Increasing Transparency in Ontario Medical School Admissions
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- Liam Dowling (Queen's University)
With each passing year, medical school applications in Ontario become more competitive. According to the Ontario Medical School Application System (OMSAS) the number of applicants has been steadily increasing over the past decade. Due to the large number of applications, Ontario medical schools employ various forms of evaluation criteria to select matriculants into their programs. Some examples of these requirements include weighted or cumulative grade point average (GPA), Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT) scores, reference letters, autobiographical sketches (ABS), additional essays, the CASPer Test, geographic location, and interview performance. Of the six medical schools in Ontario, each one uses different combinations of these criteria to assess their applicants. In addition, some schools do not weigh all of their criteria evenly and prioritize one area over another in evaluation. Despite requiring significant amounts of information from applicants, Ontario medical schools often do not openly disclose to applicants how the different aspects of their application are being used to evaluate them. This problem can be defined generally as application and admission transparency. Medical school application and admission transparency can be divided into two major categories: pre-application information and application feedback. Pre-application information can be described as information that an applicant can use to make an informed decision about whether their application is competitive for a particular medical school. At some schools, this can be represented as statistics of successful applicants (those receiving interviews) and matriculants, minimum scores for GPA and standardized tests, and releasing criteria by which qualitative components of applications such as essays are being evaluated. Application feedback can be defined as the scoring of personal information and the interview, the actual weighting of these scores in the admission decision, and position of waitlists. A complete summary of the different forms of publicly available admission criteria for applicants for both Ontario and other Canadian medical schools can be found in the Appendix. All information from the table has been gathered from medical school websites. A lack of transparency in the admission process of medical schools has several consequences. Medical school applications are often financially and emotionally burdensome for applicants. Currently, individuals with a higher socioeconomic status are disproportionately represented in medical schools. Financially, it costs $220 to apply through OMSAS with additional $100-125 for each medical school application. This value does not include fees for sending transcripts or completing the MCAT and/or CASPer test (an additional $100-500). Along with these costs, there are also hidden costs associated with using preparatory courses and materials, as well as taking time away from work to study. A lack of admission transparency can exacerbate this problem by allowing individuals to apply to schools where there is a low probability that they will be successful in gaining admissions. Additionally, if applicants are unsuccessful and reapply without scores or feedback, they are left in the same predicament where they may reapply to schools that are unlikely to accept them. The decision to apply to medical school is a calculated risk for many students. Without access to concrete information on admissions, applicants may turn to informal routes for information. These resources may be current medical students, healthcare professionals, or online forums. False or misleading information could be provided to students through these means and may influence their decision to apply to medical school. By releasing accurate admissions information and evaluation criteria, applicants can make more informed decisions and tailor their expectations about the results of their applications. Furthermore, there is another concern that non-transparent admission processes may lead to reduced diversity in the application pool. Diversity for the purposes of this paper refers to diversity of experiences from applicants in terms of their employment, volunteering, and other non-academic activities. Applicants who are more familiar with the medical profession because of their family background or extracurricular experiences may be more confident approaching the process; greater admissions transparency could therefore enhance diversity among medical school matriculants. At the same time however, providing overly specific admissions requirements could reduce the diversity in the applicant pool as it may discourage individuals with different profiles from applying – this issue is discussed in more detail in the recommendations. Overall, Ontario medical schools are lacking in admissions transparency compared to some of the other Canadian medical schools. Some Canadian medical schools have demonstrated a commitment to providing applicants with information regarding their cutoffs and evaluation criteria, and have demonstrated that it is feasible to provide feedback to individual students. This feedback is usually provided as summary of evaluations scores throughout the admission process. Details of these differences are listed in the Appendix and discussed below in the recommendations. In this paper we highlight some of the current standards of admissions and application transparency at other Canadian medical schools, and provide recommendations on how Ontario programs might improve their admission processes. The Ontario Medical Students Association (OMSA) calls on Ontario medical schools to work towards more transparent admissions processes and greater applicant feedback.
- Ontario medical schools should seek to provide statistics to both successful and unsuccessful applicants based on the school’s evaluation criteria (such as GPA, MCAT, CASPer).
- Ontario medical schools should provide potential applicants with easily accessible information regarding quantitative cutoffs (from current and past years) as well as qualitative assessment criteria to assist in pre-application decision making.
- Ontario medical schools should provide feedback to applicants, such as evaluation scores, in order to assist in post-application improvement.
- Ontario medical schools should ensure that their evaluation of candidates maintains and allows for a diversity of applicant experiences.