How to Get Into Medical School: What Do Medical Schools Want to See?
So you’re wondering how to get into medical school? Knowing what is needed to present yourself as a successful applicant to medical school can be difficult. A lot of different sources and medical schools expect you to have certain achievements and to have participated in a variety of experiences. In addition, you might fit differently based on what certain schools are looking for in their students. Let’s go over the basics of what most medical schools want to see from you first!
What Most Medical Schools Expect
The AAMC releases yearly average stats for applicants and matriculants through AMCAS, the official program that is used to apply to medical schools. For applicants in this past (2021-2022) application cycle, the average MCAT score was a 505.9 and the average GPA was a 3.59. For matriculants, the average MCAT was a 511.9 and the average GPA was a 3.74. Obviously, this does not mean that if you have stats that are above or below the average matriculant, you will not be accepted to medical school. Remember that this is simply an average, that and stats do not necessarily dictate acceptances. When considering how to get into medical school, however, it’s important to consider that admissions committees do want to see more from you…
Most medical schools want to see that you have some idea of what the life and career of a physician is like. Generally, they expect you to have gained this experience in the form of shadowing. This involves spending time with a physician and following them around as they proceed throughout their workday. This shows you what their daily life is like and offers up an opportunity to ask them questions and receive some mentorship. Generally, one should shadow 1-2 doctors, and not for more than 50-100 hours. Doing more than a few days of work won’t lend to any more experience – there won’t be any new developments that you haven’t encountered in a physician’s daily life. Shadowing is great for developing an understanding of the day-to-day as a physician, but it does not allow the opportunity for hands-on engagement.
A lot of students sometimes can encounter difficulty finding a physician to shadow—especially amidst the COVID-19 pandemic—and aren’t sure what to say when asking about opportunities. You can shadow any type of physician in any type of work environment – a hospital, a private clinic, or urgent care. Most physicians are happy to accept a shadow and discuss the profession of medicine with you – don’t be afraid to ask around! There are also plenty of free, virtual shadow experiences available to students to offer a glimpse into the life of a physician.
Beyond the experience you gain from shadowing, medical school admissions committees want to know what active role you have sought in medicine. A lot of medical schools expect to see clinical volunteering in your resume and experiences. Having such an experience shows your desire to engage directly with the field of medicine and desire to experience a clinical profession as actively as you can to affirm your decision to become a physician. So far, you’ve shadowed a doctor and understand the process, but how do medical schools know that performing clinical tasks, assisting patients, and taking care of others is something that you are comfortable doing? Clinical experience can be gained in a variety of ways. Some students turn to medical scribing, which gives them a front-row seat to the proceedings of healthcare. Other students volunteer in hospitals or clinics, rounding on patients, helping patients fill out paperwork, or assisting with other responsibilities. There are many ways to find clinical volunteering, and it is an important part of your growth as a person who wishes to contribute to the field of medicine. Generally, most applicants have completed around 100-300 hours of clinical volunteering.
Not many schools have hard research requirements, but many will see it as a positive in your resume as a part of your experiences. Another consensus is that most T20 (top 20) medical schools place a heavy emphasis on undergraduate research, but this emphasis is still school dependent. But what is research, what will it do for you, and how do you get it?
If you are interested in the scientific aspect of medicine, research may be a good fit for you and something you can engage in because you enjoy it, not simply as a requirement for medical school. It will also help you learn how to think critically about scientific problems and creatively troubleshoot. Much of the lab work you will be tasked with may be grueling and confusing and will require you to come up with new solutions to unforeseen problems. In addition, not all research is the same. Clinical research will either directly or indirectly have you working with patients. Bench research will have you working in a laboratory with either chemicals, samples, or both.
While looking for research opportunities, consider the history of the laboratory and the work they put out, whether they list undergraduates as co-authors, and whether you personally see the PI as a mentor and someone you could grow with. Research can be hit or miss – some research opportunities will allow you to work closely with a few people and experiments and truly give you a deeper understanding of a particular subject, while other labs may have you doing grunt work and without developing a broader appreciation for the scientific method. The time you spend varies as well. Research hours can average for most applicants from a few hundred to a few thousand, depending on your level of involvement and achievement and your personal interests.
Hobbies and Interests
Yes… this one comes as a surprise to many applicants! For every applicant who wants to be the ideal premed student, with a good MCAT, GPA, and clinical experience, there is an admissions committee member that has seen and heard it all already. Premed students can be “racked and stacked” in an Excel spreadsheet by their qualifications and numbers. Something that can set you apart is who you really are as a person and the things that make you interesting. You will find that having meaningful extracurricular experiences outside of medicine will help to not only add depth to your application but can lead to interesting and memorable conversations during your interviews!
Anything can be listed as a hobby or interest, especially something that you have a lot of experience in and can are passionate about. In addition, it helps if this hobby/interest can be tied to medicine or reveals some part of your character. Many applicants sharing their stories on social media platforms have mentioned the hobbies they listed on their applications were brought up in interviews, allowing interviewees the chance to share a different side of themselves and demonstrate their passions. Don’t be afraid to show and express who you are as part of your application—this is what schools really want to know!
This isn’t as much of a necessity as it is something that will make you stand out from other applicants. Things that fall under this can range from having a first name research publication to having a good leadership position, to having a real long-time clinical experience position, like an EMS worker. These types of X factors will make you stand out to admission committees and could even “make up” for other parts of your application. It is completely acceptable to not have too many volunteering hours, if much of your time was taken up by high priority research in an area you are passionate about – especially if you have an achievement (like presentations and publications) to show for it.
Aside from all these requirements, try to participate in experiences that you take pride in doing and that genuinely interest you, not ones that simply fill out the needed checkboxes for your application. Enjoying the work you do will allow you to have fun with it and even offer respite from the demands of rigorous pre-med coursework or MCAT studying. When you are looking for experiences, try to find something that you see yourself in long time. A long time spent in a dedicated position is more valuable than a lot of little stints in a few experiences. In addition, don’t compare yourself to others! Types of research, volunteering, shadowing, and other experiences are all different, and the number of hours in one, or achievement and dedication to another aren’t comparable. What matters most are the experiences you gain and how those experiences will shape you into the physician you aspire to become.