Prospective med students enjoy greater success

By Clint Talbott

Students at the University of Colorado are enjoying unprecedented success in gaining admission to U.S. medical schools even as graduates of other universities are experiencing declining rates of admission.

This year, the medical-school acceptance rate for CU-Boulder students with bachelor-level degrees is 62 percent, up from 41 percent six years ago. During the same period, the national average fell from 48 percent to 43 percent. The national trend reflects the fact that more students are applying for medical schools now than did six years ago.

Though many medical schools have increased class size and some new schools have opened, demand still exceeds supply.

Given the decline in medical-school acceptance rates nationally, “We are particularly excited to be able to show that our students are doing so well in an increasingly competitive application process,” said Anne C. Bekoff, a CU professor of integrative physiology and associate director for preprofessional advising.

In 2003, Bekoff reacted to the low acceptance rates. She observed that many CU students were unaware of the importance of applying early, “did not seem to know how to choose the best schools to apply to,” did not have an advising program that helped them understand what underlies successful applications, and did not have access to a “committee letter of evaluation,” which many medical schools strongly prefer.

The “committee letter” had been used widely across the nation but never at CU-Boulder. Bekoff learned about it from a colleague at CU-Denver.

The committee-letter process, which is optional, encourages prospective applicants to prepare a file that includes a draft of their application essay, a self-appraisal form, grade-point-average calculations like those used by medical schools, a tentative list of schools and letters of recommendation.

With that file as background, the Prehealth Advisory Committee, composed of faculty members who volunteer their services, meets with each prospective medical student. Based on the committee’s interview with a student, the committee composes a letter evaluating and summarizing the student’s qualifications and preparation.

That letter is sent to medical schools designated by the student along with the student’s individual letters of recommendation.

Bekoff notes that the committee letter is no magic bullet. “I believe that the committee letter process is at least as important as, if not more important than, the letter itself,” she said. “Our students use the process to improve weak areas in their applications—taking extra classes, doing research, gaining clinical experience, even putting off application for a year to address weaknesses.”

She also notes that the committee letter may not suit every prospective medical student. For students who have been out of school for several years, are no longer in Colorado, cannot meet the committee-letter deadlines, or are not yet well prepared to apply, “applying with individual letters of recommendation may be a better strategy,” she said.

The Prehealth Advising Office’s resources, which include advising, workshops and practice interviews, are not restricted to those who register for a committee letter.

To learn more about the Prehealth Advising Office in the College of Arts and Sciences’ Academic Advising Center, see www.colorado.edu/aac/prehealth.html.

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