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Interview with Jennifer Welch, Associate Dean of Admissions & Financial Aid at SUNY Upstate Medical University [Show Summary]
In today’s episode we talk with Jennifer Welch, Associate Dean of Admissions and Chief Enrollment Officer at SUNY Upstate Medical. Jennifer shares information on the new curriculum, as well as what students can expect in the application process and who SUNY Upstate wants in their program.
Find out what’s new at SUNY Upstate Medical University [Show Notes]
Our guest today is Jennifer Welch, Associate Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid and Chief Enrollment Officer. Jennifer arrived at SUNY as Director of Admissions at SUNY Upstate Medical in 1994 and became Associate Dean of Admissions in 2013. She is also no stranger to Admissions Straight Talk or Accepted. She participated in Accepted’s old chats and was a guest on AST’s episodes 87 and 168. However, that was a while ago, and it’s time to catch up with Jennifer and what’s happening at SUNY Upstate.
SUNY Upstate has spent much time and energy over the last five years in a curriculum overhaul, with the basic goal of better integrating clinical and basic science instruction. How is that going? [2:28]
Students don’t learn anymore in a large lecture hall. The new curriculum is called the Up Curriculum and has done a wonderful job of integrating a more small group dynamic. All coursework is also taped so students can learn on their own. The basic idea is they get the chance to collaborate with one another to learn concepts. We are also offering flipped classrooms with problem-based learning. These changes were slow in coming but the committee did a fabulous job in terms of figuring out what students needed. Students served on the committee also which was really helpful. At this point we are fully integrated in the first and second year. Students are in class most mornings and then in small group discussions on cases relevant to what they are learning in the classroom. We are also going to be live with simulations this fall. For now the third year is still very much the rotations, the fourth year AIs and electives. There is discussion about doing a three year curriculum – 18 months of basic sciences and then going right into clinical years.
I noticed that SUNY Upstate is requiring the CASPer. When do you recommend that applicants take it and what are you learning from it? [7:29]
Last year was the first year we required it, but did not use it in the admissions process. We looked at how students performed in CASPer and how they performed in the interviews, and there was a very strong correlation. We had a retreat a few weeks ago to show the correlation, and we’ll be using it a little more in the screening process. It will be part of the evaluation when students are starting to look a lot alike – when we have few interview slots left, applicants have similar schools/grades/MCAT scores. Students need it for their application to be complete, so I am encouraging people to take it in June/July/August. We will not consider an application until we have the CASPer score. Ideally taking it between primaries and secondaries would be great.
Any changes planned for your secondaries? [10:09]
One question that we just added is if students are interested in primary care as we do have some scholarship funding, but other than that there are no changes.
What can students expect on interview day at SUNY Upstate? [11:00]
There are not a lot of classes to sit in on anymore, and we are still trying to work out how best to run interview day with the new curriculum, as it can be somewhat awkward for the interviewees to participate in small group discussion, though we are encouraging them to do that. We start out with a welcome from somebody on my staff and then let them know what they will do throughout the day. Some will do the MMI right away, which is a two hour session and this past year we did a student experience session which we will continue with, featuring info on student retention, academic support, financial aid, financial literacy, student activities, and multicultural affairs to show them what is available outside of academics. We want them to know it is really important to find a balance. Then I do a half hour presentation about when you are going to hear and what you are going to hear. I talk about our two different campuses, financial aid, special programs we offer, about fit, and finding the school that meets the needs you have and going with your gut. Then current students come in and do a Q&A which I leave for. I want the applicants to ask all the hard questions and want students to tell it like it is. We have a campus tour, and then students are free to go, so it is a full day.
How do you recommend they prepare for the MMI? [15:07]
We switched to the MMI from traditional interviews in 2012 and won’t go back. It is forcing more of the non-cognitive stuff – competencies, resilience, curiosity, communication skills, empathy, writing, and is a great opportunity to assess in a different way. In terms of tips for students, I would say be comfortable with yourself, look people in the eye, shake hands. You don’t have to be an expert on health policy or insurance, and I am not looking for students to diagnose patients, but I want to see experience with patients, working with physicians, being a leader, serving in diverse populations. Each question is geared to something like that. I would say our MMI is different from other schools in that we don’t do a lot of scenario-based, but ask more traditional questions. So being true to yourself, and comfortable with how you interact with others is more important. Practice the interview – practice being comfortably uncomfortable. There are nine different stations per applicant, and you will have the opportunity to talk about SUNY Upstate, why you want to be a doctor, answer ethical questions, do some writing, and if there are any red flags in the app there is the opportunity to talk about those – my suggestion is to own those, and don’t think we aren’t going to see it.
What do you recommend an applicant do and not do if waitlisted by SUNY Upstate? [22:44]
Update letters don’t help. We rank our waitlist and we don’t go back and re-rank. So basically there is nothing an applicant can do to help their chances but be patient.
This podcast should air July 30. When do you recommend that applicants wait until the next cycle to apply? [23:50]
Starting an application in August is late. By the time they complete the application they are looking at 4-6 weeks turnaround from AMCAS and then the secondaries. By that time in the process (Sept/Oct) I have maybe 50 interview dates still available. 2020 students who have already submitted just received their secondary application last night. Many will complete it by the end of next week/beginning of next, and we screen in order of application complete. I had 1700 students load last night [The interview was recorded July 10.], so the applicant who waits until August is going to be behind all of those students. We have 800 interview slots in total, so when we only have 50 slots left it is really competitive. Overall I would advise to apply next year.
What makes an application exciting (in a positive way) for you? [29:27]
One whose reasons for going into medicine might be a little off the beaten path. We get a lot of applications with stories about how students watched their grandma pass away which was the catalyst into medicine. There is honesty in that for sure, but what excites me is somebody who might have traveled a different path and then come to medicine. Gap years are becoming more popular – I recently heard them referred to as “growth years” – but I love it when students take time off to determine if medicine really is the right path for them. Every year I have students who do a leave of absence or withdraw entirely, which is such a shame because there are so many applicants where this is their true calling. So taking the time to find themselves, doing something they might not get the opportunity to do otherwise, and writing about it in their personal statement I am going to love to read. That will set them apart from another applicant.
When should repeat reapplicants start thinking that maybe medicine isn’t for them? [32:49]
We had someone who applied to med school 10 years in a row – needless to say that is too much. I would say that if you don’t get in the first time, try again, but don’t try it with the same application. I can’t tell you the number of applications I’ve read that are exactly the same as the year prior. If it didn’t work the first time, it’s not going to work the second, even if you are told that it was the interview that was the problem. Find someone who can really help you strengthen your application. Once you get to 4-5 applications, it’s time to look at something else. Something health-related, but not medical school. Some think PA, which is as hard if not harder to get into than medical school.
What advice do you have for applicants planning ahead for a 2020 or 2021 application? [37:20]
I would start thinking about putting the personal statement together which is one of the most difficult things to do. Just start writing stuff down, and with your resume go through things you’ve done, medically relevant or not. Think about the transferable skills in non-medical experience as they can be relevant. We sometimes see people 23-24 years old who have never had a job – I want there to be some exposure to a level of responsibility you’ve had in your life. Continue with clinical work, which shows you are dedicated to patient care and to serving others, and if you love research continue doing it.
What would you have liked me to ask that I didn’t ask you? [39:40]
Maybe what keeps me at SUNY Upstate. I have been there 25 years and I really think that what sets it apart (and I’ve had an offer from another school) is the people and environment. It has had its challenges, as all places do, but the people and students and the experience the students have is like no other. Students tell us all the time they love our interview day because they feel they are part of something bigger than themselves. I left Upstate for 10 months in 2001 and I came back, as I couldn’t find any place that made me feel I was in the right place. It is a family kind of environment, and students being successful and supported.
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