Academics, the MCAT, and other Activities

Academics

The single most important factor in predicting whether or not a student will be admitted to a particular medical school is the undergraduate record, particularly grades in biology, chemistry, physics and math. The academic record includes the cumulative GPA, subjects taken, rigor of the major, and trends in performance (i.e., were grades mediocre in the freshman year with a constant improvement during the sophomore and junior years, vice versa, or was performance relatively constant?). A strong undergraduate academic record is viewed as evidence of ability and motivation. Grades are not evaluated alone but in the context of the total undergraduate experience with such factors as part-time employment, participation in varsity sports, leadership in clubs and other extreme demands on study time. Medical schools respect students who demonstrate they can handle a heavy load (17-18 hours per semester) rather than completing the minimum full-time undergraduate requirement (12 hours). The medical school workload is very heavy, and admissions committees are looking for students who show the ability to manage multiple responsibilities.

The MCAT

The Medical College Admission Test(www.aamc.org) (MCAT) is a standardized, multiple-choice examination designed to assess problem solving, critical thinking and writing skills in addition to knowledge of science concepts and principles prerequisite to the study of medicine. Scores are reported in each of the following areas: Verbal Reasoning, Physical Sciences, Biological Sciences and a Writing Sample. Medical college admissions committees consider MCAT scores as part of their admission decision process.

Key Facts about the MCAT:

  • All U.S. medical schools require the test.
  • The MCAT is a computerized test that takes approximately five hours to complete.
  • You can take the MCAT a maximum of three times per year.
  • You can register and schedule your MCAT exam online(services.aamc.org).
  • Medical school admissions officers usually suggest that you take the test in the calendar year prior to the year in which you plan to enter medical school.

Other Activities

Extracurricular Activities

Admissions committees view involvement in extracurricular activities very favorably. If you can maintain a competitive grade point average in a rigorous curriculum and still actively participate in extracurricular activities, this demonstrates a high aptitude and work ethic. Many successful pre-med students join a variety of organizations, play varsity and intramural sports, participate in theatrical and singing groups, and all the other things done by a typical student. Leadership positions in these areas can also show commitment and personal growth. However, it must be emphasized that no amount of involvement in extracurricular activities can substitute for a good academic record or strong MCAT scores. Successful pre-med students have clear priorities and have learned to manage their time wisely.

Medically Related Work Experience

The primary value of working in a hospital, doctor’s office, public health clinic or nursing home is to increase a student’s exposure to the field and also help you decide whether to pursue a career in medicine. Many admissions committees will view this type of medically related work experience favorably. This is not a prerequisite to admissions, but is becoming increasingly important.

Shadowing

Students who have shadowed health professionals show that they have taken the initiative to investigate their career choice and have spent time and effort learning about the career. It is very important to keep track of physicians you have shadowed and the number of hours you spent in their offices. It is a good idea to shadow different professionals, not just physicians, to give you a broad perspective of the health care system. It is also important to shadow one or two professionals on a regular basis so that they may become familiar with you and your career goals. These individuals are more likely to feel comfortable writing you a letter of recommendation if they have mentored you or allowed you to follow them on an ongoing basis. It would also be a good idea to journal your experiences while shadowing. Journaling provides an opportunity for you to document your experiences for future application materials and experiences that can be written about in your personal statement.

Shadowing Guidelines
  • Whether in a hospital, clinic, or physician’s practice, dress professionally. This means:
    • Wear flat comfortable shoes, but avoid sandals and open-toe or athletic shoes.
    • Men should wear nice dress pants and a pressed shirt. Shirts should be tucked in. Ties are optional.
    • Women should wear below the knee dresses or dressy pants and a conservative top.
    • Avoid clothing that is revealing or exposes undergarments.
    • Avoid excessive jewelry or fragrances.
  • Come prepared with two or three questions to ask the preceptor (physician you shadow).
  • Do exactly what your preceptor or the staff asks you to do.Respect patient confidentiality and privacy. Do not talk about the patient or their information at any time. Not only is it unethical, but it is also illegal. You will likely be asked to sign paperwork that informs you of federal privacy rules called HIPAA.
  • If at any time during a procedure you feel light-headed or dizzy, alert the physician and leave the patient’s room to sit down. Some students find it helpful to have a light snack prior to starting the clinical session.

Volunteering

Volunteering not only helps students decide whether medicine is the right field for them, it is a way to provide service to the community. Medical school admissions guides strongly urge their applicants to have engaged in some kind of volunteer activity before applying to medical school. Volunteering is viewed as increasingly important when it comes to admission decisions. It conveys commitment and integrity. You can’t demonstrate those traits in only a few days or a month of volunteer service.

Research

Experience in scientific research is recommended by admissions committees for the academically strong student who has such an interest. This type of experience is essential if you aspire to a career in academic medicine or research. Many undergraduates develop an interest in pursuing research as a career while participating in projects in the laboratory of a faculty member.