Acceptance Rates to Med School

Important Points:

Colleges should be a good match between student and college environment, first and foremost. Students have a wide variety of strengths and weaknesses, as do schools and advisors.

Discussing acceptance rates may be a good question to test the advisor, but not a good measure of the school or the potential for a student's eventual medical school admission.

A good college reputation may get you in the door, but poor performance relative to others from the college may get you ejected in admissions.

Advisors can be facilitators of pursuit of a profession, or they can discourage such efforts. Their own values or those of the college may be reflected. As such they may reflect the admission committee policies of those medical schools around them, but the fact that each year the nation admits 400 fewer from the lowest income level and 700 more from the highest income level gives a hint of where this process is going that starts in local education, extends to college admissions and college and advisement, and goes to medical school admissions.

Students from the lower income groups are in great need of superior college advisors who can help them get "polish." Without looking a bit more professional in appearance, interview, application, and effort, it is tough to become a professional. None can help as much as advisors, especially for those who do not have professional parents or ready access to professionals for advice. Hopefully admissions committees will improve in looking at where a student came from and where they are now to predict where they will be in the future.

Robert C. Bowman, M.D.

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Small Colleges and Advisors

Social Status and Prep for Med School

Mary Sullivan's recent message to the list concerning the publishing. of medical school acceptance rates has prompted this response. Mary et al, when I was active at Berkeley we took the number of applicants that AMCAS said came from our school and the number of acceptances and determined the acceptance rate. We did not eliminate anyone or add anyone; we went right off the AMCAS Advisor's Report. We openly showed the summary pages so that there could be no confusion or doubt how we determined our figures.

When I worked with the fraternities on our campus nearly 40 years ago, it seemed that all 48 of them were in the top 3 in terms of scholarship. In other words, they used "creative" statistics in determining their gpa's. They were being less than honest.

My plea is that advisors be honest with the numbers they quote when announcing their schools' acceptance rates. Each spring when I saw
prospective students who were comparing undergraduate campuses I was amazed at the acceptance rates I heard quoted by some schools and the stories that the students had been told as a part of obvious recruitment efforts. I warned prospective students to take what they heard "with considerable salt."

In my first paragraph I first wrote "our acceptance rate." I caught myself and changed it to "the acceptance rate" as I wanted to detach myself from the rate. It is too easy for advisors to take the acceptance rate personally as if it is a reflection on them. As an old and former baseball player and coach I have heard many times that it is estimated that most major league managers are not responsible for many wins or losses; the players win or lose most games. In similar fashion, pre-med advisors do not get most of their students in or keep them out; by in large, the students get themselves in or keep themselves out.. They make the grades and get the scores on the MCAT. Of course there are exceptions to this statement, and advisors do play an important role for many and a critical role for some.

Happily, nobody at Berkeley ever questioned the acceptance rate and certainly did not hold me responsible for it. I suspect most in the  administration had no idea what the rate was.

So, let's have "truth in advertising" when we talk about acceptance rates. Let's tell how we determine our numbers and not take it personally when students from our school do or do not get accepted.

Peter S. Van Houten"Peter S. Van Houten" <pvanhcal@THEGRID.NET>

In February, 2001, Dan Marien wrote:

What use is he going to make of that simple raw statistic? Let me guess: if the national rate of acceptance to medical school is, say, 50%, then if Augustana is not getting 50% of its applicants into medical school the advisor must not be doing the job?

Some years ago a father and daughter showed up in my office and the only question was "what percentage of our applicants get into medical school." My first response was to tell him the question is meaningless. If all our applicants, however many there were, had high grades, high MCATs, applied to a reasonable mix of medical schools, applied in a timely fashion, had good recommendations, had whatever other qualities were valued, and interviewed well, we would have a 100% acceptance. If your daughter did not meet those standards the year she applied, she would not be accepted. If your daughter was the only one of our students in a particular year who met those standards, she would be accepted even if she represented only 1% of our applicants. I tried to explain to him some of the many other sources of distortion (other than outfight puffery) in figures given by various colleges. I tried to explain to him that a more important question was to try to determine how well his daughter might function in different college environments. He kept harping on the one thing that interested him. Exasperated, I told him if he wanted to send her to a college with a high acceptance rate, send her to Harvard. I never saw them again. My own college's PR office kept after me with that same question. I told them pick any percentage figure they liked, it was meaningless. I never looked to see what the brochure said. When a student asked me that question on acceptance rate, I explained how to be a good student, how to be a competitive candidate, and that if he/she did it all right, he/she would get into medical school.

Personally, I have always taken with a grain of salt the % acceptance reported by colleges. Part of the reason is that I am an insider and I learned how various colleges deal with applicants. Some of them, if the students do not measure up to some academic standard as almost the only criterion for recommendations, refuse recommendations and conveniently the expected losers don't appear in the denominator. Others use the AAMC report for their own college and will count in the numerator students who took only a summer course there and were accepted.

There are so many different variables that play roles in acceptance/non-acceptance that I believe the percentage figures should be somewhere near the bottom of the list when students consider where to attend college.

Deans have other pressures on them so that many are not interested in these nuances; just the statistics, and they damn well better be good; don't bother me with these details.

Good luck to you, Bob.   
Dan Marien, the Skeptic.

This began as a letter to Dan Marien, after reading quotes from him in recent postings. He suggested I pass it along to all of you as one person's cautionary tale:
Since the listserve has been quoting you (liberally) lately, and since we have emailed previously, I was thinking of something to pass along:
I came here 9 years ago (and started as premed advisor that year as well - I was forewarned in the interview process, so no bait-and-switch!). I was told that the acceptance rate to medical schools was 100%, but that they assumed that this could not last forever (the previous advisor had been at it for 25 years or so), and that while a high rate was important, they would understand if it dropped slightly.
Now, I was tenured after six years, though there were some rough times, and "my" rate never matched up to the previous one. Being a scientist, I naturally counted all applicants in the denominator and all accepted students in the numerator. I also wrote letters for everyone that requested them. After several years, with my "acceptance rate" was in the 70% range, I decided it was time to go through all the old files and see how the applicants had been ranked. I found that there had been a total of about 110 applicants in those previous 25 years, and that there were quite a few letters for individuals that were not now MD's (and never had been). The denominator in those previous years was something other than all applicants for whom a letter of evaluation was written (I heard a few explanations, including that we counted those who applied at least twice, or those that we "recommended"). Also, I heard from alumni who had been strongly discouraged from applying to medical schools because they were not "up to the level" needed. I found it discouraging at best to learn these things, and to also be fighting to continue my way of doing things, in spite of the "decreased" acceptance rate to medical schools.

I finally chose to portray our data in a few ways:
1. the number of students going to medical school has tripled from previous years (though the applicant pool has quadrupled). So we now send about ten a year instead of 3.
2. in just eight years, I have written more letters than in the previous person's 25 years, and we have doubled the number of MD's among our alumni 3. in looking through my actual data set, I observed that of my applicants that had a 3.4 GPA and 9 or higher on the MCAT, 90% got in; those with lower, 20% got in (perhaps this should be a 110% acceptance rate, by adding the two, as someone suggested!).

I tell #1 to my colleagues, #2 for administrator, and #3 for prospective students and parents. The 3rd makes clear that it is up to the student, and that our school is an appropriate preparation (and most HS students think a 3.4 is pretty easy to attain, it seems).
And since I now also have tenure, I don't sweat how the colleagues or administrators (or parents) will view me and my "decreased rate", I simply try to give the spin that we do well, and then it is up to their precious child to do the rest.

Thought you might like to hear another's tale - I continue to appreciate
your good words. Thanks,

George   ayoub <ayoub@WESTMONT.EDU> Department of Biology  
Merrimack College
No. Andover, MA 01845

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