Medical Students

5 Expert Tips to Help You Get into Medical School

As the physician workforce continues to age and the impacts of the pandemic continue to strain the national health care system, there has never been a more urgent need for new doctors. Thousands are answering the call to become doctors, whether they’ve dreamt of putting on the white coat and living out this career for years or found an emerging passion to serve and heal.

But with limited seats, students applying from across the globe, and several years of significant increases in medical school applications, the competition for entrance to medical school is fierce.

Dr. Leila Harrison, vice dean for admissions, student affairs and alumni engagement at the Washington State University Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine, has been recruiting and admitting medical students to highly competitive medical schools for more than 20 years. She says the key to standing out comes less from composing a brilliant essay and more from being thorough in your application and selecting the medical schools that best match your attributes, experiences, and goals.

“It’s easy to pick out the applicants who haven’t taken the time to learn about our medical school, our requirements, or the traits and experiences that align best with our mission,” said Harrison. “If your strategy is to toss a wide net in applying without a thoughtful look at what the schools say they are looking for, it’s time to rethink that approach. The applicants who get in are the ones who pay attention to detail, have a strong sense of self, and are intentional about and aligned with the medical schools they apply to.”

As you prepare to dive into the time-consuming process of applying to medical school, follow these tips from Dr. Harrison to make your hard work count and your application stand out.

1. Understand What the Medical School Is Looking for in a Student

Though it may seem like common sense, applicants often fail to read the details about what the medical school is looking for in the applicants it selects. Most medical schools highlight aspects about an applicant’s experiences and/or attributes (character traits) they deem most important. Review these and determine whether you will have evidence to support them in the application. If not, seek to either gain the needed experiences and/or reflect on how you can demonstrate your attributes through your experiences, work, volunteering, and what you share in your essays.

2. Ensure You Meet the Medical School’s Stated Requirements to Be Considered

Review the school’s website for criteria such as pre-requisite courses and timing, any minimum GPAs and/or MCAT scores, degree requirements, state residency requirements and/or preferences, or other specifics such as specific type of experience (e.g., serving rural/underserved populations). When a medical school states specific requirements, they mean it. Don’t waste your money on an application in hopes they will waive the requirements for you.

3. Reach out to Medical School Admissions Offices

Don’t rely on unofficial sources of information such as Student Doctor Network, Reddit, social media outlets, or the guidance of those who may not know all the updates to the medical school application process such as physicians who have been in practice for many years but disconnected with how medical school admissions has evolved. Call or email the medical school admissions office directly to ask questions or to request advising.

4. Be Reflective

Medical schools appreciate reading essays, descriptions of experiences, and interview responses that reflect self-awareness and insights about what you’ve learned, how you’ve grown, and the deeper meaning of your experiences in service and work. As you consider your unique experiences to share, make sure you can thoughtfully answer these questions:

  • What made the experience meaningful to me?
  • How have I been impacted by the experience?
  • What impact do I hope I made through the experience?
  • What deeper understanding or learning did I gain from the experience or those I served?
  • How did it broaden my perspective, empathy, or cultural humility?

5. Follow Your Dreams!

No matter your background, circumstances, barriers, and/or hardships, if you dream of becoming a physician then go for it. If it feels daunting because you don’t have anyone in your life who understands how to pursue medicine, contact one or more medical schools to request help on how to prepare to apply to medical school; contact them even if you are at the beginning stages of considering this path. Medical school admissions teams are eager to help you on your journey because they are looking for the next generation of students and doctors. Plus, medicine needs more diverse physicians who come from all backgrounds, circumstances, and identities to serve our increasingly diverse patients – in essence, medicine needs YOU!