How to Talk to Your Parents About Applying to Medical School — Savvy Pre-Med

By: Savvy Pre-Med Staff

When we Googled “how to talk to parents,” the results were all over the map. Some were quite serious: depression, dating, moving out, etc.

Others search results were more amusing:

-How to talk to your parents about getting a nose job

-What to do when your parents are embarrassing you online

-How can I stop talking to my parents

What we didn’t find was how to talk to your parents about applying to medical school. In our experience, this task can range from laidback to very stressful, depending on the pre-med, family, and numerous factors like income or culture.

Regardless of where you fall on that spectrum, we have some helpful tips to prepare you for this pivotal conversation in your pre-med journey.

First, we’ll need to acknowledge some common misconceptions from parents: 

1. Parents believe they can just call the admissions office for you. 

Medical schools want to see that you are an independent adult, and mom and dad calling on your behalf does not send that message. 

Are parents going to see patients with you? No, of course not. But they can absolutely support you emotionally once you’re a physician, so that should be the limit in the application process, too.

2. Parents see you as “the good child.”

You’ve never been in trouble, you spend a lot of time volunteering, and you have rarely gotten so much as a B.

Of course your parents think you’re bound to get in; you’re the good kid! But of course, so is everyone else applying to medical school. 

3. Most parents desperately want to be grandparents.

Because they know being a doctor will mean you have to spend most of your fertile years NOT having their grandchildren, parents want no further delays. They especially dislike the idea of taking a gap year.

So, how do you go about talking to your parents about the application process?

First, a cautionary tale: one student we encountered had parents who were worried about their daughter getting rejected and the subsequent shame they would feel from their relatives and community.

So, they forced their daughter to keep her plans a secret. They wouldn’t let her tell anyone she was preparing for the MCAT. They made her study at home and didn’t let her take any prep classes. She even had to lie to her friends and family about what she was doing that summer.

Pop quiz: how well do you think she did on the MCAT? HINT: their daughter was the one who ended up feeling ashamed.

This might be an extreme case, but it shows just how important it is to have an honest conversation with your parents about your medical school plans. This conversation will let you proceed with a clear mind and conscience, so that you can apply on your own terms with full focus. 

1. Set up a family meeting to discuss the topic of applying to medical school.

We recommend doing this a year or two before applying, so that everyone is on the same page and your idea does not seem whimsical or impulsive.

2. Come prepared with admissions averages.

Remember, most people DON’T get into medical school (only 40% at MD schools), and the percentage who get into any given medical school is usually in the single digits, so help your parents avoid getting their hopes up about any given school.

3. Be honest about the strengths and weaknesses of your own application. 

Not sure what your strengths and weaknesses are? Talk to a good pre-med advisor, either at your college or at a reputable company.

4. Talk about Plan B. 

Many parents say things like: “Failure isn’t an option.” That attitude heaps unnecessary pressure on an unpredictable process. So what will you do if you don’t get in? Apply to a post-bacc program? Apply to DO or international schools? What?

Having a Plan B will show your parents that you’ve done your homework and reflected deeply on all possible outcomes. 

5. Bring up the idea of a gap year. 

If you want to take a gap year, remind your parents that the average age for starting medical school is 24 and that gap years are unequivocally good

6. Now is a great time to talk about finances.

MCAT registration fees, application fees, MCAT preparation, and application consulting fees–all of these add up quickly.

Applying to 25 schools costs roughly $4,000, so make a budget now so you don’t have to put everything on a credit card.

7. Open up about your feelings about the admissions process.

This might mean the stress you’re feeling, the possibility of failure, your commitment to the career… a lot of times, you’ll be surprised at how supportive your parents can be. 

Talk openly about how much you want to share your admissions process with other family and friends. It’s your right to decide to be open or not to share at all.

Good luck broaching this topic with your parents – it might not be easy, but you will feel infinitely better when it’s over! Have any tips to suggest that we missed? Let us know in the comments below!

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