Parents are full of good advice – I know this because I am one. But sometimes our good advice can work against us and our students, even though we certainly have their best interests in mind.
For parents of prospective medical school students, it is important that you guide them in ways that help rather than hinder them. Here are some of the most common examples of misguided, though well-meaning, advice about medical school that I have seen parents give prospective medical students.
[Learn more about applying to medical school.]
• “You must attend an Ivy League undergraduate school to get accepted to medical school.” This is not true. Your child can attend any undergraduate institution that offers quality science courses. In fact, according to recent Wall Street Journal analysis, students who major in science, technology, engineering and math – or STEM – programs achieve the same earning power whether they attended a public or state university or an Ivy League school.
It is most important that your child choose an undergraduate school where he or she feels the most comfortable and will be eager to learn.
• “You must major in premed or biology.” While it’s true that many prospective medical students do major in premed or biology, some do not – and that’s OK. Prospective medical students’ majors can vary widely.
However, here’s what students must do: Meet the academic requirements for the medical schools where they plan to apply, requirements that likely include a number of science classes. If your child wishes to pursue a nonscience major, encourage him or her to work closely with a college adviser to make medical school prerequisites a priority.
[Get tips on choosing the right undergraduate major for medical school.]
• “You have a 4.0 GPA and are very smart. You really don’t need to prepare for the MCAT.”No matter how smart your child is, the MCAT requires months of preparation. You can give your child every chance to succeed by encouraging thorough preparation. A good place to start is the Association of American Medical Colleges website, which offers several MCAT-prep resources, including a practice test.
• “You are a great candidate and should apply to only a few top-tier schools.” Typical prospective medical students apply to an average of 16 schools, ranging from public to private. Your child shouldn’t limit applications to just a few schools, because medical schools limit the number of interviews.
I have heard from students who have applied to 20 schools but were granted only one or two interviews. They did not get into medical school.
Instead, encourage your student to apply to all in-state schools and to those that are open to out-of-state students. The application cost may limit the number of schools your child can apply to, but unless he or she has a flawless application, 20 applications is not unreasonable.
• “My alma mater will definitely accept you into its medical school.” The competition for acceptance into medical school is getting tougher, and the emphasis on holistic selectiondoes not guarantee that a legacy candidate will have a huge advantage.
That said, it may not hurt to take an initial look at your alma mater, but know that it’s unlikely that your connection will translate into a sure-bet acceptance for your student. What does count is that your student is on par with the other candidates, so encourage your student to review the admissions requirements at each school he or she is applying to.
• “If you can’t get started writing your application, I will initiate it for you.” A student who procrastinates can be a source of ongoing frustration for parents. But in this case, your student may have decided that he or she doesn’t want to apply to medical school.
As a parent, your job is to have a heart-to-heart talk, and encourage your child to pursue his or her dreams. Although the news may be disappointing to you, it’s better to identify your child’s goals before he or she invests in medical school.
• “You should ask my doctor friend for a letter of recommendation.” Helping your child gather letters of recommendation is certainly well-meaning, but letters from your friends and colleagues only backfire and make the student look like he or she either has poor judgment or can’t find someone else to write a recommendation letter. Instead, help your student evaluate professors or mentors he or she has worked closely with who could write a strong, objective recommendation.
• “If you aren’t going to contact the admissions office to ask that question, I will.” Resist the urge to swoop in and take on your child’s responsibilities. Calling the admissions office makes your student look too timid or dependent, which are not qualities selection committees favor. If you do need to call the office, please respect the information given and refrain from arguing with office staff, which will only lead to yet another unfavorable impression.
Just like any parent, you want the absolute best for your child. By encouraging and supporting him or her, your student can grow into a self-reliant young adult and, if he or she so chooses, a medical student with a bright future ahead.