Your application to medical school is the first step on an important journey to better yourself and your community. There a few steps you need to take to get there: learn how to sell yourself, understand how to stand out within your university, and figure out what type of medicine you’re interested in.
What do med schools look for?
Med schools look for strong candidates. Therefore it is important to understand what makes you a strong candidate and to help medical schools understand that as well. You can do this by understanding what makes you unique, how to create an impactful personal statement, and how to ace your interview.
While identifying what makes you a strong candidate consider this question: “who am I?” This can mean who you are as a leader, as a friend, an aspiring physician, or as someone else entirely. Answering these questions will help you define an identity that will represent your core values. You can also represent your core values by engaging in community service that matters to you. Don’t choose community service only because it might impress medical schools; medical schools will sense you don’t really care about that community service. Try to find community service opportunities, such as volunteering at a local clinic, that are important to you.
Create an impactful personal statement
Once you’ve defined how you want to present yourself, take that information and create a distinctive, powerful, compelling, genuinely impressive personal statement to accompany your application paperwork.
This personal statement will be your chance to show medical schools that you are more than your scores, grades, and resume. Use analytical thinking and creative writing skills to make your personal statement engaging. Once you’ve written a draft, make sure you review for errors. Take a few days off before writing and reviewing, though, so you catch even the smallest mistakes. Make sure you also request feedback from valued mentors.
Ace admission interviews
If a medical school likes your application paperwork and the personal statement, they will most likely invite you for an interview. This interview will be your chance and the medical school’s chance to see how well you will fit into their program. Learn how to be interviewed, be ready to answer questions likely to be asked, and become adept at using body language to reinforce your spoken words. For instance, interviewers will most likely ask about your family. This is a great example of a maturity question. You will likely want to give credit to some of your success to them and how they have impacted your life. If you can master these skills, and exude confidence, you will come across as mature and capable to the medical school committee. Make sure you also answer questions directly. You will want to be prepared with answers, but make sure you don’t over-rehearse. The medical school wants to get to know the real you, not the overly-rehearsed you.
How to Stand Out at Your University
Understanding your identity and helping universities get to know you is important; so is your academic performance in your undergraduate career. There are a few things you can do prior to taking the MCAT to set yourself up for success. First, join a pre-health professions club or association. You can get to know others on the same path and gain valuable experiences. Second, you should also try to be part of any type of scientific research you can. Research experience and skills are invaluable to medical schools.
When it is time to study for the MCAT, though, make sure to develop a study plan. Search online for help and set aside designated time to study while increasing the pace and intensity of studying. Lecturio has an MCAT resource that can help set you up for success using these tips. Overall, plan to study for about 300 to 350 hours for this exam. Remember, the MCAT is meant to measure your understanding of critical concepts and how well you will most likely perform in medical school. Most medical schools admit test takers with a score of at least 508 or 509.
The application will also have three spots to list your most meaningful experiences. It is recommended that two are medical/research-oriented and one is from something outside of medicine.
Taking the MCAT
Speaking of the MCAT… here’s what you need to know: The MCAT is “a standardized, multiple-choice examination designed to assess your problem-solving, critical thinking, and knowledge of natural, behavioral, and social science concepts and principles prerequisite to the study of medicine,” according to the AAMC. There are four sections in the test: biological and biochemical foundations of living systems; chemical and physical foundations of biological systems; psychological, social, and biological foundations of behavior; and critical analysis and reasoning skills.
When you should take the test depends on when you plan to attend medical school. If you plan to take no time off between undergrad and medical school, you should take the MCAT in early May of your junior year. This will make sure you have your scores in time for a June deadline. Remember, there are limited seats available for medical school programs. The MCAT helps the programs understand how likely you are to succeed academically in their program.
Figure Out the Best Type of Medicine for You
There are two primary “types” of medical school: allopathic and osteopathic. Before you learn about the differences, here are some similarities. First, the criteria to apply are virtually the same. Both weigh GPA and MCAT scores heavily. You will want to maintain a strong overall GPA and also science GPA. Second, both curricula cover most of the same concepts in a similar order. In both types of medicine, you will spend the first 12–24 months in a classroom studying foundational science and then the majority of your training in a clinical setting. There are a few key differences, though.
Allopathic programs tend to be more science-based practice with a focus on diagnosing and treating medical conditions. For instance, if you attend an allopathic program, you are setting yourself up to be a primary care physician, pediatrician, pharmacist, and related roles. In the 2018–2019 school year, the average MCAT score for successful applicants was 511.2 and the average GPA was 3.72. Allopathic programs tend to lead you to what could be considered the “mainstream” medicine route.
Osteopathic programs claim their methods are more holistic. For instance, they use osteopathic manipulative treatment. The AOA defines this treatment as a “set of hands-on techniques used by osteopathic physicians … to diagnose, treat, and prevent illness or injury.” Essentially, the focus lies mostly on prevention rather than treatment. As an osteopathic medicine student, you will spend an additional 200-plus hours of training on the musculoskeletal system in your curriculum. The average GPA for an applicant’s bachelor’s degree is 3.54. The mean MCAT score is 503.8.
It will be important to understand the difference between the two so you can choose the program that is best for you. The strongest medical school application will have your identity and academic achievements, but it will also have focus. The more you know about your future goals, the more persuasive your application will be.