional applicant should confront is that medicine is based in the sciences. Whatever your skills in another field, to become a doctor, you must have a profound ease in subjects like anatomy, microbiology, and pharmacology.
Should You Apply to Medical School as a Non-Traditional Applicant?
Choosing to apply to medical school as a non-traditional applicant will be one of the most important decisions you ever make and should not be taken lightly. Before proceeding, ask yourself the following questions:
Are You Prepared?
The choice to apply to medical school as a non-traditional applicant depends on several factors, such as whether you are prepared – mentally and financially – and have the requisite academic and professional background. If you don’t, then you are willing to take those courses and fulfill those requirements.
Are You Sure You Want to Be a Doctor?
Being a medical doctor is a challenging, rewarding, infuriating, and stimulating profession. You work long, tiring hours. You hold people’s lives in your hands, many of whom you will not be able to save, despite your best efforts. So why do people do it? Why do people submit to the years of schooling, training? How do they cope with all the stress, pressure, and high stakes at every level?
The most common answer real-life doctors give is to help and serve others. That is the most common answer, but it is not the only reason people pursue medicine. Another answer physicians give is the gratification they feel from being able to work in a field they are passionate about – math and science – to help others and make a difference in their lives.
If you are motivated by all those things, that’s great, but many people are also attracted to the more tangible benefits of being a doctor, like a good salary, job security, and the opportunity to grow. There is no shame in wanting those things as well, which is why a lot of people are attracted to the profession because it provides so many rewards in so many different areas (saving lives, intellectual stimulation, financial stability).
Do You Really Know What You’re Getting Into?
If you have truly reflected on why you want to become a doctor and are still interested in pursuing a medical degree, then you should know that even though you are entering a battered health care system desperate for new doctors, nurses, nurse practitioners, and PAs, there are still obstacles to overcome to find a job after you complete your residency.
Yes, it is true that the health care sector is in need of new medical professionals. In Canada alone, the number of health care worker vacancies jumped from 64,000 in 2019 to 126,000 in 2021. In the US, the quit rate in the health care sector hit 2.9% in 2022, down only slightly from the 3.1% of the previous year, with an estimated 500,000 health care workers leaving the profession in 2021.
But even with this dire need, non-traditional applicants can still face struggles specific to them. Take the case of Dr. Kristy Cromblin, a non-traditional medical school graduate who has had a difficult time finding a match to complete the residency training required to become a licensed physician. Dr. Cromblin took a break from medical school to raise a family. The gap meant that she was not initially matched after she completed her MD. She re-applied every subsequent year without success. She later discovered that the ERAS match system filtered out her application because several years had passed since she graduated from medical school.
Dr. Cromblin is one of 10,000 medical school graduates in the US filtered out of the match process with residency programs due to their non-traditional applicant attributes (mature students, graduates who took extended breaks from school, international students). The reasons for graduates not finding a match are multi-faceted. They have a lot to do with the way the separate parts of the US health care system (medical schools, hospitals, state and federal government, insurance companies) interact, which is too complicated to get into here.
But for every Dr. Cromblin, there are success stories as well. Despite high tuition fees, nurse and doctor shortages, and burnout from the pandemic, the health care sector is still an attractive industry for many, even though the system that trains, educates, and certifies new physicians has not come up with a plan to combat the estimated 38,000 to 150,000 doctors the US will be short by 2034.
With the record number of applicants, the health care system is facing a reckoning as droves of experienced workers retire early or quit. Needing to fill these vacancies as fast as possible with qualified candidates has precipitated a shift in thinking that has seen medical schools starting to offer accelerated, intensive three-year medical school programs for qualified applicants, both traditional and non-traditional.
What Are Some of the Pitfalls You May Encounter as a Non-Traditional Applicant?
Although there is a demand for more health care workers, non-traditional applicants make up a small minority of yearly medical school applicants. The AAMC found that 90% of all medical school matriculants were “traditional,” meaning they knew they wanted to be a doctor since high school and followed the requisite pathway.
The small number of people who apply from diverse, non-traditional backgrounds also face more complex challenges than typical applicants. Even though certain medical schools encourage non-traditional applicants to apply, other elements of the medical school industrial complex have been slow to adapt to non-traditional students, with devastating effects.
Some residency directors make no apologies for this. They argue that the volume of applications and limited number of spots mean it is physically impossible to review and properly classify all applications, which is why ERAS and CaRMS in Canada, exist – to automate the process. Other residency directors think that what residency program directors look for should expand to include more applicants from various backgrounds to increase the diversity of their program.
Despite all this, non-traditional applicants do have certain advantages over traditional applicants, like their wealth of life experience, valuable interpersonal and communication skills, and previous work experience in other fields. These characteristics can work in your favor as a non-traditional applicant to help you stand out among traditional applicants with the limited experience of being premed students.
How Can I Stand Out as a Non-Traditional Applicant?
Fortunately, just being a non-traditional applicant makes you stand out, given the small number of non-traditional candidates who apply every year. However, there are many other ways you can stand out as a non-traditional applicant in your application and interviews. Your status as a non-traditional applicant means you have a diverse skillset to draw on – whether that means knowing how to schedule your day because you’re a full-time parent or being comfortable in dealing with people from diverse backgrounds due to your time in the service sector.
1. Going Back to the Beginning
If you have a non-science academic degree, you might be wondering how to get into medical school without a science background. One way to truly impress admissions committees is to go back and take first year premed courses in biology or anatomy. Showing you are not afraid to start from the beginning and are willing to work your way up is something that will not go unrecognized as decision makers review your application. Janice Gallant, an associate dean for admissions at Larner College of Medicine, put it more succinctly when she said, “What we are most looking for is readiness.”
2. Tell Your Story Effectively
Applying to medical school gives you many opportunities to tell your story, regardless of whether you are a traditional or non-traditional applicant. Medical school personal statements are a mandatory prerequisite for all medical school applications, but if you are a non-traditional applicant, you won’t struggle with what to write about.
You can go into further detail about your unusual yet compelling medical school journey and stand out from other applicants with the insights you gleaned from a non-medicine related career. If you are a “career-changer,” meaning you worked in a separate field and decided to switch careers, you can talk about what inspired you to make the change.
If you are a mature student, you can talk about what pulled you away from a career in medicine (raising children, work responsibilities), and what brought you back (a passion for medicine, suffering and recovering from a serious illness). Your advantage as a mature, non-traditional applicant is that you have lived a life, which should provide you with enough material to work with during your medical school interview prep.
3. Get Work Experience in a Related Field
Many successful non-traditional medical school applicants recommend finding research assistant opportunities or working in medicine-related fields, for example, as a paramedic or medical researcher, to pad your medical school resume with more relevant experience. Yes, admissions committees are interested in your life story, but they also want to see how you’ve pivoted from your previous career to medicine by seeking opportunities to do actual medical work.
4. Get Professional Advising Help
Another tip that current, non-traditional medical students swear by is engaging the services of a medical school advisor or physician career advisor, who can impart valuable guidance on what parts of your application you need to focus on (GPA, premed courses) and what your strengths are. Perhaps most importantly, they can act as your advocate and support system during this trying journey.
5. Preparing for the MCAT
The MCAT (Medical College Admissions Test) is one hurdle that you need to overcome to get into medical school, even though there are medical schools that don’t require the MCAT. It is not only the test you have to worry about. MCAT test prep alone can take three to six months, which can be difficult for someone juggling a full-time job, family, and other responsibilities.
Again, if you are a mature student, or non-traditional in some other way, then it would not be a bad idea to find the best MCAT private tutoring service to assist with your test prep. They can help you determine how to study for the MCAT and when to start studying for the MCAT based on your application deadline and when the test is offered.
The best medical schools for non-traditional applicants have many desirable qualities, like a no bachelor degree requirement or acceptance of reference letters from various sources. These elements acknowledge that you took a different path in life and may not be able to produce letters from people with science backgrounds.
The institutions listed here make up only a small sample of the schools that are most friendly to non-traditional applicants. There are other schools you should research to find the program that suits your educational background and financial needs – and that supports you in other ways, for example, by accepting community college courses and having relaxed medical school GPA requirements.
The most important thing to remember is that the best medical school for you as a non-traditional applicant is the one that fits you best. Ultimately, your experiences and maturity are an advantage, not a disadvantage, when applying to schools that are encouraging of non-traditional applicants.
1. Who are non-traditional applicants?
A “non-traditional applicant” is an open-ended term for anyone who has not taken the straight-line path to medical school (high school, university, medical school). A non-traditional applicant can be mature (older than 25, at least), or may have taken another career path or an extended break from medical school.
2. Is it easy for non-traditional applicants to get into medical school?
Getting into medical school is no easier for non-traditional applicants than traditional applicants, but non-traditional applicants do face challenges unique to them, especially if they come from non-science backgrounds. Some medical schools have relaxed their admission requirements to accommodate non-traditional students, but medical school acceptance rates still remain very competitive.
3. Do non-traditional applicants get into medical school?
Yes, many non-traditional applicants do successfully matriculate and become doctors, even though their numbers are small. The fact that there are so few non-traditional applicants means you have a better chance of making your application stand out.
4. Which are the best medical schools for non-traditional applicants?
There is no existing program or medical school that caters specifically to non-traditional applicants, but certain schools – like the ones listed here – have more non-traditional-friendly admission requirements than other schools that do not relax their admission requirements or make accommodations for non-traditional applicants.
5. If I’m a non-traditional medical school applicant, how do I get started?
You can start by getting medical school application help if you are completely unaware of all the admission requirements and how to compile your letters and what other supporting documentation you need. An admissions consultant can help you gather all the materials you need for your application while you focus on other areas, like preparing for the MCAT. But you should be vigilant and ensure your advisor is qualified and has experience helping people apply to medical school.
6. If I took the MCAT a long time ago, do I have to take it again?
You need to check with the school you are applying to for information about MCAT requirements. Some schools will not accept MCAT scores older than three years, while others have longer cut-off dates.
7. Do I have to shadow a doctor to apply as a non-traditional applicant?
Medical schools do encourage shadowing doctors for you to gain a better understanding of the medical profession, but few, if any, have required shadowing hours for medical school. You can get a better idea of how important shadowing is to a school by checking the percentage of matriculating students who had this experience; if it’s a large proportion, you’ll know you should seek out some shadowing experience yourself.
8. What extracurriculars do I need to apply as a non-traditional applicant?
Non-traditional applicants may need to shore up their application by including several extracurricular activities to make up for the experience and knowledge they would have received if they took premed courses. If you do take extracurricular activities, make sure they are based in community service, leadership, or are medicine-adjacent like being a paramedic or lab assistant.
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