A university graduate trying to get into medicine. Benjamin Lappalainen/The Varsity

Medical school. For many undergrads at universities across Canada, these two words effectively summarize their greatest aspiration, while also striking fear into many of their hearts.

For a student looking to pursue a career in medicine, choosing a university for an undergraduate degree is often one of the hardest decisions to make. It is difficult enough to figure out finances, moving away from home, new friends, and university rankings, but students who want to get into medical school are faced with many other daunting choices as well. They are torn between choosing a school that is ‘prestigious’ according to rankings, and choosing a school where it is possible to achieve a high GPA. Unfortunately, it seems that few universities offer both options for students.

A 2014 Maclean’s article entitled “Gambling on an M.D.” outlined the issue and came to a startling conclusion: more than half of the 1,598 surveyed M.D. students came from one of six universities. It stated that “78 per cent… had last studied at one of 15 universities with a medical school on campus.”   

This is surprising because many undergraduate students avoid universities with reputations for making hard to earn high GPAs; many believe a high GPA is the key to medical school admission. According to Maclean’s, “some [students] swear that the University of Toronto’s life sciences is so hard, it should be avoided at all costs – but little data to back up the rumours.” The survey found that U of T sent the second highest number of students to medical school with a total of 149, behind only McMaster, which sent 168. 

Universities with GPA-friendly reputations, such as Mount Allison and Acadia — which are smaller — only saw a combined total of 24 undergraduates continue on to medical school.

When discussing science, it is important to note that correlation does not imply causation: it is possible that students from schools like Mount Allison and Acadia do not apply to medical school as often as students from U of T or McMaster.  The schools’ populations too, are considerably smaller; it is only logical that fewer students from these schools will be represented at medical schools. Considering how dramatic some students make choosing your undergrad, it seems that this spread suggests something further.

There are a few conclusions one could draw here: though schools like U of T and McMaster may have tougher reputations than schools like Brock or Acadia, medical schools are aware of this fact and consider applications accordingly. Alternatively, schools like U of T prioritize their own undergraduates for admission into U of T medical school over other students, or medical schools in general do not consider GPA as heavily as suggested.

There is, of course, no correct answer — or at least not one with which any medical school will explicitly agree.  The medical admissions process remains as elusive as ever. U of T’s Faculty of Medicine was unable to comment on the subject.

If you ask a current U of T life sciences student aspiring to obtain a career in medicine — like myself — the answer would be to ignore all the rumours.

Yes, U of T may be difficult and perhaps it is tougher than other schools. But if it offers the program in which a student is interested, is in a city in which he or she wants to study, and offers extracurricular opportunities that excites them, I see no good reason not to choose to come here or McMaster, McGill, etc.

This view is shared by Alissa Mirochnitchenko, one of the co-presidents of the U of T Pre-Med Society. “I have no regrets about coming here because I know that at U of T, we are at the epicentre of research and innovation in Canada, and we have the opportunity to participate in it; something that can be more useful to medical school admissions than your GPA.” 

Your GPA is a only a component of your med school application. According to Dr. Marc Morneau of the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Alberta, the weighted importance of your grades in your application is about 30 per cent.  That leaves the majority of your application, a whole 70 per cent, weighted for your extracurriculars, essays, and interview.

Current U of T Faculty of Medicine student Lindsay Schnarr, who has an undergraduate degree from the University of Guelph, says that she chose Guelph “because it was my favourite school and had a program that
offered much more focused medical science type courses compared to doing general life science at McMaster, which would’ve been my second choice.”  While she admits thinking about her GPA may have played some factor in her undergrad applications, it was not the ultimate deciding factor.    

The aspiring medical student can spend a lot of time worrying. What to study, where to study it, and all the extracurricular activities to get involved with all influence student life. It may, however, ultimately be more productive to take a step back and think about what subjects and what universities interest and excite you.

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