The CASPer (Computer-Based Assessment for Sampling Personal Characteristics) is a test that is increasingly being used in the medical school admissions process. It is an online exam that assesses an applicant’s situational judgment in various scenarios. According to the organization that administers the CASPer, it “increases fairness in applicant evaluation by providing admissions and selection committees with a reliable measure of traits like professionalism, ethics, communication, and empathy.” For more information about why admissions committees find it helpful, read this blog post from the company that administers the CASPer.

Here is the most recent list of medical schools requiring CASPer as part of the admissions process:


Central Michigan


East Tennessee State (Quillen)

Florida Atlantic



Medical College of Georgia (Augusta)

Medical College of Wisconsin


Michigan State

New York Medical College

Northeast Ohio

Rosalind Franklin

Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson

SUNY Upstate

Stony Brook (Renaissance)

Temple (Katz)

Texas A&M

Texas Tech


U of Colorado

U of Illinois

U of Miami (Miller)

U of Michigan

U of Mississippi

U of Nevada, Reno

U of North Carolina

U of Rochester

U of Texas Medical Branch, Galveston

U of Texas, San Antonio (Long)

U of Vermont (Larner)

U of Washington

Virginia Commonwealth

West Virginia U

To get ready for the CASPer, read about the format of the exam and what to expect. Here are tips to help you prepare for the exam, provided by Altus, the company that administers the test. A webinar for those taking the CASPer was held in June 2018. Samples of CASPer scenarios are provided here.  To discuss how best to prepare for the CASPer please contact me via email at

–Liza Thompson, Expert Medical School Admissions Consultant

Post updated May 22, 2019

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Photo courtesy of the New York Times

Photo courtesy of the New York Times








Does studying art enhance your observation skills as a physician, thereby allowing you to pick up subtle signs of illness? In recent years, there has been a general acknowledgment that studying art–and fine-tuning the art of seeing–helps medical students hone their skills. More medical schools are incorporating gallery visits and art classes into their curricula in an effort to sharpen students’ observational acuity.

Arts Practica was founded by Alexa Miller to help medical professionals gain more skill in what they see. Arts Practica offers training programs, gallery visits, and classes which encourage med students to “learn to see.”  An article in the New York Times describes a forum that took place at the Museum of Modern Art which convened educators and doctors to discuss teaching strategies in programs melding art with medical education.

An additional article in the Times describes “What Doctors Can Learn From Looking at Art.” A study which found that studying the arts and humanities in medical school promotes empathy was published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine and referenced in an article on incorporating the arts into medical education. In addition, a study was done at Columbia and Cornell to assess the effect of an observational art course on medical students’ ability to reflect, tolerate ambiguity, and other traits.

Finally, in an article titled “The Art Museum and Medical Education” the author writes about the benefits of having medical students and medical professionals see art and reflect.

More medical schools are adding an arts component to their curriculum, and some examples are below:

Having the opportunity to participate in such classes may help medical students reflect and see more clearly, perhaps providing better care for your future patients. The Association of American Medical Colleges recently had a forum to discuss the arts and humanities in medical education, and the benefits they bring. And finally, another article extols the benefits of art in medical education.

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An inescapable fact: medical school is expensive. But for talented students, merit scholarships provide a way to go to medical school for free or for significantly less money. Most medical schools do not provide merit scholarships; most financial aid is need-based. But there are some schools which do provide generous merit scholarships to students who stand above the crowd and will—in the school’s estimation—provide enrichment to both the student body and the school itself. Having advised many students in the past who were awarded such scholarships, I have distilled the traits of these extraordinary students into the following list:

Academic excellence:  Without exception, these students had extraordinary academic records and showed a sustained level of outstanding achievement throughout their education. In other words, they had very high GPAs in both science and non-science coursework (3.7+) and good MCAT scores (generally the 95th percentile or above). They usually had been recognized regionally or nationally through election to organizations such as Phi Beta Kappa.

Humanistic qualities:  These candidates showed, through community service and other volunteer experiences, their deep-seated dedication to others; their dedication to humanity and to serving others was palpable and readily evident in their application materials by the activities in which they had engaged.

Outstanding personal traits: Students awarded merit scholarships were kind, caring, humble, and possessed innate leadership qualities. These traits were echoed repeatedly in the letters of evaluation submitted on their behalf; in other words, these traits resonated across a range of involvements and activities and were cited by those who had either supervised or taught the applicants.

A vision for the future: Applicants awarded merit scholarships had prior experience which informed their future goals. In other words, they envisioned what they would accomplish in the medical profession through their previous medical experiences; as a result, they could articulate in their application materials how they might contribute to the profession in the future. Their goals were inspiring for admissions committees to read about; as a result, committees wanted to draw the students to their schools. Offering a merit scholarship helped them achieve the goal of getting these top candidates to enroll. Continue reading

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The Icahn School of Medicine at Mt. Sinai has announced a new initiative which will limit its medical students’ debt to $75K.  The Enhanced Scholarship Initiative will begin with the 2019 entering class. Nationally the median medical student debt is $200K. Listen to details about the program in this informative video.  This comes on the heels of NYU‘s big announcement that it will be tuition free beginning this year.

–Liza Thompson, Expert Medical School Admissions Consultant

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The American Medical Association started a program in 2013 to move medical education forward. Accelerating Change in Medical Education gives grants to medical schools with innovative programs. The group works collaboratively to foster and share ideas for improving medical education. Recently, five additional schools were added to the group: Stanford, UC-Irvine, the University of Pittsburgh, the University of Southern California (Keck), and Virginia Commonwealth. Information on programs the initiative has funded can be found here.

–Liza Thompson, Expert Medical School Admissions Consultant

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A study from Tulane and Thomas Jefferson shows the distinctive benefits of engaging in the arts and/or the humanities while in medical school. The results, published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, showed that such activities helped to promote medical students’ empathy and emotional intelligence, while also warding off burnout.  For the study, the humanities were defined as music, literature, theater and the visual arts. Almost 800 medical students were surveyed across the country. The more students were involved in the humanities, the more their scores rose for openness, visual-spatial skills, and emotional acuity (“the ability to read their own and others’ emotions”). Those who were less involved in the humanities had some negative factors—they scored higher in measurements of “physical fatigue and emotional exhaustion.”

Jefferson is one school that is doing its part to foster medical students’ involvement in the arts through its medical school’s curriculum. The medical school has a Medicine + Humanities Scholarly Track. Tulane also promotes students’ participation in the humanities by offering an elective in the medical humanities. Most notably, almost half of their first-year medical students have degrees in the liberal arts, which is unusual—they clearly value the humanities. More and more medical schools are following suit, as described in this blog post.

Every now and then, articles appear about the importance of the arts and the humanities in medicine. The Journal of the American Medical Association has a poetry editor; in a recent article he discusses the “healing power of the arts.” And a medical student at Weill Cornell-Qatar describes her artwork and how/why she thinks being an artist will make her a better physician.

–Liza Thompson, Expert Medical School Admissions Consultant

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As a medical school admissions consultant, I am often asked, “Should I take a gap year before I apply to medical school?”  The answer depends, of course, on an individual’s circumstances, background, experiences, GPA, and MCAT score, among other things.  I have found that most undergraduates are in a hurry to get to medical school; they have a set timeline in their head for medical school enrollment and they are eager to stick to it.

But it can be quite challenging to amass the clinical, research, leadership, and community service experiences that build a strong application by the end of the junior year of college, the “traditional” timeline for applying. Students inevitably feel a little rushed in their preparation if they apply then; by this time they must have explored medicine from a variety of angles, achieved very strong grades, taken the MCAT and proven they are ready for the rigor of medical school and that they know—fully—what the medical profession entails.

Some applicants may benefit from more time to do the following:

  • Gain experiences
  • Prepare for and take the MCAT or improve a score
  • Fit in premedical requirements, depending on the major and curriculum of the school
  • Build a strong GPA

Information from the Association of American Medical Colleges shows that from 2016-2018 the highest proportion of medical school matriculants were aged 23-25. There is additional data from the AAMC here. This shows that taking time between college and enrolling in medical school has become the norm. Students may benefit greatly from a hiatus in academics, and they can build depth/maturity in their application during a gap year. These applicants are productively engaged in a full-time job related to medicine, which adds tremendously to an application; it shows that you can be responsible and that you are learning more about the medical profession. In addition, the gap year job is something that can be discussed during interviews. In almost every case—as long as you are engaged in a productive endeavor—a gap year improves an application.

–Liza Thompson, Expert Medical School Admissions Consultant

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Which medical schools are the hardest to get into?  I’ll bet it’s not what you think. Of course, this raw data does not take into account the caliber of the applicant pool. There was an article in US News and World Report regarding the medical schools which have the lowest acceptance rates. Here are the top 10 in order of most competitive, according to US News:

University of Arizona–Tucson


Mayo (Minnesota campus)

Florida State


Wake Forest





–Liza Thompson, Expert Medical School Admissions Consulting

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An editorial in AAMC news advocates including more topics related to the health of LGBTQ patients.  It cites a study, now dated, that surveys the LBGTQ-related content in medical education curricula. A study in 2012, published in the Ochsner Journal, looked at integrating such content into a medical education. A video from the Association of American Medical Colleges describes the initiatives being taken to produce a curriculum to respond to the needs of LGBTQ patients; a recent article written by a medical student states that the content related to LGBTQ-related health issues/concerns is inadequate. Slate also reported on this issue. Finally, NPR did a story on medical students’ push to incorporate more LGBTQ training so that they will be adequately prepared in the future to address health disparities.

Medical schools are making an effort to address any inadequacies in their curricula. Some examples are at Stanford, Brown, the University of Vermont, the University of Louisville, Vanderbilt, the University of Michigan, and Johns Hopkins.

–Liza Thompson, Expert Medical School Admissions Consultant

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The Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills (CARS) section of the MCAT is challenging for many students. Even those who have immersed themselves in the humanities may find this portion of the test more difficult than they anticipate. Even for the most confident and facile readers the CARS section can pose hurdles; the passages can be dense. The Khan Academy provides a quick video overview of the CARS section of the MCAT. All premed students—whether those with science or humanities backgrounds—should prepare for CARS by becoming familiar with both its format and the types of questions posed.

For some students, CARS is especially challenging. It is also the section of the test which is hardest to improve; improving content knowledge on the other sections of the MCAT usually equates with score improvement. Since the CARS section has no real content, gains are harder to realize.

I have specific techniques that help students increase their score on the CARS section of the MCAT. There is one strategy, in particular, that helps students improve—and it is relatively easy to do. But it requires diligence and discipline, with steady reading done on a daily basis. To improve your CARS score try the following strategy:

1. Over a span of at least several months (two at a minimum) read the OpEd pages of major newspapers daily. OpEds are found on the back page of the major news section of newspapers and represent the opinion of writers not affiliated with that particular paper (usually). An example is the OpEd page of the New York Times. The Washington Post’s OpEd page is here and the Los Angeles Times is here. These can easily be accessed online at no cost.

2. Choose at least one OpEd to read each day and become accustomed to the writing style (usually dense prose). If possible, read two or more. Read these articles every day for at least a week.

3. After the first week or two, begin to set a time limit for the articles you read. The time limit might vary according to the length of the piece. The point is to speed up your reading and stress yourself slightly so that you’re forced to read fast. Become accustomed to this more fast-paced style of reading for at least several weeks. Continue to read OpEds every day. Continue reading

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