Getting into Medical School
One of the most important decisions that you will ever make is your career choice. Competition for admission to medical school is intense, and the coursework that follows requires an individual to think critically and employ discipline. Though the path to a career in medicine is a long one, it is intellectually challenging, financially secure, and personally rewarding.
Understanding factors to consider when applying for medical school is a good first step toward pursuing your interest in a medical career. It is never too early to become informed so that you can make the most of opportunities to prepare yourself for the application process.
A medical school admissions committee is likely to be made up of teaching physicians from the clinical faculty, research faculty from the biological sciences, and medical students. Alumni or community physicians may also serve on admissions committees.
Here are key factors to consider as you prepare to apply for medical school.
When choosing a pre-med major, keep in mind that medical school admissions committees have no prerequisites when it comes to degrees. Choose a degree or major in which you have a real interest. Be sure to take English, biology, inorganic chemistry, organic chemistry, physics, and math (college algebra or above), regardless of your major choice.
Top Producing Medical Schools
Each year, the AAFP recognizes the top ten medical schools with the most graduates accepted into a family medicine residency program. These schools represent the best of the best in contributing to the pipeline of future family physicians.
Although GPA is important, medical school admissions committees seek students who demonstrate a balance between their academic success and other interests.
The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) publishes the average applicant GPAs and Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) scores for US medical schools from the previous academic year. This information will give you a good idea of current averages.
Whether you meet or exceed the averages reported, remember that each application involves a variety of factors, including but not limited to academic performance. Don't let your GPA determine whether you apply.
The MCAT is a medical school admission requirement for most U.S. institutions, except for very few special consideration medical programs. The computer-based, multiple-choice, standardized test assesses critical thinking, writing skills, and basic knowledge of science.
The MCAT consists of four sections:
- Biological and biochemical foundations of living systems
- Chemical and physical foundations of biological systems
- Psychological, social, and biological foundations of behavior
- Critical analysis and reasoning skills
Your MCAT scores
The medical college admissions committees will consider your MCAT scores in the admission decision process. While an MCAT score in a high percentile can boost your medical school application, it is not the only consideration for admissions. Medical schools look at many factors in an application, and may even consider individual MCAT section scores to be as important as an overall score.
Studying for the MCAT
A variety of guides and materials are available to help you study for the MCAT. No matter what study resources you decide to use, be sure you are familiar with all that the MCAT will test on before you invest in any products.
As you plan out your study schedule, leave plenty of time for practice tests. Taking practice tests will help ensure you are meeting your study goals and know what to expect once the big day arrives.
Here is what you should know as you begin to prepare :
- The MCAT exam takes approximately seven and a half hours to complete.
- You can take the MCAT a maximum of three times over one year, and a total of four times maximum over a two-year period.
- Medical school admissions officers usually suggest that you take the MCAT in the calendar year prior to the year in which you plan to enter medical school.
Make it a priority to become familiar with MCAT eligibility and overall testing requirements before signing up to take it. If you have financial limitations, you may apply for fee assistance to minimize the costs of taking the MCAT.
When applying for medical school, you will be required to write a personal statement. Although, this essay is often the last part of the application process, you should start preparing for it as early as possible. This is one part of the admissions process in which you can have direct influence and should aim for the best product possible.
While admissions committees often emphasize that they do not advise students about what to write in their personal statement, there are specific themes and topics that can be included. Your personal statement should reflect your goals and the qualities that are unique to you, so that you stand out. As you start your essay, take the time to carefully reflect on the academic foundation you have built and the experiences that have contributed to the development of your character and led to your decision to pursue a career in medicine.
Medical school admission requirements include a personal interview, though the specific processes differ among schools. Interviews may take place on or off campus. Interviews may be conducted by an admissions committee member, by multiple members of the admissions committee, or by off-campus interviewers, such as practicing physicians and/or current students. Generally, the interview assessments are added to the admissions file.
During the interview be prepared to answer questions in the following topical areas:
- Critical thinking skills and problem solving
- Ethical questions and scenarios
- Grades and test scores
- Personal attributes and experiences including philosophical viewpoints
- Career choice - be prepared to verbalize the answer to “Why do you want to go into medicine?”
- Attributes that make you a great fit with the medical school
Medical school 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 volunteer. 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.
Work experience related to the medical field is of particular value when applying to medical school. The primary value of working in a hospital, doctor’s office, public health clinic, or nursing home is to increase your 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 medical school prerequisite to admissions, but is becoming increasingly important.
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.
If you want the chance to see medicine through its widest window, try shadowing a family physician. Because family doctors take care of everyone, from infants to older adults, these shadowing experiences are particularly rewarding and will help you get a jump start understanding medicine’s most popular specialty.
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 cannot demonstrate those traits in only a few days or a month of volunteer service.
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.
Other Considerations for Acceptance
Other considerations that may be a factor when applying to medical school include:
- Evaluations from faculty members who had the student in class
- The applicant's state of residence
- The applicant's specialty choice
- Physician specialty needs in the state where the medical school is located
Thoroughly review each medical school's application requirements to ensure that you are supplying all of the information requested.
Specialize in the Human Family
Family physicians focus on the whole person. By building relationships with their patients over time, family physicians are able to develop a comprehensive understanding of their patients’ health, and offer insightful, personal guidance and treatment for every stage of life.