So many pre-med students have reached out to me for advice on how to best equip themselves for the medical school application process. I want to take this opportunity to direct you all to those who are more qualified than I am to answer a lot of these common questions. Admissions counselors, researchers, and other experts in the field have spoken on a lot of the topics I am frequently asked about, so rather than recreate the wheel, I’ve gathered some of the resources I find highly valuable for premeds. The resources are separated into the following categories:
- Med School Admissions
- Academics during the pre-med years
- Co-curricular activities during the pre-med years
Also, please note that I can only speak about the application process for US allopathic medical schools, and these resources are specific for US allopathic medical schools, although they may apply to US osteopathic schools or international medical schools as well.
Med School Admissions
1. The most common question premed students ask me is what factors medical schools consider when making admissions decisions. I used to type out a list of factors, but I’m realizing that it no longer makes sense for me to do that because the AAMC literally has a webpage that details EVERY SINGLE PART of the application. Assume that medical schools care about all of these things, because they do.
2. The second most common question is about the order of importance of these components of the application. It is hard to rank these things in order of importance because I think they each matter more at different points in the application process. In the beginning of the application cycle, grades and scores are usually aggregated, and medical schools often screen applicants based on this aggregate academic index. So if your grades and scores don’t make that initial cut, you may not be invited to complete a secondary application or to interview at a school. Because of this, I think grades and scores are the most important aspects early in the cycle. Later in the cycle, if you have gotten an interview invitation, the interview is thought to be the most important factor in your admissions decision. So the interview is more important later on in the cycle, once the other parts of your application have made it through a screening.
2. A lot of people have asked me what my grades and scores were when applying to medical school because they want an estimate for what they should be aiming for themselves. I understand where people are coming from with that, I guess, but I am just one data point from hundreds of students. I think this med school chances calculator is pretty good at estimating likelihood of acceptance to at least one medical school because it’s based on data from previous years. Remember that this is based ONLY on numbers, though, so take that for what it’s worth. I also really like this Lizzy M score tool for a more detailed predictor (also based on AAMC applicant data from previous years). I was so intrigued by this tool when I first came across it, and having used it myself, I can say that it was really accurate in my case.
Academics during the premed years
1. This podcast episode is for everyone who reaches out to me asking for study tips for high school, university, MCAT studying, etc. This podcast will impart more wisdom on you than I ever could. It talks about which study/learning strategies are effective, and which ones are NOT effective. The podcast is an interview with Ulrich Boser, a researcher who has spent YEARS studying the way we learn. Take it from him, not from me. This is how you learn more effectively and efficiently. I’m not going to type out a summary of it, because it’s way more impactful if you actually listen. If you are wondering how to get better grades and learn more effectively, it’s worth the time to just go listen. Also..don’t just listen to it and then continue doing what you’ve been doing, and then wonder why your grades aren’t improving. Implement the recommendations Boser makes and you will see results.
2. I feel like my generation has such a hard time staying focused because there is SO much technology around us. Even people who don’t suffer from any attentional deficit disorders seem to get distracted so easily by their electronic devices. In order to do well in school, though, I think it’s really important to cultivate the ability to focus for longer periods of time. In order to build that discipline, I recommend the Self Control app for Mac, and the Flora app for iPhone (there are similar ones for Windows/Android). These apps are FREE and will prevent you from accessing certain apps and websites for given periods of time (FB, Insta, YouTube, etc.). Start with 15 or 20 minutes, and slowly increase that number until you are able to focus on work for longer chunks of time without getting distracted by social media, texting, etc. I actually wrote a post on Flora and why I love it so much, and how to add me if you download it.
Co- curricular activities during the premed years
1. I talk about clinical and research experience below, but I want to make it clear that those things are pretty much pre-requisites to getting in to med school, and are probably not going to be the thing that makes you super unique on an application (unless you really did a LOT of research and got major findings and publications, etc.). See this post on co- curricular activities for my thoughts on how to stand out through your non- research/clinical activities.
2. US allopathic medical schools expect applicants to have significant clinical experience. Clinical exposure is what allows you to articulate why you want to go to medical school and work in health care, and there is no getting around this part of the application. Many things qualify as clinical exposure, however; there are plenty of options besides volunteering at a hospital, so have a look at this list. AAMC also put out an article on ways to gain clinical experience without shadowing.
3. In terms of co-curricular activities, research experience relating to health science and/or health care is becoming almost a pre-requisite, in my opinion. That experience can be in basic science, in clinical research, in health policy, or any other area that relates to health science or care, but my understanding is that universities want their medical students to pioneer the knowledge creation process while in medical school and after they graduate, so they seek out applicants who have demonstrated a commitment to research prior to medical school. This webpage details how to go about getting involved in research while in university.
When I was a freshman in university, I reached out to many professors hoping to get involved in their research and didn’t get any replies. It is HARD to get faculty to take you seriously, especially as a freshman. So I looked in the job postings for the university and saw that one professor put an ad out looking for a lab assistant. It was a paid position, and I replied to the listing and said I would do the job for free, but that I wanted to get involved in his research as well. He was super surprised and was like…”you don’t have to do the lab job, you can just be involved in the research.” Basically, the takeaway is that you need to show that you are SO enthusiastic about working with them, or else faculty won’t really be that responsive to you, especially if lots of students contact them and want to work with them.
So, there you have it, my favorite resources for pre-med students. If you come across anything really valuable, shoot me an email and I’ll add it to the list. Thanks for reading!
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