Episode 33: Admissions Update

Joni returns to answer some more FAQs about the admissions season at Pritzker.

If you have questions for us, please send them to pritzkerquestions@gmail.com. Or, call (773) 336-2POD and leave us a message.

[Music: “The Area” used with permission from Eliot Lipp. “Shiggidy” used with permission from Greg Spero and GMG.]

Episode 33 Transcript

Ben Ferguson: Hello, everyone. Welcome to another episode of the Pritzker Podcast. This is Episode 33, and I am delighted to be joined once again by Joni Krapec, who is coming back to the Pritzker Podcast after having taken, what was it, a few months off, Joni?

Joni Krapec: Yeah. Three months.

BF: For a pregnancy leave?

JK: Yep, yep.

BF: Awesome. Congratulations on your introduction to motherhood and welcome back to the Pritzker School of Medicine.

JK: Thank you. It’s good to be back.

BF: We figured, since it’s still sort of early in the admissions process for the upcoming year, that we would answer some questions about the admissions process here at Pritzker and just answer some general questions that people have been having throughout this process as well. So we’re glad to have Joni here to discuss some of those things. So Joni, I think it’s always worthwhile to review what Pritzker looks for in its applicants, and it’s certainly a question that comes up often times early in the application cycle in people’s minds. So could we just talk about that again in terms of what Pritzker really is looking for in the students that it ultimately accepts?

JK: Absolutely. And I think every year when we get started looking at applications, I’m reminded of my first year looking at applications where I really noticed that pretty much, I would say, about 80% to 85% of our applicants are qualified to be a physician in the sense that it seems like they are academically ready, it seems like they are kind of overall good people. So the hardest thing for me that year, and that I remind myself of every year, is we’re not simply looking at an application to see “Will this person make a good physician?” because the majority of them will. What we’re looking for is, “Will this person be the right fit for Pritzker?” And so the way that we start thinking about that is, certainly, we’re looking to see not only are they academically prepared for medical school in the sense that they’ve taken a rigorous course load, they have the science requirements that we need them to have, we also look for overall breadth in an application. You know, have you also been involved with social sciences and humanities and things like that? And along with that, we also like to see that the person has a desire to develop lifelong learning habits and develop problem-solving skills that they will use. You know, certainly medicine is constantly evolving. So when we look at academic readiness, it’s not just “Do you have a certain amount of content information?” but also “Do you have a desire to continue to learn and grow throughout your career as you continue in your role as a physician?” So we look for that.

We look for a demonstrated commitment to being of service to others. And that means being of service to your peers, being of service to those in your community, being of service to people who need help. Medicine is at its very core a helping profession, and so we like to see applicants who have demonstrated a commitment to being of service to other people. And when I say a demonstrated commitment, I’m looking to see more than just a couple of weeks here and there or a month here and there. We really look for a long-standing and sustained commitment, not kind of going through a “checklist” approach of, “Yeah, I should probably do some service work. Let me do that for a summer. I should probably go shadow a doctor. Let me do that for a couple of weeks.” We look to see that you’ve actually done a pretty significant commitment.

So, speaking of shadowing, we’re certainly looking to see that you have a well-informed and explored commitment to the profession, that you’ve really tried to test it to the best of your ability. And we know that applicants cannot–you know, you can’t go play at surgery for a couple of days, and we certainly know that, but have you shadowed physicians? Have you worked in a clinic within your community? Have you volunteered as a translator at a clinic that might serve Spanish-speaking populations? How have you explored the role of a physician and, therefore, how do you know that this is the right career for you? So those are all things that we look at.

Because we have a relatively small class–we only have about 88 students in our entering class–we look for people who really demonstrate an ability to work in a team. Our classes and our overall curriculum is a pass-fail basis for your first two years. So we’re looking for people who are collaborative rather than competitive and who wish to be of help to their fellow classmates as much as they are going to be of help to their patients.

We do look for applicants who have explored areas of diversity and who have put themselves in situations that might not be entirely familiar to them. Certainly medical school will be another jump up in terms of exploring completely new information and completely new scenarios. And so we like to see applicants who have kind of put themselves in a situation that might not have been comfortable right off the bat. For example, going to Finland for a study abroad for a semester. That’s something that you put yourself into a situation that you are not immediately comfortable, I’m sure. And so we look to see that you’ve been able to do that so that when you are coming into medical school and you are presented with situations that are not 100% familiar, that you are able to kind of move through that process.

And I think applicants who have gotten to our secondary have read the question, “Tell us why you want to come to Pritzker. Why do you think you’ll be a good fit?” And we really lean heavily on that essay to help us determine whether this person kind of understands our school and would be a good fit here. Because we have a small class size and because we have well over 35 student organizations for–we have a total of about 450 students–we look to see, do you want to get involved? Do you want to be a leader? Do you want to continue to participate in a lot of different activities that will help in any variety of ways? Do you have basically an ability or a desire to question things and to go out and explore and say, “Hey, what about this?” and “Can’t we make this better?” Whether that happens in pure science research or whether that happens in a community-based project, we really don’t care which way it comes, but we just want our students to really have an innate curiosity and a desire to kind of make the world a little bit better however they choose to do that. So that’s kind of what we’re looking for overall.

BF: If someone were applying and got rejected off the bat–if they had, for example, a 4.0 GPA and a 43 on the MCAT and got rejected–might the absence of one or some of those aspects of what you’re looking for be the reason? Or what else might have gone wrong with their application?

JK: Sure. I think a lot of times, students feel like the higher the MCAT and the higher the GPA, the greater my chances are of getting into medical school. And depending on what numbers you are talking about, that is somewhat true. But realistically speaking, is there a huge difference between a 38 and a 43? Not really. I mean both of those individuals will be able to handle the curriculum at medical school. So what we look for is, do we think this person has demonstrated their ability to handle our curriculum? And once that answer is yes, then it almost kind of doesn’t matter a ton how far surpassing that you are. If you have a 4.0 and a 45, it doesn’t guarantee that you are going to be admitted to Pritzker. If you have a 3.3 and a 29, it doesn’t guarantee that you are not going to be admitted to Pritzker. So what we’re looking at is your overall trajectory of your grades. Did you improve every year? How well did you do on the MCAT? How rigorous were your classes? And we can see, yes, we think this person can handle our curriculum.

Then once we have said yes to that, now what we’re looking at is everything else–your experiences, your activities, what your letters of recommendation have said about you, what you have said about yourself in your essay questions–and basically kind of looking to see now your overall personality and the entirety of your preparation for medical school. So if somebody has really super big numbers but was not given an interview to Pritzker, it typically is because the rest of their application is not developed to the level that we need to see. It could be that the person got a 4.0 because the one and only activity that they were involved with was school. And to be honest, we’d rather see somebody that has a 3.8 while balancing varsity athletics or while balancing a part-time job or balancing community service experiences, because we hope that when you get to medical school, you’re not going to do school and only school, that you will be a well-rounded person while you’re here. So that could be the case.

It could be in the overall scope of essays that we just were not feeling like this is the person who is collaborative. Maybe this person gave off a really competitive vibe, and that doesn’t fit well here. I mean, it can be a great fit at some medical schools, but it’s not a good fit here. We really like to see individuals who are able to work in teams and who want to help their classmates as opposed to, say, “Well, I got a 4.0 and that’s what matters. I don’t care what happened to you.” So that’s something that we definitely look at.

And the other thing that it could be is letters of recommendation that may have suggested to us that this person has a couple of traits or characteristics that might not be as good to have within our environment. So, typically, if somebody has really huge numbers and did not get an interview offer, it’s because there’s another aspect of their application that we did not feel was developed to the level that we need to see.

BF: You’ve mentioned essays in the application process a few times. We’ve talked about this on the podcast before, but is it still the case that you guys read all the essays or is there ever sort of a numbers-based screening process that you guys go through?

JK: We read everything. We read every word that you will send to us. We will read it. So certainly essays are a huge component of your overall application. Like I said at the outset, most of the people who apply will be perfectly fine physicians. So the essays are something that we look at to see in terms of your overall personality, in terms of your goals and your desires in medicine. Is that a good fit with what we do at Pritzker? So the essays are very carefully read and often times are the tipping point between whether or not somebody gets an interview offer here.

BF: Okay. I just want to talk about two other sort of peculiarities, I think, about the Pritzker application in particular. And one is this “hold” terminology. A lot of students have been placed on hold and they don’t necessarily know what that means. Can you explain that?

JK: Yeah. I think probably the easiest way to think about it is it’s almost like kind of having a waitlist for interviews. So when we read an application, we’re looking at all those factors that I just outlined previously. And so if somebody is placed on hold, what it means is that likely a couple of those factors were very, very strong and the committee was impressed with several aspects of the person’s application, so we aren’t ready to say, “No, we do not want to explore your application further.” But what it also then means is that there are a couple of aspects of the application that may not have been as fully developed as what we’re seeing currently in our most competitive applicants. So we place that applicant on hold for a review later in the season, which is typically late November, early December, once we’ve had a chance to look at the entirety of our application pool and then can determine, okay, which are the most competitive applicants as we go through the process.

And I think that’s always the hardest thing for applicants to understand is that we’re not simply looking at each application as an on/off switch, either yes or no, based exclusively on that application. It’s, is this applicant–of the 4,000 applications that we will receive, we only have 600 interview slots. So we’re looking for the best 600 that will be the best fit here that we look and we say, “This person would do great at Pritzker.” That’s what we’re looking for. And so if somebody’s placed on hold, that’s because we like parts of their application, we might not be as sure about other parts of their application, and so once we have a chance to look at more applicants, we’ll go back and re-review those applications and decide who we’re going to invite to interview and who we may then decide to say “No, we’re not going to continue your process further.”

BF: Do you have any sense of how many people are taken off of hold successfully versus just rejected outright?

JK: Yeah. I would say–last year we probably had about 200 applicants who were taken off of hold, and we probably interviewed between 25 and 30 of those. Now some of those self-select out. They will send us an email saying, “You know what, I’ve gotten interview offers at schools that I’m really excited about. Don’t worry about me anymore.” And that is certainly fine and is certainly the applicant’s choice. The applicants who tend to be taken off of that hold list are those who have been in touch with us to say, “I’m really interested in Pritzker. Here’s an update on my activities. Here’s an update of my fall semester grades,” or “I took the MCAT again. Here’s that score.” You know, those who stay in touch with us and continue to send us updates and let us know that “I’m really interested in Pritzker.”

BF: And then the other aspect, I think, that would be worth discussing is some timing issues. And I think some people have brought up the issue of being even rejected within a few hours of having the application complete. And some people are also saying that, you know, “I know so-and-so person was complete on the same day that I was, and they heard yesterday, and I’m still waiting.” Can you talk to some of the timing issues that go along with the application?

JK: Absolutely. So what happens inevitably at the start of the year is our admissions committee and the members who screen applications for interview are always super excited when the application is first launched and when we receive our first complete applications. We are literally waiting and checking the computers for, okay, is somebody complete yet? Are they complete yet? We’re kind of like little puppies waiting at the door and we want somebody to get here and to go ahead and complete their applications. So we are meeting daily and are able to return those decisions very quickly because we are so eager to get underway. And in the beginning, to be honest, I mean, the first few days that the application is open, we are probably getting eight to ten completed applications in a day. So it’s pretty easy for us to read those applications very thoroughly and be able to make a decision very quickly. And as the process keeps going, we start to slow down because more and more applications are coming in any given day.

So we got our first complete application, I think, about two or three weeks ago, again, in that slow trickle of anywhere from five to ten complete on any given day. Just three weeks later now we’re seeing more like 50 complete on any given day. As we keep moving further into the admission season, we’re going to start seeing 150 complete on one day or 200 complete on one day. If you wait until December 1st, you will be one of close to 1,000 who completes on that day because that’s our final deadline. So that tends to slow us down. And what happens is various people will be evaluating the applications. So as 50 come in on July 9th, they are divided up between several different committee members and they are read by several different committee members. So our timing can just start to slow down.

So that’s why two people can be complete on the same day but they may receive their decision on different dates because of how quickly the people reviewing their application was able to review it, if that makes sense. So it doesn’t mean if you hear back more quickly it means you’re being invited versus if you hear back less quickly that you’re not being invited. It just depends on how quickly the committee can continue to make decisions as we’re getting more and more applications put through.

BF: Can you give folks a sense of where you guys stand in the application process now? Like, if you feel comfortable sharing how many interview invitations you’ve given out and so forth?

JK: Sure. Right now, we have received about 3,000 total applications–total AMCAS applications. And so all of those applicants have now been sent our secondary application as well. Ultimately, about 4,000 to 4,500 total applications is what we have been receiving in the past couple of years. So we’re almost like three-quarters there of how many applications we will receive from AMCAS, then obviously we have the secondaries that need to be completed as well. And so right now, at this point, we have sent out almost 60–six-zero–interview invitations for 600 slots. And like I said earlier, we’ve been kind of open for business this season for about three weeks, sneaking up on four weeks. So we have–is that a tenth? I’m so bad at math, Ben. You’re so much better at math than me. So 60 out of 600, that’s a tenth, right?

BF: Yep.

JK: And we’ve been open for pretty much one month.

BF: Wow.

JK: So it definitely is in every applicant’s best interest to get their application in as soon as humanly possible. By the time we get to December 1st, which is our last possible day to send us information, typically by that point about 1 in 100 to 150 applicants is given the opportunity to interview because by then, we only have–I mean, we start interviewing August 24th, we finish the last day of January. So if you don’t turn in your application until December 1st, we have very little time in which to interview you. So definitely apply early as possible.

BF: Okay. And just finally to wrap up, Joni, can you just give people an idea of what the incoming class to Pritzker is like? I know that’s pretty well set at this point, right?

JK: Yeah. Our orientation begins two weeks from this Thursday. So we’re coming up pretty quick on that. And our class is full. It’s really an amazing group of people. I mean, they are just incredible. We have 88 students who are coming in. Their average GPA is about a 3.8. Their average MCAT score is a 36, and that has held pretty close over the last couple of years. That’s been about what we’ve seen. There are about–I’m trying to think. Usually our class is divided 50/50 male/female. Typically about a quarter of the class has a home state of Illinois, and then usually our next highest home state is either New York or California. And so that has held again this year as well.

And the students are just amazing. Typically, about half or closer to 60% of the incoming students are coming straight from undergraduate. The other 40% typically have had at least one, if not several, years away. And during that time, we have many students who have done advanced degrees. We have students coming in who have had their MPH or who have master’s degrees. And I think we even have one student who already has their PhD who’s coming into medical school now. And then a lot of the students have spent that time doing things like Teach for America or who have worked kind of in corporate America and then decided, “You know what? I really want to be a physician,” and kind of re-routed themselves. We have amazing former varsity athletes who are coming into our class, very accomplished musicians, both instrumental and vocal, many students who have done really significant volunteer work whether domestically or abroad.

And the students themselves, they are just really wonderful people. They are fun people to talk to. We get really excited for them to get here every year, and also really excited for our now-rising second-year students to come back to run orientation. The second-years have been gone now for a couple of months since they finished their finals in June and finished their first year of med school, so it’s kind of lonely around here. So we’re anxious for the students to get back, and certainly for our entering class to get here. They are really a great group of people.

BF: Awesome. And did you want to mention those videos or no?

JK: Oh, absolutely. Yeah. I told Ben offline that we have–one of the last things that I did, actually, before I went on maternity leave in March was to help edit a new series of videos that we have that feature a lot of our current students, a lot of the work that they have done, a lot of our faculty members. So that is accessible through the Pritzker homepage. It’s on the bottom right-hand corner. They’re called The Pritzker Reels. And so it gives a great glimpse into the city of Chicago, our neighborhood of Hyde Park, and a lot of the work that our students do. So it will be a fun series of clips. I think the shortest one is three minutes, the longest one is like seven minutes. So it’s not a huge time investment, but I think they’re good clips to kind of explore and get a glimpse of Pritzker and kind of the spirit of Pritzker through those video clips.

BF: Cool. I actually have not seen these, so I’m going to go watch them right now.

JK: Yeah, you should! Actually they’re on YouTube as well, so you can get them either way. But they’re very fun.

BF: Awesome. Well, thanks, Joni. I think that’s helpful for people. It’s like real-life MSAR, basically.

JK: Oh, sure! No, I’m always happy to help. And I know you always let people email you with various questions and things and we usually do episodes that are just responding to listener questions, so certainly keep those questions coming and we’ll be happy to address them.

BF: Exactly. Thanks, Joni.

JK: Oh, sure. Thanks, Ben.

Posted on August 3, 2010 to: