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4 Tips for Medical School Applicants

Wed, Oct 30, 2019 @ 10:00 AM

Science professor giving lecture to class at the universityMed School Advice from a Former Medical School Admissions Officer

Interested in applying to medical school? Gaining admission to medical school is a competitive process, and applicants need to be in the best position possible in order to have the best chance of admission to a good-fit program.

We caught up with IvyWise Medical School Admissions Counselor McGreggor to get his advice on what medical school applicants need to keep in mind when applying to med school. Here are his four tips for medical school applicants!

Understand Your Chances of Admission
Admission to US medical schools is challenging for many reasons. First, there is only a finite number of medical schools with a finite number of first year spaces. Second, the number of applicants dwarfs the number of slots for first years, leading to an intense competition for available positions. After all, despite the challenges of the career and the time required to complete training, medical careers are still in high demand in the US.

Students can find the general admission rates for the last few cycles of applicants, and using their own GPA and MCAT scores, plot where they might land. This is a great resource for students to see how their GPA and MCAT scores play out in the application process. This is not a very granular table, and many of the so-called subjective or holistic application components are not captured in the analysis, but it’s a great place for students to start. This is a particularly helpful resource when students who have a general idea of their GPA range are preparing for their MCAT examination. They can see just how important it is to maximize their MCAT score, but also they can see how a super-high MCAT score doesn’t compensate for a very low GPA! Both need to be in an excellent range for students who wish to be admitted to medical school.

Take Challenging Undergraduate Courses
I’d say rigor of undergraduate coursework is one of the key factors incorporated into selection at top medical schools, in particular. Med school admissions officers are quite familiar with interpreting transcripts, including the level of difficulty of a particular course load. And if they’re unfamiliar with a school or have only a few applicants from that school historically, they’ll investigate transcripts of promising students. Differences in course difficulty (i.e., taking Physics for Poets instead of Physics for STEM Majors) are noted, especially if it is a recurring theme in an application, so if a student takes the easy route through premedical requirements, there is a risk that it can be identified and called out during the evaluation and selection process. Who wants their doctor to be the one who took the easy way out, rather than the one who learned material in an in-depth manner?

Know When to Apply
There is a critical decision point that every applicant, regardless of their level of competitiveness, must have in the application process: Am I in the best position currently to apply? If a potential applicant feels that their GPA and MCAT score are the best that they’re going to be, and that their extracurricular and co-curricular experiences are as optimal as they’re going to be, then they should be getting their ducks in a row to apply.

If, however, an applicant feels that a postgraduate program will help shore up a less-than-stellar undergraduate GPA, or that more time preparing for the MCAT would lead to a notably improved score, then I would ask them to hit the “pause” button, reassess their timeline, and perhaps move the application cycle back a year to optimize their application. This has the added benefit of providing more opportunities to undertake more substantive clinical experiences, conduct research, volunteer, and develop their leadership abilities.

Some students, however, may never be in a position to submit a very strong application to medical school, and those are the students I enjoy working with the most. Helping them to understand their core interests, talents, and opportunities outside of becoming a physician is very rewarding for me, because being a physician is not for everyone, and there are a plethora of careers that a student may find even more rewarding once they begin to investigate them. They may have had pressure (internal or external) to become a physician, and as a result, developed tunnel vision that becoming a physician is the only path forward for them, when that is not at all true. Those are the applicants who I feel get the most out of premedical advising, and those are the students who need advising the most.

Do Thorough Research When Building Your Medical School List
During their search for the best medical school, a prospective medical student interested in conducting research during medical school might start on the faculty biography pages that each medical school maintains. I would advise an applicant to look closely at the faculty to determine whether there is research being conducted at the medical school that interests them, and if so, who conducts this research. The applicant should try to determine as best as possible whether this lab might be open to medical student researchers, and sometimes this requires the student to reach out to the professor to inquire. At more clinically focused medical schools, there is the perception that much research doesn't take place. However, extremely important clinical translational research takes place in many medical schools and many hospitals across the country, and I would encourage an applicant to be very open minded and not overlook the importance of this work. Not all research is conducted on a research bench, particularly research that directly impacts patient care!

I'd also encourage applicants to look closely at how well supported medical school researchers are. For example, are there research stipends or grants for medical students? Are there blocks of months that they can use to conduct in-depth research without distraction? After all, it can be very hard to juggle coursework and clinical experiences and research all at the same time. Is the school open to the student taking an additional year or two to conduct their research? Is a research thesis required? And if so, what support is available for students as they conduct the research necessary for this thesis? 

At IvyWise we work with students in every phase of the admissions process, including those who are planning to attend medical school. Contact us today for more information on our medical school admissions counseling!

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