If you’re a premed student wondering how to prepare for medical school applications, first of all, you’re on the right track! Advance preparation and strategic planning are both essential if you want to get into medical school. Whether you’re applying to medical schools in US or Canada, there are numerous application components you need to prepare for.

In this blog, you’ll learn about the most important steps you must complete to prepare for your medical school application.


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It’s no easy task trying to figure out how to prepare for medical school applications! The medical school admission process is rigorous, time-consuming, and costly. You need to prepare and submit numerous application components while adhering to strict deadlines and ensuring you’re putting your best foot forward at each stage. There are some application components you can work on closer to the application deadlines, such as your AMCAS Work and Activities and AMCAS Most Meaningful Experiences activity descriptions, personal statement, secondary essays, and so on. However, many of the most important medical school requirements, such as your GPA, letters of recommendation, and extracurriculars, ideally require years of advance planning.

No wonder many students are overwhelmed just contemplating how to prepare for medical school applications! Don’t worry – we’ve got you! While it might seem like a lot to tackle, with strategic planning and careful preparation, you can lay down the path to your future success. Whether you’re a young student in high school or college thinking about a medical career, or a non-traditional medical school applicant thinking of switching careers, with the right preparation, you have a fighting chance to get into medical school. And if you need an extra bit of inspiration – remember, all successful physicians were once exactly where you are now!

Want to know how to get into medical school? Check out our video:

Why is advance preparation important for medical school applications?

As we mentioned above, there are certain medical school prerequisites you simply can’t complete without at least some amount of advance planning. Investing your time and effort in this type of advance preparation has a three-fold benefit for you. First, you’re ensuring you give yourself the best chance of success. Considering how costly and time-consuming medical school applications are, you really want to do all you can to avoid the hassle and heartbreak of medical school rejection and reapplication!

Second, advance preparation helps you avoid last-minute stress and pressure as medical school application deadlines approach. Staying calm and stress-free during the actual application season is essential. Otherwise, you might end up missing important deadlines or giving a poor interview performance due to anxiety and stress.

Third, spending so much time working towards your dream of becoming a physician gives you plenty of chances to reflect on your commitment to this field and personal suitability for it. Your motivation and passion should help you deal with the toughest challenges, and if you’re not cut out for this field, it’s best to discover it before starting your applications! On the other hand, if you’re committed to becoming a doctor, this type of long-term self-reflection can help you write in-depth, well-informed personal statements and essays to really impress your medical schools.

If you’re not sure where to start, don’t worry. We’ve compiled a list of eight key steps you must complete to prepare for medical school applications. Whether you’re applying to medical schools in Canada or USA, these steps are essential. Before we explore in greater detail what these steps are, let’s try and understand the right timeline for you to follow.

When should I complete these steps?

The answer to this question really depends on you and your specific circumstances! In the ideal medical school application timeline, you submit your medical school application in the summer before your senior year of undergrad. To target this date, you will need to start your application preparation as early as freshman year. We would recommend starting the first of the steps given below, at this stage. Remember, the earlier you start, the more time you will have to complete each step to the best of your ability.

Conversely, if you start later during your undergrad, you might have to rush through some steps. At the very latest, by your junior year, you should be working towards completing the steps we’ve outlined below. If you’re at this stage already, a good strategy is to get the help of an expert, such as a medical school advisor and/or admissions consultant. These kinds of experts usually have a lot of experience guiding students to success, no matter where you are in the medical school application timeline. They can give you customized guidance and proven strategies for how to get into medical school in a shorter timeline.

You can also consider taking a gap year before medical school and using that time to work through some of the steps we’ve listed below.

Step 1: Select the right major and coursework

First of all, there is no one universal “ideal” undergrad major that gives you an edge in your medical school application. The vast majority of medical schools do not differentiate between undergrad majors as a selection criterion. However, many of them do ask for specific prerequisite coursework, typically covering science subjects such as Biology, Chemistry, Physics, and Math, along with English, Statistics, and other relevant subjects for medical school. You should make sure you complete the specific coursework requirements for the schools you’re applying to.

It’s also a good idea to select a variety of courses, from both science and humanities disciplines, that will prepare you for medical school. Having a rigorous undergrad course load shows your ability to handle challenging coursework to the medical school admissions committee. Even schools that do not have any coursework prerequisites will still look at your overall coursework, skills, and academic prowess to judge how well you could handle the medical school curriculum.

While choosing coursework, you should also try and select courses that can help you in your MCAT preparation. This isn’t mandatory – many students with no previous science coursework achieve a good MCAT score by following an intensive, targeted MCAT study schedule. However, by completing specific courses, you can build the knowledge and skills you need for the MCAT well in advance and hence make your MCAT prep much easier. You’ll need to take a few different courses to prepare for the different MCAT sections – for MCAT Biology, consider completing advanced Biology, Biochemistry, Anatomy, and other such courses. For MCAT Chemistry, take on a few Physics, Organic Chemistry, Inorganic Chemistry courses. Psychology, Sociology, and Anthropology should help you prepare for MCAT Psychology. For MCAT CARS, you should focus on building your critical analysis and reasoning skills via advanced English Lit, Philosophy, and other humanities courses. Other courses like Math and Statistics can help you get the skills you need to quickly read and analyze complex MCAT passages.

Remember, at the end of the day, you should pick your major based on your own interests and strengths, not based on what you think admissions committees want. Whether you’re a science major or liberal arts major, as long as you meet the other admissions requirements and prove your overall suitability for medical school, you have an equal chance of getting an acceptance. While a science major might make it easier to meet medical school coursework requirements, a liberal arts major could help you hone your communication, critical analysis, and reasoning skills, all of which you need for your MCAT exam and other medical school application components.

Even more important? No matter what major and coursework you choose, you need to ensure you maintain a good GPA throughout your education. This is a crucial selection factor for medical school and some programs even have a minimum GPA cut-off. Avoid taking on too many challenging or advanced courses if you’re unable to achieve a good grade for all of them. It’s better to incorporate a few easier courses to ensure that your overall GPA remains solid. If you do have a low GPA, focus on improving your grades steadily over a period of time to show a trend of growth and improvement. Keep medical school GPA requirements in mind and make strategic decisions about your course load to ensure your GPA stays competitive.

If you’re already out of school or towards the end of your undergrad, and you still haven’t completed any of the above coursework, or you have a poor GPA, you can consider doing a post bacc program or a special master’s program before medical school to improve your academic record. 

Step 2: Research medical schools and admissions processes

Early in your undergrad, you should take some time to research the different medical schools, and their specific admissions processes, and figure out your own list of target programs. This is an extremely important step. One of the main reasons why many qualified and competitive applicants receive mostly rejections is because they didn’t apply strategy while selecting their schools. The earlier you do this research, the better it is; that way, if you’re falling short of specific requirements for your dream schools, you have enough time to work on them.

You can use MSAR, the AAMC’s official resource, to find out about medical school requirements, average accepted stats, tuition, admission processes, application requirements, and other important information about medical schools. Make sure you check the admissions websites of the medical schools as well, to get more detailed information. You can also use BeMo’s med school chance predictor to see how competitive your chances of acceptance at any given med school are based on your existing stats and experiences.

Make sure you also look into the different medical school admissions processing services, such as TMDSAS, AMCAS, AACOMAS, and OMSAS. While the overall medical school requirements are generally the same irrespective of the platform, the specific timelines and application components can vary. You need to be prepared for all the application services you might need to use.

Step 3: Form meaningful connections with mentors and guides

A critical step often neglected by premed students is taking the time to form meaningful connections with mentors and available guides during their undergrad. Make sure you explore the following options:

Step 4: Seek out clinical/shadowing experience in medicine or healthcare

During your research into medical school admissions processes and requirements, you will find that many schools ask for or at least recommend that applicants complete specific number of shadowing hours and/or clinical hours in a medical setting. This kind of experience is extremely important, and not just to make your medical school application more competitive. It’s crucial to spend some time immersed in a clinical setting, gaining first-hand experience of a physicians’ day-to-day life, performing activities under the kind of pressure that most physicians face every day. That’s really the best way to know if you’re passionate about medicine, and to help you define your ambitions more clearly. Clinical experience helps you hone your clinical skills and cultivate the kind of qualities medical schools are looking for in applicants, such as empathy, ability to stay calm under pressure, good communication skills, etc. Shadowing experience helps you understand the many rigors and demands of a physician’s life and to self-reflect about your own motivations to pursue medicine as a career.

You should aim to get at least 100 hours of shadowing and clinical experience, respectively. While you work on getting this experience, make sure you maintain a journal where you keep a log of your activities, experiences, learnings, and reflections. Admissions committees expect you to use your clinical and shadowing experience to reflect on why you want to be a doctor and what makes you suitable for medical school. These rough notes will provide excellent source material to help you write your medical school personal statement and medical school secondary essays.

Step 5: Get relevant extracurricular and academic experiences

Besides clinical and shadowing hours, you’ll need at least a few other medical school extracurriculars and academic experiences to make your medical school resume as robust as possible. Make sure you select long-term extracurriculars that align with your overall interests and skills, rather than simply cycling through short-term activities that you think are impressive. Ultimately, the goal of gaining such experiences is self-improvement, growth, and a chance to make meaningful contributions. It’s always better to focus on quality over quantity, i.e., select activities that give you the chance to gain impactful experience that you can discuss in your medical school application essays and personal statement.

Admissions committees are most impressed by longevity and a proven record of growth and learning. That’s why advance planning is crucial for this specific medical school application requirement. For example, if you want to show your long-term commitment to a specific volunteer organization, your growth to a leadership role in a professional setting, your dedication to a community service cause, then you’ll need to spend at least a few months, if not years, working in the same setting.

Keep in mind that some schools also have a specific recommendation for the types of extracurriculars they expect to see from their applicants. For example, medical schools with a curriculum that includes a lot of mandatory research work, are not likely to admit students with zero prior research experience. Other schools prioritize community engagement and prefer applicants with extensive volunteer experience.

Here are some of the most common medical school extracurriculars you should consider taking on, besides clinical and shadowing hours:

Step 6: Work on your verbal and written communication skills

You need excellent verbal and written communication skills to get into medical school. Many hopeful physicians spend a lot of time immersed in the world of difficult scientific studies, lab work, research, and so on, in preparation for medical school. While this helps them cultivate their clinical skills and academic abilities, and gain excellent “numbers” for their medical school application, that’s not all you need! You have to be able to effectively communicate your strengths to the admissions committees via a well-written personal statement, thought-provoking essays, and concise activity descriptions. And once you get through the initial application stage, you’ll need excellent verbal communication skills to help you ace your medical school interviews.

Some students have naturally great communication skills and don’t need much coaching in this area. Others may need extensive coaching to help them hone these skills. Remember that you can’t gain excellent communication skills overnight! It’s not enough to simply learn some strategies or memorize answers to frequently asked questions. You’ll need to self-reflect, practice writing and speaking, complete many rough drafts of written materials, and do many mock interviews to improve your skills. The longer you practice, the more naturally these skills will come to you. And once you gain these skills, they stay with you for life. So, the time you put towards working on your communication skills for medical school is a worthy investment in yourself and your future.

That’s why it’s worth considering getting additional help from expert admissions consultants who can coach you to develop your interview skills and improve your essay-writing talents. Keep in mind that the medical school admissions process involves a few different interview formats, including situational judgement tests and holistic assessment tools such as Altus Suite, CASPer, multiple mini interview (MMI), etc. We don’t recommend going in blind for these types of interviews and tests; give yourself enough time to get familiar with the specific format of the interview/test you’re facing. Experienced and proven admissions consultants can give you the edge here, since they can help you practice with realistic mock tests that simulate the final conditions and provide personalized feedback about your performance.

Step 7: Prepare for the MCAT

As we already mentioned above, you can prepare for your MCAT by completing coursework that prepares you for the scientific concepts and skills that are tested on that exam. In addition to this, here are a few other steps you can take to prepare for the MCAT:

Step 8: Plan out your finances

As you might know already, medical school tuition is usually very high and in addition to this, you’ll need to consider other medical school costs such as equipment fees, cost of textbooks, living expenses, etc. There are numerous avenues to financing a medical degree available for students, but it’s important to do your research about what’s out there, what you’re eligible for, and how your own circumstances could influence your finances. There are many medical school scholarships, both merit and need based. You could also consider asking for help from family members. If you’re applying to medical schools in the US, you can consider combining institutional aid with federal loans, which offer lower rates of interest. Do your research about the financing options available for all the schools you’re applying to. If you are interested in joining the military, note that military doctors generally get full funding as well as a stipend for their medical school education.

You should also plan for how you’re going to pay for your medical school application. Remember that most of the application processes (AMCAS, TMDSAS, AACOMAS, etc.) ask for an application fee for their primary applications, as well as a specific fee for each of the schools you’re applying to. In addition to this, medical schools also generally ask for a specific fee with their secondary application. You also have to consider other miscellaneous expenses such as MCAT costs, the cost of travelling for medical school interviews, etc.

Want to watch a video to learn more about medical school tuition in Canada and the US?

Planning ahead for your medical school application costs as well as overall medical school costs is extremely important. You don’t want to miss important deadlines or have to defer your admission because of poor financial planning!

Conclusion

If you work through these steps systematically through your undergrad years, you’ll find yourself fully ready to tackle the medical school application season once it rolls around. Getting into medical school is no easy task, but if you have the passion, commitment, discipline, focus, and skills, then nothing can stand in the way of your dreams!

FAQS

1. Which is the best major for premed students?

There’s no one specific major that can give you an overt and universal edge in the medical school application process. Most medical schools don’t provide any specific preferences for an undergrad major. While you may be required or expected to complete specific science related coursework, most schools encourage applications from students with a diverse range of educational backgrounds, from science and technology to business and liberal arts. Specific majors could help you in your medical school application preparation in other ways – for example, a science major will find it easier to meet medical school coursework requirements, develop important lab skills, and prepare for the science MCAT sections. On other hand, an English or Philosophy major would have excellent critical analysis and reasoning skills, which you need for the MCAT CARS section, and great communication skills, which you need throughout the application process. No matter what your major, you need to make sure you maintain a good cumulative GPA throughout your college education, preferably with a clear upward trend of improvement.

2. What kind of coursework should I complete in preparation for my medical school applications?

When selecting your coursework in preparation for your medical school application, keep in mind the specific coursework requirements of the medical schools you’re applying to. Your medical school application, no matter how impressive otherwise, will be automatically disqualified if you fail to meet mandatory coursework requirements. You can also try and include courses that will help you prepare for the different MCAT sections, such as advanced Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Psychology, Sociology, Statistics, English Literature, and so on. Some schools may not have specific requirements but recommend that applicants complete certain courses, including science courses, second languages, social sciences, etc.

3. Do I need clinical and shadowing experience for my medical school application?

Yes, this is an important requirement for medical school admissions. Not only will it help you boost your extracurriculars, it will also give you a chance to explore why you want to be a doctor and develop some important clinical skills. Try and get at least 80-100 hours each of clinical experience in a healthcare setting and physician shadowing experience.

4. What kind of extracurriculars should I choose in preparation for my medical school application?

Besides, clinical and shadowing experience, you should ideally complete some research experience, and volunteer or community service experience. Other non-academic or non-medical hobbies can help to create a more well-rounded application and give you a chance to talk about the soft skills that make you suitable for medical school, such as leadership, teamwork, communication, etc. It’s always better to go for quality over quantity. Try and get a few long-term extracurricular activities where you experienced personal growth and could make a measurable impact.

5. How do I prepare for my medical school letters of recommendation?

Make sure you cultivate and maintain relationships with mentors such as faculty members you studied under, supervisors at your research/volunteer/clinical/work experiences, school alumni or senior students you admire, non-academic mentors, and so on. Keep in touch with them, even if you’re no longer directly studying or working with them. That way, when you ask them for your recommendations, they will be not just willing but enthusiastic, and will be able to talk about your achievements meaningfully.

6. How much time will I need to prepare for the MCAT?

This depends on your own exam readiness, which in turn depends on a number of factors such as the related coursework you’ve already completed, your natural propensity for the MCAT exam skills, your familiarity with the test format, and so on. Most students need to spend at least 300 to 400 hours to prepare for the MCAT. You should ideally take the initial MCAT diagnostic test and start gathering MCAT prep materials at least 6 months in advance, as that will give you enough time to analyze your needs and plan your study schedule accordingly.

7. How can I prepare for my medical school personal statements and essays?

There are a couple of things you can do to prepare for your medical school personal statement and essays. First, keep a journal or notes of your daily experiences, observations, reflections, achievements, obstacles, and so on as you complete your various medical school extracurricular activities, but especially during your clinical and shadowing experience. Your personal statement and essays must include supporting evidence for your claims in the form of previous experiences and activities, and it won’t be easy for you to remember the details of activities you completed years before without some kind of reference. 

Second, spend some time working on your communication skills to ensure you can write coherent, eloquent essays for medical school. Consider completing more language or literature related courses and/or getting additional help in the form of a medical school advisor or consultant to help you hone these critical skills.

8. How to plan out my medical school finances?

To plan out your medical school finances, make sure you identify all the expenses you’re facing down the line, not just medical school tuition and costs, but also application costs, MCAT fees, etc. Next, research the financial aid options at all the schools you’re applying to, speak to your family members about what funding they can provide, and look into your eligibility for various loans and scholarships. Most medical students combine funding from many different sources to pay for med school.

To your success,

Your friends at BeMo

BeMo Academic Consulting 

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