How to get accepted to medical school

As I mentioned in a previous post about post baccalaureate premedical programs, I had a chance to meet with a dean of admissions for a medical school in Chicago. He gave me some invaluable advice regarding what makes for a competitive med school applicant.

There are 5 things to which medical school admissions committees pay very close attention.

1. Academics:

What is your GPA, and what are your MCAT scores? If you don’t meet their minimum, they won’t give you a look. Most schools don’t advertise or divulge what their minimum GPA/MCAT requirements are, and some don’t have formal minimums (but have informal minimums that are established when they don’t strongly consider applicants below a certain threshold). If you meet or exceed their minimum scores, they will look at the rest of the factors.

2. Demographics:

Where are you from, and where did you go to school? What is unique about you? What can you contribute to the student body that others could not contribute? Non traditional students have the built-in diversity of “life experience” that sets them apart from the majority of applicants.

3. Service activities:

This is not service just for the sake of having it on your resume. This is service that reveals one of your passions. If you say that you are passionate about autism, do you have service that backs that claim? If you are passionate about helping the poor, what actions have you taken that demonstrate this? This is the “actions speak louder than words” part of your application. You can say that you care about people, but what have you done to prove it?

4. Exposure to medicine:

Have you shadowed a doctor? Have you shadowed multiple doctors? Have you spent time in the hospital as a patient? Have you spoken with doctors about the sacrifices involved in medicine (long hours, sleep deprivation during residency, compromise on your family life)? Have you educated yourself about different specialties? You need to be able to answer “yes” to most of these questions and still know that you want to be a doctor. In other words, prove that you know what you are getting yourself into, and prove that you are still passionate about doing it in light of the sacrifices required.

5. Research experience:

Again, this is not a box to check off on your resume. You want to do research in a field that evokes one of your passions. Research is about the process of learning, and medicine is a career of life-long learning. Things are constantly changing and you need to be committed to keeping up. Doing academic research is one way to demonstrate your love of learning. You can get research experience as an undergraduate by asking one of your professors if you can serve as a research assistant, or by finding the closest research company or laboratory and asking to volunteer or observe. If you’ve done research, that is best but at a minimum you need to have exposure to it and understand the process.

Beyond these 5 things, you have your application with all of your essays, letters of recommendation, and if you’re lucky a few interviews. Essays and letters will not get you accepted if you don’t have the 5 things above. They are important because if you do have the 5 things above, bad essays and letters of rec. can still sink you. They need to be well written, and they should in no way contradict the statement you are making that you want to go to medical school, you are qualified to go to medical school, and they should accept you. You must be authentic while making this statement, and you must have a track record of action that backs it up.

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