"Am I too old to go back to school?"
A common perception is that most medical schools are seeking out a fresh-faced graduate right out of college. Although most applicants are in their early twenties and finishing off a B.S., they may not actually be the most preferred choice for med schools. Many MD programs actually desire older, more mature students because of their dedication and hard-working attitude.
The faculty at the University of Mississippi School of Medicine "generally finds non-traditional applicants more focused on why they want to attend medical school, and they generally are more willing to work hard without complaint," says Steven T. Case, Ph.D., the Associate Dean for Medical School Admissions at Mississippi in a recent email. Between 2003 and 2006, there were 982 applicants. 61 of those were between the ages of 30 and 44. Out of the 61 non-traditional applicants, 21 were accepted-and 9 of them were female.
The average age of the students at The College of Human Medicine at Michigan State University is 25 years old. "Our classes typically have several students in their 30s, an occasional student in their 40s, and, rarely a student older than that," says Jay Bryde, the Admissions Officer at Michigan State. This university seriously considers non-traditional applicants because of their maturity, the diversity they add to the class, and the life experiences they bring. The University of Maryland School of Medicine has admitted an increasing number of older students as well. During the past two years, more than half of the matriculating students have been out of college for one year or more. "Their diversity of experience is impressive. We graduated a 52-year-old grandmother several years ago. Her contributions to her class were incredible, and she has become a wonderful physician. Thus, we are very interested in the non-traditional student," says Milford Foxwell, MD, the Associate Dean for Admissions.
Along with these schools, the University of Massachusetts Medical School and UCSF have accepted several students over age 30 from a wide variety of backgrounds. Over the past 5 years, 25% of the matriculating students at University of Kentucky College of Medicine have been 25 or older. Approximately a third of those students were female.
Drexel University College of Medicine is one of the leading pioneers in accepting diverse applicants. Both women and underrepresented minorities are encouraged to apply. After all, Drexel was formed out of the union of the Woman's Medical College of Pennsylvania (the first medical school for women) and Hahnemann Medical College-two of the earliest medical colleges in the nation. Now, with a population of over 1,000, Drexel is the largest private medical school in the United States. "Because of the school's unique background, we encourage nontraditional applicants and are committed to a diverse student body. Our Admissions Committee has a positive attitude toward students who have had varied experiences and are interested in medicine as a second career." Drexel requests students who have a breadth of knowledge in the biological and physical sciences. However, experiences in other areas of education and fields of study make a desirable candidate as well.
Thus, nontraditional applicants should have no fear-they are ideal contenders for medical school admissions committees. Although the twenty-something right out of college has the momentum of transferring from one academic environment to the next, nontraditional applicants offer a wide variety of life experience, knowledge in other fields, and undeterred commitment.