Startup offers support for med school applicants

By SIRI TUMMALA | May 4, 2017

While medical schools accept around 70 percent of Hopkins applicants each year, many students find the application process challenging. To address this problem, two Hopkins alumni and one current student created White Coat Strategists (WCS), a company that helps students prepare for medical school admissions.

After being accepted into medical school themselves, founders Haziq Siddiqi, Lamin Sonko and Melaku Arega  wanted to make the application process easier for other students.

They aimed to create an affordable consulting program that employs recent graduates who have personal experience with the application process.

Beginnng May 5, WCS will charge $400 to $700 for services like personal statement editing and mock interviews. Its prices are lower than those of its  competitors such as Kaplan, whose services start at $2099, and Princeton Review, which charges $1749.

Siddiqi, Class of 2016 and incoming student at Harvard Medical School, explained why he started WCS.

“When I was applying, the only people that were willing to provide that service were charging really inaccessible amounts,” Siddiqi said. “Once I got into medical school, I partnered up with Melaku and Lamin, who had a very similar experience.”

Arega, a current senior who will be attending Harvard Medical School, said that while he appreciated the services provided by the Office of Pre-Professional Advising, he felt undersupported.

He explained that the office was too busy to offer individual attention to premed students and that he often had to seek advice from his peers.

“That summer you need them the most for the primary and secondary applications, you can’t really access them well,” he said. “You end up being on your own a lot.”

Sonko, Class of 2016 and an incoming student at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, felt he lacked

guidance when applying to medical school. He emphasized the importance of being organized throughout the demanding application process.

“My general experience, if I could put it into one word, would be ‘chaotic,’” Sonko said. “Upon working with some of the premeds we are working with now, I would say that’s the general feel they get as well.”

According to Sonko, working with current undergraduates enables them to relate to each applicant individually and better understand the small intricacies and details of their application.

It is this personal service, he said, that sets WCS apart from other companies that assist with the application process.

“A lot of the bigger companies, like Kaplan and Princeton Review, as well as admissions counselors tend to be older and tend to be pretty distant from the actual medical school process itself,” he said. “White Coat Specialists differentiates itself because all of our counselors are fresh out of the process.”

In an email to The News-Letter, Siddiqi explained that the founders intend on keeping the company running while they are in medical school and after they graduate.

“The entire WCS team is very committed to this company, so we’re willing to make as much time as needed during medical school,” Siddiqi wrote.

He added that WCS is considering expanding its reach by hiring more consultants.

“We’re currently focusing on marketing to other universities and bringing in more consultants from outside [Hopkins] to meet the demand.”

Kelli Johnson, director of the Pre-Professional Office, said in an email to The News-Letter that students should weigh the pros and cons of using medical school admission consulting companies.

“Although Pre-Professional Programs and Advising neither promotes nor discourages the use of private consultants, students who retain these services should be aware that the costs and quality can vary greatly,” she wrote.

Johnson also emphasized that advisors in the Pre-Professional Office have established connections with admissions deans at medical schools across the country and have exclusive access to resources through the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) and American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine (AACOMA).

Mereze Visagie, a junior preparing to take the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT), feels that she is well supported by the University’s services.

“As a premed student at Johns Hopkins, I feel extremely prepared to apply to medical school. I will be applying in  cycles following graduation,” she wrote in an email to The News-Letter. “I do not plan on using an outside service because I think the resources Hopkins has are sufficient.”

Specifically, Visagie noted that the Hopkins advisors take the time to provide individual help to students going through the application process.

“They create a mock [American Medical College Application Service] application for us to complete before filling out the real one,” she wrote. “It also helps them to know personal details about us for our committee letters. Also, the Writing Center is helpful for editing our personal statements.”

Charisma Burrows, a freshman and premed, also said that she was satisfied by the Office of Pre-Professional Advising.

“I feel like Hopkins has a lot of resources,” she said. “When you do your letter of recommendation, they make you fill out this big long list of everything you have done so that they are able to encompass who you are as a person and all your achievements.”

While freshman Kisha Patel, a premed student, believes that Hopkins offers adequate resources for applying to medical school. However, Patel also sees the benefit of talking to students who have had experience going through the application process.

“Understanding their stories will help me more directly because they have been in my footsteps just a few years ago,” she said.

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