How Socioeconomic Background Can Affect Application to Medical School

Socioeconomically disadvantaged applicants are underrepresented within medicine, so medical schools take such disadvantages into account when they review applications. Medical school cost, lack of exposure to the profession, limited educational opportunities, and other factors are barriers that prevent individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds from becoming doctors. Schools understand that an applicant’s financial, social, and family situations impact her opportunities, and they review obstacles a student has faced when assessing an application.

Primary applications include questions that help schools to better understand your background. Don’t hesitate to provide this information; medical schools are sincerely interested in understanding the challenges that applicants may have faced.

Questions in the “Childhood Information” section of the Association of American Medical Colleges’ AMCAS application address factors such as the following:

  • Whether you grew up in a medically underserved area

  • Where your primary childhood residency was (city, state, county, country, and type of area, such as urban or rural)

  • Whether your family has received public assistance (food stamps, welfare, and so on)

  • What your family income level is

  • Whether you were employed before age 18 and whether you contributed to the support of your family

  • How you paid for your post-secondary education (scholarship, loans, family, self)

Applicants are also asked whether they want to be considered disadvantaged. If you respond “yes” to this question, you have the opportunity to explain your disadvantaged status by completing a short essay (1,325 characters, including spaces). Here are some examples of topics you can include in this discussion:

  • Living in an unsafe and/or impoverished neighborhood

  • Residing in a rural area with limited access to healthcare

  • Growing up in a family without sufficient financial resources

  • Working to help support your family or yourself

  • Being the first member of your family to attend college

  • Facing cultural or language barriers

  • Attending a low-performing school or suffering from other educational disadvantages

Make the explanation of your situation as specific as possible. For example, avoid vague statements such as “The high school I went to didn’t provide a good education.” A more effective description would be “The graduation rate at the high school I attended was less than 60 percent. Fights, disruptions during class, and other disciplinary problems were common. Few honors or other advanced courses were available, especially in science subjects.”

Like AMCAS, the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine Application Service (AACOMAS) allows applicants to self-designate disadvantaged status. Applicants may select the type of disadvantage (for example, economic); however, you don’t get any space in which to give additional explanation.

Even if you choose not to designate yourself as disadvantaged, schools may still learn about obstacles you’ve faced through your responses in other areas of your application. For example, if you indicate in the work and activities section that you worked a significant number of hours during the school year, admissions committees will be aware that you had less time to devote to your studies or other activities.

Or you may describe how you overcame hardships that you faced as part of the personal statement or in response to a question on a secondary application.

You may self-designate as disadvantaged, but the admissions committee may not agree that your situation was significant enough to merit any type of special consideration. The best approach to take when filling out the disadvantaged status section (or any part of the application) is to be clear and thorough. After that, it’s in the hands of the committee to decide how to use the information you provide.

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