How to Get Your Kid Into Med School as an Asian (or any) Parent

by Jason

What's the goal of any parent?

To want the best for their kids and to give them more opportunities than they had. The measure of a better life for children means being successful and having prestige. In the Asian community becoming a doctor is the best way to achieve this objective.

One Asian parent actually explained the reasoning behind their logic. He stated you can be a mediocre doctor and still be successful but if you're mediocre in the liberal arts you cannot be successful. These nontechnical fields require a special 'oomph" you either have or don't which contributes to your success while medicine is about following a prescribed path. But the path to becoming a doctor is not easy.

In the 2014 application cycle, there were 49,480 applicants for only 20,343 spots (2014 AAMC data) meaning 59% of all applicants to medical school are rejected. Why would a parent push their child to pursue medicine knowing these odds?

Keeping Up with the Joneses By Becoming a Doctor
Medicine and being a doctor will afford you a life of security if you can get over the biggest hurdle of just getting accepted. Security comes in many forms including financial security.

For instance, the U.S. Dept. of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics provided the 20 occupations with the highest median annual salary in 2012. Leading the list were physicians who earned a wage equal to or greater than $187,200 per year.

As my high school football coach would say, "The film don't lie" and the same applies for occupational wages, "The salaries don't lie." Medicine is one of those professions where you will always have a job and this combined with a high income makes it an extremely attractive profession.

Everything About You is Meaningless Without the Numbers
The two numbers that matter to medical schools are your Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) and Grade Point Average (GPA).

Honestly your MCAT score matters the most because it correlates an applicant's performance in the first two years of medical school. Plus the MCAT is a standardized test allowing for apples to apples comparison of applicants.

It's one thing to be a Tiger parent and another to be a helicopter parent where you ask your kids how they performed on their college exams and then to verify you log into your child's account to verify they are telling you the truth about their grades.

The Tiger parent does not take bad grades lightly where grades are correlated to a kid's worth.

Mom and Dad when you apply this much pressure to your kids it is not helping. You are raising kids who are highly stressed, anxious and have little self-worth. Your children aren't pursuing premed to help others but rather to avoid disappointing you. If you're forcing your kid to apply to a prestigious premed college with the threat of disownment or cutoff from financial support you're doing something wrong.

The Shocking Truth About What Gets You Into Med School
Asian parents you're correct that having the best numbers possible via top MCAT score and graduating with a perfect 4.0 GPA will open doors to medical school.

I recently spoke with a cosmetic surgeon who said, "You have to get the best scores and be in the 99th percentile. Everyone is going to have great numbers so how you distinguish yourself from everyone else is through your extracurriculars."

Before getting into using extracurricular activities to distinguish yourself let's put some myths aside in regards to the admissions, quotas and stereotypes.

Do you believe Asians need to have higher numbers than other ethnicities to get into higher education? Do you agree with a segment of the Asian community filing lawsuits against institutions such as Harvard College due to their admissions policies?

Asians You're Winning the Admissions Race
When looking at the overall acceptance rate for applicants of a particular ethnicity your odds of gaining acceptance is higher as an Asian. In particular Asians had a 42.7% acceptance rate, Whites had a 45.9% acceptance rate and Blacks had an acceptance rate of 37%.

Going further Asians have the highest averages for admission:

  • Asian: MCAT 32.8 GPA 3.73

  • Black: MCAT 27.3 GPA 3.46

  • White: MCAT 31.7 GPA 3.72

Clearly medical schools do not enroll applicants based solely on academic merit otherwise medical schools would be comprised mainly of Asians and Whites.

Let's take a look at matriculant percentages based on race/ethnicity

  • Asians comprised 18% of all matriculants

  • Blacks comprised 6% of all matriculants

  • Whites comprised 52% of all matriculants

These numbers need to be put in context with the U.S. population:

  • Asians 5.3%

  • Blacks 13.2%

  • Whites 77.7%

Medical schools want academically capable students and they will pick the best students from each racial group when building a diverse student body. The numbers show the racial composition of medical school does not mirror the U.S. population. Instead, Asians are the most overrepresented group in medical school.

Toss Out Everything You Ever Heard About Being Well-Rounded
Medical schools build well-rounded incoming classes each year but this won't get the individual applicant admitted.

To be admitted you have to bring something unique to medicine beyond your MCAT score and GPA. You have to bring your "it" factor to stand apart in a crowded field.

On your primary American Medical College Application Service (AMCAS) you can list up to 15 distinct activities you were involved in. The University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine had this to say about extracurriculars, "You don't need 15 extracurriculars but you can bet on it, those whom we accept have all 15 activities completed."

Not only do you need top grades and MCAT but you need to be involved in activities outside of the classroom. How you go about your extracurricular activities matters.

Get Laser-Focused
You have to standout in a specific area.

One way to excel is through sports. In this case you would have been a student-athlete. But this in itself won't get you to 15 extracurricular activities.

What you need to do is craft a theme and weave a story that involves athletics so the admissions committee knows you as the athlete. This would involve doing research on sports injuries.

Spend time shadowing an orthopedic surgeon or sports medicine doctor. Volunteering with the Special Olympics. Coach a middle school sports team. Lastly, work part-time at a gym or health club.

When you do this you're making a very strong case of being admitted to medical school because you have a very focused background that the admissions committee can identify with. You will come across as the student-athlete who is very scholastic.

This is in direct contrast to the premed student who is involved in lots of activities without any rhyme or reason to them. This premed student would play an instrument, work at the college library, be a member of the physics club and tutor in Spanish.

Although they have plenty of activities there is nothing that sets them apart. Using one more example let's use the student who is distinguished for research.

This student is going to be involved in activities that are based around science in everyway possible. For starters, they are going to love the lab and doing the hard sciences. For their troubles they will have published a paper or two based on their research. Science is everything and they will tutor high school students in math and science. This student will also have presented several papers during their time in college. To pile on even more accolades they will have won prestigious research awards and fellowships for the summer.

Additionally, these science mavericks will have spent so much time in the laboratory they will have gotten a patent on how to improve a process.

Clearly, you can see how this student is going to stand out amongst the competition and the admissions committee will readily know this is the MD/PhD applicant who is definitely going to make an impact beyond clinical medicine.

With the examples shown above the students are subject matter experts but have not limited themselves to one activity instead their extracurricular activities complement each other and go on to paint a strong picture of a premed student who is very focused.

The times have changed for getting into medical school. Back then having a great MCAT score and top grades were a guarantee for admission. This is no longer the case.

There's been a solid case made that admissions is not race blind or one ethnicity is taking seats away from another. Each applicant is competing against others from the same racial pool and for Asians your representation in medicine is 3x the U.S. Asian population.

Instead of focusing on the unfairness or biases you believe exist in higher education spend your time learning the rules of the game and playing to win. No one is out to say your child cannot be a doctor.

All medicine is saying is that we don't want applicants who bring nothing else to beyond grades and MCAT. Going one step further one could argue it's not about race rather socioeconomic status for admission but that's an entirely different matter to address.

What are your thoughts on race in med school admissions? Comment below.

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