The age-old question: how hard is med school and how hard is it to get into medical school? We hear this often from students in our medical school admissions consulting programs. This question invokes strong feelings of scholarship, rigor, success, and difficulty. It is common to have mixed feelings when contemplating medicine. It is a long and arduous undertaking. Every step of the way is made to weed out students and cut the crowd in half; your SATs to get into undergrad, your MCAT to get into medical school, and your USMLE to get into residency. Whether you are choosing between DO vs MD programs or have already made your choice, applying to medical school is not for the faint of heart.

Each milestone is marked by an examination that will either get you to the next level or leave you behind. This is one of many components that makes getting into medical school and after so challenging. While students often get caught up in focusing about these initial elements, they sometimes to forget to ask themselves an even bigger question: how hard is medical school once I'm there? Feeling overwhelmed? Let me help you see what you’re getting yourself into.

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8 min read

Getting into Medical School You Got in, Congrats! Now, What Can I Expect? 3 Tips for How to Survive Medical School

Getting into Medical School

Medicine is a subject that encompasses science, methodology, practicality, patience, personality, and empathy. The sheer amount of knowledge required for medicine is difficult, but just getting into school can be even harder. Medical school acceptance rates are extremely low.

Each year the American Association of Medical Colleges (AAMC) releases average GPA cum and GPA science and MCAT scores for applicants to medical school. No way to say it other than those are going up. With better study resources board scores are going up as we have more access to test prep. You have to be the best. Medical schools want the most academically competitive students. That is what makes admissions so difficult.  Most everyone applying looks similar on paper.  Top 10% of their class. 90th percentile on the MCAT.  Recent years have seen medical school class size increase. We have seen an increase in osteopathic schools being created to educate more students. This is all to try and prepare for the estimated doctor shortage. So good news right? Wrong. There are only so many seats at available at each school every year and an overabundance of applicants. 2015 saw 52,000 students apply to medical school with 20,000 students earning acceptance. 

Taking into account these factors, we can start to get a sense of the demanding task of medical school acceptance. It is a tall order and takes time. Also cited on the AAMC's website was the number of first-time applicants. Which is a subtle way of implying that many students do not receive acceptance on their first application cycle. These statistics may seem scary, but that is not the intention. Being aware of what to expect allows you to get ready for what's ahead. If you want to hear from your peers, check out application experiences of our past students - this should give you an idea of the competitive nature of medical school admissions process. So all things considered, how hard is it to get into medical school?   

Getting into medical school is difficult, grueling, strenuous and every other synonym you can think of for difficult combined. The good news is it is totally within your reach. Just because it is difficult does not make it impossible. Many students have started where you are now and felt all the things you are feeling. Anxious, nervous, overwhelmed are all normal to feel at this point. Do not let it get in the way of your success. You've got this!

So let's get started with a solid game plan. Here is what you need to do. You need to prepare early. Make a list of all your extracurricular activities, volunteer experiences, and shadowing experiences. How does it look? Are there areas you can improve? Can you maybe squeeze in some more time at a local clinic or maybe doing some volunteer work on the weekends? Review it and double check that you haven't forgotten any work you have done. Maybe you had an interesting experience in rural medicine or volunteered abroad. Try and include relevant activities and ones that are unique.  

Get quality letters of recommendation from professors who will write highly of you. A great LOR is better than a good letter any day. Ask your professors early to ensure they have enough time to write you an amazing letter. Next, calculate your GPA both science and cumulative. Are you happy with where your marks are, or is there room for improvement? Stay on top of grades and if you need a tutor get one. When are you taking the MCAT? Your score is important and the fewer attempts you have the better. Check out our blog for a list of medical schools that don't require the MCAT, incase you have the option to skip it all together. If not, take it when you are ready and when you know you will score well. Assess your abilities with a practice test to gauge your progress. Check out our general MCAT guide here and our MCAT CARS resources here and our AMCAS resource here and hour OMSAS resource here. Give yourself time to draft a few versions of your personal statement, click here to read examples of successful medical school personal statement. Ask yourself the common question, "Why do you want to be a doctor?" and let this guide your essay. If you're thinking about applying to joint MD-PhD programs, review our blog. Watch out for grammar and spelling mistakes and have everyone you can proofread it. I have taken anywhere from a month to six months on personal statements. Do not underestimate this key part of your application. 

Every aspect of your application is important. Don’t neglect any areas. Application committees look at every part of your application. Give yourself time to craft the absolute best application you can. Most importantly do not let the stress of applying get the best of you. You have a plan, stick with it.  

The application is just half the story. You also need to ace the CASPer test, learn how to answer the most common medical school interview questions and practice with our 100 sample MMI questions.

You Got in, Congrats! Now, What Can I Expect?

Like most type A personalities that enter medicine, we want straight black and white answers. Yes, medical school is hard, and every other synonym you can think of for hard. There’s no way to sugar coat it. The volume of information and detail you have to recall is intense. The subject matter is complex. The way you are tested will sometimes seem unfair and the standards you have to reach will feel unattainable. There is so much to know in such a compressed amount of time. Just when you think you’ve learned everything there is to know, you will realize that that subject can be broken down into even smaller parts. Realizing how much you still have yet to learn is a humbling and important lesson.

Be prepared for the roughest years of your life (until residency). You will have sleepless nights and you will be wishing you had more time to get everything done. It is incredibly tiresome and daunting. You will have bad days and be pushed to your limits. You will spend hours on a concept trying to understand it and apply it.  Developing you into a pragmatic thinker is the goal of medical school. It is teaching you an insane amount of information so when you are presented with a problem you will be able to logically go through the steps to get to the right answer. You are not expected to just memorize and regurgitate information. You have to learn to apply it and reason through your explanation. 

For every anxiety-filled moment of studying, there is a reward. Medical school was unlike anything I had ever experienced. There were many things that I did not anticipate before my first day. I could have never guessed how much I would grow as a person. The patients you meet will impact you in many ways, and stay with you for the rest of your life. Empathy will have an entirely new meaning by the time you graduate. If you are lucky, your classmates will become a second family. You will see medicine through a different light and have a new appreciation for the field. You will remember why you got into this discipline and all the worries you had about the demands of medical school will go by the wayside. Your passion for medicine will outweigh how hard you perceived it to be.   

3 Tips for How to Survive Medical School

Below are just a few concepts that impacted me the most during my time in school. They were tough lessons, but lessons well learned. They may seem simple and maybe you think you have them mastered. I thought the same thing before I started medical school. I quickly learned that the way I studied wasn't going to cut it, so I made some adjustments. Here are my best tips on how to survive medical school. I hope they help you as much as they helped me.

1. Figure out how to study and figure that out early. Undergrad teaches you how to pull all-nighters but it doesn’t prepare you for how much and how fast you have to retain information. Learning to adapt to medical school studying takes time. Definitely figure it out as soon as you can. Try different study techniques if you aren’t scoring as well. I started group studying, which I could not stand in undergrad. Working in a group made me have to explain things out loud and get better at pronouncing medical jargon. Being able to understand the material and explain it to a classmate I found to be the best way for me, personally. Don't be afraid of trying new study techniques. You will never know unless you try.

2. Take notes and if you write something down you must read it later. I repeat if you take a note that means its important and you have to read it later. Taking notes just to appear busy or absent mind-idly jotting things down will not be to your benefit unless you take the time to understand what you have written. A common mistake I saw with classmates would be writing everything down, highlighting it in every color of the rainbow, and still not being able to articulate what it was they were supposed to have learned. If it is important enough to write down it is important enough to read and commit to memory.

3. Manage your time. Prioritize what you have to learn and when by. If it is a subject you struggle with allow yourself more time. You can’t cram the way you did in undergrad. Everything builds on each other. Pathology and physiology have roots in biochemistry and pharmacology. Everything is intertwined. Set designated study time for each subject. Don’t just read Robbin’s and forget to read Dubin’s. It can be easy to become engrossed in a subject you really like and ignore something you don’t care about. You have to be able to tear yourself away from that and make time to study the things you don’t want to. In the end, it is about balance.

The path to medicine is long but worth it. Be the best you can at every step of the way. Prepare early and adapt when you find that things aren’t working. Don’t be afraid to reassess what you are doing and change if you have to. Getting into medical school was the hardest thing I ever had to do until I got to medical school. That was eclipsed in just a few short days of histology when I longed for the simpler times of undergrad. Each step of your medical journey will feel like the hardest when you are experiencing it and that it is true. Just as the next step will be even harder than that. That makes the reward that much sweeter. Still feeling like you could use some help and want to see how your application holds up? Don’t worry BeMo is here to help.  

To your success,

Your friends at BeMo

BeMo Academic Consulting

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Raymond W. Lee, M.D.

The first two years of medical school material is easy, takes no IQ to understand. It is just the shear volume of knowledge to master that is overwhelming. At UCSF classes ran from 8 to 5, including noon-hour electives. There were about 200 pages to read daily, total about 800 pages a week. Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday were catch-up time or tutorial/reviews. To survive I subtracted from 24 hours all that I did to live, i.e., class time, meal time, shower time, toilet time, and 7 hours of bedtime, and the rest was study time. The class average was always over 90%. My classmates were just as dedicated. I scored 95% on my pharmacology final exam and I took the make-up exam. Half of my classmate took the make up exam and tried to get 100%. Only 25% did not try. I brought my score up to 97.5%. The 3rd and 4th year were about applying what I learned the previous two years and that was more fun and challenging. Before you want to be a doctor ask yourself this: can you handle a study load that is 2 to 3 times as heavy as undergrad and do well? Are you truly dedicated? Can you stay focused to the point of living no life for four years outside of med-school? Raymond W Lee, M.D., UCSF class of 1980


BeMo Academic Consulting

Thanks for your comment, Raymond!