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MSTP Frequently Asked Questions

Find answers to prospective Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine MD-PhD students' most frequently asked questions.

How can I make my application stand out to the MSTP Admissions Committee?

We are pleased to have a strong applicant pool to review each admissions season, and every application undergoes a comprehensive, holistic review that considers applicants as “whole” individuals, not just the sum of their academic accomplishments. As such, our committee considers multiple criteria when reviewing an applicant’s materials, including GPA and MCAT scores; commitment to the values of physician scientists, including blending research with clinical practice; community service, altruism and extracurricular activities; clinical experience and significant, long-term laboratory experience; and whether these experiences resulted in publications, posters or presentations.

What are the average GPAs and MCAT scores of candidates accepted to NU MSTP? Are there any GPA or MCAT cut-offs?

There are no minimum MCAT or GPA scores required for entrance to the Northwestern MSTP or the Feinberg School of Medicine. The average MCAT score of current MSTP students is 520, with a range of 509 to 528. The average undergraduate GPA of current MSTP students is 3.86, with a range of 3.37 to 4.0. Although high academic performance is an important feature of a successful application, each application undergoes a holistic review that also considers academic courseload and rigor, academic honors, extracurricular activities, clinical and research experience, letters of recommendation, social justice and advocacy experience, and other impactful applicant experiences.

How can I communicate the ways the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted my path to the MD-PhD?

We recognize and understand that COVID-19 may have impacted applicants in many different ways, including personally, academically and professionally. If applicable, you can share information about significant disruptions and adjustments caused by the pandemic as part of your personal comments in the AMCAS application and the personal narrative in the secondary application.

What financial support do MSTP students receive upon being admitted into the program?

All MSTP students receive full support for tuition, stipend ($38,500 in 2023-2024), health insurance, dental insurance and disability insurance. Students also receive additional financial support through professional development grants that cover the cost of some training expenses and professional travel, including the registration costs for the Step 1 and Step 2 exams and ERAS fees when students apply for residency programs. In addition, funds are available to defray the costs of doing clinical rotations at other institutions.  These expenses are paid from a variety of sources during the course of training. Currently, the program has over 100 students that are supported by a National Institutes of Health NIGMS MSTP T32 training grant, over $800,000 in individual fellowship income and generous institutional support.

If I am not accepted into the MSTP, will my application be considered for the MD-only program?

If you are not accepted into the MSTP, your application will not automatically be considered for the MD-only program. However, you can request that your application be transferred for MD-only consideration by contacting MSTP Admissions in writing before December 1. This will withdraw your application from MSTP consideration, as you cannot apply to both the MSTP and MD-only programs simultaneously.

I am an international student. Am I eligible to apply for the MSTP?

International students who have completed at least three years of full-time study (undergraduate, graduate and/or post-baccalaureate) at an accredited U.S. or Canadian college or university may apply. International students receive the same financial support as all other MSTP students.

I am interested in pursuing a PhD in a non-traditional PhD program (ex: social sciences). Will I have to submit GRE scores?

Applicants interested in pursuing a PhD in a non-traditional PhD program will be considered on a case-by-case basis and will require coordination with the PhD program of interest for consideration. It is possible that you may have to apply to and be accepted by both the MSTP and the PhD program of your choice. Please contact MSTP Admissions with questions on coordinating with these PhD programs during the application process.

How many letters of recommendation are required for the MSTP application?

We require a minimum of three letters of recommendation for your application to be considered complete. These letters may be included within a committee letter or composite letter or submitted individually. Applications will not be considered for interview prior to “complete” status. There is no maximum number of letters that may be submitted.

What is the best way to gain insight into what an MD-PhD does on a daily basis?

The traditional MD-PhD daily model revolves around a time commitment of 80 percent research and 20 percent clinical time. The best way to gain further insight is to contact individual physician-scientists with questions and perhaps for the opportunity to shadow them. It may be beneficial to contact a few different physician-scientists for different perspectives, research areas, schedules and work environments. Physician-scientists can end up working in a wide array of fields such as academic research, pharmaceutical research or even for the government. Since there are so many different career opportunities available to physician-scientists, it is hard to describe what the typical day would be like.

I am taking at least a gap year between undergraduate and medical school. Can you suggest ways of gaining more research experience during that time? How else would you suggest the year be spent?

The best way to gain more research experience is to actively participate in scientific research, either as a technician or as a volunteer. Find a laboratory where you will be expected to behave as a scientific collaborator rather than simply a hired hand who makes solutions and cleans glassware. There are a large number of positions like this available at nearly all research institutions.

What are the typical professional outcomes for MSTP graduates?

Northwestern MSTP graduates transition to outstanding residencies following the completion of their training. After residency and fellowship training, the majority of MSTP graduates stay in academia in a clinical, research or combined setting (figures taken from a national MD-PhD outcomes study). Other outcomes include careers in industry, research institutes or federal agencies. The top three clinical specialties are medicine, pathology and neurology; of those in an academic setting, roughly 65 percent allotted between 50 to 75 percent of their time to research.

Why should I choose to pursue a combined MD-PhD versus an MD degree?

That is a difficult question to answer as every situation is unique. MDs can find time to take care of patients, teach and conduct research. Whether you have an MD or MD-PhD does not by itself determine whether you will be intellectually engaged in your career choice. With the combined MD-PhD, you are able to both do research and see patients and can potentially advance your career. As well, additional training as an MD provides PhD investigators a deeper understanding of human disease processes, which may in turn inform and guide their research efforts.

The MD-PhD may also aid in applying to residency and fellowship programs, being awarded grants and may help give you an edge when applying for jobs at academic institutions. If you are interested in private practice, the dual-degree program may not be the right choice for your career path.

What is life like for an MSTP student at Northwestern?

There are many personal and professional benefits to pursuing MD-PhD training at Northwestern University. Our urban Chicago location provides access to a diverse patient population and many opportunities for community engagement and outreach. The Chicago area also offers a wide range of leisure activities for all interests, and the MSTP encourages students to balance the rigors of training with hobbies and social and wellness activities. Feinberg School of Medicine also supports an array of student groups to help our students engage with others during their training, including affinity groups devoted to career goals, community involvement, performing arts and diversity.

What are some alternatives to MD-PhD that allow interested students to combine medicine and research, especially for those students lacking enough significant research to be admitted to an MD-PhD program?

There are residency programs that have scientific research components. Residents will have the opportunity to work and be fully immersed in all aspects of their research lab, often with little to no clinical responsibilities. In addition, it would be possible to integrate postdoctoral research into, or after, residency training to enhance training in research. Finally, almost all medical schools have master’s degree programs and curriculum tracks that allow for research electives during medical school.