When applying to medical school, the American Medical College Application Service (AMCAS) asks aspiring physicians if they would like to be considered “disadvantaged” applicants or not.
Many premedical students find themselves troubled by this question and wonder, what does it mean to be disadvantaged? How does being a disadvantaged applicant affect my medical school application? According to the information American Association of Medical Colleges, the organization that provides the AMCAS application, “disadvantaged status is self-determined.”
Okay … so how is an applicant to know?
AMCAS suggests that it may be appropriate for those from medically underserved areas or those of low socioeconomic backgrounds to apply as disadvantaged applicants. AMCAS however, fails to advise those who fall into neither category. For example, a medical school applicant may have faced long-term adversity that has nothing to do with living below the poverty line. Learning disabilities, or discrimination due to sexual orientation or gender identity may diminish an applicant’s educational opportunities. Being an immigrant or learning English as a second language may also be a significant obstacle to academic enrichment.
Each medical school has its own policies for how it views disadvantaged applicants. Students that seek this status are asked to provide an additional essay on the AMCAS explaining why they consider themselves to be disadvantaged. This information may be useful in helping an admissions committee understand the broader context of an applicant’s background. If the goal of identifying disadvantaged applicants is to provide admissions committees with a more holistic picture, then extraordinary circumstances of adversity are equally as valid as financial disadvantages.
As you can see, the vague nature of self-determined disadvantage creates unnecessary confusion for medical school applicants. Search “disadvantaged status” and “ AMCAS” and you will find yourself on a wild-Google chase for the answer. Unfortunately, many students end up consulting websites like the Student Doctor Network, where premeds with questionable motives may discourage those who feel disadvantaged from claiming this status for a “leg up.” The discussions that take place on these sorts of websites can be quite unproductive and demeaning towards others’ personal struggles.
If, for example, the AMCAS is only aiming to identify educationally disadvantaged (e.g. being the first/only person in a family to graduate college) and financially disadvantaged (e.g. being raised in poverty) applicants, then questions on the application should be more explicit, and one’s status should be easily determined without any confusion. Medical school applications are costly and time-consuming. Applicants should not have to consult third-party resources to interpret what AMCAS may or may not mean by being “disadvantaged.”
Jennifer Adaeze Anyaegbunam will be starting medical school this August. She is currently a student of Narrative Medicine at Columbia University and blogs at Chick Lit MD.com.
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