Every year, thousands of future doctors flock into medical schools across the country.
Candidates have to undergo a rigorous application and interview process to get into their chosen schools. But not everyone is so lucky – the truth of the medical school application process is that it is incredibly competitive and schools are demanding more from students every year.
So what can you do to ensure you make the final cut?
To start, you should have an overall undergraduate GPA of at least 3.5, with a strong performance in the sciences and a minimum MCAT® score of 30 to gain admission. However, this is just a guideline. For example, if your GPA is lower than a 3.5 but your MCAT® is a 31 and you have outstanding letters of reference and interview skills, you could still get into medical school.
Therefore, the number one lesson here is to never give up! Applying to medical school might feel like the most nerve-wracking thing in your life right now, but there are a few things you can do to prepare an application that will set you apart from the crowd.
1. Work Experience
It’s hard to convince an admissions committee that you want to pursue a career in healthcare without having any experience in healthcare or related areas. Fortunately, there are lots of part-time and volunteer roles available for students and new grads.. For instance, you can look becoming a nurse’s assistant, organ, or blood bank worker – and yes, you can apply for all these positions while you’re still in school! You could also ask to shadow your family physician, or participate in a formal premedical program . Get creative!
2. Research Experience
Although not required, having research positions on your applications can really help it stand out from the crowd. Most universities provide opportunities for students to get involved in research projects funded by the school. Working alongside professors, you will likely be responsible for tasks like cleaning test tubes or preparing samples. However, if you stick around long enough, you might be granted more responsibility. Look into the student research positions available on your campus – some of them might even offer compensation upon completion of the project.
If you’re a varsity athlete or a leader in a major campus organization, admissions committees will take notice, and it could even make up for a slightly lower MCAT or GPA score. Many students make the mistake of forgetting to mention their campus involvement because they think the admissions committee won’t be interested. This couldn’t be further from the truth. You want to highlight your passions in your application – it contributes to your character, which is under intense inspection at this time. Admissions committees want to know you whether you are a committed, driven and dedicated individual. Proof of those qualities can be found in all areas of your life (For example, if you’ve ever trained for a marathon, this exhibits discipline and dedication).
4. Letter of Recommendation
Although it can be helpful to get a letter written by someone from the school to which you are applying, a well-written letter from a professional who is lesser-known can still have a huge impact on the admissions committee. Some academics will write a cookie cutter recommendation letter for just about anyone. In comparison, if your reference uses superlatives like “brightest student to ever walk through my lab” or “one of the hardest working individuals in all my years of teaching”, this will be infinitely more effective. Try to choose a reference who has personal knowledge of your skills and character so that the letter goes beyond the predictable to make a meaningful impact on the admissions committee. But make sure you secure someone early, as students are running around campus gathering recommendations letters all year.
5. Personal Statement
The personal statement part of your application is the greatest opportunity you have to show medical schools why you should be admitted and what you will contribute to the field of healthcare. While it is important to give your reasons for pursuing medicine, a more personal and engaging essay will resonate with readers. Saying you’ve “had this dream since you were a little kid” might be honest and heartfelt, but it’s nothing the admissions committee hasn’t heard before. Instead, try to discuss the personal setbacks you’ve experienced and how you dealt with them. This is the chance to talk about anything that you feel like you’ve overcome in your life to get to where you are – the admissions panel will value perseverance and grit.
6. Send In Your Application Early
This one definitely goes without saying, but when I say early – I mean early. Every candidate aims to have their application sent in on time, but some will underestimate how much work it takes. When you’re relying on external sources for bits and pieces of your application, you have to start early – from your letters of reference, to your written application materials, to your test scores. There are a few benefits to doing this, the most obvious one being the peace of mind you will have after you’ve submitted them. Another big advantage to consider is the difference in competition between an early applicant and a late applicant. When your application is one of the first ones in, you are compared against a smaller pool of people; the longer you wait, the bigger the pool.
7. Practice Your Interview Skills
After the minimum grade requirements, the interview is the most important factor for admission. Students are initially given a score that decides whether they are to be invited in for an interview, but before the interview, these scores are thrown out and it leaves everyone at a similar advantage. If you want to egg-cell in your interview, learn to step out of your comfort zone. Being enthusiastic and engaging in front of an admissions panel is the key and the best way to do this is to practice. Recite your “elevator pitch” to anyone that will listen, and research some tactics for dealing with uncomfortable situations. You could also take a public speaking class if you need a little extra help. Even someone with strong interpersonal skills can tense up in these kinds of situations so it’s important to be as prepared as possible.
Each medical school considers every candidate individually so there are many things you can do to improve your chance of success. Remember: it’s not just about highlighting your grades or your experience, but you as a person. Admissions committees are looking for well-rounded individuals – focus on showcasing your strengths and your passion for the field will shine through!