If you dream about becoming a doctor, you probably know that getting accepted into medical school — any school, let alone your dream school — can be a complicated journey. A medical school acceptance depends on much more than just excellent grades; schools are also looking for well-rounded applicants who have already shown that they are devoted to doing good and caring for others, and who already have a certain amount of research or clinical experience.

Every year, thousands of students submit their applications to many different medical schools. Many of them have stellar grades, and it can be difficult to understand what you are supposed to do to stand out from the crowd. But the truth is that there are many steps you can take to improve your medical school application to ensure that you will be a serious contender. Here are some of the best strategies that you can use to improve your application:

Focus on excelling in your undergraduate studies

In order to have a good chance of getting admitted into medical school, it is important to maintain a high GPA. When admissions committees go through your application, your GPA will provide the greatest evidence of your academic abilities. Different medical schools have different GPA cutoffs for their applicants, but most of them require competitive cumulative and science GPAs, starting around 3.5 to 3.7.

Keep in mind that there isn’t a specific “pre-medical” degree that you need to choose if you want to be considered for medical school. Many undergraduate students looking to become doctors choose to pursue a degree in Biology, but there is no rule that states that you can’t pursue a different degree during your pre-medical years. In recent years, more applicants have chosen different undergraduate degrees, such as Chemistry, English, and even Engineering, or Social Sciences.

Choosing a degree in a field that you are legitimately interested in can make it much easier for you to stay motivated and get good grades. As long as you complete the prerequisite classes prior to applying for medical school, practically any major that best suits your interests can work. Some applicants may not be thinking about medical school when they begin their undergraduate studies; if you decide to pursue medicine late during your college years, seek guidance from your faculty members and mentors to ensure that you can take all your prerequisite classes.

Start your preparation for the MCAT early

Along with your GPA, the MCAT or Medical College Admissions Test is one of the main criteria that medical schools will take into consideration while reviewing your application. Each medical school has its own MCAT requirements, and in order to have a good chance at being admitted, it’s important to get the best possible score. A great MCAT score can make a significant difference to your application, and land you several more interviews and ultimate acceptances.

The MCAT is a computer-based, standardized exam that tests extensive content, including biology, chemistry, critical thinking, verbal reasoning, and even psychology and sociology. It is not uncommon for students to spend anywhere between 200 to 300 hours preparing for this exam. Measure your performance by taking practice tests as you advance in your preparation, and make sure to focus on your weaker areas to improve your score.

Make sure you don’t leave your MCAT preparation for the last minute. If you want to score high, create a daily study schedule and begin your preparation 3 to 6 months in advance. By beginning your preparation early, you will give yourself the best chance to truly learn and understand each topic, and to progressively improve your scores.

Tutoring services, such as the one we offer at Medlearnity, can also be a useful tool for your MCAT preparation. A good tutor can help you distill complex information and guide your study approach for the MCAT exam to ensure a great performance, and the right balance of reviewing practice materials alongside practice assessments. Using your time effectively is of the utmost importance.

Write a compelling personal statement

Your personal statement shouldn’t be an afterthought to the rest of your application, since it allows you to tell your own unique story in order to demonstrate why you are ready for the challenge that is medical school. This is where you get to “advertise” yourself as a good candidate and a great future doctor. 

Your personal statement should be compelling, memorable, and, well… personal. Instead of focusing on writing about the medical school that you are applying to, or the value of a career in medicine, focus on explaining your own story and which experiences have led to you wanting to become a doctor. Use it to distinguish yourself from other applicants and to help the acceptance committee get a clearer picture of who you are and what motivates you. You can also use your statement to discuss personal growth, adversities you have faced, or any perceived weaknesses in your application.

Make sure you start writing your statement a few months before you apply to medical school. This will give you plenty of time to ask other people for feedback before you submit your application. Feedback from a skilled writer, ideally with experience in admissions counseling, can help you confirm your personal statement is clear and effective. Otherwise, you can revise sections so that your personal statement ultimately tells the story that best represents your journey and path to applying for medical school.

Pursue your non-medical interests, too

Do you love playing an instrument? Are you passionate about rescuing animals? Are you a writer for your university’s newspaper? Or maybe you are really good at a particular sport? It is easy for pre-medical students to fall into the trap of believing that schools will only care about their academic records and healthcare-related activities, but this couldn’t be further from the truth.

In reality, your personal interests can make your personality shine through in your application, allowing the acceptance committee to learn more about who you are. This will make it easier for them to relate to you on a personal level, and it will show you as an interesting and engaging individual who will be a good fit for their school and bring new experiences to their student body. 

Get as much clinical experience as possible

It can be difficult to determine whether you truly wish to become a physician if you don’t have clinical experience. Even if you have amazing grades and a stellar MCAT score, acceptance committees may have concerns, if you don’t have meaningful clinical exposure. After all, medicine is an incredibly demanding career, and schools will want to ensure that their students have done their homework so they are confident medicine is a suitable career path.

Acceptance committees won’t expect you to know how to treat patients — after all, that is what you will learn during medical school —, but they will appreciate the fact that you have taken the time to become familiarized with the realities of your future job. Your clinical experience will also show that you have a history of doing good and caring for other people.

There are many ways to gain clinical experience during your pre-med years. One of the most common strategies is to shadow a practicing physician. Shadowing is a straightforward way to get a glimpse into the medical profession, understand what a doctor’s duties entail, and learn more about different specialties. This experience can also put you in a position to create good relationships with your mentors, which may be useful throughout your medical career.

You can find physicians in your area through LinkedIn or your local university or hospital’s database. When you contact a physician to inquire about shadowing, make sure to explain why you are interested in medicine, and include a copy of your CV.

If you are unable to secure a shadowing opportunity, there are several other ways to gain clinical experience. You may need to get a certification to engage in some of these activities, whereas others can be performed on a volunteer basis. Positions that allow you to increase your clinical experience include:

  • Certified nursing assistant (CNA)
  • Emergency medical technician (EMT)
  • Patient care technician (PCT)
  • Medical scribe
  • Hospital, clinic, or hospice volunteer

Given the changes due to COVID-19, you may need to be creative and setup a remote opportunity. The key is asking your advisors and mentors for opportunities. 

Seek out valuable research experience

Scientific research is the foundation of evidence-based medicine, and having research experience can be a great addition to your CV. Research can also help enhance your overall understanding of medicine and science.

To get involved in research, start by approaching science professors at your university to inquire about any open opportunities working with them or their colleagues. Your university may offer science programs that provide research positions for students. And if you are shadowing a physician or volunteering at a healthcare facility, you may also find research opportunities through them.

Keep in mind that not all schools consider research to be integral to a well-rounded application. Some schools are far more research-oriented than others; it is important to determine whether your level of research experience will be a good match for the schools that you are planning to apply to. Schools that are less research-oriented will still consider this experience to be a great bonus in your CV, but other factors will weigh more heavily in determining whether you get accepted or not.

Keep your options open and apply broadly 

Many pre-meds have a dream school and concentrate all their efforts towards that single school. It is normal to have a favorite medical school and do your best to get admitted to it, but you shouldn’t close yourself off to other options. 

Applying broadly can increase your chances of being admitted to at least one medical school. Remember: all you need is one acceptance letter and you will be on your way to becoming a doctor. When choosing which schools to apply to, check their application requirements and mission statement to make sure you are a good fit for each of them. You should also consider the geographical location of each school, and find out whether they prefer in-state or out-of-state applicants.

It’s normal to receive some rejections during your application cycle, since so many students apply to medical school each year. But by applying to many different schools, you will improve your chances of being accepted.

Don’t be afraid to reapply if necessary

Every pre-medical student wants to be admitted into medical school during their first application cycle; however, not everyone can achieve this. Even if you don’t get an acceptance during your first application cycle, this doesn’t mean that you won’t be able to become a doctor. Many students who don’t get into medical school on their first try go on to be admitted during their next application cycle.

If you didn’t receive any acceptance letters during your first cycle, it is important to determine exactly where you went wrong. Maybe you had good grades, but your application didn’t stand out. Maybe you need stronger letters of recommendation, or more clinical experience. In some cases, you may need to consider retaking the MCAT or pursuing an additional degree — such as a Masters— to improve your GPA. 

Once you know where your application went wrong, take the time to improve upon it. It can be frustrating to have to wait before you apply again, but using the time between application cycles wisely and improving your CV can lead to an acceptance during the next cycle.

Applying for medical school can seem like a daunting process; however, there are many things you can do to create a strong application and improve your chances of being admitted. 

Are you interested in pursuing a career in medicine? If so, then contact us today at admissions@medicalaid.org to learn how we can help you create a unique application that can get the attention of medical school admissions’ committees. Visit our website to learn more about our life-changing pre-medical internships abroad and our medical school admissions consulting services.