Advisor Corner: Preparing to Apply to Medical School

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As a pre-health advisor, what advice do you give students who are preparing to apply to medical school? How can they work to ensure that their candidacy is competitive in this application cycle?

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Lisa Kooperman, Director of Fellowships and Prehealth Advising, Vassar College

  • Gather advice from knowledgeable sources. Pre-med advisors are likely to be in the know about what medical school admissions are looking for in their applicants, and are often part of networks with other advisors to collaborate, share best practices, and be informed about how to navigate the process. When you work one-on-one with a premed advisor, you can trust that they have your best interests at heart, will be open and honest about your candidacy, and help you put your best application forward. Check to see if your school has a pre-med advisor and/or advisory committee; if they do, take advantage of the support they can provide. If not, utilize the Find an Advisor resource from the National Association of Advisors for the Health Professions (NAAHP). 
  • Think about your candidacy holistically. There are many components to an application. Not only the numbers, but also your letters of recommendation, personal statement, achievements outside of the classroom, life experiences, as well as distance traveled. All of these things are taken into account by admissions committees and each application has its own nuances. 
  • Apply early. Applicants should aim to take the MCAT no later than June of the year they are applying so that their application is complete early in the cycle, as many medical schools work on a rolling admissions basis.

Kristin R. McJunkins, Director of the Health Professions Advisory Program, Yale University

  • Reflect on your narrative. Think about how the choices you’ve made—including coursework, extracurricular activities, clinical exposure, and research—tell the story of you and why you want to enter the health professions. Ideally, this narrative develops over time and you reflect on a regular basis (I suggest after each term) about what went well and where improvements can be made. Continually ask yourself “Why Medicine?” and you’ll see your reasons clarify over time, making your application more robust. If you have not had time to develop your narrative, it may be in your best interest to take more time before you apply to do so.
  • Don’t rush the process. Take chances to explore new activities and courses because these experiences will help define who you are as a future medical school student and doctor. Speak regularly with your health professions advisor about your progress. Research the profession and speak to physicians from various specialties and types of careers so you can learn about both the exciting aspects and the challenges faced on a daily basis.
  • Develop your competencies. Admissions committees review applications in a holistic manner, so understand the competencies expected beyond your GPA and MCAT score (e.g., communication skills, teamwork, cultural competency, leadership, to name a few). I always tell students that there are many medical schools and many ways of reviewing applications. Don’t choose your major and activities based only on what you think admissions committees expect. If you have developed yourself intellectually, emotionally, and professionally (and continue to do so during the application year!), then you will submit a comprehensive and competitive application.

Kimberly Buck-Speck, Director of Pre-Professional Health Studies, Temple University

Maintaining balance is key to building a competitive profile for medical school. This balance involves a demonstrated and continuous commitment to academics and professional development. Another important part of the process is to be self-reflective. Pre-meds should ask themselves the following questions to ensure that their candidacy is competitive in this application cycle:

  • Have I diversified my experiences in the field of medicine over a period a time? Have I worked in different settings, with different health professionals, and in varying levels of care? Am I still gaining health care exposure?
  • Have I been engaged in leadership experiences, community service, and extracurricular activities that show my personality? These are really good talking points in an interview.
  • Have I pushed myself to come out of my comfort zone? In my development towards medicine, have I seen things that make me feel uncomfortable, worked in challenging environments, and battled with my emotions?
  • Does my academic profile demonstrate an upward trend, especially in upper level coursework? This shows an understanding of foundational coursework and the ability to handle the rigor of advanced science concepts.
  • Is my MCAT score and GPA competitive for the programs that I hope to attend? Use the Medical School Admission Requirements (MSAR), AAMC FACTS, admissions websites, and the guidance of advisors to gauge your metrics.
  • Am I ready to apply early in the application cycle? Will I have all elements of my application submitted early in the cycle, including MCAT score, letters of recommendation, committee letter (if available), and transcripts?
  • Do I have an ongoing relationship with my pre-med advisor and professors – especially science professors? These relationships will help you navigate the long application cycle.
  • Am I doing all of this for the right reasons? Do I have a commitment to lifelong learning and to the well-being of others?

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