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How to Get into Medical School: Getting into Medical School

Getting into medical school is very difficult these days, especially if you plan on matriculating upon graduating from college. What follows are some helpful steps to improve your chances of getting in.

STEP 1: Are you qualified?

  1. Are your GPA and MCAT scores adequate? The average medical school applicant's GPA and MCAT scores are 3.5 and 27, respectively. The average medical school matriculant has a GPA and MCAT scores of 3.7 and 30, respectively. If you're numbers fall significantly below these (e.g., GPA < 3.3 and MCAT < 25) chances are you will NOT even get an interview, much less get into medical school. If you are below average, save your time/money and improve your credentials before applying.
  2. Do you have significant volunteer and research experiences? Most medical schools expect applicants to have significant volunteer and research work; in fact, some expect you to have published something! A single directed study will not be sufficient, nor will a long list of superficial extracurricular activities. You must demonstrate to the committee that you have accomplished something meaningful.
  3. Have you completed the necessary pre-medical coursework? Almost every medical school requires the following courses, and though not explicitly stated, expect you to have obtained an A in each of them: Introduction to Biology (two semesters), General Chemistry (two semesters), Organic Chemistry (two semesters), and Physics (two semesters). A significant number of schools also require 4-6 courses in the humanities (e.g., English, History, Philosophy, etc.), and a few require a year of calculus. You should always determine a school's requirements before you apply.

STEP 2: Taking the MCAT

  1. What is the MCAT? The MCAT is a daylong, standardized test that tests your knowledge in a wide variety of subjects. The test is broken down into four sections. The first is Verbal Reasoning (65 questions in 85 minutes) which is similar to the verbal portion of the SAT except much more challenging. The second is Biological Sciences (77 questions in 100 minutes) which covers biology courses and organic chemistry. The third is Physical Sciences (77 questions in 100 minutes) which covers physics and general chemistry. The fourth is the Writing Sample (2 essay questions in 60 minutes) which asks you to write an essay on two very broad statements.
  2. When do I take the test? The MCAT should be completed in the spring of your junior year (April), or during the summer (August) at the latest, otherwise, you will not be able to enter medical school directly after college. Both dates have their advantages and disadvantages. Taking the test in April allows you to obtain your scores by June and begin the application process sooner; however, you may not have sufficient time to study for the test because of your college coursework. Taking the test in August gives you more time to prepare, but your scores (needed to complete the application process) won't be available until October. If you do poorly on your first MCAT, do not retake until you have fully mastered the material. Medical schools believe that those students who have consistently poor grades on the MCAT will also do poorly on the USMLE (a national, standardized test given to medical school students which must be passed in order for graduation from medical school). Registration materials are available in the biology secretary's office; the registration deadline for the April test is in early March, and the deadline for the August test is in early July. The cost of the MCAT is $170.00.
  3. How do I prepare for the test? You have three choices: (a) don't prepare and try to “wing” it, (b) go to the bookstore, get a MCAT study book, and prepare by yourself, or (c) take a Kaplan or Princeton prep-class. The first option is certainly not recommended. The MCAT is a very difficult test—the majority (95%) of the questions are analytic, and tied to several paragraphs of introductory information/data/results. The second option is recommended for those who are diligent in their studies and already have a basic understanding of science material. Prep-books are usually 700-1000 pages long and every page is completely filled with crucial information; remember that the publishers are trying to cover all of organic chemistry, general chemistry, physics, biology, and reading comprehension in one book! If you want to do well, you should begin studying this material (3-6 hrs/wk) at least two months before the test. The cost of prep-books is $50-100. The third option is for those who think they need some basic assistance in studying, or for those who don't require basic assistance but want to score very high on the MCAT. Taking a prep-class means more time—NOT less—preparing for the MCAT. In addition to doing all of the necessary studying you must do in option #2, you have to go to prep-classes (6 hrs/wk), and take supplementary practice tests and quizzes (2 hrs/wk). If you take a prep-class and don't make use of the prep-classes or practice tests/quizzes, you will not do any better than if you pursued option #2. The cost of prep-courses is $1000-2000. Again, regardless of which option you decide to choose, you should begin studying 3-6 hrs/wk at least two months before the test.

STEP 3: Researching Schools

  1. How many medical schools are there? There are 122 allopathic (MD) medical schools in the US, 3 in Puerto Rico, and 16 in Canada. There are also 19 osteopathic (DO) medical schools in the US.
  2. How many schools should I apply to? Assuming you are an average applicant (i.e., GPA = 3.5 and MCAT = 27) your probability of being accepted to a particular medical school is 1-2%. The more schools you apply to, the better your chances of being accepted. If you are average, it is recommended that you apply to 10-15 schools. (If you are below average and still want to apply, 20+ schools is best.)
  3. Where should I apply? You're the only person that can answer this question. In order to make an informed decision, you must do a significant amount of research on the medical schools. It is recommended that you purchase the Medical School Admission Requirements (MSAR) which provides a large amount of information on all medical schools—the information in this book comes from the medical schools themselves. The book can be purchased from most bookstores at a cost of ~$25.00.
  4. What should I look for in a school? You should become familiar with a school's general information, curriculum, admissions requirements (pre-med. coursework), selection factors (GPA/MCAT scores), tuition, financial aid, application/acceptance policies, and reputation. Do NOT rely on the US News and World Report “top medical school” list as primary information.
  5. Where can I get all of this information? The following web-sites should provide you with a great deal of information: (a) Association of American Medical Colleges, (b) American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine, (c) American Medical Association, (d) Kaplan Medical, (e) National Institutes of Health, (f) National Library of Medicine, (g) Medical School Web Pages,

STEP 4: Narrowing Down Your List

  1. I have done all of the research, but my list is still too long. How do I narrow my choices? As we shall see later, due to time constraints, as well as money and effort, you should not apply to more than 25 medical schools. To narrow down your list of choices, compare (in greater detail) the schools' competitiveness, cost, organization of preclinical years, primary care/specialty focuses, innovative educational approaches (problem-based learning, etc.), student evaluation and grading, United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) Policies, special programs and opportunities (international internships, etc.), affiliated teaching hospitals, geographic location, campus safety and housing, and proximity to family/friends.

STEP 5: The Primary (AMCAS) Application

  1. What is the AMCAS Application? The American Medical College Application Service (AMCAS) provides a standardized primary application service for most (>95%) of allopathic medical schools. Schools that do not accept the AMCAS have their own individual applications. (Note: If you are interested in osteopathic schools, you must instead complete an AACOMAS Application.) Starting in the year 2001, the AMCAS and AACOMAS must be completed electronically (by computer). You download software from a website, complete the application on your computer, save it to disk, and then send the disk to AMCAS/AACOMAS. The software for the AMCAS-E and AACOMAS-E can be downloaded from , and , respectively.
  2. When should I begin filling-out my AMCAS Application? The AMCAS becomes available in April for the class entering in the fall of the following year. AMCAS begins accepting applications on June 1. Before your application is complete, AMCAS must receive an official transcript from every college you have attended; AMCAS begins accepting transcripts on March 15. You can verify if AMCAS has received your materials via telephone. You should complete the AMCAS as early as possible, and submit it no later than mid-September (otherwise, you may miss the application deadline of some medical schools). Assuming you have correctly filled in all application information, it takes AMCAS about one month to process your application and send it to the medical schools. Medical schools differ in their deadlines for receiving the AMCAS; they require it by October 15, November 15, or December 15, depending on the school.
  3. Why should I apply early? First, medical schools require your AMCAS Application, MCAT scores, letters of recommendation (and sometimes other things) before they consider your application; if any of these materials is not sent, they won't even look at your application—so get your AMCAS in early! Second, most schools have a “rolling admissions system” in which those who apply first get the first interviews, and consequently, will be granted admission before other applicants. If you send in your application late, the school may have already accepted a large number of people, reducing your chances of getting in. Third (assuming you will get an interview), in the early interview season there are few people interviewing, whereas later in the season, you may find yourself as part of a herd of interviewees—the admissions committee will have less time to look at your application, and it will be harder to stick out of the crowd. Fourth, admissions committees usually meet once per month to review applications; if you submit your application early, it may be brought before the committee five or six times which increases your chances of getting in.
  4. What are the components of the AMCAS? The AMCAS consists of three main sections: (a) General Information (education, work, activities, and honors), (b) Personal Statement (one page), and (c) Course work and GPA calculations.
  5. What are some tips in completing the AMCAS? General Information: Space in this section is very limited. Avoid trying to mention all of your activities and stick to those that are medically-related and significant. Also, always list the information in descending order of priority. Remember that medical schools often try to verify if this information is correct; if they think for any reason that you are trying to deceive them, your application will be rejected and a notice will be sent to all other medical schools regarding your dishonesty. Personal Statement: Initially, this is your only chance to show the admissions committee your personality. Though there is no single, correct way to complete this section, avoid the following: re-listing your activities/honors, being too creative, delving into controversial topics, and making apologies/excuses for bad grades or a lack of accomplishments. Also, do not come down with the “Mother Theresa Syndrome” in which you fill your essay with generalized, vague statements such as “I want to heal the world,” and make sure your spelling and grammar are correct! Lastly, be truthful—though there is nothing wrong with bending the truth! Coursework and GPA calculations: You are required to enter every class you took in college/grad school, the credits, and the grades received. You should get a copy of your transcript(s) and be familiar with your college's grading system, as you will have to convert your grades to AMCAS grades. Be very careful in this section; it is far from explanatory and difficult to comprehend. Any mistake in this section could cause AMCAS to return the application and request you to correct it (which could cause you to miss many AMCAS deadlines), or, if the mistakes are not caught by AMCAS, could result in your application being terminated by the medical schools themselves. Remember that the burden is always on you to meet deadlines and provide accurate information; do not expect others to do this for you.
  6. How much will all of this cost? About $30-40 per school.

STEP 6: Letters of Recommendation

  1. How important are letters of recommendation? They are very important, and are one of the “big four” things the admissions committee refers to when reviewing your file (the other three are GPA/MCAT scores, primary/secondary applications, and the interview).
  2. How many letters do I need? Most schools require only a committee letter written by the faculty of your major department (at Stonehill, you must submit a request form for this letter). However, some schools accept additional, supplementary letters, whereas others do not. Do not send additional letters to schools that don't want them; the letters will be thrown out and/or your application may be rejected (there is nothing worse than an applicant who can't follow simple directions). These supplemental letters can come from extracurricular/research/sports/work/volunteer supervisor, or from faculty outside your major department. You should always waive your right to see the letters.
  3. When must I submit these letters? Most medical schools do not require letters of recommendation until they send you a secondary application; so you should have all letters on-hand by late-October.

STEP 7: Secondary Applications

  1. What are secondary applications? A secondary application is additional application materials (sent by an individual medical school) which must be completed and returned to them (usually within two weeks) to continue the application process.
  2. Who gets secondary applications? Some medical schools send secondaries to all candidates who submit an AMCAS application, whereas other schools are more selective. Generally, 50-75% of the applicant pool gets a secondary. Some schools (e.g., Boston University and some New Jersey State Schools) do not require secondaries at all!
  3. What do the secondaries entail? They can vary from very demanding to easy. Generally, you are required to complete 3-4 additional essays on a wide range of topics, re-print your completed pre-medical coursework/grades, and provide more detailed biographical information. Remember that secondaries are very important in the application process—a poor secondary shows that you have little interest in the school and a stellar secondary demonstrates your enthusiasm for the school. If you want to make a good impression on the committee, you should spend a great deal of time on your secondary application (use a typewriter to fill-in the application).
  4. How much do secondaries cost? Generally, you must pay $50-100 per secondary.

STEP 8: Interviews

STEP 9: Handling Acceptances/Wait-lists/Rejection

  1. I've been accepted to a medical school(s); what do I do? You will have about two weeks to respond to a school's offer of admission. Asking a school to reserve a seat in their class for you does not force you to go to that particular school. In fact, you can hold multiple acceptances simultaneously (i.e., you can reserve a seat in more than one school). If you get accepted by a school which you decide against attending, withdraw your application promptly; if you don't, you'll be depriving someone else of their chance to attend medical school.
  2. How long do I have before I must to definitively make up my mind? You can hold multiple acceptances until May 1; after that time, you must withdraw your application from all schools but one. If you do not adhere to this policy, the schools will most likely retract their offers of acceptance, and you won't be going anywhere.
  3. I got wait-listed; what does this mean? The school has not accepted you, but has not rejected you either; in essence, you're in medical school limbo. Your chance of getting into medical school if wait-listed is between 1-25% depending on the school. Generally, even if you're wait-listed, you'll know by the end of May whether you've been accepted, but the school may tell you the day before classes begin!
  4. I was rejected by everyone; what do I do now? Sometimes the best candidates are rejected for no apparent reason. You can take time off to get more medically-related work/volunteer experiences, or you can go to graduate school and obtain a Masters Degree/Ph.D., then reapply when your credentials are stronger. DO NOT reapply until you have significantly improved your credentials; most schools have a policy of accepting a maximum of 2-3 applications from the same candidate. Also, be prepared to resubmit a new AMCAS application, secondary applications, and new letters of recommendation (note that some medical schools will allow you to use parts of your original application when applying for a second time).

STEP 10: Post-acceptance Plans/Financial Aid

  1. I know where I'm going to medical school, what now? Now you must start looking for an apartment/condo (many schools don't have on-campus housing) and provide the school with the additional financial-aid information needed to complete your request for aid. (Note that your FAFSA should be renewed by mid-February to be considered for Federal assistance. You should complete the FAFSA even if you have not yet been accepted to medical school by this time.) Since every medical school's financial aid policy is different, you must contact individual schools for more detailed financial information. Note that 99% of aid received is in the form of loans, many of which have interest rates attached to them. The average amount borrowed by medical school students is $75,000-150,000 and the average indebtedness of medical school students is $150,000-300,000 (this higher figure is due to the compounding of interest).

 


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