Hello, all

March 29, 2010

Given that I’m literally about to go mad concerning this very important medical school decision, I thought I would share my concerns with all of you rather than being one of those anonymous posters on med school forums.

I try not to talk about school very much in my day-to-day interactions with the world outside my house because I have had issues in the past with my personality during these conversations–it’s hard to talk about going to medical school with people who have 2 or 4-year degrees and are perfectly happy with them.  Those people happen to be the majority of the people with whom I associate, so yeah.

People have asked polite questions about which schools I am pursuing, what kind of progress I’ve made, that sort of thing but I choose not to talk about it except in the vaguest terms because it’s not really something I’m proud of.

The long and short of it is that I absolutely hated Carolina–it’s a very old, very large, very pretty school with a great reputation but the academics (the very essence of the SCHOOL) were awful.  I had the worst case of failure to thrive possible and therefore graduated with a horrible gpa and an even worse science gpa.  Why?  I had come from a very nurturing academic program where the teachers always knew who I was, cared about how I did, and then when I got to UNC, I was one of 3000 potential biology graduates for 2009 who all wanted to either be doctors, dentists, pharmacists, or at least someone successful.  There simply aren’t enough people to care about all of us students, so I fell through the cracks with mediocre grades on tests that routinely averaged in the 50s.

I watched those around me manipulate professors and TAs, hound them, email them, suck answers out of them–it was disgusting and definitely not something I was willing to do, so I made bad grades.  On paper, it’s easy enough to blame my grades on too much to do–the community service fraternity, the demanding third-shift job–but the honest truth is that I should have transferred because UNC was not the place for me.

That said, here I am trying to advance to another school and I think that UNC might have left a wound that’s too deep to heal–I have no research experience, terrible grades, and now what?  I applied to Caribbean schools because they are the only ones who (I thought) would have me.  My grades wouldn’t even get me an interview at US allopathic schools.  I might have a chance at DO schools when this fall rolls around, but that would involve building a quick and false relationship with a DO solely for the purpose of getting a letter of recommendation and something pretty for my resume and again, that is something dishonest that I don’t want to do.

In theory, Caribbean schools will accept anyone.  As long as you have the prerequisite classes with a grade that’s not an F, that’s really all they ask of you.  The problem, which I’m figuring out now, is getting funding.  The only schools in the Caribbean that are eligible for federal funding (aka not Loan Sharks) are Ross (Dominica), AUC (St. Maarten), and St. George (Granada).  The reason is that they have been around for >20 years.

I applied to all of those schools including a couple of second tier schools, thinking if worse comes to worse that the second tier schools would be my safety schools.  Three months later, here I am and here are the results:

Ross–Interview for Thursday (4/1/10) for MAY semester!  Is there really enough time?

AUC–Denied.  Got the letter last week but don’t really have the guts to spread the bad news around.

St. George–Haven’t heard from them yet.  They don’t have a May semester, so I’ve applied for September and they’re certainly taking their time, even if they’re going to just tell me no.

The second tier schools:

AUA (Antigua)–Accepted.  The first school to get back to me.  After a Skype interview, I was accepted into Extended BSc.

Saba (small island of Saba)–Denied.  First rejection letter but they offered to forward my app to another school free of charge.  It was

MUA-Nevis (St. Kitts’ sister island of Nevis)–Accepted.  They were the second interview.

So I’m in med school–what’s the dilemma?  The same thing that makes the world go around…no not love, money.  When I heard back from MUA I was excited, mostly that if the rest of the schools said no, then I had that one yes that I needed and the world was a wonderful place.  Unfortunately, some research on Valuemd.com yielded the info that MUA’s only loan provider for US students is EdInvest, a nightmare company that has double-digit interest rates, makes students re-qualify for loans every semester, and almost unattainable standards for getting loans.  Among other requirements, the student must have a >700 credit score or use a co-signer which is do-able now, but what about in a couple semesters when I’ve got $30k in debt under my belt with no job?  I read horror stories about students who were half-way through the program and had to quit because they could no longer get loans.  Can’t take that risk.

What about AUA?  Well I was getting really excited about AUA–it sounds like a great school despite being only 5 or 6 years old.  During the interview, the interviewer originally was planning on recommending me for the modified pre-med program because of my grades, but after discussion involving me defensively defending my application, he decided to recommend me for the regular med program.  I got an email a few days later that I had been accepted into the Extended Basic Sciences program which means that I would be a full-fledged med student, but I would be taking 2 classes instead of 3.  That’s do-able.  I would have the option to spend a between-semester break on the island to catch up by taking a block session of the missing class.  Sounds great?  Well, that’s when the weird stuff started happening.  After reading some unsettling information on Valuemd forums about their loan situation, I called AUA’s financial aid office and they refused to tell me anything until I got a financial aid email.  (FYI–I still haven’t received this email)  What?  You can’t even tell me who your loan banks are?  Weird.  I called my “new student coordinator” after she didn’t return any of my emails and I could tell by her tone something was wrong.  Apparently, because of my gpa, I’m not eligible for loans there, even from private banks.  What?!  Apparently they only have 1 private bank, and they have a minimum gpa in order for students to receive loans and I’m roughly a semester of A’s away from it.  Crap.

So that’s where I am now.  Do I spend the summer attending WPCC and taking 12 hours of joke humanities classes to raise my gpa so that I can go to a second-tier school with one shaky loan provider?  Or do I go through with this interview thing with Ross?

I have so many mixed feelings about Ross, and here are the pros and cons

Pros: most recognized Caribbean school, very established–been around since the 70s, has federal loans, not the most expensive school, can be done in 3.5 years if all semesters are taken consecutively with no summer breaks.

Cons: Dominica is a third-world country, the class sizes are huge and terribly reminiscent of Carolina’s, it has been described as a “fail factory” with shocking attrition rates, airfare is $700+, in terms of housing–you’re on your own, I’m thinking if I get in, they’re probably going to place me in their MERP program.

What does it mean to get MERPed?  You are sent to either Miami or the Bahamas for an intensive 1-semester “preview” of what med school at Ross will be like.  Doesn’t sound that bad, right?  Firstly numbers, it’s a $20k post-bac program in which roughly 30% of the people will not pass.  The program is not eligible for federal loans so you are responsible for getting a private loan, albeit through either Wells Fargo, Wachovia, or Sallie Mae–not sketchy loan shark banks.  There is a tricky fail/pass system that requires minimum scores in all subjects, so even if you take all the classes and have a great overall average that’s above the cut-off point, if even one of the subjects is below the cut-off score, you still fail, and if you fail, that’s it.  No second chance.  On the plus side, classes are from 8am-1pm at the latest, so you get plenty of time to study including weekends (which I haven’t had for a while) BUT you have to wear business casual to class EVERY DAY!  (It’s in a building of doctor’s offices)  Ugh.  Also, as I said before, housing is on you.  No dorms.  However, if you make it through this program, you’re automatically accepted and ready to go to Dominica the next semester.

There are loads of forums about MERP on valuemd, and they all have many mixed posts about it.  There are a lot of “I’m so grateful for the MERP program, it completely prepared me for the rigors of Ross.  I wouldn’t have survived without it.” but then there are also a lot of “It was a complete waste of money.  Just a gimmick for Ross to get an extra $20k out of me.”

I know I’m counting my chickens before they hatch–after all, I haven’t even had the interview yet.  They might not accept me at all.  But my concern is that if they offer me the MERP program, the spring 2010 MERP program starts April 12!!!!!  If my interview is April 1st, the soonest they can get a decision to me is probably April 5th.  Would they let me defer?  The fall program starts August 9th–that would give me plenty of time to save up money, find housing arrangements, buy nice cheap used books, get a “business casual” wardrobe, but is it even an option?

And then, just supposing I go through with the MERP program and make it, then what?  I don’t think I can make it at Ross–the classes are huge (300-400 students) and they take something crazy like 5 or 6 classes during the first semester.  I bet their Mini’s are insane.  All of that when I could just raise my gpa, go to AUA and take 2 classes the first semester, have my housing taken care of by the school, and even have school-provided transportation*for a nominal fee.

::sigh:: I don’t know what to do except sit here and stew, waiting.  I guess I’ll have to call AUA and tell them I can’t afford to pay the $15k myself without loans for this semester and see if they’ll let me defer.  MUA–is there a nice way to say “thanks but no thanks?”