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OCS Report Shows Fewer Bound for Medical School

By Tova A. Serkin, Crimson Staff Writer

Following a national trend, the number of Harvard seniors applying to medical school fell for the third consecutive year according to a recently released report from the Office for Career Services (OCS).

The drop is far more pronounced at Harvard than it is nationally. From 1998 to 1999 there was a 33 percent decrease in medical school applications among Harvard students, compared to the national 6 percent drop.

Such a large drop-off, though, is not unprecedented.

"In the past [the application rate] has faltered when the economy is very strong," said Le Ann Michelson, the health career advisor at OCS who prepared the report.

"The quality of applicants is not going down. People who are more marginal are taking themselves out of the application pool," she said.

Though only small numbers of Harvard students are applying to medical school, it does not necessarily mean that the profession is losing popularity. Many wait until a few years after graduation to apply.

In 1999, 136 Harvard seniors sweated through the application process, but 200 alums set their hopes on medical school as well.

Michelson said the numbers also don't include the increasing number of students who defer their acceptances for a year.

"I do think people are taking more time to plan their careers these days, and medical schools may be valuing some postgraduate experience more than they used to, so the increase in alumni applicants may not be hard to explain," Dean of the College Harry R. Lewis '68 said in an e-mail message.

Taking time off has become more common for a number of reasons, Michelson said.

According to the report, alums accepted to medical school have lower grade point averages and MCAT scores than admitted undergraduates.

"In the past, med schools used to wary of students who weren't coming straight from college," Michelson said. "Now they seem to prefer the maturity of older applicants."

Another motivation for taking time off is the need for a break between college and medical school.

"People want to do something totally different," Michelson said. "Go pick raspberries or concentrate on music for a whole year."

Enticing salaries at consulting or investment banking firms also steal away those who may have once been doctor-bound.

With thousands of dollars in loans and only more to look forward to from medical school, it is not surprising that Wall St. has a powerful pull.

"Recruiting is very busy here and students have had offers that make them want to work in business for a few years to make some money," Michelson said.

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