What It Means to Be a Disadvantaged Medical School Applicant

There are so many steps in applying to medical school, and the AMCAS application is one of the first and most significant.

In addition to the personal statement and writing about extracurricular activities, AMCAS, or the American Medical College Application Service, asks various biographical and demographic questions. One specific question to applicants is if they consider themselves disadvantaged. A lot of applicants struggle with this question and whether or not they should identify as such.

What does it mean to be “disadvantaged” when applying to medical school and how should this difficult question be approached?

What Does AMCAS Ask About Disadvantage?

AMCAS poses this question in an essay prompt: “Do you wish to be considered a disadvantaged applicant by any of your designated medical schools that may consider such factors (social, economic or educational)?”

An applicant can then click to find out more information, and AMCAS provides the following:

[READ: Highlight Diversity in Medical School Applications.]

“The following definitions/questions may help you answer the questions on this page:

Underserved: Do you believe, based on your own experiences or the experiences of family and friends, that the area in which you grew up was adequately served by the available health care professionals? Were there enough physicians, nurses, hospitals, clinics, and other health care service providers?

Immediate Family: The Federal Government broadly defines ‘immediate family’ as ‘spouse, parent, child, sibling, mother or father-in-law, son or daughter-in-law, or sister or brother-in-law, including step and adoptive relationships.’

State and Federal Assistance Programs: These programs are specifically defined as ‘Means-Tested Programs’ under which the individual, family, or household income and assets must be below specified thresholds. The sponsoring agencies then provide cash and non-cash assistance to eligible individuals, families, or households. Such programs include welfare benefit programs (federal, state, and local) Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC or ADC); unemployment compensation; General Assistance (GA); food stamps; Supplemental Security Income (SSI); Medicaid; housing assistance; or other federal, state, or local financial assistance programs.”

If an applicant selects yes, then he or she is allotted 700 characters to explain the situation to medical schools.

[READ: Use a Medical School Diversity Statement to Shine.]

The AMCAS statement is vague to many applicants, and you must really consider your circumstances to determine if you should apply disadvantaged to your situation. Think about your social, economic and academic circumstances and how they affected you and your opportunities.

For instance, you may consider yourself disadvantaged if you had limited financial resources and had to work in order to support yourself financially. Or perhaps you lived in a medically underserved community and did not have the ability to shadow physicians or gain clinical experiences. Or consider if you had no one in your family who had gone to college, so you had to navigate the entire college process yourself with limited assistance.

How Do Medical Schools Use Disadvantage to Evaluate an Application?

Though every medical school evaluates applicants differently, admissions committees use the disadvantaged status to contextualize an application.

For instance, perhaps an applicant who lived in a medically underserved area has fewer clinical activities than other competitive applicants. Admission committees tend to take that into account when reviewing the application. They realize that with fewer available opportunities, one applicant’s extracurricular activities may look different than other similar applicants.

[READ: 4 Steps Premeds Should Take to Maximize Volunteer Clinical Experience.]

Being disadvantaged in no way means a secret door into medical school, but it can help the admission committee evaluate an applicant’s total application — which includes any hardships or special circumstances he or she may have faced.

Should an Applicant Identify as Disadvantaged?

Whether a med school applicant should identify as disadvantaged totally depends. He or she should be introspective and think about his or her circumstances and how they may have affected the applicant’s education, social interactions, extracurricular activities and finances.

Often, if an applicant can’t readily identify a situation that he or she considers one that would put the applicant at a disadvantage, then it is probably best not to identify as such. But for applicants with extenuating circumstances and hardships, identifying as disadvantaged provides the ability to explain the circumstances to medical schools and hope that admissions committees will take the information into account when reviewing the entire application.

What Should a Disadvantaged Applicant Write?

If you decide to self-identify as disadvantaged, use the space to discuss why you consider yourself disadvantaged and any significant challenges you had to overcome to get to the point where you are.

It is important for to not try to garner pity from the admissions committee. Instead, contextualize your circumstances and your application. Avoid repeating your personal statement or theorizing about how things may have been different if an event had not occurred. The statement should help readers understand what you have gone through and how it has affected your life and preparation for medical school.

As difficult as it can be to make the decision about whether to select disadvantaged, a draft of the statement is difficult to write, as well. If you are unsure how to go about putting your situation on paper, work with an adviser to fully articulate your specific circumstances.

What Opportunities Exist for Disadvantaged Students?

An additional challenge for disadvantaged students is they often can not afford the same level of tutoring, advising and coaching as advantaged students. According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, in 2019 fewer than 22,000 students matriculated in medical school from more than 53,300 applicants — only about four in 10 getting accepted.

Plus, the average premed student submitted 17 applications — nearly 897,000 applications overall — making it even harder for students to get into the med school of their choice. For disadvantaged students, their odds can be even lower due to their lack of resources and support systems.

Students who get one-on-one coaching can boost their exam scores and the application presentation, which is likely to substantially increase their odds of acceptance. For example, MedSchoolCoach offers a PreMed Scholarship developed for bright and deserving students who can benefit from medical school tutoring and advising, but for whom cost is prohibitive.

For disadvantaged students fortunate enough to get accepted but who may need help paying for medical school, organizations like online resource Fastweb provide students with connections to scholarships and financial aid.

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What It Means to Be a Disadvantaged Medical School Applicant originally appeared on usnews.com

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