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How Can I Differentiate Myself With Other Medical School Applicants

10 min


A premed student at his medical school interview.


If you’re currently applying to medical school to become a student, you probably know that you need a competitive GPA, MCAT score, and good extracurriculars to get in. But a few thousand people applying probably know this too…


So how do you stand out as a medical school applicant? First, understand that everyone is trying to stand out, and it usually ends up going miserably. Premeds try to have more volunteering hours or have a really compelling personal story. The truth is, unless you’ve truly done something remarkable, you can’t stand out on your own. Almost everything in the world has already been done. There have been a few decades of medical application cycles and everything has already been tried. The most important thing to understand is that medical schools don’t want students that stand out this way. What they really want is a holistic applicant, who knows who they are as a person, and how they got to where they are. 



The Medical School Personal Statement


One of the most important parts of your medical school application is the personal statement. This is where you can show medical school admissions staff what numbers can’t. More importantly, it’s a place where you can show who you are. What makes you unique, and what kind of medical school student you hope to be.


Generally, this is a place to reflect on your experiences and get a bit more personal with the reason you want to attend medical school and ultimately become a physician. Many premeds end up overthinking this, and thinking that to truly stand out, they need to be unique. They include some rare medical condition they have or a traumatic story. This usually ends up having the opposite effect – by trying to stand out too much you end up blending in with a generic and almost pleading personal statement. Medical school admissions staff have most likely been reading a few thousand personal statements for years by the time they get to yours and with over 15k+ applicants all trying to fit in within specific requirements, it becomes a bit ironic. What they will find unique and interesting won’t be the event or circumstance that you experienced, but how you experienced it, and how it affected you as a person. 





Many premeds understand that some schools like to see a certain amount of volunteering hours, or research hours. So they fluff up their application in order to remain relevant in the application cycle. The issue is, most schools see right through that. The best thing you can do through your premed years is to do relevant extracurricular activities and let your story craft itself.


Do things that you have an interest in or that you are passionate about. These are the things that you will talk about in your secondary applications and interviews. Not unlike the personal statement, these things will make you stand out because of your unique connection with your extracurriculars. This will be evident in how you talk about it. If you have a passion for rural medicine, doing rural medical volunteering and participating in research related to rural medicine will help make you stand out. 



Clinical Volunteering Before Becoming a Medical School Student


This is one extracurricular that can help you stand out, even though some other premeds can have the same experience. The reason for this is that having direct patient contact is invaluable in medical school admissions, and speaks for itself. Clinical volunteering is any situation in which you have direct contact with the patient is a great way to stand out! This means not all volunteering that is simply in a clinical setting can count towards clinical volunteering hours. In addition, it pays to have this volunteering in one location for a longer time than many locations for a short time.


The commitment to working with a patient population in a demanding field is what admissions committees are looking for. However, at the end of the day, just like any other extracurricular you need to be able to speak about your personal experience in your volunteering. You need to be able to talk about what you achieved, what obstacles you faced, how you worked within a healthcare team, etc.



Hobbies/Being yourself


One of the biggest tips for any time you are interviewing/applying for a position is to reveal who you are as a person. Medical school admissions, like any admissions, sift through (mostly) the same application year after year – GPA, MCAT, Volunteering, etc. They absolutely love when you include things in your application that make you you. Things that aren’t related to medicine.


A friend of mine was a competitive weightlifter and put it on his application and talked about it. He ended up having over half his interviewers bring it up. Following his idea, I put that I was a professional scuba diver on my application, and it was brought up in every single interview. Medical schools want to know that you are dedicated to the profession of a physician, and they want to know you as a person. More than them envisioning you as a student, they want to be able to envision you as a future colleague and a friend, and this is how you help them do that.


At the end of the day, GPA and MCAT scores can only take you so far. They’re all quantitative things that admissions committees are tired of seeing. What you should focus on to stand out is nothing but who you are as a person and what kind of story you want to tell. This is what admissions committees want to see and hear when they read about you and interview you. They already know you’re qualified to attend the school – you meet all the requirements. They’re looking for a student, that will later become a colleague. Whom they want to work with. That will be of value to patients as well. 

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