For more than 15 years, Laura Rich, International College Counselors’ Director of College Counseling, has been a college counseling professional. She has been working with students interested in medical school for the past seven years. Her students have been accepted at Emory University, Baylor College of Medicine, Dell Medical School at The University of Texas at Austin, Texas A&M School of Medicine, Vanderbilt School of Medicine, Case Western Pre-Professional Medical Scholars, Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University, and many others. As an undergraduate admissions officer she has evaluated applications for thousands of students and this knowledge translated directly to her skills as a medical school consultant. Considering her vast experience in the medical school admissions, Laura shares with us things to consider when applying to medical school:
What is the “prescription” for being a competitive medical school applicant? Here is a high-level look at tips and requirements of the medical school admissions process.
It is no secret that admission to medical school is incredibly competitive. In fact, less than half of the national applicant pool is admitted into a program each year. While this may seem daunting, understanding the application timeline and requirements is the first step to increase your chances for admission!
PLAN AHEAD/PLAY TO YOUR STRENGTHS
Start early! It is important to indicate to your undergraduate advisor as early as possible that you are considering the pre-med track. That way, you can start planning when to take your required prerequisite courses and focus on building a strong GPA. It also surprises many students that they don’t need to major in the physical sciences in order to be pre-med. In fact, while humanities majors make up one of the smallest percentages of the applicant pool, they also have one of the highest acceptance rates into medical school.
FAMILIARIZE YOURSELF WITH THE CORE COMPETENCIES
When advising students through the medical school admissions process, I always direct them back to the core competencies. Demonstrating these competencies in each part of your application is crucial. The AAMC (American Association of Medical Colleges) has selected 15 competencies that they feel a candidate must possess to be considered an ideal physician. You can learn more about the Core Competencies HERE.
- Capacity for Improvement
- Cultural Competence
- Ethical Responsibility to Self and Others
- Oral Communication
- Reliability and Dependability
- Resilience and Adaptability
- Service Orientation
- Social Skills
- Human Behavior
- Living Systems
Thinking and Reasoning Competencies
- Critical Thinking
- Quantitative Reasoning
- Scientific Inquiry
- Written Communication
- While all medical schools have their own specific requirements for letters of recommendation, you will most likely need two letters from your science professors, and most likely, one from a humanities professor.
- Some colleges offer what is called a “committee letter.” Committee letters are written by either a pre-health committee or a pre-health advisor to advocate for your candidacy.
- Anticipate selecting your letter writers early in your undergraduate career and make an effort for the writers to get to know you beyond your grades. Attending office hours regularly will go a long way in developing these relationships!
- Consider AAMC’s list of competencies when you begin to think about who will write your letters of recommendation. I also recommend providing information about your competencies to the letter writer. Letters should show WHY you will make a great physician, and HOW you have the grit to make it through the challenges of medical school and beyond!
- Other letter writers can include research advisors, volunteer supervisors, and medical professionals you have worked with, just to name a new.
CRAFT YOUR ACTIVITIES
When considering activities, it is essential to choose opportunities that will showcase passion—both for the medical profession and otherwise; leadership skills; service to others; intellectual engagement; and a commitment to lifelong learning. You can report up to 15 activities, with up to three listed as “most meaningful.” Your activities should demonstrate the core competencies mentioned above, and many of these experiences can show proficiency in multiple categories of competencies.
Quality over quantity, and depth and breadth of involvement are key with these activities. Admissions officers do not want well-rounded students; they want virtuosos in specific areas to build a well-rounded class, which is why students are discouraged from focusing solely on medical-related activities.
However, when it comes to the required medical-related content, clinical experience and research experience top the list as most important. Clinical experience can include shadowing a medical professional, scribing, volunteering in a hospital, or working as an EMT. There are even opportunities to work with doctors treating underserved populations abroad. The key here is to have the opportunity for patient interaction. In fact, one of my colleagues who was an admissions officer for a competitive medical program shared with me that “if someone hasn’t bled all over you, you aren’t getting in.” I never knew if she was actually joking, but you get the idea!
KNOW THE APPLICATION TIMELINE
The complete medical school application process takes between 18-24 months, so many students opt for a gap year before matriculating. The most common mistake that students make in the application process is taking the specific hard deadlines at face value. All medical schools use rolling admission, which means they will review files and release decisions on a first-come, first-served basis for each phase of the process. Therefore, the earlier you apply, the better your chances. Let me say it again: The earlier you apply, the better your chances. Now, an earlier application won’t make up for a mediocre GPA or MCAT score, but for competitive candidates, an earlier application means a much smaller applicant pool.
Summer (year prior to application)-April
Clocking in at almost eight hours, the MCAT isn’t a test you can cram for the night before! Students should begin preparation 4-8 months before their scheduled test date. It is important to know that every MCAT score is reported to medical schools, so multiple attempts are discouraged unless absolutely necessary. Most students schedule their test well in advance of the application cycle, but the latest date that you should take the MCAT is in April of your application year to ensure you have the results by the time the application goes live.
Part 1 of the application, more commonly known as the primary, is the AMCAS Application (American Medical College Application Service). There are two other applications some students may use—the TAMCAS (for students applying to programs in the state of Texas) and the AMCOMAS (for students applying to programs in osteopathic medicine). But for the purpose of this blog, we will focus on the AMCAS.
- The AMCAS opens in early May, but you should be already working on your activities section and personal statement in the months prior. During this time, verify each school’s specific requirements, and request your MCAT scores and transcripts to be sent.
- It is also imperative to communicate with letter of recommendation writers to ensure an on-time submission. Your application will not be reviewed until ALL required materials are received.
- In April or May, prior to the AMCAS opening, it’s time for another test! Don’t worry, this is one you don’t have to study for. Many schools require that students complete a situational judgment test called the CASPer. This test can be taken at home on your computer as long as you have a web camera. Essentially the CASPer is meant to measure ethical judgment, self-awareness, resilience, communication skills, empathy, and professionalism. In short, if you answer the questions like a “normal human being,” you will do just fine!
Part 2, more commonly known as the secondary application, contains supplemental essays and information specific to each university. These are released to the student once their complete primary application has been received and processed.
It is important to note that some medical schools do not pre-screen academic materials like GPA/MCAT score before they release the secondary; therefore, receiving a secondary invitation does not necessarily mean you are more competitive in the applicant pool.
You will need to do your research for this phase in order to know the specifics of each program to which you are applying. In particular, you should be very familiar with the school’s mission and how your work runs parallel with that mission.
Given the magnitude of essays that are required for a typical applicant in this phase, students are encouraged to look at past prompts, which rarely change, and start their drafts well before they receive the official application. Just like the primary, the secondary must be submitted as soon as you feel like it is your absolute best work.
By now, hopefully you have made it to the interview round! Usually only about 5% of applicants make it to this round, so congratulations! It is important to know that while some invitations to interview can arrive within a few days after submitting your secondary, others may take a month or more to receive. The interview will hopefully confirm what the committee has already learned about you so far in the process.
Interview formats vary from program to program, but typically they will consist of a traditional interview format as well as a multiple mini-interview (MMI). The MMI is essentially a situation-based assessment where you are put in scenarios to test ability with ethical dilemmas, empathy with patients, and dealing with difficult situations, etc. Situations also can include solving problems with a team. The interview is a chance for you to show the committee your personality, work ethic, and dedication to your future as a medical professional, so preparation is paramount! And don’t forget to follow up with a thoughtful thank you note.
Lastly, you should receive your final decisions within 3-4 weeks, or up to a few months after your interview.
TIME TO GET STARTED
Even though this is only a simple overview of the process, it can still seem very daunting if you are just starting. I once had a student who told me that medical school admissions seemed a lot like climbing Mt. Everest. I quickly reminded him that even the most experienced climbers do not climb the mountain alone; they have a sherpa who is with them every step of the way to advise them the best way to reach the summit. That is my philosophy when it comes to advising students for medical school and undergraduate admissions. I can’t climb the mountain for you, but I can show you how to successfully get to the top, and it would be my pleasure to help you do so!
No matter where you or your student is in the college admissions process, International College Counselors can help you with everything from making a college list to applications and essays, including for medical school, business school, and undergraduate admissions. Call us at 954-414-9986 to discuss how we can support you and your family!