To add to the limited research on the Disadvantaged Status, a component in the American Medical College Application Service (AMCAS) primary application, the authors explored how applicants to a medical school between 2014 and 2016 determined whether they were disadvantaged and whether to apply as such.
The authors used case study methodology to explore the experiences of students at a medical school in the Northeast. The authors derived data from transcripts of semistructured interviews with students and the students’ AMCAS applications. Transcripts and applications were analyzed using a constant comparative approach and considered in the context of social comparison and impression management theories.
Overall, the 15 student participants (8 used the Disadvantaged Status) had difficulty determining whether they were disadvantaged and how applying as such would affect their prospects. Contributing factors included ambiguity around both the term disadvantaged and its use in the admissions process. Simply experiencing hardship during childhood was insufficient for most participants to deem themselves disadvantaged. Participants’ decision processes were confounded by the need to rely on social comparisons to determine whether they were disadvantaged and impression management to decide whether to apply as such.
The ambiguous nature of the Disadvantaged Status, comparisons with even more disadvantaged peers, and uncertainty about how shared information might affect admission decisions distorted participants’ understandings of identity within the context of the application. The authors believe that many applicants who have experienced significant hardships/barriers are not using the Disadvantaged Status.