How to Get into Medical School
There are many requirements to get into medical school.
In this post I will share with you useful resources, advice and tips on how to fulfill these requirements and how to get into medical school!
Here are the basic requirements:
Letters of Recommendation
This is one of the most important aspects to getting into medical school. A strong MCAT score can make or break you in the admissions process. I will discuss the test in general, test taking tips, overcoming a low MCAT and useful online resources/books.
Okay so what is the MCAT? It is the Medical College Admissions Test. The MCAT is meant to test your ability to critically think, and also covers information covered in the basic undergraduate sciences (Biology, Chemistry, Biochemistry, Organic chemistry, and physics).
This test is made up of four sections.
-Biological and Biochemical Foundations of living systems
-Chemical and physical foundations of living biological systems
-Psychological, social and biological foundations of behavior
-Critical Analysis and Reasoning
All of the above sections with the exception of Critical Analysis and Reasoning (or CARS) are 95 minutes long and have 59 questions. The CARS section is 90 minutes with 53 questions.
If you break down this timing that leaves 96 seconds/question on every section but CARS. On the CARS section you have 101 seconds per question.
The test score can be kind of confusing. Each section has a score that ranges from 118-132, with a section midpoint or 50th percentile of 125. This means that in order to score 50th percentile on the exam you need a score of 500. If you can get to a score of 514 you will be in the 75th percentile.
So I had the honor of taking this exam twice, so I like to think that I have had some good experience with the test. There are a lot of things I wish I had known prior to taking the exam, here they are:
-Get a good night’s sleep before the exam
-Don’t try to cram study the night before or the morning of, you can skim basic topics or read a few articles to get the brain flowing.
-Bring a healthy slow digesting snack with you to the testing center.
-Both testing centers I went to had lockers available to lock your stuff up, each locker had plenty of room for food and drinks.
-Bring as little as possible, it will make the process easier. (you need an ID)
-Wear simple clothes with a few pockets and avoid jewelry. They check all your pockets each time you enter the testing room, so fewer pockets makes it easier.
-Bring brand new ear plugs that don’t have strings attached to them. They must remain in packaging until you are at the testing center, so open the package in front of them there.
-Bring a jacket, the testing center temperature may vary.
-Between every section you get a ten-minute break, use this time to go to the bathroom, have a snack, and regroup.
-Go to the bathroom every single break, if you don’t have to then you should still go and try. There is nothing worse than having to pee while sitting in the middle of a section.
-Have a good positive attitude and be upbeat, walk into the testing center like you are going to own that test!
Those just about sum up what I learned during the experience, oh… stop and think through questions. Don’t rush or panic yourself.
Okay, so we have discussed a lot about the MCAT in particular and now I want to talk about overcoming a low MCAT score. A “low” MCAT score is anything around the 50th percentile, this on the new MCAT is about a 500.
How will you overcome a not so stellar MCAT score? This is done by making the rest of your application far above average! You can do this by making sure you have the following:
-High GPA: Shoot for a science and non-science GPA of at minimum 3.5 when overcoming a low MCAT
-Fantastic extra-curricular activities.
-Start a business
-Commit long term to volunteering at homeless shelters, free clinics, and places like this.
-Have an amazing Personal Statement
-Write high quality insightful essays on secondary’s
-Apply to REALISTIC SCHOOLS
Remember, the MCAT and GPA are screening tools and while they are extremely important to the process if you get an interview you are academically good enough!
Do all the things above if you have a “low” MCAT and I assure you that your chances of having a successful interview will go up dramatically.
–Kahn Academy: Here is a very useful website that has an abundance of videos, ENJOY.
–MCATforme: Once againn, very useful videos for anyone studying for the MCAT.
-Prep books: Check out my MCAT books page for list of all the top books.
-General Prep: On my GPA/MCAT page I have a section dedicated to prep. There are links to the AAMC, practice tests, and many more.
When discussing GPA you want to consider two things, overall trend and science/overall GPA. If you started out college and didn’t do so good (like most of us) that is okay! You want to show that your grades have been in a upward trend. Basically there should be a noticeable point on your transcript where you decided to get serious, and an admissions team should be able to pick it out.
The other trend is that you have just done fantastic all through college and your trend is to get all A’s and B’s…. either way both of those trends are good as long as your GPA is good.
So what is a good GPA? Typically, if you can get you science and overall GPA above a 3.5 then you will be in a good situation. If you have a 3.2 GPA and you get it up to a 3.5 then this is HUGE and very beneficial in your application process. If you go from a 3.5 to a 3.7 it isn’t quite as big of a deal as the former example, but obviously the higher the GPA the better your chances.
Despite popular belief your college major doesn’t directly affect your admissions into medical school. Most medical school applicants choose to major in biology and chemistry because they have to take so many of these courses anyways, and they are interested in the topics.
You can choose any major that you want! You just need to make sure that you get all the required pre requisite classes in. I majored in human nutrition, you can major in sociology, history, art, anything you want as long as you get the pre reqs in.
This is nice because it will allow you to actually enjoy the major you are getting, and if you enjoy the classes you are taking then don’t you think you will be more likely to study more and get better grades! This leads to a higher GPA, which is better!
With that being said here are the basic required classes for pre med students.
-Biology 1 with lab
-Biology 2 with lab
-Inorganic Chemistry 1 with lab
-Inorganic Chemistry 2 with lab
-Organic Chemistry 1 with lab
-Organic Chemistry 2 with lab
-Physics 1 with lab
-Physics 2 with lab
Each school may have a few additional required courses such as psychology and sociology, but these are the major ones. Make sure you get these done and check with your school of interest for any additional required courses that are outside the core ones mentioned above.
Research is one of the highly recommended extra-curricular activities that medical school admissions committees want to see. Why do they want to see this? Do they really care what the topic of research is?
Admissions committees want to see research because it demonstrates your ability to follow the research process. The research process is very similar to the diagnosis process of physicians. It is where they see a problem or have a theory and figure out how to come to a solution. Basically doing research displays your problem solving and critical thinking abilities.
The topic of research is not of high importance to admissions committees. Although I will say if it is somewhere in the science field it will look slightly better on paper because it will show your interest in the sciences. Overall, the purpose of research is to see how you do and if you enjoy the research process.
Okay, so how do you get to do research? Ask your professors!! Most universities require their professors to do a certain amount of research each semester or year. Every fall you should approach the professor that you want to do research with and ask them if they are doing any research. I they are fantastic, then you should ask if you can get in on it. If they aren’t doing research, then thank them for their time and move onto the next professor. Whatever professor you get to do research with, make sure that you get to know them very well! Don’t be creepy…. But talk with them and be friendly. This will come in handy because you need a letter from a research advisor.
One last note on research. Try to get it published and presented! This will stand out in the crowd of applicants and it will give you something fascinating to talk about at interviews.
It is necessary to show that you care about others. The best way to do this is to volunteer and give back to the community.
Good volunteer ideas include:
-Troubled youth centers
-Search and Rescue
-Community Emergency Response teams
The ideas are endless, but the most important thing when volunteering is to make sure you like it! If you don’t enjoy the service, you are giving then you will most likely not take it serious and that can ruin your chances of a good reference.
Another important thing is to put time and dedication into each and every volunteer experience. You don’t want to volunteer for a week here and there, spend six months to a year in one place! I promise you this looks better than a bunch of scattered experiences. It is like employment history…. Do you want to hire someone who has jumped from job to job or somebody who has held down one or two jobs for a long time and gained good references?
So volunteer, keep a journal of your experiences and contact information! It will come in handy and save you time when it comes time to fill out your application.
This is one of the most important parts of the entire process. You need to shadow physicians, because how do you know you want to be a doctor unless you have been with one and seen what they do?
A lot of schools want to see that you have spent time with a primary care doctor, but a good majority of schools don’t care who you shadow. Spend some time with these doctors and get to know them, because once again you need a letter of recommendation from them.
So how do you go about shadowing a physician? It is a pretty simple process, but be ready to be told no a few times. You just need to simply call up the office of the physician and talk to either the doctor’s medical assistant or the front office staff. Don’t expect to speak with the physician, they are busy so be respectful and talk to their assistants about shadowing.
Simply introduce yourself and tell them that you are a pre medical student and you are interested in shadowing the physician. Then ask if the physician allows students to come in and shadow them. Some physicians won’t allow student to come shadow them, this is okay, don’t get discouraged or let down. Pick yourself up and find a doctor that will allow you to shadow them.
Once you find a physician that will allow you to shadow them you will most likely have to fill out a bunch of paperwork, including HIPPA paperwork, so inquire about this with the office staff.
Okay so now its shadow day, dress professionally and act accordingly. Be a shadow in the room, don’t be up in the doctors or patients face asking questions, simply be there and be courteous and kind. Once you are alone with the doctor you can ask questions and be engaged. When in the room with the patient and physician feel out the vibe and only do what the doctor allows you to.
When I shadowed a few different physicians they would introduce me and bring me into the conversation, but I never insisted or made it my idea. Every single time that I was in a conversation with the doctor and the patient it was the doctor’s idea to bring me into the conversation.
Letters of Recommendation
Letters of recommendation are important because they give insight into the kind of person you are. The admissions committee has such a short time to get to know you, so they depend heavily on letters of reference to help them paint a picture of who you are. There are a few basic letter requirements that will satisfy the needs for most school. You must get a letter from people in the following positions.
-Any course instructor
These are the basic letter requirements to most schools. Please check whatever your school of interest is to make sure you get the correct letters.
You want to start this process early, it is a time consuming process and you are depending on others to hold up their end of the deal. Sometimes it can take months for somebody to write a letter, so be ahead of the game and ask long in advance. You can store letters on sites like Interfolio, or Virtual Evals, I highly recommend Interfolio, I used it and it worked wonderfully.
So how do you get a letter? You need to be straight with the person you want one from. Say you are asking a physician for a letter. You have shadowed them for 40 hours and feel like there is a positive vibe. You want to ask them if they will write you a positive letter. This is important because you want a letter that says great things about you, don’t go after generic or even negative letters. If they hesitate at all when you ask for a positive letter, then say thank you for your time and move on.
Once someone agrees to write you a good letter, get their email and send a request immediately with your resume attached. Don’t hesitate to get the information to them, allow them to get write to it and write the letter.
Remember, start early and request good letters, and make sure you are getting the appropriate letters for your school of interest.
Medical School admissions committees want to see that you are somebody who can effectively be a leader. After all, the doctor is the leader of the medical team so this makes sense to me. Well how to you demonstrate that you can be a leader, when all you have is an hour interview and a bunch of pieces of paper to express yourself? Here is a list of effective ways to show leadership skills.
-Manager at work
-Start a club
-Organize a food drive
-Teach CPR or first aid
-Work at a troubled youth center
This list is obviously not all inclusive, but I hope it gives you a good idea as to what kind of activities will show leadership potential to medical school admission committees.
If you are with me still, then you must be serious about getting into medical school! You need to be serious about it! One way to show that you are serious about medicine and can say that you know for 100% that you want to do this is to get clinical experience.
You don’t want to group volunteer, shadowing, and clinical experience into one big experience and try to claim it as all three though. I worked full time as an EMT through my undergrad and this worked out for me. Working full time and going to school full time was stressful, for this reason I would say maybe try to find a part time or PRN (as needed) job doing one of the following:
These would all be great ways to show that you know what medicine is about and that you are serious, but even more important is that they won’t overlap into any of your other categories (ie volunteer, shadowing, etc).
Because of my clinical experience I had a lot of stories to tell and the interviewers loved it! I based my entire personal statement off of a very emotional experience that I had while working in the emergency department.
I hope that this post is useful for you, and as always please leave comments and suggestions! I would love your input so that I can make this or any other post/page better, because better more accurate information helps more people!
I am currently working on a more in depth detailed eBook that will be all about the medical school admissions process! Check back for that!