How to Get into Medical School
Disclaimer: This isn’t some kind of surefire, foolproof formula. It’s more like a compilation of tips I’ve learned along the way from mentors, preprofessional advisors, and other friends on the pre-med path (3 of which have already been accepted to medical school before their second semester of senior year *snap snap*). Here we go.
Choose your major wisely.
You want to choose a major that will expose you to all of the subjects you need to understand by the time you take the MCAT (aka the SAT for medical school). Majoring in Biology, Chemistry, Sports Medicine, and even Psychology are pretty good options. You don’t have to major in anything STEM related, but it’s a good idea. If you major in something outside of STEM be ready to put in the work when it comes time to study for the MCAT. (Note: some medical schools have pre-requisite classes they require applicants to have already taken, so even if you major outside of STEM you'll probably still be required to take these classes to be considered for admission).
Meet with advisors.
I’d recommend you meet with both a traditional and pre-med advisor. The traditional advisor makes sure you’re on track to graduate while the pre-med advisor makes sure you’re on track to applying for medical school. Establish a relationship with your advisors early on (i.e. freshman year) so that you’ll have someone to guide you and make you a strong applicant within the next four years. Try and meet with your advisors at least once every semester to make sure you're on track.
Make good grades.
Yeah, I know, Duh! But really, making good grades is one way to set yourself apart in the application process. On top of that, good grades (should) reflect your level of understanding of everything you’ve learned over 4 years of undergrad. If you make good grades because you truly understand the subject material (and don't cheat), then reviewing for the MCAT will be less difficult. Grades aren't everything, per se, but they're still very important. Harvard might not accept you with a 2.0 GPA. But hey, anything can happen.
Get involved in extracurricular activities.
No school wants a boring, one dimensional applicant. Show that you’re well rounded by participating in activities that interest you outside of the classroom. Typical examples include intramural sports, yearbook/school newspaper, choir, research, religious organizations, etc. Whatever floats your boat. These extracurriculars can definitely set you apart, especially if you excel in them. Involving yourself in extra curricular activities that you enjoy is also a great way to de-stress so that you don't burn out over your 4 years.
Join a pre-professional club/fraternity.
This kind of follows the whole extracurriculars tip. At my university we had an organization called the Health Professions Society which was basically an organization for pre-med students to expose them to different medical school programs and advise them on how to get into medical school. This organization also connected undergrad students with mentors in medical school through another organization called MAPS. HPS and MAPS linked up to offer students resume workshops, give them tours of the medical school, and give them advice on the AMCAS (medical school application service) which were really helpful and eye opening. Getting involved in your university's version of HPS/MAPS is a great idea.
Medicine is a field dedicated to serving others. Demonstrate your commitment to service by having consistent volunteer experience. For example, in undergrad no matter where I volunteered, I was working with children (because I love kids and hope to become a pediatrician). I volunteered with this program called Reading-All Stars for a year and tutored kids reading below grade level. I also volunteered with an organization called Bison’s Promise for a year mentoring grade school kids every Saturday morning on campus. I even volunteered with alternative Spring Break one year and traveled to Detroit, Michigan to read with kindergarteners and mentor high school students for a week. Make sure that your volunteer experience is consistent, spanning at least a year's time. This demonstrates commitment and looks better than a list of random volunteer work you clearly did to pad your résumé. Don't get me wrong it’s fine to volunteer with random organizations from time to time, but volunteer experience with the same organization appears more meaningful.
Get to know your professors and go to office hours.
Befriending teachers and frequentingtheir office hours is a double edged sword. First, it gives teachers an idea of who you are and makes them more likely to help you when you need it. It also eases the burden of having to find someone to write a meaningful recommendation for you when it comes time to apply. Recommendations speak volumes about you and your character and serve as another way to set you apart as an applicant. It’s a win win!
Use your summers productively.
Those lazy summer days you had in highschool are OVER! CANCELED! Forget using your summers to go back home and pick up your old job at the local Froyo joint. Summers are a great time for you to take on internships, research opportunities, or participate in pre pre-professional programs. These opportunities broaden your horizons and expose you to the field of medicine before it’s time to apply to medical school. They also allow you to network, make new friends, and experience a new city for a short time. A lot of programs are free/partially paid for which is a huge plus. Not to mention these programs are great résumé boosters. And trust me, coming back home after being away at college with unlimited freedom is not the move. The American Association of Medical Colleges (AAMC) has compiled a database of possible summer enrichment programs for pre-med undergrad students. Check it out.
Take MCAT studying seriously.
Most people dedicate a couple serious months to studying for their MCAT. It’s not the easiest test in the world, so unless you’re a genius don’t expect to put in a month’s work and ace the test. The MCAT is challenging, but doable as long as you are committed to putting in the hard work and study time. I’ll be honest, the very top and competitive schools may use your MCAT score to determine whether you even get an interview, so always shoot to do your very best. For students who plan on entering medical school upon graduating from undergrad, I would recommend you study for and take the MCAT by the end of the summer following their junior year. This will give you enough time to complete their AMCAS application and begin interviewing by the first semester of senior year. Others students wait and decide to take a gap year between undergrad and medical school to focus on studying for their MCAT and interviewing after graduation. Everyone is different. Choose what works best for you.
Keep your resume up to date and reflect often.
It's easy to forget all of your accomplishments over a four year span of time. For this reason you should constantly update and edit your resume, so that you'll have something to look back on and jog your memory. When it comes time to apply for medical school, all of the personal statements and essays you’ll have to write may seem intimidating. You might even think that you haven’t done anything worth writing about, but realize that every thing you’ve done, any organization you’ve been a part of, and every personal experience you’ve had is significant and has shaped you. There is always something you can write about. Don't think you have to write a dramatic, tear jerker personal statement to stand out. Chose to write about an experience that pushed you, made you grow, or look at the world from a different perspective. Whenever you complete a new experience, take some time to reflect on it. Maybe even journal. This will make it easier to write about your experiences in the future.
College is fun! There's just as much to experience outside of the classroom as inside. Don't get stuck adhering to a formula. Try new things. Meet new people. Grow. Really determine whether medical school is for you. Who knows, along the way you may realize that it isn't and that's ok! Just make sure you give yourself the opportunity to branch out and explore other interests before you decide to apply. If you decide that medical school is still for you then great! The outside hobbies and skills you've cultivated will bring something unique and refreshing to the way you practice medicine and interact with patients in the future.
For more tips about the medical school process, I strongly encourage you to visit the AAMC's website. It's a gold mine.
originally published 12/29/16