Consultants may provide solid advice, but they aren't always affordable.
By Delece Smith-Barrow
April 30, 2015
At AFutureMd.com, Shermel Sherman helps premed students wade through the intense medical school admissions process. Her blog covers topics such as how to dress for an admissions interview and what not to write in a personal statement.
Sherman, who is finishing up her first year at a medical school in the Midwest, shares this information at no cost – an important point, she says, because getting into school can be pricey.
"I really wanted to offer free resources," says Sherman, who prefers to keep the name of her medical school private to separate her life as a student from her life as a blogger. "I know my MCAT alone was about $1,700," she says, referring to how much she spent to prepare for the medical school admissions exam.
Prospective medical students also pay to submit medical school applications, which can easily run a few hundred dollars, and – in some cases – to hire admissions consultants. Consultants can guide applicants on everything from which health-related extracurricular activities to join to how to write an application essay. Many have previously worked in medical school admissions and can charge anywhere from $500 to upward of $6,000 for their help. Some consultants charge by the hour or the word, if they're working on an essay. Others offer package deals.
Admissions experts say consultants may be a worthwhile investment in some cases, but they also urge applicants to carefully weigh all of their options before paying an outsider for help.
Students applying to medical school typically seek advice from the pre-health professions advisers on their college campus, from information in print and online, as well as from conferences for pre-health professions students held at many colleges and medical schools, said Carolyn Kelly, associate dean for admissions and student affairs and a professor at the University of California—San Diego School of Medicine, in an email.
"Some applicants seek help from premed consultants without ever fully utilizing the resources described above," she wrote. Others turn to consultants for more personalized feedback or to learn how to best present themselves if they are a nontraditional applicant.
Applicants who usually need a consultant don't have a 3.9 GPA or a 36 as their MCAT score, says Dan Lee, co-founder of Solomon Admissions Consulting, which helps applicants for college and graduate school. Those with a less stellar academic record and MCAT score "have to really weave a compelling narrative," he says.
Personalized attention, perhaps more than what a school adviser can provide, can often be the draw for hiring a consultant. Sherman, who considered using a consultant when she applied to medical school, sometimes allows consultants to guest blog for her site. Although she didn't end up using one, she believes consultants can be a great resource for applicants.
"It's so important to talk to someone who has the experience and knows what they are doing," she says. Current medical students, Sherman says, can also be a strong resource for applicants.
Because consultants come at a cost, admissions experts say consulting services can sometimes create a divide between the haves and the have-nots.
"Many who work in medical school admissions are concerned that increasing use of consultants leads to further 'disadvantage' for students who may already be disadvantaged in the process from a socioeconomic standpoint," writes Kelly.
Applicants can turn to academic advisers for help because they are often very in tune with the medical school admissions process, says Iris C. Gibbs, the associate dean for M.D. admissions at the Stanford University School of Medicine.
"They keep abreast of a lot of the various trends," says Gibbs. Many advisers are members of the National Association of Advisors for the Health Professions, she says. "They have the ear of a lot of the admissions deans." Applicants can also visit the website for the Association of American Medical Colleges for information on the admissions process, Gibbs says.
"I'm not sure how essential having an outside consultant would be," she says.
If applicants are set on hiring a consultant, they can ask consultants certain questions to gauge which one is best for them.
"You should be figuring out whether this consultant has the knowledge base to be able to help you out," says Lee. A nontraditional student, he says, can ask: "Have you worked with nontraditional students?" "Have you had success in getting them in?" More traditional applicants can ask consultants if they've successfully helped someone with their GPA and MCAT score get into school, he says.
Admissions experts say that while consultants can help with many parts of the admissions process, one part they are limited in helping with is the admissions interview, experts say. "The consultant isn't there with them," says Gibbs.
Ultimately, consultants can only help so much. Even with their help, an applicant may not get in and that may not be the consultant's fault.
"The application is really on you," says Sherman. "You're the one that's creating your application. They're just there to help you."
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