How to Get into Medical School If You’re White or Asian

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By: Ryan Kelly

Recently, we heard someone complain that “Asians don’t get into medical school anymore.” That’s quite a loaded statement, but it’s (somewhat) supported by statistics.

Asians definitely still get into medical school nowadays, but according to 2015 medical school admissions data, they do appear to be at a disadvantage.    

What do these statistics show?

  1. With average GPAs (3.40 to 3.59) and average MCAT scores (27 to 29), black applicants were almost 4 times more likely to be admitted to medical school than Asians in that applicant pool (81.2% vs. 20.6%), and 2.8 times more likely than white applicants (81.2% vs. 29.0%).

  2. Likewise, Hispanic applicants with average GPAs and MCAT scores were more than twice as likely as whites in that pool to be admitted (59.5% vs. 29.0%), and nearly three times more likely than Asians (59.5% vs. 20.6%).

  3. Overall, black (81.2%) and Hispanic (59.5%) applicants with average GPAs and average MCAT scores were accepted to US medical schools for the 2015-2016 academic year at rates (81.2% and 59.5% respectively) much higher than the 30.6% average acceptance rate for all students in that pool.

As the average GPAs and MCATs drop, the same trend continues, with acceptance rates for blacks and Hispanics being much higher than whites and Asians.

 

Do Medical Schools Use Affirmative Action when Selecting Their Class?

According to Mark J. Perry, these statistics suggest that “medical schools must have ‘affirmative discrimination’ and ‘racial profiling’ admission policies that favor black and Hispanic applicants over equally qualified Asian and white students.”

Yes, there appears to be a double standard. Yes, this is unfair. Yes, it’s strange that medical schools offer special treatment to certain groups, simply for checking the right boxes.

But why do medical schools show this preference? Are they merely trying to be politically correct? Do they want to appease state legislators and wealthy donors who have a political agenda to push?

Maybe. But for all the cynical answers, there are perfectly valid reasons too.

 

Three Legitimate Reasons Medical Schools Prefer Minority Applicants

First, our country needs more primary care doctors to help the underserved. By admitting physicians who grew up in these environments, medical schools help ensure that more physicians will return to practice medicine in those communities.  

Second, diversity improves the educational environment. We wrote an article explaining why, but medical schools believe that students learn as much from fellow students as from professors, so recruiting a class with diverse backgrounds makes everyone at the school better off.

Finally, medical schools evaluate applicants holistically, looking to see the obstacles students have faced and how they have overcome such obstacles. One example is how medical schools calculate educational disadvantage: students are essentially given bonus points if they are the first in their family to go to college or if their parents work blue-collar jobs. While these educational and economic disadvantages apply to students of all skin colors, it’s certainly possible that black and Hispanic applicants face more of these kinds of obstacles, thus resulting in preferential treatment.

 

Three Ways to Make Yourself More Appealing to Medical Schools if You’re White or Asian

You don’t have control over your ethnicity, but you do have some control over whether you get considered for spots in schools that cater to primary care and underserved communities. Whites and Asians can either complain about the discrepancy in acceptance rates (or indeed, even sue), or they can seek exposure to underserved communities and improve their candidacy.

It becomes a matter of diversifying your insights, as opposed to your skin color.  

For example, you might…

  1. Spend time working in a people-oriented environment within disadvantaged communities (Wellspring, prison programs, homeless shelters, Boys and Girls Club, etc.). It is best to choose one, or at most two, and show a continuing commitment to them rather than accumulate a laundry list of minimal experiences.

  2. Make a concerted effort to learn Spanish and volunteer at health fairs for Spanish-speaking-only populations (could be urban or rural). Or volunteer to serve as a translator for physicians at free clinics for patients with limited English.

  3. Volunteer to help support drug addicts through needle exchange and rehab programs in the inner city. Or recruit needy, low-income patients for affordable experimental clinical trials that could benefit their conditions.  

Hopefully, whatever you choose will not be a contrived thing you do simply to get into medical school, but rather something to which you feel a real commitment. Admissions officers usually can tell the difference.

Besides improving your candidacy through more exposure, you can also take solace in the fact that medical schools accept the top 40% in each ethnic group. So, all you have to do is beat out 60% of your group. Piece of cake, right?

Of course not. If you’re doing things right, then your path to medicine will rarely feel easy. We just hope that this advice helps you to focus on positive goals, rather than worry about statistics beyond your control.