Medical school provides students with the necessary knowledge and skills to work directly with patients, serving as a crucial foundation for a successful career in healthcare. So, naturally, the medical school admissions process is both extensive and challenging. Given the national acceptance rate of 43%, securing admission into medical school is highly competitive. This stresses the need for a stellar application to navigate the rigorous admissions process effectively.
However, you should fret not, as we’ve compiled everything you need to know about how to get into medical school – from choosing the right major in your undergraduate studies to preparing for medical school interviews.
Choose a Relevant Major
As all medical schools require earning a four-year undergraduate degree from an accredited college or university, the first step in your medical school journey is choosing a major in your undergraduate studies. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to graduate from a STEM degree to enroll in a medical school. Therefore, you should complete your undergraduate studies in a field that genuinely interests you and aligns with medical school requirements. This way, you can highlight your strengths and show your passion for pursuing a career in medicine. You can also choose to complete a combined pre-med program.
Complete Pre-Medical Coursework
Throughout your undergraduate studies, you should take the right courses to prepare for medical school. Generally, medical schools require completing pre-medical coursework in subjects such as biology, genetics, chemistry, English, sociology, psychology, physics, and math. Here at AUA, the recommended courses to apply for are:
- General Biology I and II
- General Chemistry I and II
- Organic Chemistry I and II
- Physics I
- English I
- Optional: Mathematics (Calculus or Statistics).
Keep in mind that you also need to maintain a strong GPA during your studies. According to AAMC data for applicants and matriculants to U.S. MD-granting medical schools from 2018-2019 through 2023-2024, the average overall GPA was 3.64, the average science GPA was 3.54, and the non-science GPA was 3.78.
Participate in Extracurricular Activities
Engaging in extracurricular activities can boost your chances during the medical school admission process. Demonstrating interests beyond academics shows you’re a well-rounded applicant. In the competitive landscape of medical school admissions, where high GPAs and exceptional MCAT scores are the norm, showcasing how you spend your time outside the classroom may set you apart. Consider engaging in community service, such as tutoring students from unprivileged backgrounds, participating in charitable organizations, volunteering at the local hospital, or joining a pre-med club on campus. Involvement in extracurricular activities helps you develop valuable skills such as leadership, teamwork, and communication.
Gain Clinical Experience or Shadow a Doctor
Gaining hands-on experience indicates that you’ve dedicated time to explore your career choice and tried to learn more about the demands of becoming a doctor. Clinical experience and medical shadowing are great ways to prepare for your future career and enrich your application. Volunteering at hospitals to gain clinical experience allows you to work directly with patients and strengthen interpersonal skills, such as compassion and empathy. Meanwhile, shadowing a doctor exposes you to the intricacies of patient interaction, the diagnostic process, and treatment methods. You can also shadow different healthcare professionals to gain a broader understanding of the healthcare system.
Participate in Scientific Research (optional but beneficial)
Another way to bolster your medical school application is by participating in scientific research. This showcases your interest in hands-on scientific activities, teaches you to apply scientific knowledge, and enhances your critical skills. Involvement in research also provides opportunities to build close relationships with faculty mentors and peers and enables you to publish your work alongside field experts. However, while experience in research is beneficial, it’s generally optional as most medical schools do not require it.
Prepare for the MCAT
An integral element of getting into medical school is the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT). A high MCAT score proves you have the essential knowledge and skills to further your education in medicine. Since preparing for the exam may be challenging, you can make use of resources such as MCAT review books and online courses from Khan Academy, hire a tutor, or attend MCAT prep courses to facilitate the process.
To optimize your preparation for the exam, we recommend creating a study plan that outlines the following elements:
- The academic, professional, and extracurricular obligations, and the number of hours they require;
- The areas you intend to study and the sequence in which you plan to cover them;
- The resources and strategies you’ll employ during your study sessions.
Request Letters of Recommendation
Another step in your medical school admissions process is obtaining letters of recommendation to provide valuable insights into your academic and personal strengths. Ask for a letter of recommendation from individuals who know your strengths and can provide examples of your abilities. Opt for professors or mentors who have witnessed your academic skills, personal qualities, and work ethic. You can also select doctors you’ve shadowed or other healthcare professionals who can assert your genuine interest in medicine. Remember that these professionals are dedicating their valuable time writing your letter of recommendation, so you should act professionally and provide them with sufficient time to craft thoughtful letters.
Write a Personal Statement
The personal statement essay is one the most critical components of your medical school admission process. A well-written personal statement provides the admissions committee with insights into your character, attitudes, and personality traits and sets you apart from other qualified candidates.
So, how to write a compelling personal statement?
- List your most outstanding qualities and focus on what the admissions committee wants to know about you that goes beyond your achievements, such as your willingness to learn, listening skills, and persistence.
- List any events or situations in which you have exhibited these qualities. While it helps to share experiences related to medicine, sharing other genuine experiences, like volunteering in a retirement home, can also help you stand out.
- Craft a compelling, reliable, and authentic description of the event with you as the focal point.
- Show, don’t tell your qualities, i.e., demonstrate your qualities through an engaging story.
- Discuss the most impactful experiences that steered you towards a career in medicine.
- Elaborate on how you felt during the experience, what you accomplished and learned, and how your experience affected and influenced your decision to pursue a medical career.
- Lastly, write a memorable conclusion highlighting your positive attributes, perspectives gained from your formative experiences, and your passion for medicine.
Ultimately, your personal statement should be authentic and carry a strong, compelling narrative.
Research and Apply to Medical Schools
While you can apply to as many medical schools as you want, you should consider the time and money you’ll have to spend on your primary and secondary applications. It’s advisable to apply only to schools you can see yourself attending. On average, students apply to 16 medical schools. A helpful tool for researching medical schools is the AAMC MSAR website, which helps you see the specific admissions requirements with other valuable data like national and school-specific applicant and acceptance data. Remember that every school looks for particular qualities in their students, so you should tailor your applications to each school to showcase the required qualities and increase your enrollment chances.
Prepare for Interviews
Interviews can be one of the most nerve-racking aspects of the medical school admissions process. However, they can help you demonstrate to the admissions committee that you are the ideal candidate for their school. Simultaneously, interviews enable the medical schools to assess your interpersonal skills and determine that you’re professional and well-suited for a career in medicine.
Below, we have provided you with some of the most common questions asked during a medical school applicant interview and suggestions on what your answer should contain:
- “Tell me about yourself”: Begin by sharing details about your background, upbringing, and personal interests, then smoothly transition to medically relevant experiences.
- “Why do you want to become a doctor?”: Share an experience that inspired you to become a physician and emphasize that you possess qualities that make a good doctor.
- “What are your best and worst qualities?”: Be honest, relate your response to a doctor’s perspective, and emphasize what you’re doing to tackle your weaknesses.
- “What makes a good doctor?”: Refer to your personal attributes and, if relevant, highlight qualities such as compassion, excellent communication skills, flexibility, the ability to work under pressure, and resourcefulness in solving problems.
To nail your admissions interview, research the school and its values, practice your answers to the most common interview questions, and be courteous and respectful to everyone.
Stay in Contact with Schools
An important thing to remember during the admissions process is staying in contact with the schools you’ve applied to. This allows you to showcase to the admissions committee your keen interest in their program and remain updated on the progress of your application, including important deadlines you must meet. You can stay in contact by writing follow-up letters of interest as you wait for an interview or a final decision after the interview. These letters of interest may become particularly valuable if you find yourself on the waitlist.
In the follow-up letters, emphasize how the school you’re applying to will contribute to establishing a robust foundation for your future and highlight what you find appealing about their program. Remember to review the school’s policy on sending letters of interest, as they may provide guidance on whether it’s appropriate. Lastly, maintain a professional tone in your communication with the school and sincerely express gratitude for their consideration of your application.
Choosing a relevant major, completing pre-med coursework, participating in extracurricular activities, and gaining experience will undoubtedly strengthen your medical school application and increase your chances of getting in. Additionally, remember to remain positive and resilient throughout the application process. Now that you’re armed with everything you need to do to ace your admissions process, get started on your medical journey here at AUA Medical School and start preparing your applications today!
Frequently Asked Questions
How hard is it to get into medical school?
In the 2023-2024 admission cycle, out of 52,577 applicants, 22,981 were accepted into a medical school program, making the U.S. acceptance rate for medical school 43%. So, getting into medical school can be hard, but you can improve your chances by having a stellar application.
How long does it take to get into medical school?
There isn’t a fixed timeline for getting into medical school. You can apply in the summer between your junior and senior year of college, which means enrolling in medical school a few months after graduating from undergraduate studies. Or, you can take at least one gap year before enrolling to bolster your application, boost your GPA, or partake in extracurriculars like research.