As you complete college and prepare to take on the MCAT, the next steps of applying to med school dawn on the horizon like the happiest sunrise you’ve ever seen in your life. This is where sh— gets real! You’re going to medical school!
But as you start looking at the requirements for medical school that you need to meet, you realize just how demanding and punishing a ritual it is. It’s enough to make you say: “would you like a stool sample along with my soul?”
This such an arduous process for pre-meds that you could literally write a "How to get into med school" book about it (and many have!)
The good news is, we’ve got the best tips to help you succeed and stand out from the crowd right here, in this guide, and in our YouTube Medical Channel.
Who are we?
We're Brainscape, the developer of the world's most effective flashcard app, and our team of MCAT flashcard authors has over 50 combined years in MCAT tutoring. Instead of writing an entire book about this application process (because we already have day jobs), we're sharing key pieces of advice on how to get into med school; advice that all too often gets overlooked.
The foundation of a compelling med school application is a strong GPA earned in a variety of college classes, a high MCAT score, and a range of interesting extracurriculars. But you can’t change any of those things after you’ve already started applying to med school.
Instead, let’s focus on the three major things you can control once you've finished college and passed the MCAT:
- The personal statement essay
- The letters of recommendation
- The interview.
So, with that said, here are the requirements for med school and how you can exceed each one ...
The personal statement
As we mentioned before, there are literally entire books written about how to get into med school, with detailed advice on nailing each step of the process. It's a good idea to ready one (here's an example). But, essentially, here are some key guidelines to meeting the med school requirements for your personal statement:
Tip 1: Start early
We can’t emphasize this enough. Your first effort at your personal statement will be terrible. Everyone’s is. You will probably end up having to work through a half-dozen drafts or more. To have time for that much revision and rewriting, you’ll need to start early.
Tip 2: Make it about you
This may sound silly—after all, it’s your personal statement. But so often, people end up telling a story about a person they knew, or a patient who had an impact on them at a volunteer opportunity, etc. By the end of the essay they’ve told a compelling story about someone else, rather than themself. Sure, the essay includes a discussion about the author’s reactions, but they remain just that—reactions to someone else, rather than something that comes from within the writer.
Make your personal statement about you so that, by the end of it, the med school administrator feels like they know who you are, your goals, achievements, and ambitions.
Tip 3: Write well, with good grammar and formatting
You’re not applying to med school to become a writer but for the duration of your med school application, you’re going to need to channel your inner John Grisham. Okay, it’s not that bad. But if you submit an essay that is a total mess with long, rambling sentences; incorrect or absent grammar; poorly phrased sentences; crappy formatting; and an overall confused thesis, the person on the other end of your application is probably going to mourn the loss of the trees who had to die so that you could write your essay on their wood pulp.
If you suck at writing, enlist the help of people who don’t, which brings me to this next tip ...
Tip 4: Get feedback from many different sources
People can often feel embarrassed about their personal statements, and as a result they only show the essay to their pre-med adviser and maybe a parent. This is a major mistake! You should get feedback from friends, professors, classmates, parents, and yes, your pre-med adviser. Since you don’t know the exact person who will be reading your essay, you have to aim for something that has strong general “readability”. If you can show the essay to both your physics lab partner and your grandmother, and both of them like it, then you’re on the right track.
Letters of recommendation
Next on the list of med school requirements are letters of recommendation. As with the personal statement, there’s tons of advice out there:
- Start early (professors are busy people),
- Submit at least three and up to six (unless the med school requirements put a hard cap on that number),
- Identify your recommenders (current doctors and professors are ideal—just make sure they know and like you),
- Remind them who you are, what you’ve achieved, what medical programs you’re applying to, and why, and
- Read the med school requirements carefully so that you get the letters of recommendation they specifically ask for.
In addition to the above-mentioned, I’d like to emphasize some advice that is most often forgotten: the thank you card.
After someone has agreed to write you a letter of recommendation, you should shortly thereafter send them a follow-up "thank-you" card. Depending on your relationship with the letter writer, it may even be appropriate to send a small gift as well.
Of course, professors are busy folks so if they haven’t yet written it, it'll serve as a good reminder.
The other nice thing about the thank-you card is that many students forget to send it, which means you'll stand out as being especially thoughtful (remember, that the popular professors all get the requests to write letters of recommendation so they tend to get swamped).
Finally, once you’ve met all the other requirements for med school, it'll be time for your interview! The interview is basically the medical school’s way of saying “you’re good enough to go here, but since we can’t admit everyone, we have to make sure you're a good fit for our culture."
At a typical school, they might receive anywhere from a dozen to several dozen applications for each seat in the class. But they won’t interview more than a small handful of students for each spot. Meaning if you’ve made it to the interview, your odds of getting into the school just shot up from 15-to-one to four or even three to one.
Again, you should refer to a more detailed guide or book on how to leave a lasting, positive impression during your med school interviews, as they’ll have some really useful advice. But as with the essays and letters of recommendation, there’s one essential piece of advice that students constantly forget when applying to med school: be sure to have questions.
In every interview, across all industries, since the conception of job interviews, there’s that moment where the interviewer says, “Do you have any questions for me?”
When that moment comes, you don’t want to just stare blankly at the person going, “ ... uh ... where’s the bathroom?” Instead, you want to look like you’ve done your research and have a handful of focused questions about that particular school. Show the interviewer that you’ve read up about their school, are enthusiastic about attending, and are well-prepared for the interview.
A final word on how to get into med school
Every year, thousands—if not tens of thousands—of students apply to get into medical school. And now you’re one of them! The key to success is giving yourself time to think through the med school requirements and how you can meet them. Then, be deliberate, thoughtful, and diligent about executing them.
The med school you get into is hugely important so treat it with the reverence it deserves. And don’t be afraid to ask for help! Lean on your professors, mentors, tutors, and even fellow students and family to provide you with constant guidance and feedback, even if it annoys them. They’ll be glad they did once you get into the medical school of your dreams!
And remember, lean on Brainscape’s certified MCAT flashcards to help you smash the MCAT, and check out the following articles and video for even more guidance on doing well: