How to Get Into Medical School
June 25, 2019
If you’re trying to figure out how to get into medical school, you’ve come to the right place. It can be one of the most stressful and time-consuming processes among all graduate application processes, but is very doable with a little guidance and willpower.
With the significant increase in applicants per medical school, the competition has significantly risen for those individuals who want to further their education and go to medical school. There are several things that students and applicants can do to increase their chances and learn more about the process so they can evaluate areas where they can improve.
So you’ve already established that you want to go to medical school, and you’ve done your research on why going to medical school might advance your career, you might be asking yourself how you can actually get into medical school.
How to Get Into Medical School:
We’ve outlined some of the best methods that you can use to ensure that you significantly increase your chances of landing admission into the medical school of your choice.
1. Take & Pass the MCAT
The first step to getting into medical school is to take and pass the MCAT. The difficulty of this exam should not be taken lightly as it is weighed alongside your GPA in the admission process, meaning that your score carries nearly as much weight as 4 years of undergrad!
Aim to begin studying for the test as early as the junior year of your undergraduate program, setting aside time each week to master each section. Luckily, there are a plethora of guides, books, and other resources you can find for free or purchase online. The MCAT typically takes five hours to complete and you can take it up to a maximum of three times per year. In a two year period, you can only take the MCAT four times. You’re also only allowed to take the MCat 7 times in your lifetime.
The test is incredibly costly, so you don’t want to take it too many times as the price will begin to rack up quickly. The cost for the MCAT is $315, which also covers the fees to get the testing materials and then distribute it where necessary. To help guide you in what to expect in the MCAT, the test is typically broken down into several sections that test knowledge and experience.
The Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) is a comprehensive standardized test that covers 4 sections, including:
Biological & Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems
Chemical & Physical Foundations of Biological Systems
Psychological, Social, & Biological Foundations of Behavior
Critical Analysis & Reasoning Skills
One thing to note, however, is that you don’t need to have completed the MCAT before submitting your application, but it will not be reviewed until all materials, including exam scores, have been submitted.
MCAT scores typically range from 472 to 528. Each section is broken down into individual scores that can range from 118 to 132, with the median being 125 for each section. Accepted MCAT scores for medical school admission typically range between 505 to 508. Students should strive for scoring the highest possible score they can as it directly impacts your chances of getting into medical school. Different medical schools will have different admission requirements and acceptable MCAT scores.
You don’t want to limit the potential medical schools you can get into though because you elected to breeze through the MCAT or ignore spending enough time studying to do as well as you can. To view some of the easiest medical schools to get into based on MCAT, take a look at our Easiest Medical Schools To Get Into blog post, where you can get an idea of the minimally acceptable MCAT score you should obtain.
Some believe the MCAT is an outdated measure of the potential applicants each year because of the recent criticism of standardized testing, but it’s been rigorously tested and applied for decades, and shows no sign of slowing down in the near future.
The typical MCAT acceptance score is between 505 and above. Anything lower and you’ll significantly decrease the chances of you getting into the medical school of your choice. Another thing to consider when you’re getting ready to take and pass the MCAT score is that each test matters. If you do absolutely horrendous on your first test, your second test will become even more critical in potentially getting accepted into medical school. Medical schools often look at all previous MCAT scores and then evaluate them together or separately, so you need to make sure that you do your best each time you take the MCAT if you don’t pass it initially. The best way to ensure that you pass it the first time is to start studying early.
2. Start Studying Early
Students who want to go to medical school should begin studying as early as they can. The earlier students start studying, the more likely they are to retain the information that they need to succeed in the test.
Recommended study time is between 300 to 350 hours. The good news is that there are plenty of practice and study materials for you to use when you’re getting ready to take and pass the MCAT exam. There are loads of practices tests you can take, which are often comprised of previous test questions, or study materials that educators and Physicians believe each student should know before taking the exam.
The study materials, practice tests, and resources that you potentially use also cost a lot of money because there are designated organizations and companies that spend time and resources getting the best study materials for students seeking medical school admission. Earlier we mentioned how the MCAT is costly, and you should expect to spend a big chunk of money on study materials as well because you don’t want to skip out on getting every possible resource you can to pass the MCAT and study properly.
In addition, there are plenty of associations, clubs, or services you can join that will help you take and pass the MCAT.
3. Start the Application Process Early
The American Medical College Application Service (AMCAS) manages the application process for aspiring medical students and has streamlined and simplified the process.
You can start the application process by creating an account whenever you want, so make it early and try to become familiar with their system. However, you’ll have to fork out the $160.00 processing fee before actually submitting the application. This fee includes one medical school designation, with additional schools being $37.00/each. The cost for taking the exam is $315, and quickly rises to $370 if you don’t submit your application early or within the appropriate timeframe.
The process is broken down into 9 sections:
Sections 1-3: Background Information
- Basic personal information including birth date, sex, etc.
- Schools attended, transcripts, and any disciplinary action.
- Biographic information including citizenship, residence, ethnicity and race, military history, felonies & misdemeanors etc.
This section of the application is designed to provide a little bit of background information on who you are, some of the previous experience and education you’ve obtained, and more. The first section is broken down into some identifying information so medical schools can get an understanding of who you are. The second secon is broken down into previous schools you’ve attended and the education you obtained there. The third section is then broken down into some biographic information where you can talk about some legal residency questions, provide citizenship and contact information, and answer some military or criminal conviction questions.
Section 4: Course Work
- Aspiring medical students must include a detailed list of their completed coursework and grades, converting them to a standardized scale specified by the AMCAS.
This section of the application highlights all of the completed coursework and grades you’ve obtained prior to submitting the application. This section helps classify each course, showcase any foreign coursework, study abroad experiences, and the adjusted GPA that is evaluated by medical schools.
This section also requires an official transcript from each institution, college, or university where you obtained a grade or attempted coursework and earned credit. This part of the application ensures that the proper grades and coursework are attributed to the proper student, and ensure that the grades don’t get lost in the process or improperly attributed to someone else.
Section 5: Work & Activities
- This is where you include valuable experiences including employment, extracurriculars, awards, honors, or anything else or merit that you believe may bring value to your application.
- Up to 15 may be included and you’re able to identify 3 as the most important, impactful, or meaningful. Choose experiences that most closely align with your goals.
This section of the application is designed to highlight any work experience, extracurriculars, publications, awards, or honors that you might want to bring to the attention to the medical schools that you’re applying to. It’s a good idea to highlight all of your accomplishments throughout the years in this section to once again show that you’re an achiever and you can bring a lot to a potential medical school if they decided to consider you for their program.
Section 6: Letters of Recommendation
- The AMCAS Letter Service manages the reception of all letters for admission purposes electronically. Rather than each author having to send their letter to each school independently, they’re all collected by the AMCAS and disbursed to the schools you specify.
- Accepted letter types include: committee letters, letter packets, and individuals letters (the most common).
This section is designed to highlight what letters of recommendation or letters of evaluation you would like to include throughout your application and who you’d like them to be sent to when submitting our medical school application. There are three different letter types that can be accepted, and you need to highlight what type the letter is and why you elected to include them.
Section 7: Specify Medical Schools
- This is the point in the application where you must designate the schools and programs in which you intend to submit your application.
- There are varying types of degree programs to choose from, including regular MD, combined MD-PhD, combined BA/MD, deferred or delayed matriculation, and other special programs (OSPs).
- Also includes the Early Decision Program (EDP) which allows you to secure your spot in the class by October 1st.
This section is designed to designate which programs and medicals that you’d like to submit your application to.
Section 8: Essays
- All applicants are required to submit an essay of up to 5,300 characters with spaces counting as characters.
- MD-PhD combined candidates must submit two other essays: the MD-PhD and the Significant Research Experience essay.
Every single applicant is asked to submit an essay with their medical school application. The essay is described as a “Personal Comments” essay. As we mentioned earlier, the essay should be 5,300 characters or less, or roughly one page. There are a host of recommendations to ensure that the essay is input properly and doesn’t have any errors. One of the recommendations is that the essay be typed in the input fields, as copying and pasting might cause formatting or content issues. Students should be careful when submitting their application as well, because there is no spell check or grammar check. In addition, MD-PhD programs might require additional essays to be completed as part of the application process.
Section 9: Standardized Tests
- This is where you include your MCAT scores. Do not include voided scores or those more than 3 years old. Most schools require them to have been taken in the past 3 years.
- More specialized programs, like the combined MD-PhD, may require other exam scores as well depending on the school’s requirements. These can include the GMAT, LSAT, MAT, or GRE, so be sure you know the requirements early!
Review & Submit
Once you’ve submitted all of the above information, it’s time to go through it with a fine-toothed comb and send it. Be sure to triple check for errors on every section, especially the essays, grades, and test score sections as any inaccuracies will delay the already-lengthy process.
4. Conduct Practice Interviews
One of the important steps you need to take before you get invited to actually interview with a medical school that you’re considering is to conduct practice interviews. We’ve all been in a scenario where we thought to ourselves, “Well that could’ve gone better.” The last thing you want to happen is to have that thought pop up when you’re finished with your medical school interviews.
We also tend to have our own habits and communication quirks when we’re talking to others, and it’s best to know what they are before you conduct your interview so you don’t accidentally fumble through your words in an important part of the interview.
Conducting practice interviews is a great way to prepare yourself and work out some of the quirks before they pop up — or at least evaluate where you might have quirks so you can watch out for them during the interview. Some people are natural interviewers or conversationalists. Others tend to freeze up and don’t know how to interact with others. Whatever the case may be, practice interviews can help them get ready for medical school interviews and ensure that the odds of getting into medical school are increased.
Practice interviews are a good way of preparing answers for inevitable questions that might arise as well. There are some interview questions that always come up, and are designed to get a base underestanding of who the candidate is. Some of the medical schools you might interview with will conduct only one interview, or will also conduct several mini interviews which are designed to offer candidates multiple opportunities to explain who they are and tell a story from the interview parts.
Some of the inevitable questions or topics that you can expect to come up in the interview will include: questions about your grades and scenarios, personal experience, philosophical viewpoints, career choice, attributes that make you different, critical thinking and problem-solving scenarios, and ethical scenarios and examples.
Going through these different practice questions with someone close to you who can help you come up with solid answers and evaluate you independently is a great way to make sure that you’re prepared for your medical school interviews.
You can choose to go through the practice interview scenarios with friends and family, or you can interview with those individuals who have actually gone through the process before. Some of the best people who you can talk to include practicing Physicians, current medical students, admission committee members, and educators. They will all be able to provide you with some feedback and help you learn what you can do to get into medical school. All you have to do is ask for some assistance. The next thing you need to do is to interview with the medical schools you applied to.
One of the best ways that you can separate yourself from the other medical school candidates and set yourself up for getting into medical school is by volunteering whenever you can. Volunteering is a great way for you to demonstrate your desire to help others and showcase your willingness to give back to your local community like you would in a healthcare role. While volunteering in a medical capacity is great, you shouldn’t limit your volunteering opportunities to those roles only.
Whether it’s building accessibility ramps for your local community, or cleaning up leaves in your neighborhood — there is always something that you can do to demonstrate that you care about your community.
6. Gain Medical Experience For Your Resume
In your medical school application materials, you’re asked to detail your professional and volunteer experiences. Some medical schools also ask that you submit a resume with your application so they can view it once again in another document. Getting some medical experience prior to applying to medical school is a fantastic way of separating yourself from those candidates who are applying to medical school from an unrelated major, have no volunteer experience, and have no prior medical experience either.
The reason that it allows you to separate yourself from other candidates is that it eliminates some of the concerns that medical schools have with each candidate. Medical schools often have to narrow down candidates by asking themselves whether or not the candidate is truly passionate about working in the healthcare industry, or if it’s just a potential interest for them. If you’ve already earned prior medical experience or worked in the healthcare industry before and still decided that you wanted to pursue a medical school degree, then you’re making it clear to them that this isn’t just some passing interest that you might have; it’s something you’re truly passionate about.
7. Apply To Multiple Schools
When you’re evaluating which medical schools you’re interested in applying to, you shouldn’t be afraid to consider ones that were at the bottom of your list or in regions you didn’t consider traveling to. You shouldn’t place all your hopes on one medical school that you’ve had your heart set on for a while. You should consider applying to multiple schools to increase the chances that you’ll receive an offer to attend.
It’s important to remember that each medical school has its own application standards and admission procedures, and they also receive hundreds of potential candidates each year. Some years the application pool will be more competitive than others, or the number of accepted candidates per year will be lower than years prior. The point is that each year there are a number of factors that ultimately influence whether or not a candidate and medical school applicant actually receives an offer to attend, and you shouldn’t get discouraged when your number doesn’t come up.
To combat some of the random things that might arise and prevent you from getting a medical school offer, you should be open to the idea of applying to multiple schools and expanding your potential medical school offers. You might think that you’re just wasting your time applying to a wide range of schools, but it’ll pay off in the long run.
8. Select a Major You Can Excel In
If you’re in your first couple years of undergrad or you’re a high school student who is looking to plan their collegiate future, there are some things that you can do to significantly increase your chances of getting accepted into medical school. One of those things is by selecting a major that will allow you to excel in your academic performance. Even though it might seem like a good idea to pick a major where you can sleep through every class, it doesn’t work like that.
The reason that you want to pick a major you can excel in is because of how your GPA impacts your medical school admission consideration. As we’ve highlighted earlier, your GPA plays a critical role in whether or not you’re going to be considered. While your GPA isn’t everything, it does play an important role and you don’t want
Nearly every medical school has a specific set of requirements that you need to meet like science class hours, lab hours, prerequisite courses, and more. Therefore, you can’t just major in arts and humanities without ever taking critical courses that will have an impact on you getting accepted into medical school.
You should strive to complete a major that you’ll be happy in, that meets the requirements and prerequisites for medical school, and also allows you to do well in your classes to have a good GPA.
9. Participate In Extracurricular Activities
The next way to get into medical school is to participate in extracurricular activities. We’ve already discussed the importance of engaging in volunteer activities, but you don’t have to exclusively do that if you don’t want to. You should also strive to participate in other things outside of your school work. If you’ve got any other interests, it’s a good idea to try and find like-minded people and join groups or associations where you can showcase to medical school admission members that you’re passionate about things outside of school or healthcare.
It’s really easy for a student to wake up, go to class, come home, study, and then repeat the process. Medical schools are looking for well-rounded candidates. Well-rounded candidates are those candidates who put themselves in different situations and scenarios to grow over time. Those candidates who push themselves and participate in extra-curricular activities will set themselves apart from those candidates who only attend school and do well.
It’s much harder to attend school and do well when you’re a part of one or two clubs or groups that meet several times a week and engage in activities that you enjoy. That’s the key to finding extra-curricular activities; finding something you enjoy to do when you’re not in school.
10. Use On-Campus Resources
The next thing that you can do to get into medical school is by using any available resources that you have access to. For those students that are still on-campus, there are plenty of on-campus resources that you can use and leverage for getting into medical school. Universities and colleges are dedicated to placing their students into careers and advanced education degrees.
If one particular university has a high placement rate for students getting into medical school, then that university or college are going to receive high school student applications with the assumption that they’ll have a better chance of getting into medical school later on. Universities and colleges offer plenty of resources that you can utilize to improve your application, seek feedback, and gain access to guides or tools that can help you complete your medical school applications.
11. Ask For Application Feedback
The next thing you should do is to ask for application feedback before you submit them. There are plenty of things that you can potentially improve upon that you don’t even realize when you’ve been staring at the application for days on end. To avoid getting caught up in all the things that you don’t realize, you should ask a friend or family member to provide some feedback.
Some other great resources that you can use for application feedback include those mentors we mentioned earlier like medical students, medical school professors, career advisors, and more. Getting outside feedback is an incredibly useful tool that you can use to improve areas where you might not realize you’re accidentally lacking.
12. Interview with Medical Schools
The final step to getting into medical school is to actually interview with medical schools after you’ve submitted your application. If you’re invited to interview at a school, it means you’ve made it past the first wave of eliminations and they’re narrowing the results and the potential candidates they’d like to consider! Hopefully, you’ve received an invite to visit the school(s) of your choice, so take the opportunity to thoroughly investigate the campus and culture of the school before making your final decision.
It may be in your best interest to arrive a few days early just to meander around campus and soak up the atmosphere. While getting into medical school is a competitive process, you still have the ultimate choice as to where you end up.
Interviews are typically held in the fall of each year and may take the form of a one-on-one interview, panel, or multiple, small interviews (most common). Search for specifics regarding the school of your choice or simply call and ask their admissions department.
Prepare to your fullest by ensuring that you have a full understanding of the basics of modern medical science, ethical dilemmas that may arise, and be ready to explain or justify any “holes” in your application, like a poor GPA or disciplinary actions against you.
One of the questions that you can expect to come up during your medical school interview is, “Why do you think you’d make a good Physician?” This question is designed to evaluate what truly inspired you to become a Doctor, and your justifications behind it.
Essentially, this part of the interview process is designed for you to explain some of the reasons or motivations you have for choosing medicine as a career, and why certain experiences might have influenced you to go down that road. In addition, you can use this question to make some more personal statements that help you stand out amongst other candidates like why your personal values would be reflected throughout a future medical career, and how your qualifications and accomplishments should make you the ideal medical school student.
Most importantly, when you’re interviewing with medical schools, you want to come across as authentic. The medical school admissions officials and interviewers can tell right away whether or not someone is just giving out canned answers or if they truly have a passion for helping others.
The industry is truly a passion profession, which means that you’re going to have to absolutely love helping others and impacting them through the healthcare industry. You will be forced to put in late hours studying, spend countless hours learning the tools and tricks of the trade, and more. For those individuals who don’t really care that much, or are only hoping to get into medical school for the money, will stand out from the get-go.
Come across as an authentic individual who truly has a passion for helping others, and you’ll do just fine.
Depending on how your interviews go compared to other candidates applying for the same program, your application will either be accepted or declined. This is why it’s vitally important to apply to multiple schools. Try to classify those that you’re interested in into categories like “reach” schools that you think you’ll have a slim chance of getting into, “probable” schools that you’ll be a competitive candidate for, and “fallback” schools that you know you’ll get into. This strategy will all but ensure your acceptance into a program if you’re denied acceptance into your dream program.
Hopefully this article clears up how to get into medical school, but let us know if you have any questions in the comments below!
If you’re interested in reviewing some of the other comprehensive medical school guides we’ve created, take a look at some of the following: Top 10 Best Osteopathic Medical Schools, Top 15 Easiest Medical Schools To Get Into, The Pros and Cons of Caribbean Medical Schools, Choose the Right Medical School, How To Prepare For Medical School In High School and College, A Doctor’s Guide To Paying Off Medical School Debt, Medical School Interview Questions: An Overview, Most Affordable Medical Schools, Top Medical School Rankings.
( Article / Content Updated 2019 )