UPenn Medical School Partnership with 5 HBCUs

I just wanted to share this article on the Penn Access Summer Scholars program, which formalized a partnership with 5 HBCUs (Howard University, Spelman College, Morehouse College, Xavier University of Louisiana, and Oakwood University) and guarantees admission to UPenn’s Perelman School of Medicine if the students complete 2 summers of research, maintain a 3.6 GPA in college, have a 1300 SAT or 30 ACT and secure strong recommendations, while being exempt from the MCAT exam and getting at least 50% of their med school tuition covered.


This is a very nice program. For those who have questions about the lack of MCAT,

"The program, he said, allows Penn to assess the students’ potential without MCATs “in a way that is rigorous.”

I think that this method of assessment, observing and seeing how students respond to feedback and learn and practice their knowledge, is probably one of the strongest. It is obviously very time-consuming, however, and impractical to do for all potential applicants. I wonder how competitive it is to get one of the 12 summer slots, though. Is that competition even stiffer than it would be to get into medical school?

Also, I learned about a new HBCU, as I knew nothing about Oakwood. Now, I just need to learn more.


Maybe nice for those specific applicants. Not so nice for the rest of the applicants. And maybe not even nice for those admitted under such preferential circumstances.

The unfortunate reality is that bypass application programs such as these often are a disservice to the applicant themselves. I went to a school that preferentially admitted some students based on circumstances such as these. In addition, the school ran a summer program, the summer before med school began, only for students of this criteria, in which over the course of the summer they hand-fed the students all of the material they would see in the very intense first few weeks of med school. And still, none of the men and only a few of the women were able to get through the first year. No men of this group were in my graduating class who had begun with the class, although there was one who had taken 6 years, with no time off, to get through a 4 yr program, who had begun 2 yrs before me. And this was at a school which actively sought out applicants who met these criteria, and gave them a great deal of academic support, specifically designed for and provided for this group. Although I’m sure they were given scholarship packages, those packages had to have included loans, so they surely were left with large amounts of student loan debt, with little prospect of repaying them.

A workplace acquaintance of mine had been a good student at a low-level, non-competitive state college. He was admitted to Penn Med, and after trying for 3 years to get through the first year, was finally discharged. He was left with very substantial debt due to loans he had taken out for his education (with the expectation that he would be able to pay them off, after he’d earned his MD). After he had to leave Penn Med due to his inability to get through the first year classes, he was hired by the institution where I was working before I went to med school. They tried him out on the work, and found that he had poor reading comprehension, and was unable to do the work, which involved reading medical journal articles. They gave him a job in which he only needed to find keywords in the articles, not comprehend the reading.

Penn Med (at the time considered the top med school in the nation) did that man a disservice by preferentially admitting him. He was a really nice person, would have had a great bedside manner. I’ve always wondered if he would have been able to get through the program at a much less selective med school, not that there really was such a thing back then, and certainly not now. (I don’t really believe that med schools differ in their rigor, but I’ve only got a sample size of one, from my own experience.) Or maybe he would have been able to get through a state college nursing program, and have been a great nurse. The point is, he belonged in, and was likely to get through, the program that his academic achievements, both GPA and test scores, would have gotten him into, without preferential admission. This person surely must have had a very low MCAT score what with his poor reading comprehension, and the MCAT would have served its purpose, in screening out someone with a high GPA from a non-competitive institution, who was unlikely to be able to perform at the level required in med school.

Ability to function in a research lab setting is not an indicator of the ability to learn enormous amounts of academic material and process it in the manner required to function as a physician. I completely agree with the fact that we need more physicians who are African American, because the plain fact is that patients are more comfortable with at least some of their doctors being of their own race, not to mention the fact that having AA doctors reduces the likelihood of patients being discriminated against, even subconsciously, when they obtain medical care. But admitting persons who might not meet the admissions requirements by eliminating those requirements is not the way to do it. What’s next? Different board exam requirements for different groups?


My kids have know other Howard students who have been in the program the last 3 years and those students have all been “tippy top” level students at Howard and have included a few from her scholarship program at Howard (Karsh STEM Scholars Program).

My wife grew up about 3 miles from Oakwood University in Huntsville, AL (was called Oakwood College until 2008) and it is a historically black, Seventh-day Adventist institution. Oakwood is probably most known for having Brian McKnight and gospel a cappella group Take 6 as students.


I just went over to the Perelman School of Medicine’s (i.e. U. Penn’s) site to read a little more about the program. Here is all that it says:

Penn Access Summer Scholars (PASS) Program:

The PASS program provides two summers of research (8 weeks each summer) for students enrolled at Haverford College, Princeton University, the University of Pennsylvania, Howard University, Morehouse College, Oakwood University, Spelman College, and Xavier University. This program is a selective program and is designed for students underrepresented in medicine.

The outcome of this program is to prepare students to matriculate in medical school. For students interested in matriculating at the Perelman School of Medicine, there is a linkage program for eligible students.

So, it appears that students from Haverford, Princeton, and U. Penn were already eligible for this program. If a student was accepted to one of those three schools and maintained a 3.6 GPA, then I don’t think U. Penn has tremendous concerns about whether the student is able to handle the rigor of medical school. The med school has now expanded that list to include the five HBCUs previously mentioned. @ChangeTheGame mentioned that many of the Howard students are members of the Karsh STEM program, a program where many selected turn down Top X schools in order to participate in this program at Howard. Xavier, per this Los Angeles Times article related to the announcement of a planned Xavier medical school said

For decades, the Catholic school founded in 1925 has graduated more African American students and students of color who go on to get medical degrees and health doctorates than any other higher education institution in the U.S., the news release said.

(Note, there are better and more in-depth articles about Xavier’s preparation of med school students, but this was one of the first that came in a super fast web search. There are better articles linked elsewhere in this forum.)

I would assume, though I admittedly don’t know, that U. Penn selected these particular HBCUs because it trusts that the caliber of candidate that meets these requirements from these schools will be able to handle the medical school education at Penn.

And I haven’t heard about Take 6 in a minute. Thanks for rekindling the memory, @ChangeTheGame!


I can tell you that I am confident that my own Chemistry kid would have hit the MCAT average score for admission to UPenn (521.7) since she took a MCAT prep course as a sophomore at Howard and got a 518 on her 1st MCAT practice test before deciding that she only wanted to do research. My kid also presented research done at a top 20 university after her freshman year that won a major award at a National research conference… There are definitely kids who are as smart or even smarter with as many or more accomplishments in my daughter’s Scholarship program and UPenn is definitely getting some of the best that Howard has to offer.


I agree that every applicant should take the MCAT.

It’s like my asking in an earlier thread why someone can’t take Physics, for example, at the community college (would save me lots of money) only to be told that my kid would get dinged on the med school application process (and I am assuming all CC students transferring to a UC would be dinged as well?)

No doubt there are plenty of kids at Howard and other HBUCs that would meet these standards required by everyone else. Why dilute them?

Seems like it would be quite competitive if every pre-med at the 8 colleges applied to the summer program. Basically, the highly competitive selection process to get into medical school is being moved to an earlier point in the process for some pre-meds.


There are about 2 dozen Early Assurance programs which admit undergrads directly to medical school if the student maintain a specific undergrad GPA. Most of them do NOT require the MCAT. (In fact for most taking the MCAT invalidates the guaranteed med school admission.) The same is true for nearly every BS/MD program. Guaranteed med school admission without a MCAT score if certain GPA and other benchmarks are met.

The only thing that changed for UPenn’s EA program was the list of schools included in the linkage.

(and I am assuming all CC students transferring to a UC would be dinged as well?)

Not true. CC credits only get dinged if the student doesn’t supplement CC credits with additional coursework in the same department at their 4 year college. So if your student wants to take physics at a CC, they can absolutely do so, but they need to plan to take at least 1 semester of additional UL physics at a 4 year university to demonstrate their CC physics grade wasn’t a fluke or a result of lowered student expectations and/or easier grading policies.

There’s also the issue that the course content at many CCs does not match up well with the curriculum covered in 4 year colleges. This may not be a problem in California, but it is elsewhere. Since Adcomms are not familiar with policies of every state and every community college district, they want to see CC credits supplemented with similar coursework taken at a 4 year college


Physics is actually the most problematic pre-med subject in this context, since the physics-for-biology-majors courses that pre-meds usually take (unless they major in physics or something that requires physics-for-physics-majors) generally do not lead to upper level physics courses.

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Personally, I felt it was a waste of my time. I don’t feel that the subject matter matched up well with the knowledge needed to be a doctor. I don’t feel it provided any info that couldn’t be found elsewhere in my application (grades, rigor of my school and classes, letters of rec.) Also I am concerned with the trend toward students having to take a year off between undergrad and med school in order to jump through all the hoops, and studying for the MCAT is definitely one of those hoops. Taking a year off to hoop jump may be fine for rich kids, but is a real barrier for kids from less wealthy families (as well as women who want kids, because their fertility clocks are ticking, and the path to being a doctor is long enough already.) There are already a couple dozen Early Assurance programs that don’t require the MCAT as WayOutWestMom indicated above. As far as I can tell, these programs have been successful and uncontroversial. Therefore I think it only fair that this UPenn program should be viewed the same way.


Since this program has been in place for a while, surely there are stats available on the students previously admitted through the program? Edit: Or any of the early assurance programs that do not require the MCAT. If anyone can easily find that, it may be helpful to the discussion of the importance of the MCAT in evaluating med school readiness. I’m not in healthcare so am in no place to weigh in, but I do find it interesting as the parent of a pre-med student.

Unless an individual program keeps internal records of the success/failure of their applicants, there’s no way to tease out which students took the MCAT and which didn’t for schools that have EA programs. It’s not a reportable category for the AAMC or LCME.

However, if EA students were routinely failing out of school or their failing boards, I doubt a med school would continue with the program since graduation rates are a metric the AAMC and the LCME track. A 6 year graduation rate under 90% is very concerning to the LCME and could result in the medical school’s accreditation being jeopardized. (Six years because of the need to account for students in MD/PhD and other multiple degree programs.)

The MCAT is often referred to as “The Great Equalizer” when it comes to med school admissions. It’s one measure used by med schools as they try to compare applicants from thousands of different undergrads, all with different grading policies. A strong MCAT reinforces a strong GPA. (Useful for when an applicant comes from an undergrad unfamiliar to the adcomm.) However, a strong MCAT does not remediate a weak GPA. (Generally high MCAT/low GPA is viewed as an indicator of smart, but lazy/unmotivated student who is at risk of failing out of med school with exceptions made for reinventors/non-traditional students.)