Getting into medical school is about more than earning a great GPA and beating the average MCAT scores. It also requires convincing a committee of professionals that you have the personal qualities and work ethic that would make you both happy and productive in medicine.
As you prepare to fill out the the AMCAS application or to write your secondary essays, think about the work experience, extracurricular activities, awards, honors, or publications that you would like to bring to the attention of your medical schools. Here's how you can make your med school application stand out from the crowd.
1. Highlight Your Clinical Experience
The majority of successful applicants have some experience in a hospital, clinic, hospice or other health care setting.
Paid and Volunteer Experiences
Some pre-meds find part-time paid positions as emergency medical technicians (EMTs), medical scribes, or as certified nursing assistants (CNAs) while other nontraditional applicants may have had full-time careers in health care. Some volunteer with hospices or indigent care clinics. You should aim to hold a volunteer or paid position for at least six months. You will be able to speak far more effectively about why you want to become a physician, and you will know what the practice (rather than just the study) of medicine is actually like.
For a more in-depth experience in primary care, set up a preceptorship with a willing physician. In a preceptorship, motivated pre-meds shadow a doctor as they go about their day. You'll have the opportunity to observe the physician's activities, often in a number of different healthcare environments: office, hospital, community and occasional field trips to conventions. When it comes to clinical shadowing, diversity of experiences over quantity is most important. So, 100 hours shadowing doctors in different specialties is stronger than 500 hours with an orthopedist.
2. Show off Your Academic Chops
Academic research experience is not required by most medical schools, but it is certainly valued. Research shows schools that you have an idea of what it takes to get to the research discoveries in med school. Standout research experiences for your application last a minimum of one semester, but ideally a full year, involved in lab research. One final note, medical research is essential for those applicants planning on pursuing an MD/PhD.
Mission trips, volunteer spring break experiences, and semesters abroad all go a long way in developing empathy, an understanding of cultures, and the ability to navigate the world outside of your comfort zone.
TA and Tutoring Experience
Teaching or tutoring experience is always an asset to a medical school application because it suggests an ability to communicate clearly and confidently.
3. Demonstrate the Value of Your Extracurricular Activities
The extracurricular activities you choose for your application are opportunities to show off leadership skills, unique interests, and aspects of your character.
Obviously, medical schools admit students who have displayed a strong aptitude for science. But they also want to recruit individuals who will bring a wide range of skills and interests to the med school class. So the minor in art, the years on the cross-country team, and the short stories you published are all valuable on your application.
Commitment and Follow Through
Medical school is lengthy, challenging, and physically strenuous. Admissions committees want to know if you can commit to something over a long period of time. The best evidence of this is long-term commitment to research, volunteerism, or clinical work. Don't sneeze at a violin hobby, a club sport, or anything else you've pursued for several years.
Altruism distinguishes a strong medical school applicant from a mediocre one. Volunteer work and community service (anything from working on a local public health campaign to joining the the Peace Corps or participating in Canada's SHAD program) speak most strongly to this quality. Many schools expect you to explain how service to others has informed your decision to become a doctor. If you are teaching in an underserved community (like working as a tutor at a Boys & Girls Club), you're also likely to develop your compassion and humanity.
Leadership and initiative
To show off your potential for leadership, evaluate your academic and extracurricular record. Look for noteworthy leadership roles in the past, such as in student government or as an editor of the student newspaper. Self-directed study, like a self-designed major or an independent study program with a celebrated professor, can also demonstrate personal initiative and passion.
The Whole Picture
Medical schools look for individuals who have a strong interest in science and a wide-ranging intellect. They want to graduate physicians who listen to their patients and use their acquired talents to heal them. There is no magic combination of scores or personal qualities that will create an unbroken path into medical school, so sell yourself, not someone else.
If you're set on going to med school, you'll have to conquer the MCAT first. Here's a brief overview of the test.
What is the MCAT and why is it important?
The MCAT (Medical College Admission Test) is required for admission to most medical schools. The MCAT is computer-based and tests physical and biological sciences, verbal reasoning, and writing skills. In 2015, the AAMC added a new section called Psychological, Social and Biological Foundations of Behavior. This section tests your ability to understand sociocultural, biological and psychological influences on behavior and social interactions as well as how people process emotion and stress. You'll only want to take this seven-and-a-half hour test once, so prepare as thoroughly as possible.
Admissions officers use the MCAT as a predictor of your success in medical school. The exam is designed to test the skills you'll use when you get there, including basic science, verbal reasoning, and writing ability. The MCAT is a 7½ hour, computer-based test that has the reputation of being one of the most challenging standardized tests.
In Canada, most schools weigh your MCAT scores very heavily. Some schools set minimum cut-off MCAT scores that applicants must meet in order to be considered.
What specifically does the MCAT test?
The MCAT is computer-based and tests physical and biological sciences and verbal reasoning skills. See more information about each section
How is the MCAT scored?
Each individual section on the exam is scored using a 118 to 132 range, with a median score of 125. You'll receive a score for each section, plus an overall score. Total scores will be centered at 500, with ranges from 472 to 528. Learn more about your MCAT score
How much does the MCAT cost?
It costs $310 to take the MCAT (and $365 for late registration 1–2 weeks before your test date). This initial registration fee includes the distribution of your MCAT scores to medical schools. Be aware that there are additional fees for cancelling or rescheduling the test. AAMC does offer a Fee Assistance Program
for test takers who, without financial assistance, would be unable to take the MCAT.
How do I register?
MCAT registration is done online through the Association of American Medical Colleges. We recommend that you register early to secure your MCAT test date