Preparing for Medical School Admission

Medical school admission is competitive, but it’s not all academics. Medical schools want to make sure that candidates have not only the academic aptitude, but the stamina and emotional maturity to be successful; the residency years are especially demanding.

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Pre-Med / Physician Resources

Academics: Must I have a 4.0 G.P.A.?

Grades are important, but this doesn’t mean you have to have a 4.0. Candidates often shoot for averages well above 3.5, but some get in with less. If you had low scores your freshman year, this may carry less weight – as long as you’ve proved that you can maintain a high GPA while taking a reasonably rigorous course load.

Science GPA and overall GPA are considered separately. You will need to list all classes you have taken on your application, including ones that you have retaken. Colleges sometimes ask for an explanation if the GPA is strong but the transcript reflects unusual patterns. Applicants may also choose to explain grades that don’t reflect their true aptitude. (If, for example, you had to work 30 hours a week to support yourself during your undergraduate years, this is something you’ll want to explain.)

All schools require the MCAT to be taken. It includes sections on physical and biological sciences, verbal reasoning, and writing. If you take the MCAT in 2015 or later, you can expect to take the new version of the exam. It will no longer include a timed writing test. You can see a preview on the AAMC site. There will be a section that includes introductory coursework in the social sciences. According to the makers of the MCAT, the new science portion more accurately reflects the science courses that pre-med students are actually taking. There are plenty of preparatory classes and study groups for the MCAT, but your best preparation is your undergraduate coursework.

Professional observations and health care experience

Even top tier MCAT scores won’t guarantee admission. It is imperative to have some clinical experience. You should start with job shadowing, but this typically won’t be enough. You can volunteer anywhere where you’re directly involved with patient care. Some applicants choose to hold a paid job in health care – one that requires a license or certification and some responsibility. This can be anything from nursing assistant to emergency medical technician. Some prestigious schools like to see research experience as well. The importance placed on this varies from school to school. If you really feel like medicine is right for you, you can start doing biomedical internships early.

There are dedicated pre-med organizations that can give you mentoring and also help you develop your skill set. You can begin preparations as an undergraduate or (in many geographic locations) as a high school student. One viable option is the Health Occupations Students Association.

Medical School: The personal statement and interview

Your personal statement should spotlight achievements and formative experiences, but shouldn’t list everything. That’s what the application is for! Allow yourself plenty of time to write your personal statements. You’ll want to put it through multiple drafts and show it to others along the way. You will probably want to ask real-life mentors like professors or group leaders, but you will sometimes find medical students on forums who are willing to glance over it for you.

You will also need confidential references. If you have significant experience, you’ll have more people to select from. Choose people who are familiar with your work and with whom you have some level of rapport. Sometimes students take a year off to get more health experience, but it’s usually not necessary if you plan ahead.

Looking ahead during the application process

The application process itself can be lengthy. If you’re applying to M.D. programs, you will fill out a centralized application through the American Medical College Application Service. You will also fill out secondaries for each individual school that you are interested in. Nontraditional students sometimes have more success with D.O. programs than M.D.

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