If you are wondering how to make your medical school application stand out, you are not alone. Your medical school application is the key to getting that coveted medical school interview.

If you get no medical school interviews, it usually means that there were red flags or errors in your application. So how can you avoid them? Whether you are a reapplicant or a first-time applicant, it’s very important to make your med school application stand out. In this article, we will go over the ultimate strategies to make you stand out from the thousands of applicants admission committees will be reviewing.


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Why Does Your Application Matter?

No two applications are the same. This is the truth you should always keep in mind as you prepare your application. Do not make the mistake of wondering how you compare against other applicants. Because the other important truth is that every single applicant wishes their application was stronger. Some may be wondering how to get into medical school with a low MCAT, others may be wondering if they have enough extracurriculars, while others wish they could include more research experience on their application.

The point is, if you are wondering how to make yourself stand out in med school application, you are not the first or the only student to wonder the same. According to the AAMC, many medical schools in the US have seen a 25% increase in medical school applicants in the last few years. This means that the competition is higher than ever and that you need to make sure that your application is not just good, but that it’s impressive.

In today’s article, we will go over some of the tips for making your medical school application stand out. Remember to assess your weaknesses and strengths before you start on any of these tips. Some of you may have accomplished enough in the areas we recommend, but these are the most common areas where students can shine and prove their dedication to the medical field.

Clinical Work and Clinical Exposure

How many clinical hours for medical school do you need? While a substantial number of anywhere 100 to 150 hours is recommended to all applicants, the number of clinical hours is ultimately not enough to stand out in your medical school application.

Instead of looking at the number of your clinical hours, admission committees will be looking at the quality of your experiences. You do not have to have a myriad of clinical experiences, but you should have a clinical experience that left you with an answer as to why you want to become a doctor. Medical school admission committees will be able to tell if the experience was truly significant. If it was, it will most likely be prominently featured in your AMCAS Work and Activities most meaningful experiences, your personal statement, and your medical school secondary essays.

Remember that a clinical experience is slightly different from shadowing hours for medical school. While shadowing also exposes you to the medical fields, you do not necessarily get the patient interaction admissions committees want to see. This is why clinical experience, with direct contact with patients, is very important. Not only does it show to the admission committee that you have test-driven this career, but it also shows that you can handle patient interactions and have experienced the life of a physician first-hand.

Keep in mind that you do not have to gain paid clinical experience. Volunteer clinical experience is more than enough, especially if you are transitioning directly from undergrad to medical school. While most schools do not have any requirements when it comes to what kind of clinical experience you should gain, be mindful of the fact that administrative work is not going to count as clinical work. While it's great that you help file paperwork, assist with completing forms, and organize a physician's patient files, unless you get direct exposure to patients, this would not be deemed as clinical experience.

Look for positions as a certified nursing assistant, an emergency medical technician, a medical scribe, a personal caretaker, a medical assistant (with direct exposure to patients), or a hospice volunteer. And remember, it's the quality of your experiences that counts.

If you want to learn about more ways you can gain clinical experience, check out this infographic:

Leadership

Physicians occupy a very unique position in society. They are some of the most revered professionals in the modern world, and therefore, are expected to lead by example. Thus, applicants’ leadership skills are incredibly valued by admission committees.

Leadership comes in many forms. You do not have to run for office or save someone’s life to demonstrate that you possess leadership skills. Your leadership can be demonstrated by being a captain of a sports team or by organizing a fundraiser at your school. Otherwise, you can discuss your involvement in the school council, team projects, traveling abroad, and so on. Reflect on experiences where you showed initiative and led by example.

Leadership skills must be included in your application because they indicate many other qualities important for being a physician, such as the ability to take on responsibilities for others, organizational skills, team-building skills, communication and interpersonal skills, and so on.

If you are worried that you do not have any experiences that show your leadership, be sure to deeply reflect on your extracurriculars for medical school and activities within academia. Do you help your classmates with homework? Are you a leader during class seminars or labs? Do you always show initiative in your volunteer work? All these are examples of leadership qualities, so make sure to think carefully about your own experiences.

Community Service

Medical schools look for individuals who are comfortable working in a community, serving diverse populations. While you may not have a lot of exposure working with a variety of populations until you begin rotations, medical schools want to see that you have committed some time to work in your community meeting the needs of others. For example, working in a campus clinic or a community health center is a great way to demonstrate your community involvement and gain clinical experience.

Your community service does not necessarily have to do with medicine. You can choose to gain some volunteer hours for medical school by participating in charitable organizations. You can get involved in educational initiatives organized on your college campus, such as tutoring. These valuable experiences can really set you apart from the rest of the applicants. Remember the golden rule of any community involvement: you must commit to it for a serious period of time. Volunteering at the soup kitchen on Thanksgiving and Christmas is not going to be enough. Admission committees look for students who dedicate serious efforts and time to making their community better. Because let's be honest, you cannot develop skills and qualities, such as empathy, interpersonal and communication skills, sense of responsibility, and so on, by doing a clothing drive once a year. So if you choose a volunteer or community service opportunity, make sure to stick to it and put in some real work.

Research

While some medical schools look for strong community service and strong clinical experiences, there are research-intensive medical schools, such as the Ivy League medical schools, or Stanford medical school. Admission committees at these institutions need to see that incoming matriculants have participated in quality premed research opportunities and gained skills necessary for this important aspect of medicine. Needless to say that if you are looking to apply to MD-PhD programs, you must have a very strong research background.

Whether you are applying to MD or DO, it's worth repeating that it's the quality of your experiences that counts. Research is a long and laborious process. Developing research skills takes time and dedication, so if your medical school application includes a long list of short-term research stints, it's not going to be enough to impress the admission committee. Remember that research projects can last months, years, or even decades. While nobody expects you to have spent half of your life doing research, you should demonstrate that you really committed to a project and stuck with it long enough to hone your research skills.

You might be wondering why research skills are so important if you are not planning to apply or attend research-intensive schools. The reason is simple: a quality research experience and track record indicate impressive and much sought-after qualities like attention to detail, critical thinking, analytical skills, curiosity, and more.

In fact, if you think that you have gained sufficient and quality experience in every other area we have already mentioned, research might be just the right thing to make your medical school application stand out. As we already mentioned, if you are applying to a research-focused school then having research experience is a given. But if you are applying to schools that are dedicated to serving underserved communities or rural areas, the research experience you gain will be your competitive edge. You will have experience in your application that not many applicants to these schools have.

And for those of you who think they are not interested in the research aspect of medicine – try it! You might find that you love research. Don’t be hesitant to get involved in research because you think it’s not going to be part of your life as a physician. Admission committees will be impressed to see that even though research it’s not something you plan to do long-term, you were curious enough to commit yourself to this very important aspect of medicine.

Want to learn how to write the best research assistant cover letter? Check out this video:

Unique Experiences You Can Bring to Incoming Class

We are sure you are aware that there are many application components that ask you to discuss what kind of experiences and perspectives you can contribute to the incoming class. Whether it’s medical school secondary essays or TMDSAS personal characteristics essay, this question will most likely come up during your application process. And even if it does not, keep this question in mind as you prepare your primary and secondary applications! This is a sure way to stand out from the crowd and become a memorable applicant even before you meet with the committee for an interview.

And if you think that you have nothing special or unique to talk about in your diversity medical school secondary essay or other components, think again. Your journey to medical school was undoubtedly filled with exciting challenges and experiences. Reflect on your journey. Your experiences do not need to be as cataclysmic as immigration, death of a loved one, or socio-economic challenges of your family, though these could certainly be talked about in your application.

If you are struggling to come up with what you can bring to the incoming class, think about your academic journey. Did you have to take a gap year before medical school to pay off undergrad debt and gain some more research experience? Did you enroll in a post-bacc program for medical school to increase your GPA? Are you a non-traditional medical school applicant coming from a liberal arts background? Are you switching careers after working as a physician assistant and had to enroll in a special master’s program because you want to attend a research-intensive medical school? Instead of worrying that you did not travel to volunteer abroad, reflect on how your volunteering experiences at home changed your life and those whom you helped. Or discuss how your family affected your decision to pursue medicine and how they have helped in your journey. Not everyone in your incoming class will have these experiences. Speaking honestly of positive and negative experiences in your life can truly set you apart from the rest of the applicants. 

Just a reminder: while it may be difficult to discuss some elements of your past, do ponder if these are aspects of your journey that can be revealed to the admissions committee. You do not have to be too candid about the pain or struggles you have faced, but consider if you want to reveal some of these challenges in order to paint a holistic and realistic picture of your candidacy.

Learn Another Language

Having a second or third language as a future physician is a huge boost to your application. Bilingualism has a multitude of advantages beyond medicine, but here're the top reasons why you should consider learning another language to set yourself apart from the rest of the applicants:

The same can be said for Canada. By being bilingual in English and French not only do you broaden the number of schools you can apply to, but you can also plan your residency and practice anywhere in Canada.

Another language will be extremely valuable as you fill out your ERAS and CaRMS applications. Program directors will take note of this, trust us!

Interested in seeing an overview of some of the key tips we suggest for making your med school application stand out? This infographic is for you:

Conclusion: What Else Can You Do?

While the ideas we listed above are just some of the things you can add to your medical school application to make it stand out, it is ultimately up to you to decide how you want to bolster your profile or leave the reader with a clear memory of your application.

Another important thing to keep in mind, which we briefly touched on earlier in this article: your journey has been unique and without realizing it, you may have memorable experiences and skills that you can include in your application. Whether it’s swing dancing, archery, glass blowing, or other hobbies, do not minimize your experiences because you think they are not important or related to medicine.

One of the key aspects of making your medical school application stand out is to present a holistic story of who you are and how you have come to apply to medical school. Your application must have vivid and unforgettable elements, even if they are small. For example, if you are worried that sculpting, your hobby of 10 years, is not relevant for medical school applications, think again. These are the types of imagery that can be easily incorporated into your medical school personal statement or your AMCAS Work and Activities and would leave an impression on those who read them – because not everyone sculpts for a hobby. While having a cool hobby will not save a poor application that lacks clinical experience and shadowing, it can help you leave a memorable impression.

One last piece of advice: thinking through these small elements to incorporate in your app is exactly the reason why you should start planning your medical school application early!

FAQs

1. What can I do to make my medical school application stand out?

There are several approaches to boosting your profile, which we discuss throughout the article. Ideally, you will meet not only the medical school requirements for each of your chosen programs, but also leave the admission committee impressed with the quality of your application and experiences.

2. Why does clinical experience bolster my application?

Clinical experience is the number one indicator that you have experienced a career in medicine firsthand. Since patient interactions are at the center of being a physician, having clinical experience assures admission committees that you have test-driven this career.

3. Why do I need to have leadership qualities to stand out?

Demonstrating leadership in your application signals that you can take on responsibility, initiative, and that you can work independently and in a team.

4. What kind of leadership experience would bolster my application?

Be creative! Any experience you have had that demonstrates your leadership qualities can make your application stand out, whether it’s school council, sports teams, or workshops that you organized for your classmates, all of these can show your leadership skills!

5. I am not planning on applying to any research-intensive schools, why should I do research?

This is exactly why you should do a research project to stand out! Since it won't be a requirement in your chosen schools, your research experience will be a unique aspect that makes you stand out from the rest of the applicants.

6. How can volunteering and community service make me stand out?

Quality community service experience demonstrates dedication and commitment. It’s important o admission committees to see that you get involved in the life of the community you might be eventually serving as a physician. Additionally, community involvement hones your communication skills, social awareness, and empathy.

7. What other experiences can make me stand out?

Sounds cliché, but it can be anything. A second language, a unique experience, a memorable skill, and so on. This really depends on your journey to medical school and your background.

To your success,

Your friends at BeMo

BeMo Academic Consulting

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