Deciding that you want to pursue a medical school education is a big decision. You will have to gain acceptance into an AMA-accredited medical school and then devote years to training in modern medical practice before you can be called a doctor. And before any of that, you will have to study for, and score well on, the MCAT.
None of this should stop you from beginning the journey at any age. In fact, in the United States, the average age of a graduate student is 33 years. Medical school applicants do tend to skew a bit younger, with the average age being 24, but keep in mind that by definition, that means a good chunk of applicants is older than 24.
Education knows no age. In fact, older and more mature applicants are more likely to be disciplined enough to handle the rigors of this path. However, age is not the only contributor to being a non-traditional student; many of these students may be dealing with more outside of life than school.
It can be overwhelming for many non-traditional students to get back into the rhythm of a highly competitive study environment. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to get started and make the process a little easier.
Who Is Considered a Non-Traditional Student?
Multiple criteria can contribute to your classification as a non-traditional student. One of the most common is simply to be someone who has not followed the traditional, no-breaks path from high school, to a pre-med undergraduate program, to medical school. However, there are other types of non-traditional students as well, including:
- Students who are 24 or older
- Those who waited at least one year after high school to start college
- Applicants with a GED
- Working adults
- Applicants with children, either married or single
- First-generation students
Students who fall into these categories are often forced to overcome hurdles throughout their application process that others might not deal with, making the entire process more difficult. The MCAT is a highly competitive exam, and taking it as a non-traditional student can be quite challenging.
Make a Flexible Plan
Making and adhering to a study routine is imperative to the success of any test-taker. It will help you progress at a steady pace so that you know you will be ready in time for the test while also identifying and strengthening your weak points.
As a non-traditional student, you likely must keep your routine flexible and strive to maintain a delicate balance between your day-to-day responsibilities and your academics. Here are a few ways you can do just that:
- Know your starting point by assessing your skills and deficits early on.
- Plan extra time for your study sessions to ensure that you are accounting for the possibility of real-life distractions.
- If you have been out of the academic loop for a significant period, consider enrolling in some post-graduate programs that will help bridge the gap between your last formal education and the MCAT syllabus.
Know the Test Inside and Out
The MCAT not only tests its applicants on physical, chemical, and biological sciences, but it also tests your reasoning and aptitude skills.
The test takes eight hours in total, so it also demands endurance and the ability to focus. Thus, merely cramming on the basic syllabus will not yield favorable results. Instead, be sure you have a comprehensive understanding of the different factors of the exam, including:
- Information about your exam session: the deadline for registration, the date of your exam session, the location of the exam center (or the appropriate procedure for online exam administration), and so on.
- The subject matter covered—not just broad categories (like “critical thinking”) but specific skills.
- How much time you should spend on each section.
- How the exam is scored.
Determine Your Preferred Study Method
You can prepare for the MCAT in a variety of ways. As a non-traditional student, you should find what works for you and what you are comfortable with. Go over past tests (these are available online), take online MCAT courses on your timeline, participate in mock exam sessions, and so on. Your study method should mesh with your day-to-day responsibilities. It may take some trial and error to find this balance.
Here are some tried and tested ways of preparing for the MCAT, especially for non-traditional students:
- Online Preparatory Courses- These courses offer flexible timing, and you can access them from anywhere as long as you have a decent internet connection.
- Group Classes- If you have a significant academic gap to bridge, group courses can be very beneficial, as they’ll put you in touch with like-minded individuals who have the same goals as you.
- Mock Exams- You can find mock exams available on the internet for free. They’ll help familiarize you with the exam pattern and the setting. Some sites also provide helpful feedback on any mistakes you make, which can help you improve.
Analyze and Overcome
A critical mistake many non-traditional students make is to hold themselves to the same preparation plans used by traditional students. Instead, as a non-traditional student, you should analyze the exam and its syllabus, identify your weaker areas, and develop a schedule that fits around your daily responsibilities.
There’s no reason why being a non-traditional student should stop you from achieving success on your MCAT and beyond in your medical career.