The 6 Pillars of an Excellent Medical School Application

Before applying to medical school you go through a gamut of obstacles:  drawing perfect chairs in organic chemistry and acing the MCAT all while simultaneously committing yourself to service and clinical experiences.  So, what are the core components of a good medical school application after everything is said and done?  What matters and why?  We’ve tried to distill down the most important components of a strong application.

1. MCAT

The MCAT is the medical school admission version of the SAT or ACT.  The MCAT provides schools a standardized assessment of an applicant’s critical thinking and scientific knowledge as well as their ability to handle test-taking under pressure.  Students go to different schools with often very different grading schemes, so the MCAT allows admissions committees to compare students of different backgrounds a little more objectively.  A great MCAT score can help balance out other part of an application such as a low GPA.  Many programs may use the MCAT along with other factors to screen which application they examine more thoroughly.  While schools may not reject an applicant outright based on their MCAT score, a lower score may make it harder for an applicant to get their foot in the door.  Remember, the MCAT is only one component of your entire application.

2. GRADES

Another inescapable fact of being pre-med is the burning pressure to get excellent grades that your non pre-med classmates may not understand.  Medical school is academically demanding and rigorous.  Schools want to know that you have the study habits and dedication to do well in medical school and beyond.  Becoming a physician is a commitment to life-long learning and an ever-expanding knowledge base. While a GPA isn’t a perfect proxy to measure these factors, it is often the best schools have.  Admissions committees consider an excellent GPA a marker for academic success in medical school.  

3. EXTRACURRICULAR ACTIVITIES & EXPERIENCES

The AMCAS Works and Activities section allows admissions committees into the world of an applicant beyond their numbers.  Clinical experience, shadowing, research, community service, and leadership are all important “categories” for applicants to have experience in prior to applying to medical school.  However, applicants should take the “quality over quantity” approach.  Demonstrating longitudinal passion and involvement in certain experiences means much more than checking off boxes with a smattering of short-lived experiences for the sake of an application.   In addition, experiences such as athletics, hobbies, or musicianship highlight a sense of balance to admissions committees.  These unique experiences can help applicants stand out and often serve as a conversation piece during interviews.  Learn more about how to start working on these experiences and how to make the most of the “Most Meaningful Activities” section.  

4. LETTERS OF RECOMMENDATION

Letters of recommendation are a little more difficult to assess from an applicants perspective since they often waive their right to read the final letter.  Glowing words and strong support from faculty and mentors who know you most go a long way with admission committees.  Competitive applicants often have developed close, meaningful relationships with professors and mentors who know them enough to write more than a generic letter.  Think about it: if a professor can comment on your experience, character, and academic success highly, then medical schools pay attention. These professors often see many pre-medical students and write the generic “they did well in my class”, so it means something when an applicant’s letter stands out.  Getting to know mentors and having them know you beyond just your grades can make an otherwise average application stand out.  Check out our guide for everything letter of recommendation related.

5. PERSONAL STATEMENT

The personal statement is the centerpiece of your application.  Medicine is  often seen as more than just a profession, and this is your chance to highlight not just why you want to become a physician, but why you will be a good one.  However much time you think it’ll take to write a good statement, increase it.  Your final product should be perfect down to the last word.  It should highlight your unique narrative and demonstrate qualities that are important parts of your character through compelling examples.  To get there, you need to go through extensive brainstorming, drafting, editing, and reviewing.  Meshing together your desire to go to into medicine, your qualities, your growth, and your experiences in a succinct fashion is the key to a strong personal statement.  Beginning to write your personal statement?  Check out our previous post on how to get started.

6. THE INTERVIEW

If you’ve made it this far, congratulations!  This is often the “last hurdle” in the long medical school application process before schools decide on acceptances.  Make no mistake, the interview can make or break an application.  Schools are evaluating you for fit and trying to get a sense of who you are outside of the pages and pages of paper they have read about you.  A bad interview can disqualify you no matter how perfect the remainder of your application is.  Conversely, a good interview can get you an acceptance even if you were a borderline interview candidate.  Coming across as likable, engaging, and thoughtful is crucial.  Whether it be a traditional or MMI interview, preparation is key.  Making sure you can answer the core questions thoughtfully as well as tackle curveballs comfortably will help ease the stress of interview day and allow you to put your best foot forward.