If you’re an aspiring medical student, you’ve undoubtedly spent countless hours worrying about how to get into medical school. Medical schools receive thousands of applicants in every admissions cycle and medical school acceptance rates show that only a small percentage of students get in. In order to maximize your chances of being accepted, you need to do your research about every aspect of the medical school application process, create an efficient plan to get everything done, and complete every medical school requirement well in advance.
In this blog, we provide a detailed walkthrough of everything you need to do in order to get into medical school, from choosing the right undergraduate courses to acing your admissions interview. Check out the most important medical school requirements, actionable tips that will help you prepare the best medical school application, and failproof strategies that will guide you through the interview prep. BONUS: finally, we provide you with a four-year plan that will help you strategize the optimal path to a medical school acceptance!
>>Want us to help you get accepted? Schedule a free strategy call here.<<
Listen to the blog!
The question of how to get into medical school has stressed out many students over the years. Medical schools are incredibly competitive and ask for a lot from their prospective matriculants. Getting into medical school isn’t just about hard work and talent – it’s also about planning, research, and efficiency. There’s a lot to accomplish – from building up a stellar transcript and medical school resume over the course of your undergrad years, to acing the MCAT, finding excellent references, and writing perfect admissions essays. Even after you do all of that, you have to ensure you complete your application perfectly, without missing any of the key dates in the medical school application timeline.
This can all seem very overwhelming, especially since the majority of students work on their medical school applications along with their regular coursework and other undergrad school commitments. Don’t worry! Remember that every doctor started out where you are now. Focus on figuring out what you need to do to get into medical school and completing every admissions requirement, one step at a time.
Would you rather watch a video? Check out a quick recap:
Types of Medical School Programs
The most traditional path to becoming a doctor involves completing a four-year undergraduate degree, immediately followed by four years of medical school to achieve an MD degree. However, there are also a few alternative paths that some students choose to take. If you’re still deciding which path is right for you, let’s review the requirements, benefits, and disadvantages of each path before making your decision.
Let’s take a look at the different types of medical school programs.
For high-achieving high school students who know from an early age that they want to be a doctor, a BS/MD degree is often the preferred path. A BS/MD degree allows you to complete your undergraduate and medical school education in 6 to 8 years. Both degrees can be obtained from the same university, or you may get the MD from a partnered institution.
The main advantage of a BS/MD degree is the assurance of a “guaranteed” admission to medical school if all requirements of the BS program are completed in good standing. This admission is typically conditional upon a few things, such as a minimum GPA and MCAT score. BS/MD degrees also offer the chance of accelerated timelines, allowing students to complete their education in 7 or (in rare cases) even 6 years. Many students also prefer the stability and continuity of completing their undergrad and medical education in one institution, with the same mentors, peers, and networks to help them.
On the other hand, BS/MD degrees can also be very taxing. The accelerated timelines are typically achieved by adding to the course load of students so you should be ready to handle tremendous amounts of work. Moreover, not everybody knows at the young age of 17 or 18 what profession they want to follow. A BS/MD degree is a huge commitment for the next 8 years of your life and hence is not a decision to be taken lightly. You should also consider if you would prefer to keep your options for medical school open; with a BS/MD degree, you’ll have to attend the associated medical school and may even have contractual obligations to complete your residency in associated hospitals.
Are you wondering how to start preparing for medical school in high school?
DO vs MD
There are two types of medical degrees in the US: allopathic and osteopathic. Allopathic degrees confer an MDs while osteopathic degrees confer a DO. So, what is the difference between these two types of degrees?
DO vs MD: Philosophical Differences
MD programs teach what we typically consider “Western medicine”. This is the traditional degree often associated with the title of a physician. DO programs focus on holistic medicine, with a view to understanding the patient, treating the whole person, and preventing disease within a primary care context. DO and MD physicians share the same responsibilities and privileges, and most patients cannot tell the difference between the two.
DO and MD degrees also have different application processes and slightly different requirements. Most MD programs use the AMCAS application portal, or area-specific portals such as TDMSAS. The DO school application process uses the AACOMAS portal. The medical school application timelines for MD and DO programs are similar – they both start in May, but DO applications remain open till April whereas MD applications typically close around January.
While both DO and MD degrees have the same basic requirements of a high MCAT score, good GPA, robust extracurriculars and so on, DO schools are slightly easier to get into, as you can see from the DO school rankings. While some students may be attracted to DO programs for this reason, remember that DO programs are still highly competitive. Moreover, osteopathic medicine places great emphasis on their philosophical tenets as a part of the practice of medicine. You will get the most out of this degree if you are aligned with the core values of osteopathy.
Both MD and DO programs take four years to complete. DO programs have a similar curriculum to the MD program, including all the same medical training and clinical experiences, with a few key additions. DO programs teach “osteopathic manipulative medicine” or OMM, a hands-on, non-invasive treatment method that focuses on improving the overall health and holistic functioning of the human body. OMM is taught through the first 2 years of medical school and in clinical rotations as well. In fact, as part of their clinical rotations, osteopathic students are expected to complete community-based primary care rotations with osteopathic doctors. DO students are also taught more about the cutting-edge, emerging medical theories and treatments.
Both DO and MD degrees are accredited by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) and use the Electronic Residency Application Service (ERAS) to apply for residencies. Due to the philosophical differences between the degrees, MD and DO graduates have different specialty preferences. Since osteopathic medicine emphasizes holistic, preventative care, many DO graduates opt for primary care specialties such as internal medicine, family medicine, and pediatrics. MD graduates tend to have more residency options and are more represented in certain specialties like surgery.
Many medical schools also offer the opportunity for students to complete dual degrees combining their medical degree (MD or DO) with another degree. These degrees usually add 1 or 2 years on top of the 4 years of medical school. The benefit of dual degrees is that they take a shorter time to complete than if you did each degree one after another. This accelerated timeline attracts many students to a dual degree program representing their areas of interest.
Medical School Admissions Statistics and Competencies
Average Admission Statistics
There’s no denying that the medical school application process is incredibly competitive, with average overall acceptance rates for medical schools ranging between 1% to 10%. As per AAMC’s latest data, only about 42% of medical school applicants gain admission into medical school, which means over 55% of applicants do not get into any medical school.
Even the easiest medical schools to get into have an average acceptance rate of less than 20%. This means that out of 100 students that apply, only 20 (or fewer) will be accepted! And if you look at the admission statistics of elite programs such as the ones at Ivy League Medical Schools, you’ll find the acceptance rates range between 1% to 2.5%.
Are you interested in more information about the easiest medical schools to get into? Check out this video!
That is why, typically, a strong medical school application must include a good GPA and MCAT score. It’s one of the earliest screening criteria used by a lot of admissions boards to identify the best applicants. That doesn’t mean having a lower GPA or MCAT score completely disqualifies you for medical school; it just means you’ll have to demonstrate extraordinary capability in other aspects of your application to make up for your lower GPA or MCAT.
Generally speaking, DO programs are slightly easier to get into than MD programs, for a variety of reasons. Statistics vary by school, but the following table shows the average medical school admission statistics for MD programs vs DO programs.
Keep in mind also that usually, it’s slightly easier for students to get into medical programs in their own province or state. For example, some medical schools in California prioritize in-state applicants. Medical schools in New York have higher in-state acceptance rates. And many medical schools in Canada give preference to in-province applicants, with out-of-province applicants having higher GPA and MCAT thresholds, as well as having to complete additional application components. Additionally, remember that applying in-state or in-province tends to lead to cheaper medical school tuition. For example, medical schools in Texas are some of the cheapest medical schools in the US for in-state applicants.
As the admission statistics above prove, it’s not easy getting into medical school. The application process can be overwhelming, and many students struggle with the pressure of completing so many requirements. The medical school admissions process is selective for a reason. Not only is a medical school curriculum highly rigorous and demanding, but the end goal is to produce competent doctors who can practice medicine responsibly. During the admissions process, all medical schools are looking for indicators that demonstrate the student’s suitability for the demanding education and high-pressure career that lies ahead of them. These indicators, often called “competencies”, are essentially the observable knowledge, capabilities, and behaviors important for your future profession. Let’s look at two useful frameworks to help you identify the competencies you need for medical school. These frameworks can help you navigate what kind of qualities and characteristics you should highlight in your application components:
AAMC’s Core Competencies
The AAMC lists 15 core competencies that all entering medical school students must demonstrate:
Keep these in mind if you are applying to medical schools in the United States, whether you are applying via AMCAS, TMDSAS, or AACOMAS. These competencies are valued by the entire medical community, no matter which career path you choose to take.
Another important framework to help you understand the qualities medical schools are looking for is CanMEDS. Established by the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada, the CanMEDS framework defines the key competencies for medical practice. CanMEDS isn’t just applicable for students applying to Canadian medical schools; it is globally recognized as one of the most effective physician competency frameworks in the world. According to CanMEDS, a medical expert successfully demonstrates the competencies of the following roles:
Why are both of these frameworks important? Because they outline what qualities medical schools are looking for, and how these qualities can be demonstrated in your application. Not only is it a good motivation as you move through your checklist for medical school applications, but it can also help you engage on a deeper, more meaningful level with each requirement and help you identify what skills and experiences to highlight in your application components. For example, in your essays, you should be able to make connections between your extracurricular activities and your commitment to community service, teamwork, and collaboration. In your personal statement, you should be able to connect your academic record with your own personal growth and future ambitions.
Later on in this blog, we’ll learn more about the specific medical school requirements and what you can do to make them stand out.
Which Medical Schools to Apply to
The average medical school candidate applies to 16 schools in one application cycle. This is done for a multitude of reasons. Firstly, applying to several medical schools will maximize your chances of getting an acceptance letter. Secondly, unless you have a top-choice medical school, in which case you can apply through the early assurance programs or early decision programs, you know that there are several schools that can help you achieve the dream of becoming a doctor.
When you’re deciding which medical schools to apply to, it’s better not to start by asking “how many medical schools should I apply to”. There is no magic number here. Instead, think strategically and identify the schools where you have the best chance of getting into in terms of admission requirements and personal suitability.
Start by researching different schools and programs. To find out about the specific admissions requirements and cut-offs for different medical schools, you should explore their admissions websites. Additionally, it’s a good idea to learn how to use MSAR, an AAMC database that consolidates key admissions information about MD programs in the US and Canada in one place. If you are looking to apply to DO programs, visit Choose DO portal to familiarize yourself with DO schools in the United States.
Analyze the admission requirements of different schools in terms of MCAT scores, GPA, prerequisite courses, extracurriculars, and so on. Of course, if you start your med school application planning early enough, you’ll have time to improve yourself and work on many of these requirements. However, you should form a realistic evaluation of how much improvement is possible in the time left and account for setbacks. For example, if the gap between your current GPA and the average GPA for an Ivy League medical school is more than .5 points, consider applying to schools with lower admissions requirements. This doesn’t mean that you cannot apply to schools that have higher thresholds – you can apply to 1 or 2 – but you will increase your chances of acceptance if you apply to programs where you meet the expected cut-offs. Additionally, pay attention to requirements, such as your residency status, that may disqualify you for some programs outright.
Beyond this data analysis, it’s also a good idea to consider your personal interests, talents, and ambitions and compare them to the mission and values espoused by different medical schools. Some medical schools value innovation and research while others are focused on community service and holistic medicine. What kind of doctor do you want to be? Do you value cutting-edge medical research? Is there a specific community or location you want to work in? Consider such questions before you narrow down your choices.
Due to considerations of efficient time management, it’s best not apply to no more than 15 schools. More than 15 applications, and you might find it difficult to juggle all the requirements in the given time. It’s better to select a few medical schools and give their applications your best shot, than to apply to a huge number of schools and mess up the applications and miss important deadlines.
Finally, don’t focus purely on the names at the top of most medical school rankings. Instead, your list should include schools that you have genuine interest in attending. Do not fall for seeming prestige, focus on whether the school, its program, and curriculum will be the right fit for you.
Medical School Application Systems
Most medical schools in the US use one of the three application systems:
- American Medical College Application Service (AMCAS)
- Texas Medical and Dental Schools Application Service (TMDSAS)
- American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine Application Service (AACOMAS), or the DO school application system
In Canada, most medical schools have their own application systems, i.e., you will need to submit your application directly to the school of your choice. The only exception to this rule is medical schools in Ontario. You will be required to submit your application via Ontario Medical School Application Service (OMSAS) if you are planning on attending any of the 6 Ontario med schools.
The medical school application timeline is different for each system, so make sure you check them out in detail. Let’s dive into the most important aspects of the application you must prepare yourself for.
Your primary application is your chance to make the first impression. To clarify, the primary application is what you will submit via AMCAS, TMDSAS, or AACOMAS, OMSAS, or directly to your school of choice. These applications are typically composed of several sections, many of which are pretty common sense: your personal information, coursework history, and so on. However, let’s go over some of the most important aspects of these application systems.
How to Get Into Medical School: Education, Prerequisites, and GPA
There is a common misconception that medical schools prefer applicants with educational backgrounds in the physical sciences. This is not totally true. While the traditional premed track is very common among successful med school applicants, there are many successful non-traditional applicants to medical school. As an example, consider Yale medical school acceptance statistics. Only 1% of Yale’s last year matriculants majored in science.
Premed track usually means that a student majors in biology, chemistry, physics, or some other hard science while they are in their undergrad. Non-traditional applicants come from all walks of life – some were humanities majors, others might have taken more than one gap year between college graduation and medical school, while some have decided to change their careers later in life. All of these categories of applicants have a chance of acceptance. Your undergraduate major is not the be-all and end-all of your medical school journey.
In fact, your undergrad major should really represent your passion, whether it’s political science, literature, sociology, or another discipline. You have a higher chance of getting an excellent GPA if you take classes you truly enjoy. It will be much easier to get good grades and keep up your average if you are taking classes you excel in.
While what you major in will not have much effect on your acceptance chances, most medical schools in Canada and the US will ask you to complete specific or recommended medical school prerequisites. These courses will cover the basic sciences, social sciences, as well as humanities and languages. I want to emphasize that some schools are quite strict about which courses are absolutely required and which ones are simply recommended – the difference is that if you do not complete the required prerequisites, your application will not move forward in the review process. You are always encouraged to complete the recommended courses, but if you do not, your application will still be reviewed by the admissions committee.
So what are the most common medical school prerequisites?
Keep in mind that every single medical school in Canada and the US will have its stipulations for prerequisites. For example, some schools may require only organic chemistry, or let you replace a biochemistry course for a chemistry class, while some require both inorganic and organic chemistry courses. Some will require its applicants to complete social science courses like sociology or psychology, while others will encourage its applicants to learn a second language. When you are searching for which schools you want to attend, review their information on required and recommended courses and reflect on whether your academic record reflects the type of student they would like to see amongst their midst.
If you are a college student still planning your undergrad schedule and want to make sure that you take all the necessary courses, check out the courses that are required by your top-choice programs. You might not be able to take all of the courses recommended by all the different schools, but you will surely be able to take the required prerequisites.
Most medical schools simply expect a passing grade in these prerequisites, but at the same time, remember that these prerequisites also influence your GPA, so you must be able to complete them with a good grade. Additionally keep in mind that there are some programs that have a cut-off grade for the prerequisites, such as the University of Ottawa medical school. If you are planning to attend a school that expects you to have a certain grade in the required courses, make sure you know what this grade is and aim to at least achieve the minimum. Otherwise, you will be eliminated from the applicant pool early on in the selection process.
When you are searching for the schools you want to attend, keep in mind the average GPA of the previous year’s matriculants. You might have noticed that most schools have required GPA minimums – these are not as important as the average GPA of the school’s successful applicant. You want to see the kind of GPA that is expected from successful applicants, not just the minimum the school set. These are often very different numbers. For example, McGill medical school has an official GPA cut-off of 3.0, but we know that the average GPA of successful matriculants is 3.8. This is a huge difference! If you simply aim for 3.0, your chances of acceptance are almost non-existent! Keeping your GPA as high as possible throughout your undergraduate degree is crucial, so you must strategize and plan your academic schedule in order to optimize your chances of success.
Whether you are on the premed track or simply taking the perquisites while pursuing a non-science major, it’s important to organize your academic schedule in a way that would allow you to excel in all your courses. For example, if science is not your forte and you are taking courses on introductory physics and biochemistry in the same semester, you might want to combine them with some courses that are less challenging for you. If you enjoy and excel in literature, take some English literature classes. Essentially, you want a balanced schedule that would allow you to give much of your time to the courses that need most of your attention, while also taking courses that do not require as much of your time and effort. With this strategy, you will be able to complete most, if not all, the required prerequisites within the first two years of your undergrad. This is very important, as these courses begin your preparation for another crucial element of your medical school application journey – the MCAT.
How to Get Into Medical School: MCAT
For medical schools, your GPA and MCAT score are the biggest indicators of your academic ability. These two medical school requirements are often considered in tandem. In fact, some schools may forgive a lower MCAT score if the GPA is outstanding, and vice versa. The AAMC provides a very useful table that demonstrates the correlation between the two. Essentially it comes down to this: if you have a lower GPA, you should try to offset it with a high MCAT score and if you have a lower MCAT score, your GPA must be excellent.
But it’s about more than trying to balance your GPA and MCAT. Remember, you should never settle for one specific GPA average or MCAT score – you must always strive to do your absolute best and achieve the highest score you possibly can. Beginning your MCAT prep with your mindset on one score only is wrong and limiting. You must aim to do your absolute best rather than plan to achieve a specific score required for your desired program. Imagine how much wider your choice of schools will become if you simply aim to get the highest MCAT score possible.
As I already mentioned, most premed students will start planning on taking the MCAT as soon as their prerequisites are completed. Some might even schedule an MCAT test date right after their second year of undergrad. Taking the MCAT early also ensures that if you do not achieve your desired score, you may retake the MCAT before you apply to medical school. However, the choice of when to take the MCAT is completely up to you. Most importantly you must feel 100% ready to sit the test.
How do you know if you are ready? Simply put, you must be scoring consistently well in the 90th percentile in your full-length practice tests. By consistently, I mean that you have taken 3, 4, or 5 tests and achieved a score in the 90th percentile every single time. This is a tall order! So, let’s unpack how you can prepare.
Most students try to have 6 to 3 months of prep time before taking the MCAT. Taking any longer than 6 months might kill your focus and you will forget everything you learned during your MCAT prep, and taking less than 3 months, though possible, is quite risky. You run the risk of rushing through your prep. To complete your prep in less than 3 months, you must be very well-versed in MCAT content, i.e., you must have just completed your prerequisites. But even then, you should plan to do at least some MCAT prep. Getting ready for the MCAT takes more than content review – you must learn the test’s unique format, prepare for how long it is, and become comfortable with your MCAT CARS strategy.
To start planning your MCAT study schedule, you must first complete an MCAT diagnostic test. Your result will gauge your baseline and allow you to focus on the elements of the test that need your attention. For example, as someone who just completed all the necessary prerequisites, you might have aced the MCAT biology and chemistry sections, but your score might have suffered in the MCAT CARS section. This means that you have to work hard to increase your reading, comprehension, and analysis skills. You still have some time to practice for CARS by reading challenging texts, analyzing arguments, and going over practice passages! Take your time, do not rush taking the test.
On the other hand, if you need to work on multiple areas of your MCAT score, you will need to create a detailed study plan that will allow you to cover all the necessary content and practice with necessary questions. Remember, whether you are working on only one or two weaknesses or working to increase your overall score in every section, continue taking full-length practice tests throughout your MCAT prep.
As I have already mentioned, do not rush your MCAT. It’s understandable that you want to get it over with but taking the MCAT if you are not ready will cost you time, effort, and money. Of course, there is the option to retake the exam if you do not do well, but you should aim to take the exam only once and get the optimal score. The MCAT is just one of many other pieces for a successful application, and frankly, it’s not even the most important.
While your academic prowess and knowledge are highly valued by medical schools, remember what we said about what kind of skills most med schools desire in their candidates – communication, cultural awareness, community involvement, reliability, leadership, etc. These skills cannot be demonstrated via GPA and MCAT. And this leads me to my next point.
Looking for information on MCAT physics equations? Check out this video!
How to Get Into Medical School: Extracurriculars
There is no denying that medical schools have a lot of expectations from their applicants. Extracurriculars for medical school span an impressively wide range.
Firstly, as an aspiring medical doctor, you are expected to gain some clinical experience. This requirement not only helps the admissions committees to gauge the seriousness of your intent to become a physician, but it also signals to them that you have taken the necessary steps to test drive this career. If you are a traditional premed student, the chances are you will not have the opportunity to gain any paid clinical experience – this is totally fine! In fact, most medical schools do not expect any paid clinical experience from their applicants, especially at that age. However, you are expected to have some volunteer clinical experience and shadowing hours for medical school.
Clinical experience and shadowing are important, but other extracurriculars are no less vital in creating an impressive application. Always go back to the pre-professional competencies and CanMEDS framework to remind yourself that medical schools are looking for students who are committed to serving their community, take responsibility for their actions, demonstrate leadership qualities, and are the embodiment of ethical behavior. While these qualities can be demonstrated via clinical involvement, medical schools value your non-medical extracurriculars and want to see your involvement in other spheres of human life. Students often doubt that medical schools want to hear about their sport experiences or their musical skills, but this attitude is incorrect! Your involvement in sports demonstrates your resilience, ambition, desire for improvement, and if it’s a team sport, your ability to work in a team. Your love of music and skills with a musical instrument demonstrate dedication and patience. Music is a shared experience, so community involvement will also not go unnoticed.
It is impossible to get involved in million activities and nobody expects that from you. My number one advice regarding your extracurricular involvement is this: follow your passion. Do not choose activities you think will impress the admissions committee. Choose activities that you truly enjoy and are willing to commit to for prolonged periods of time. Doing this will result in a multitude of benefits for you and your medical school application:
- You will actually enjoy your extracurriculars. This might sound like common sense, but many students lose focus by pursuing activities they deem more prestigious or more related to medicine. If your only criteria for activity is whether it is impressive, your chances of enjoying it decrease. This means that you are less likely to do this activity with true zeal and enjoyment. Which leads to the next point.
- Doing an activity you enjoy will have real positive consequences on you and your community. If you do not really want to engage in your activity, but do it to impress someone, you are less likely to have a meaningful impact on your life and the people around you. Which leads to the following point.
- The admission committee members are not blind. They can see whether your activity is truly a passion or whether you simply did it to impress others. This is evident in your application components and your interview. For example, your genuine commitment and dedication can result in a glowing reference. If your activity truly mattered to you, it will be prominently featured in your AMCAS most meaningful experiences. There are tell-tale signs that indicate the intent behind your activities.
Does this mean that you cannot work to bolster your application by participating in a variety of activities? Absolutely not! Just remember that quality always trumps quantity. Admissions committees want to see real commitment when it comes to extracurriculars. This means that the longer you participate in an activity, the more impressive it is. Volunteering at a homeless shelter once a year is not going to be enough. Tutoring kids a couple of times a year is not going to be enough. Instead of dispersing your time between 10 projects throughout the year that you think will impress the committee, narrow down to activities you actually want to get involved in and stick to them for at least half a year continuously. This should leave you some time to get involved in smaller projects from time-to-time that can help build your application. For example, if you lack research experience, get your research assistant cover letter and resume ready and get a part-time research job in the summer while your academic commitments are at a minimal. You might even learn that you love research and then dedicate more time to it, but remember that it is wise to always commit to the quality of the experiences rather than their number. While you are expected to have a diversity of experiences, not all of them can be in-depth. Stick to the ones you truly enjoy, and they will be the ones that stand out in your application.
The primary applications give you an opportunity to share these. In different systems these sections are named differently:
- AMCAS Work and Activities
- TMDSAS Activities
- AACOMAS Experiences
- OMSAS Autobiographical Sketch
If you are applying to a school not using one of the mentioned systems, your application will have its own unique component where you can list your extracurriculars and experiences. In all cases, you will have a limited number of entries allowed, so choose wisely. Remember, most of the applications will also have a character or word limit on how long your descriptions can be. I want to remind you on focusing on the quality of your experiences. Reflect on what you learned from these activities and what kind of skills and qualities your experience can showcase to the admissions committee.
Are you interested in more on the best extracurriculars for medical school? Check out this video!
How to Get Into Medical School: Letters of Recommendation
You need to submit a few impressive medical school recommendation letters to cinch your acceptance. Most medical schools ask for 2 to 3 recommendations, but a few may allow you to submit up to 6. The expected format and mode of delivery can vary from school to school, so make sure you check the admissions websites so you can make appropriate arrangements. There are three types of letters you can submit:
To determine how many letters you need, and who should write them, make sure to review the recommendation letters requirement for each of the medical schools you’re applying to. This can vary from school to school. Some may ask for at least 2 letters from science professors while others ask for at least 1 non-academic referee. Medical schools can also specify different recommendation letter requirements depending on your current situation – for example, if you’re a returning student, currently working, they may ask for a mandatory recommendation from your current employer. Make sure you check the exact requirements for each school you’re applying to.
Next, you should think back over your academic career and extracurricular activities to identify the key mentors who can attest to your capabilities and suitability for medical school. Ideally, you should have the following letters lined up prior to application season:
- 1 or 2 letters from a science professor who graded you
- 1 letter from a non-science professor who graded you
- 1 letter from a supervisor at a key extracurricular activity, ideally related to medicine (research project, clinical experience, volunteering, and so on)
- 1 additional academic letter as back-up
- 1 additional non-academic letter as back-up
Make sure you approach your referees well in advance, giving them enough time to write and send your letters so you don’t miss your application deadlines. When you approach them, make sure to offer to provide helpful materials that will make the process of writing a recommendation easier. For example, you may want to provide copies of your transcripts, a draft of your personal statement, and your CV. This will keep your profile fresh in their mind as they write your letters.
How to Get Into Medical School: Altus Suite
There are many medical schools that require CASPer. This online situational judgment test is not news for most medical school hopefuls. It is part of the Altus Suite, a multi-level assessment tool used by some medical schools in the US to evaluate applicants. Along with CASPer, the Altus Suite includes the Snapshot, a one-way recording interview software, and the Duet, an assessment of applicants’ suitability for each medical program they apply to. Makes sure to read our ultimate guide to Altus Suite to learn the details of each assessment component, their structures, and how you can prepare for them.
The CASPer test is certainly the most well-known part of the Altus Suite, but it is still the most intimidating. The secret to CASPer test prep lies in practicing with CASPer questions and answers, as well as participating in realistic test simulations while receiving expert feedback. Going over CASPer questions and analysis is a great way to get used to the CASPer format, but it is not enough to improve your test taking strategies. CASPer is a very particular test. You are presented with 15 scenarios that deal with ethical and professional dilemmas and have to type up your answers to 3 follow-up questions for each scenario in under 5 minutes in the first section of the test, and to video record your answer in 1 minute to each follow-up question in the second part of the test. To do this effectively, you must take the practice tests that mimic the testing environment and receive clear feedback on the weaknesses and strengths of your answers. Only professional feedback can help you improve.
Your preparation for the Snapshot interview will not be unlike your preparations for any other video interview format. Snapshot will be composed of 3 personal-type questions, such as tell me about yourself, why medicine?, what is an obstacle you have faced and how did you overcome it?, and so on. You will have 30 seconds to reflect on your answer before the software begins recording and up to 2 minutes to answer the question. This means that you have to practice answering and recording the most common medical school interview questions. This will allow you to see how you come across on camera and whether you can articulate a strong answer in under 2 minutes.
It is much more difficult to prepare for the Duet because this assessment tool does not evaluate your skills or knowledge but knowing its structure can eliminate any potential stress you might feel regarding it. The Duet presents applicants with pairs of qualities from each of these three categories: Teaching & Learning, Mission & Culture, and Program Features. For example, for the category of Mission and Culture, you will be presented with two program characteristics, and you will need to choose which one is more valuable to you:
a. Approachability of faculty
b. Culture of diversity, integrity, and respect
You will be presented with 21 such pairs, including ranking of the actual categories, i.e., Program Features vs Mission & Culture. Each time you must choose a preference.
The programs you are applying to have also completed this assessment. Your answers will be compared to the answers of your chosen schools and a fit score will be generated. Schools will be able to view your fit score, while you may not see it.
There is no real threat to you when it comes to Duet. You can honestly choose the qualities you truly value in a program. However, if you want to increase your fit score with a school of your choice, try researching their mission, values, and goals. This may help you choose the qualities they most value in their students.
I want to remind everyone that not every program requires the completion of all three components of the Altus Suite. Some may require only CASPer, others may require all three. Make sure to check with your program of choice. However, if you are applying to medical schools in the US, you are likely required to complete all three of the Altus Suite components.
How to Get Into Medical School: Essays
Medical schools in the United States require the submission of a medical school personal statement. For AMCAS and AACOMAS, the word limit is 5,300 characters. For TMDSAS, the limit is 5000 characters. In all three cases, your personal statement must answer one important question: why do you want to be a doctor?
The most important thing to remember about personal statements is that they are not a CV. You cannot, and must not, list all the amazing events in your life that led you to pursue medicine. It is not easy to tell your journey to medical school in such a short essay but remember our number one rule: quality trumps quantity. The value of a personal statement is precisely in its ability to showcase your communication skills and sound judgment. Limiting your experiences to 2 or 3 significant events is a great feat of self-reflection! This is why personal statements are so valued by admissions committees. They demonstrate that you can skillfully create a compelling narrative by using the most interesting elements of your journey. Everyone’s story is unique, and your statement is your chance to share yours.
How to Get Into Medical School: Secondary Applications
After you complete your primary application in the standardized, centralized portal such as AMCAS or TMDSAS, you’ll most likely receive secondary applications directly from the medical school. Secondary applications usually consist of a variety of additional essays, questions, or prompts designed to help the school learn more about your personal values, characteristics, and unique capabilities. The aim of secondary essays is to judge how well you, personally, align with the school’s core values and mission statement.
Some schools send out secondary applications to all applicants, while others may do a preliminary screening of primary applications and send out secondary applications only to the students who pass this round. It could take up to 6 weeks after you submit your primary application to receive the secondary application. Most schools will specify a time period of around 2 weeks or less for you to submit the secondary application. However. It’s recommended that you submit your secondary application as early as possible, prioritizing the schools you most want to get into first.
Medical school secondary essays aren’t usually long or difficult to answer. They consist of 2 to 10 prompts centered around themes such as “why our school?”, diversity, cultural competency, overcoming challenges, future goals, academic lapses, and so on. When answering these questions, avoid repeating information you’ve already covered in your primary applications, in sections such as AMCAS Work and Activities or the TMDSAS personal characteristics essay. Instead, use this opportunity to highlight your unique capability for their medical program, while bringing out experiences and skills you haven’t talked about elsewhere.
Typically, you’ll end up working on multiple secondary applications in roughly the same time period. So even though the questions aren’t difficult, it can be tough managing the timelines for secondary essays. To get ahead of these deadlines, it’s a good idea to pre-write your secondary essays based on the existing medical school secondary essay prompts for the schools you’re applying to. Medical schools may change their prompts from year to year, but the general topics and the kinds of answers they are looking for will usually remain the same. If you have a rough draft ready, you’ll find it easier and quicker to write the final essay in the short time period after you receive your secondary application.
How to Get Into Medical School: Medical School Interviews
The final hurdle between you and your medical school acceptance letter is the interview. Getting the invitation for an interview means you’ve made it through the primary and secondary application screenings. All students who make it through to this stage are likely to have a good GPA, high MCAT score, impressive letters of recommendation, brilliant essays, and so on. So, it’s not about your past achievements anymore – it’s about your personality, communication skills, and how you present yourself.
Medical schools want to make sure you have good interpersonal skills. They want to verify for themselves that your on-paper candidature matches your in-person skills. With your applications, you can perfect your submissions with multiple revisions. In an interview, admissions committees get the chance to see a more natural, unedited side of you, and they get to see how you adapt and react under pressure. An interview is as much about the how i.e. your style and presentation, as the why and the what i.e. the content of your answers.
Interview invitations can be sent out as early as late July or as late as March, depending on the school. The vast majority of interview invitations are issued between September and January. Generally speaking, the earlier you receive your medical school interview invitation, the better your chances of getting an acceptance letter. The process of rolling admissions comes into play here as well. Schools that have rolling admissions send out interview invitations as and when they find good applicants, and high-performing applicants can therefore complete their interviews and receive their acceptance letters even before some other students have submitted their secondary applications. There are also some schools that choose to send out interviews only after the application submission deadlines, after all secondary applications have been reviewed. To keep track of these dates, you should check the admissions websites of the medical schools you’ve applied to.
The interview format varies from school to school. Some schools have multi-step interviews that incorporate different styles, while others may have just one interview in or the other style. The two most common interview styles are:
After the interview, there really isn’t much else for you to do except wait. This can be a time of excruciating anxiety, and the longer you wait, the more the anxiety builds. During this period, if there is any update in your application that you need to communicate – for example, a significant new achievement – you can send in a letter of interest or a medical school letter of intent. Some schools may not allow applicants to send any further communications after interviews are complete, in which case you should refrain from sharing any additional letters with them.
Medical schools will eventually get in touch with you to communicate one of the following: an acceptance decision, a medical school rejection, or a waitlist decision. If accepted, you have until mid-May to accept one offer and turn down all others. Any offers you receive after this date will have to be accepted within a 15-day period.
If you are waitlisted, you may need to submit additional documents. The additional requirements (if any) will be mentioned in your waitlist letter.
When accepting medical school offers, it's important to keep costs in mind. Check out this video for more information on the cost of medical school!
Four-Year Plan to Get into Medical School
So, now that you know exactly what you need to get into medical school, the next step is to actually create a plan that works for you. There are quite a few non-traditional medical school applicants such as returning students, or students who switch over from a different specialty, and those students will necessarily have to follow a non-traditional plan to complete their medical school applications.
If you are a traditional premed student, you can follow the traditional four-year plan below to help you get into medical school. This is a flexible plan that you can adapt according to your needs; however, the key point is that you will need the entire four years to build the requirements necessary to get you into medical school. Let’s see what each year entails:
Your key priorities in freshman year should be:
1. What do medical schools look for in applicants?
Medical schools admissions boards want to find applicants who demonstrate the observable knowledge, capabilities, and behaviors required for success in the medical profession. AAMC’s core competencies and CanMEDS framework are both excellent guides to help you understand the qualities medical schools look for in applicants.
2. What is the average acceptance rate for Ivy League medical schools?
The acceptance rates for Ivy League medical schools ranges between 1% and 2.5%. Some Ivy League schools have higher in-state acceptance rates.
3. Is it better to attend an Ivy League medical school? Does this increase my chances for success?
Not really. While getting into an Ivy League school demonstrates your academic and extracurricular achievements, all medical schools in the US and Canada are accredited the same way and meet very high standards of educating their students. You must have excellent grades, stellar recommendations, amazing MSPE, and other well-crafted residency application components to succeed. Attending an Ivy League school alone will not secure a spot in your top choice, competitive residency program.
4. How many medical schools should I apply to?
The answer to this question is not set in stone. It really depends on your personal ambitions, goals, weaknesses, and strengths. Ideally, you should apply to 10-15 medical schools so that you have sufficient time to send out good applications to each of them. There’s no official upper limit to the number of medical schools you can apply to.
5. Do most medical schools use rolling admissions?
Many medical schools in the US employ the “rolling admissions” model in which applications are reviewed on a continuous or “rolling” basis. Admissions committees review applications when they get them (or sometimes in set time periods, for example, at the end of each month). They move applications forward and send out decisions when they identify a successful candidate. In this process, offers are made until all available spots are filled and the earlier you send your application, the greater your chances of receiving an acceptance.
In contrast, medical schools that practice regular admissions have a set period for application submission and they begin reviewing applications only after the submission deadline, once all applications have been received. This is the process used by medical schools in Canada.
6. What are the common medical school coursework prerequisites?
Most medical schools ask for the following coursework prerequisites: 2 semesters of Biology, Chemistry, and Physics, all with lab, along with 1 semester of Math and 2 semesters of English. Some schools also recommend additional courses such as Physiology, Biochemistry, Anatomy, Calculus, Statistics, Psychology etc. Make sure you check the admissions websites of the schools you’re applying to for the exact course prerequisites.
7. What are the typical medical school admission requirements?
To get into medical school, you will need to submit your academic transcripts showing a good GPA, a high MCAT test score, impressive letters of recommendation, meaningful essays, CASPer test, and a robust list of extracurriculars that demonstrate your suitability for medical school. Besides these submissions, you will also need to impress the admissions board via your secondary application and interview.
8. Can I get into medical school with a lower MCAT or GPA?
In general, medical school admissions are very competitive so having a lower-than-average GPA or MCAT will reduce your chances of getting an acceptance letter. A few of the most elite schools have cut-offs for GPA and MCAT and they disqualify applicants who do not meet these cut-offs. Some other schools adopt a more holistic approach to admissions and like to see well-rounded applicants who demonstrate passion for medicine and overall competency. If you can show your excellence in all the other areas of your application such as your essays, extracurriculars, letters of recommendation etc., admissions boards of some medical schools may consider you even if your GPA or MCAT is not impressive. Additionally, remember that many medical schools consider your GPA and MCAT score in tandem. Often, a high MCAT score can offset a lower GPA, and vice versa.
9. How many letters of recommendation do I need for medical school?
Most medical schools ask for 2 to 3 letters of recommendation, though some may ask for up to 6. You may need to submit a committee letter, which is a type of composite letter package from your pre-med advisory board. The specific requirements can vary depending on the school you’re applying to and what your current situation is.
10. Is clinical experience a mandatory requirement for medical school?
Some medical schools do ask for clinical experience as a mandatory requirement from all applicants. However, even if the medical schools you’re applying to don’t ask for clinical experience, it’s highly recommended that you get it anyway. Clinical experience is a great way to figure out if you are well-suited to working in a medical environment.
11. What kinds of extracurriculars do medical schools look for?
Good extracurriculars for medical school include clinical experience, shadowing experience, volunteer work, research projects, research papers and presentations etc. However, the important thing is not to go through these as a “check-list” but rather to find the activities you are passionate about and gain meaningful experience that better helps you understand why you want to be a doctor.
12. Do all applicants receive secondary medical school applications?
Whether or not you receive a secondary application depends on the medical school. Some medical schools send out secondary applications to all candidates, while others conduct a preliminary screening of the primary application and only send out secondary applications to the students who make it through. There are some medical schools that do not have secondary applications, but these are rare.
13. How do I ace my medical school interview?
It’s very important to prep in advance in order to ace your medical school interview. You should practice your answers to common medical school interview questions, conduct mock tests and get feedback, and work on your communication skills. The more you practice, the less nervous you’ll be in the interview.
14. How important is the medical school secondary application?
The medical school secondary application is extremely important. Many schools review primary and secondary applications together. The secondary essay prompts are designed to find out more about you and how well you would fit in at their school. It’s a great way to differentiate yourself from the crowd and communicate any additional information that highlights your best qualities, that you didn’t get a chance to explain elsewhere.
15. When should I start preparing to apply for medical school?
Ideally, you should start preparing to apply for medical school from freshman year of college so you can follow a four-year plan to complete each of the requirements for medical school admissions. However, quite a few medical school applicants are non-traditional students, such as returning students or those who switch over from another academic specialization. If you’re one of them, then your timeline will depend on your background and current situation. Don’t hesitate to contact us if you need a personalized med planning session!
Like our blog? Write for us! >>
Have a question? Ask our admissions experts below and we'll answer your questions!