There is an entire category of application material that will get you the interview but will be less important thereafter. Before the school can get to know you in person, they need to find certain key characteristics in your application that will make them want to get to know you. Saying “My application could use work but I know I’ll crush the interview” will never work. You need to convince the school that they need to get to know you and then crush the interview.
Here are the things that get you the interview: Personal statement, scores (GPA & MCAT), activities section, secondary essay.
Your personal statement is key here. You are introducing yourself in a way that should make a reader say: “this is the type of person I want to get to know, this student would be a great addition to our school.” Read more about crafting a good personal statement here.
Your scores only go so far. No one has ever said: “3.9 GPA! We need this person at our school!” most medical schools could fill their class every year with 4.0 students. The score should convince them that you are capable of performing well in demanding future medical courses. If you have a low GPA, they might view you as a risky choice. In this case, your personal statement and activities will be even more important. It should be clear to the reader that you have grown over time, developed your academic ability, and have outstanding qualities that would make a great physician.
MCAT scores will be important. A good score will show the reviewer that you can put in the time and preparation to perform well on a big, 1-day exam. You’ll be taking big exams like this several times in medical school. You’ll continue to be tested even as a practicing physician. Again, it’s a number and it doesn’t take long to make a judgment. A good enough score will make inviting you for an interview less “risky.”
The activities section is where you tell admissions what you did with all of your copious free time during undergrad. Students who have to work to provide for themselves during undergrad should include this in their application. Admissions understand that not every pre-med is created equal and some have more responsibilities outside of studying than other students. Over-filling your plate at the expense of your grades does not help you. But getting perfect grades and having few outside activities will definitely hurt you when applying to most schools.
Secondary essays must convince the school that you’re set on attending that school if you are accepted. In reality, it’s hard to know exactly what you want in a school until you interview there. I was dead set on attending one of the two highest-ranked schools I was accepted to until some later interviews help mold and change my priorities. Regardless, your secondary should convince them that you are well-informed about the school and would love to be accepted there.
All of these aspects together constitute the main things that schools consider when offering interviews. After the interview, these things change in priority to admissions committees. At the interview, you should view yourself as having just as good of a chance to be accepted as any other applicant present. It can be helpful to view the interview as a way of saying “you’re good enough to attend our school, now let’s see if we want to spend 4 years with you.”
Personal statements will make them want to get to know you (or not)
You might consider scores like a checkbox: “Will this student succeed?”
The activities section shows your “qualifications” to enter the medical field. How well can you use your time? How will you contribute as a medical student and future physician?
Secondary essays are the final straw in considering whether you’d be a good fit before the interview. Prove to them that you’re dedicated to that school.