Holistic admissions
GPA & MCAT SCORES AREN’T EVERYTHING: In med schools that practice holistic admissions (such as UMHS, pictured), the whole student is evaluated individually & diverse life experiences give one an edge because students shouldn’t be selected simply by test scores. Photo: UMHS Files


Prospective students applying to medical schools are often concerned about their MCAT score and their GPA, but standardized test scores are just one component of the decision made by medical schools that practice holistic admissions.

The UMHS Endeavour looks at what the holistic admissions process is in medical schools and how it differs from more traditional methods. We will look at holistic admissions as defined by various sources, including the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), as well as comments from admissions officials at UMHS.


Holisitc admissions
SEEKING PEOPLE WITH A PASSION: Med schools that practice holistic admissions also look at your passions & hobbies (such as if you play a sport or a musical instrument, for example) & volunteer experience in a health care setting. Because in med school, you’re more than just a number, & unique people enrich the student body. Pictured: UMHS students attend a Med Olympics event. Photo: Dr. Prakash Mungli, UMHS

Holistic Admissions Defined by AAMC

The AAMC website has an entire section devoted to holistic admissions. The site says the holistic approach involves looking at applicants via the “E-A-M” model (an acronym for Experiences-Attributes-Academic Metrics).  This “provides admissions staff and committee members with a shared framework for thinking broadly about diversity, identifying mission-based criteria that take into account the whole applicant, and spark thinking about applicants as future physicians, rather than merely as prospective students,” the AAMC explains.

The AAMC site outlines four guidelines of criteria for holistic admissions, including:

  •  “In a holistic admissions process, selection criteria are broad-based, clearly linked to school mission and goals, and promote diversity as an essential element to achieving institutional excellence.”
  • “A balance of experiences, attributes, and academic metrics (EAM) is used to assess applicants with the intent of creating a richly diverse interview and selection pool and student body; applied equitably across the entire candidate pool; and grounded in data that provide evidence supporting the use of selection criteria beyond grades and test scores.”
  • “Admissions staff and committee members give individualized consideration to how each applicant may contribute to the medical school learning environment and practice of medicine, weighing and balancing the range of criteria needed in a class to achieve the outcomes desired by the school.”
  • “Race and ethnicity may be considered as factors when making admission-related decisions only when such consideration is narrowly tailored to achieve mission-related educational interests and goals associated with student diversity, and when considered as part of a broader mix of factors, which may include personal attributes, experiential factors, and demographics. Or other considerations.*”

“*Under federal law (and where permitted by state law).”


The Value of Unique Students

Holistic admissions does not exclusively apply to medical schools. In fact, many universities, especially in the Ivy League, moved away from strictly looking at student grade point averages and standardized test scores decades ago.

As Allen Grove wrote in a post about holistic admissions on the website Thoughtco.com, “Under a holistic admissions policy, a student with a 3.8 GPA might be turned down while an award-winning trumpet player with a 3.0 GPA might get accepted. The student who wrote a stellar essay might get preference over the student who had higher ACT scores but a bland essay. In general, holistic admissions take into account a student’s interests, passions, special talents, and personality.”

So how can this apply to med schools? A student with an average MCAT score who has had a unique life experience (outstanding work in a health care setting, for example) can sometimes add value to a med school’s student body.

A post on “Holistic Review Medical School Admissions” from the Georgetown Post-Baccalaureate Pre-Medical Student Association blog at Georgetown University gave highlights of the “Evolution and Revolution in Medical School Admissions” at the Washington, D.C. school back in 2014.

Why would a medical school take a risk on accepting a student without a high MCAT score or GPA? For many reasons.

“For example, the diverse life experiences of one medical school class allowed them to raise an unprecedented $300,000 for a student-run clinic because of their past knowledge of fundraising and collaboration,” the post on the Georgetown blog explained. “Students who enter medical school knowing that they will need to work harder tend to perform competitively on examinations and to match for residencies better than in the past because of their commitment.”


Holistic admissions
HOLISTIC ADMISSIONS AT UMHS: UMHS in St. Kitts practices holistic admissions. Numerous factors are considered when reviewing a student’s application, according to Robert Bennett in Applicant Services.  Photo: UMHS Files.

Holistic Admissions at UMHS

UMHS takes a holistic approach to admissions in which the total student is evaluated, so students should not be deterred from applying just because they think their GPA is too low or their MCAT score is not high enough.

The UMHS Endeavour spoke to Marie B. McGillycuddy, MSc, Vice President of Admissions, and Robert C. Bennett, M.A., Director of Applicant Services at UMHS, about the important factors for acceptance, such as academic performance, motivation, and what the holistic approach to admissions means, and how this may give applicants an edge. We also discussed ways undergraduates interested in a career as an M.D. can prepare for future study in medical school.

What is the UMHS approach to holistic admissions?

“A holistic approach means that each student is reviewed individually,” Ms. McGillycuddy said. “This means that we take everything into consideration such as: grades, volunteer work, research work, general work, letters of recommendation and community outreach. We also interview students, which is an important deciding factor. It is important that we understand why she/he wants to pursue this field.

Robert Bennett in UMHS Applicant Services said additional factors UMHS reviews include the rigor of a program and academic progression. “Overall, many different factors go into the final decision on an applicant’s file; it is not just a single factor that can ‘make or break’ the final committee decision.”

GPA & MCAT Score

Prospective students are often concerned about their GPA and their MCAT score. Although all U.S. residents and people who completed their undergraduate studies in the United States are required to take the MCAT in order to be considered for admission, UMHS does not have a minimum score.

Why? Although UMHS indeed looks at MCAT results, a less-than-stellar MCAT score does not necessarily mean someone is not right for UMHS.  “We want a well-rounded student who knows exactly why they are going into medicine,” Ms. McGillycuddy said. “We want to ensure that each student has a purpose and vision for choosing this field.”

Should students worry too much about an MCAT score or GPA? “Of course you need to be academically ‘fit’ but let’s say your MCAT results are slightly low yet your GPAs are higher (or vice versa), this can balance each other out,” Ms. McGillycuddy said.

Mr. Bennett echoed that sentiment. “This goes back to the basis of our holistic review process,” he said. “As an applicant, if you balance out as a strong overall student, this can compensate for having a slightly lower GPA or MCAT score.”

Having a passion for medicine and a humanitarian desire to help others is also crucial.

“Passion goes a long way as a driving force in academic success as well as turning out great doctors in this world for the future,” Mr. Bennett said.


Holisitic admissions
DO PAID OR VOLUNTEER WORK IN HEALTH-CARE SETTING BEFORE MED SCHOOL: UMHS VP of Admissions Marie McGillycuddy recommends gaining experience in a health-care setting before applying for med school. Pictured: UMHS med students hard at work in the high-tech simulation lab . Photo: UMHS Files

Advice for Undergrads Thinking About Med School

There are numerous things undergraduates thinking about applying to medical school after graduation can do now to prepare for future studies to become a doctor.

Ms. McGillycuddy said it is essential to choose the proper study methods for achieving high scores. In addition, one must do well in what are often called “premed” foundation courses such as biology, chemistry, organic chemistry and physics because they play a “key role” in medical school curriculum. She recommends doing either paid or volunteer work in a health-care-related setting.

“Make sure that you have stepped foot inside a hospital or clinic in a volunteer capacity or work capacity,” she said. “You need to confirm that this is the field for you and it is strongly encouraged that you do this before you enter into medical school.”

Mr. Bennett said it is wise to know the profile and success rate of medical schools to which you are applying and to check with your premed advisor and the schools in which you’re interested so you know exactly what requirements are.

“The earlier in your undergraduate career you are aware, the better you can plan a clear path of your medical school education and beyond,” he said.

There are many Caribbean medical schools, so why choose UMHS?

“We think that people that may be interested in applying to UMHS should strongly consider us for our successful student outcomes, low attrition rate, affordable tuition rate compared to our competitors, and most importantly, a close-knit, family-type of atmosphere that can be found on our campus as well as within the faculty and staff at UMHS,” Mr. Bennett said. “We pride ourselves on our personal touch and outstanding service to our students as well as the applicants applying to become UMHS students.”

About UMHS:

Built in the tradition of the best U.S. universities, the University of Medicine and Health Sciences focuses on individualized student attention, small class sizes and recruiting high-quality faculty. For these reasons, UMHS is quickly becoming the school of choice among Caribbean medical schools.


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