Getting into Medical School – The Basics

Updated: Dec 6, 2019

Pre-meds are bombarded with a whirlwind of information, advice, responsibilities, and myths concerning applying and getting accepted to medical school. We want this to be a comprehensive resource that provides quick, accessible tips and services directed for students at any stage in their path towards medicine.

You’ve been told that a pre-medical student needs to have an awesome GPA, a killer MCAT score, hundreds of volunteer, shadowing, and research hours, as well as impressive clinical and leadership experiences.

What separates one student from another? How do I avoid hoop-jumping and actually enjoy my preparation for medical school? What makes one student get accepted to 5 schools and another student with similar stats rejected from all of them?

I argue that there are 3 major pillars to your application: Scores, Writing, Timing.

I have performed an analysis of hundreds of data points from medical school applicants over the years and have developed a comprehensive set of advice, tips, and services aimed at helping students get into medical school on their first attempt.

Each school is slightly different and every piece of advice cannot be made perfectly to fit every specific institution. The information provided here will be aimed at maximizing your impact on the majority of medical schools.

Follow the links embedded in the paragraphs that follow for a more detailed course in that subject:

GPA: Your GPA is developed over 4 years (give or take) and the admissions committee will realistically take a 5-second glance at that number. That is unless they have a program that simply screens for GPAs above a certain cut-off. Be realistic, they may or may not even see or remember your GPA among thousands. It needs to be so good that an admissions reviewer says “This person can succeed here.” That’s it. At Harvard medical school, that will likely be a different number than at your state school.

MCAT: Your score will hopefully reflect around a year’s worth of work. The admissions committee will realistically take a 6-second glance at this number. Again, they may have a screening/ranking process that reviews this automatically. Unlike your GPA, you can redo an MCAT. Look at averages and 90th and 10th percentiles for your top 5 medical schools on MSAR to see where you want to be.

Volunteering: It doesn’t matter so much what you do as for why you do it. Do something you’re passionate about. That will impress admissions committees much more than doing what you think they want to see. Different schools emphasize this differently, but volunteering is important to all schools.

Shadowing: Do as much as you need to make an admissions person say: “They have clearly shadowed enough to know that this is what they want to do with their life.” No one is going to be impressed by your shadowing. So get a good amount and move on, use your time elsewhere.

Research: Schools vary widely on their recommendation. To be a good applicant for the majority of schools, you need research. Publications are great, especially if you want to do academic medicine or go to a top 10 medical school. But the majority of schools are fine if you’ve done a good amount of research and can defend your interest in it.

Clinical Experiences: This is one of the best ways to set yourself apart. Work or volunteer in something that you love but that will get you some real experience with actual patient contact. This aspect of your application takes the most planning in my opinion.

Leadership: Work this into your other responsibilities. You don’t necessarily need to be president of a club. Demonstrate some real leadership in a few of the above-mentioned categories and you can rest easy. You can argue that almost anything provides leadership experience. It’s up to you how you present your intramural team captain experience or high school student tutoring as “leadership.”

Application Timing: Many students sprint to the finish line with a near-perfect application, just to flop before finishing the race. After all is said and done, the time to send in applications arrives. This is the area I think students hurt themselves the most. As important as GPA, MCAT, and your experiences, is your application timing.

You should submit your application the day it becomes available for submission (within 5 days or so). This is usually June 1st. Every year, many incredible students who send their application in a month or two late do not get an acceptance simply because of timing. If an acceptance is offered, that student will never know what opportunities they missed by submitting a later application. Put your best foot forward by submitting your application early.

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