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Teach Learn Med. 2015;27(2):155-62. doi: 10.1080/10401334.2015.1011649.

Increasing the relative weight of noncognitive admission criteria improves underrepresented minority admission rates to medical school.

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a Department of Family and Community Medicine , University of New Mexico , Albuquerque , New Mexico , USA.


CONSTRUCT: The objective of this study was to evaluate the impact of varying the relative weights of cognitive versus noncognitive admission criteria on the proportion of underrepresented minorities admitted to medical school. It answers the question, "Can medical schools increase the admission rates of underrepresented minority (URM) students by balancing cognitive criteria with the experiences, attributes, and metrics of noncognitive data in the admission process?"


U.S. demographics are shifting, and by 2042 ethnic minority groups will make up approximately 50% of the population. Increasing diversity of the U.S. population foreshadows the need to increase the number of physicians from underrepresented minorities to help address healthcare disparities that are on the rise.


A cohort of three medical school applicant classes (2007-2009) was used to model the impact on URM admission rates as the relative weights of cognitive and noncognitive admission criteria were varied. This study used the minimum admission standards established for the actual incoming classes. The URM rate of admission to medical school was the outcome. Cognitive criteria included Medical College Admission Test scores and grade point averages. Noncognitive criteria included four categories: background and diversity, interest and suitability for a career in medicine, problem-solving and communication skills, and letters of recommendation.


A cohort of 480 applicants from the three applicant classes were enrolled in the study. As the weighting scheme was varied from 50% cognitive/50% noncognitive weights to 35%/65%, the proportion of URM students accepted to medical school increased from 24% (42/177) to 30% (57/193; p < .001). Hispanic and Native American acceptance rates increased by 5.1% and 0.7%, respectively.


Admission rates of URM students can be increased by weighting noncognitive higher relative to cognitive criteria without compromising admission standards. Challenging conventional practice in the admissions process may improve health disparities and diversify the physician workforce.


medical school admissions; selection criteria; underrepresented minorities

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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