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Emerging Trends in Medical School Admissions

By Owen Farcy
Director of Pre-Health Programs for Kaplan Test Prep

Each year, we at Kaplan survey medical schools across the country to learn more about emerging trends in admissions. In our 2013 survey of medical school admissions officers*, the results shed light on three important topics for pre-medical students to be familiar with. 

On MCAT 2015: 43% of those surveyed expect the revamped MCAT coming in 2015 to be more difficult than the current one; notably, this is a near doubling of the 22% who held this view in Kaplan’s 2012 survey. Only 2% in the 2013 survey believe the revised medical school admissions exam will be easier, while the remaining 55% of medical school admissions officers think the difficulty level will remain about the same. But, despite rising concerns about difficulty, a large majority supports the coming changes (90%) and think they will better prepare students for medical school (75%); these findings are consistent with Kaplan’s 2012 survey.

Among the approved changes coming to the MCAT in 2015:

More Topics Tested: The 2015 MCAT will include three additional semesters’ worth of material in college-level biochemistry, psychology and sociology, increasing the number of prerequisite classes from eight to eleven.
Almost Double the Length: Takers of the revised MCAT will face 261 questions over a six hours and 15 minutes time span. The current MCAT has 144 questions that are taken in three hours and 20 minutes. This means the 2015 MCAT will require a lot more stamina and focus.

New Question Types and Skills: The current MCAT focuses on content knowledge and critical thinking, but the 2015 MCAT tests two additional skills: Research Design, which focuses on the fundamentals of creating research projects, bias, faulty results, and variable relationships; and Graphical Analysis and Data Interpretation, which focuses on deriving conclusions and drawing inferences from visual data like figures, graphs and data tables.

There is little doubt that the planned changes will introduce new challenges for test takers. The test will be longer, and will require pre-med students to learn significantly more content within the same amount of time. But it’s also important to recognize that the changes to the test only reflect the realities of a changing medical field. Today’s pre-meds face a medical landscape that’s different than what their parents’ doctors faced. Medicine today is based on scientific advances that didn’t exist a generation ago, and doctors are increasingly serving a more diverse population, so it makes sense to adapt the MCAT accordingly. But yes, it’s shaping up as tough medicine.

On Post-Baccalaureate Programs: 71% of admissions officer say they have seen an increase in the number of applicants who have enrolled in post-baccalaureate programs, a path taken by many aspiring doctors after they graduate college, but before they apply to medical school, to beef up their academic credentials. That could prove to be a smart strategy, as 90% of admissions officers say that doing well in a post-bacc program improves a student’s acceptance chances.

On Social Media: 32% of admissions reported that they have Googled an applicant to learn more about them; 22% say they have visited an applicant’s social networking site like Facebook for the same purpose; and most interestingly, of those who did 42% reported that they found something that negatively impacted the students chances of being accepted.

* For the 2013 survey, 79 medical school admissions officers from across the United States (71 from schools accredited by the Association of American Medical Colleges and eight medical schools accredited by the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine) were polled by telephone between July and September 2013).

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