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A student gets their own stethoscope after learning how to get into medical school

How To Get Into Medical School: A Step By Step Guide

February 6, 2023
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Step 1: Consider Why You Want to Attend Medical SchoolStep 2: Choose Your PathwayStep 3: Choose Your Pre-Med Major and Take Med School PrerequisitesStep 4: Understand the Medical School Application TimelineStep 5: Gain Relevant ExperiencesStep 6: Take the MCATStep 7: How to Get Into Medical School: Understand the Application Process and ApplyStep 8: Ace Your InterviewsTips for Getting Into Medical School FAQs: Getting Into Medical School

”Rohan

Reviewed by:

Rohan Jotwani

Former Chief Resident in Anesthesiology, Weill Cornell Medicine, & Admissions Officer, Columbia University

Reviewed: 12/27/22

Are you wondering how to get into medical school? This ultimate guide will help get you on the right path. Read on to learn the steps to get into medical school and boost your chances of acceptance. 

How to Get Into Medical School: Step By Step Guide

Getting accepted into medical school is a dream come true for future physicians, but the journey can be challenging. But how difficult is it to get into med school? Over half of med school applicants fail to matriculate into any MD program they apply to.

But don’t be discouraged. With the right attitude, diligence, and preparation, you can face any challenge head-on. With this step-by-step guide on how to get into med school, you’ll learn everything you need to know.

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Step 1: Consider Why You Want to Attend Medical School

This may seem obvious, but the first step to medical school is to consider why you want to attend. It’s important to think about the specifics now so you can speak knowledgeably and confidently about your decision. 

Consider why you want to attend med school

This will also help you when interviewers inevitably ask, “Why do you want to be a doctor?” or, “Why do you want to attend medical school?” 

The strongest answers are specific and targeted, not generic or clichéd. For example, the over-used, “I want to attend medical school and become a doctor because I want to help people,” is generic and doesn’t describe your particular interests, strengths, and goals. A specific answer helps guide your application materials! 

Here’s how a strong answer to why you want to attend medical school is structured:

Begin with an introduction. Touch upon your initial interest in medicine and how that curiosity began. What event sparked your interest? Describe it in detail to tell a compelling story. Relate your story to med school and discuss how the program will develop your interests. 

Next, discuss the steps you took to build your passion for medicine. What are your experiences? What, specifically, did you like about medicine as you learned more? You can discuss specific elements, such as: 

Finally, emphasize your commitment to healthcare and how you decided it was the right path for you. Your answer should be introspective, reflective, and confident. If you faced challenges, mention these and show a growth mindset. Discuss what you did to overcome challenges and what you learned from the experience. 

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Step 2: Choose Your Pathway

Your path to medical school starts with choosing your pathway. You’ll have to make a few preliminary decisions based on your career and education goals.

Choose your path: DO Vs. MD, Joint programs/Dual degrees

First, decide if you want to attend an allopathic or osteopathic medical school. Most schools are allopathic, offering the traditional MD (Doctor of Medicine) degree. Some schools are osteopathic, meaning they offer the DO (Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine). 

Both doctors work side-by-side in clinical settings. They treat patients, prescribe medications, and have extensive medical knowledge and training. Remember, requirements can differ, so getting into a DO school may differ from allopathic schools.

Additionally, many med schools offer joint or dual degree programs you can combine with your degree. The MD-PHD, MD-MBA, and MD-MPH are the most common dual degrees. 


Step 3: Choose Your Pre-Med Major and Take Med School Prerequisites

Strong academic performance is essential for getting into medical school. Medical school GPA requirements are competitive, and a high GPA always bolsters your application. 

Choose your pre-med major and take medical school prereqs

To that end, you should choose your pre-med major and courses with a strategic mindset. First, you can major in any subject. That’s right—a science major isn’t required to go to medical school. 

Only the science prerequisites are required, and as long as you complete them, what you major in is entirely up to you. If you’re wondering how to get into med school without pre-med requirements, there is no way around it but to take all required science courses. 

You should choose a major in the subject you’re most passionate about and interested in learning. Pursuing a major you’re excited about will make it easier to do well and achieve high grades. Additionally, medical schools love to see well-rounded applicants with unique backgrounds. 

Think about it this way—wouldn’t it be boring if every single med school applicant chose biology as their major? Diversity in your background is highly sought after, so be comfortable in your decision to major in something that may be off the beaten path.

After you’ve chosen your major, you need to ensure you complete all prerequisite coursework for getting into medical school. In general, medical schools require the following prerequisites:

Every medical school has its own requirements regarding what courses you should take, how many semesters for each course, and which courses to take with labs. So, you’ll need to verify that you’re on track with each medical school.

Step 4: Understand the Medical School Application Timeline

Understanding the medical school application timeline is paramount. You must submit all required application materials by the deadline, but applying early may boost your chances of acceptance. 

Understand the med school application timeline

Most allopathic medical schools use the AMCAS application to streamline the application process. There are a few exceptions. Texas medical schools use the TMDSAS application. Osteopathic medical schools use the AACOMAS application. 

Here’s the AMCAS timeline for MD students:

AMCAS Timeline part 1
AMCAS Timeline part 2
AMCAS Timeline part 3
AMCAS Timeline part 4
AMCAS Timeline part 5

Because the application timeline is lengthy, it’s beneficial to prepare about two years before the AMCAS cycle begins. Use this time to build relationships with your professors so you can ask them for recommendations. Ensure you take all prerequisite coursework and begin preparing for the MCAT. 

Step 5: Gain Relevant Experiences

While your academic achievements speak volumes about your candidacy, gaining relevant experiences and participating in the right extracurricular activities are just as important. Your experiences and extracurriculars bolster your application and attract admissions officers to your unique background. 

gain relevant experiences for med school

You may have come across many med school websites that say they review applicants holistically. This means that beyond academic excellence, medical schools want students with diverse and relevant experiences.

Getting into med school requires profile differentiation; here are relevant experiences that will enrich your application and help you get into medical school: 

Clinical Experience

Clinical experience is an essential component of your application. Whether it’s paid or unpaid, what matters is your hands-on experience for a substantial period (aim for over 100 hours) in a clinical setting. 

Working directly with patients prepares you for your future career. Furthermore, you’ll strengthen your soft skills like interpersonal communication and empathy.

Medical Shadowing

Medical shadowing is one of the most vital experiences to have for medical school. Shadowing a physician allows you to see the everyday details of interacting with patients, diagnosing diseases, and providing treatment. To get the most out of your shadowing experience, research your particular areas of interest and specialties.  

Research

Research experience isn’t required for most medical schools; however, having a research background boosts your application and makes you a competitive candidate. The AAMC states 60% of applicants had research experience listed in their application. 

Research experience is valuable because it gives you opportunities to publish, be a part of a scholarly network of physician-scientists, and hone your analytical skills. 

Volunteering

Volunteering is a great way to show med schools how committed you are to helping others. It’s also a wonderful way to get involved in a cause or project you’re passionate about.

Some medical schools have guidelines about volunteering (i.e., they recommend at least 100 hours). It’s in your best interest to treat “recommendations” as “requirements” and fulfill the school’s expectations of applicants. 

In addition to the relevant experiences above, you can supplement your application with appropriate extracurriculars and hobbies

Step 6: Take the MCAT

The MCAT (Medical College Admission Test) is a crucial component of how to get into any medical school. The test is composed of four sections: 

The passage-based test is composed of 230 multiple-choice questions and a total seated time of 7 hours and 30 minutes, including breaks. 

Take the MCAT

Admissions committees consider the MCAT a “top-tier” selection factor; if your MCAT score doesn’t meet the school’s minimum requirements, you’ll likely not advance through the application process. 

MCAT scores are also highly competitive among applicant pools, as most matriculated students exceed the minimum required MCAT score. You should aim to fall within or exceed the school’s median MCAT score, giving you a competitive edge over other candidates. 

As such, it’s vital that you start studying for the MCAT as soon as possible. According to the AAMC, the average student should spend 300-350 hours preparing. Most students devote approximately 20 hours a week to study, which is three to five months of preparation.

It’s also important to think about when to take the MCAT. Generally, the tested subjects you are covered in the first two years of your science coursework. Speak with a pre-health advisor to ensure that you are on track to complete the recommended coursework in time to prepare for your MCAT. 

The MCAT is offered from January to September each year. Taking the MCAT earlier in the year ensures you stay ahead of your prospective medical school’s important dates. Most schools require you to complete the MCAT within three years of the application cycle. 

Step 7: How to Get Into Medical School: Understand the Application Process and Apply

Understand the application process and apply

Completing either the AMCAS for allopathic schools, AACOMAS for osteopathic schools, or TMDSAS for Texas schools is how you apply to med school. Here are some general guidelines for the three application services:

AMCAS: How to Fill Out Your Medical School Application

There are nine sections in the AMCAS you must complete. Sections 1-3 are background information. Section 4 is where you enter your coursework and transcripts. Section 5 is the work and activities section, where you enter your extracurricular activities and work experiences. 

Section 6 is for uploading your letters of recommendation. Section 7 is where you enter information about the medical schools you’re applying to, like program types or whether you’re applying early. Section 8 is the personal statement, and section 9 is where you submit your standardized test scores.

How to Fill Out Your AACOMAS Application

There are four sections in the AACOMAS that you must complete. Section 1 is where you enter your personal information, such as your name, identifiers, and biographical information. Section 2 is for entering your academic history, including information about high school, college, courses, and standardized tests.

Section 3 is for supporting information and materials. This includes letters of recommendation, professional experiences, personal statements, and achievements. Achievements may include awards, honors, publications, scholarships, and other accomplishments. You can use Section 4 to submit additional materials.

How to Fill Out Your TMDSAS Application

To fill out your TMDSAS application, you must enter your: 

The three applications are slightly different, but all provide a comprehensive summary of your candidacy.  

Step 8: Ace Your Interviews

Now for the final step of the entire application process: the medical school interview. Interview invitations are sent to applicants who pass the initial screening of their primary and secondary applications. If you’ve been invited for an interview, you should feel accomplished and proud for making it this far. 

Ace your med school interviews

These tips can help you ace your interview: 

Do Your Research

Research the medical schools to prepare for targeted interview questions. You should have a thorough understanding of the school’s mission statement, history, and achievements in medicine. 

Being knowledgeable about the school shows interviewers your interest in the program. This preliminary research also gives you a better idea of whether the school fits your career goals and interests. 

Stay Up to Date on Current Events In Medicine

Interviewers will likely ask questions about a hot topic in medicine, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, or other topics that may be controversial, such as marijuana or abortion. 

The purpose of asking about your stance on a current event is not to assess whether or not you get the answer “right.” There is often no right or wrong answer. Rather, the interviewers want to see your critical thinking and analytical skills. How knowledgeable are you about these topics? How do you arrive at informed opinions? 

Interviewers want to evaluate your understanding of current events and how well you defend your positions. 

Understand Different Med School Interview Formats 

Each school has a different method for interviewing candidates. The most common interview formats are the traditional interview, panel interview, and the MMI (multiple mini interview).

Practice for Your Interview

Practice to gain confidence and master your nerves. Review sample medical school interview questions and practice your answers in front of a mirror. You can also schedule mock interviews with experts to get unbiased feedback. 

Dress to Impress and Be Friendly

Dress in the best attire for your medical school interview, which is business formal. Think of your winning smile as a part of your attire. 

First impressions are important! The people you meet with on interview day might be your future colleagues, peers, mentors, and instructors. They’ll be your support network throughout medical school, so put your best foot forward and make a lasting first impression that’s professional, friendly, and confident. 

Tips for Getting Into Medical School 

Here are more tips to get into medical school that can help you showcase how you’re the ultimate candidate! 

Give Recommenders Time to Write and Identify Backup Recommenders 

Ensure you give your recommenders enough time to write stellar letters. Remember, many of your peers (especially in science courses) are likely also seeking recommendations; asking for them earlier in the cycle, such as in January, means you may be one of the first of your peers to request a recommendation. 

However, you should also identify backup recommenders. Not everyone you ask may be enthusiastic about writing you a letter or have the time to produce one that’s detailed and specific. 

Spend Time On Your Personal Statement 

Don’t underestimate your medical school personal statement. While your personal statement will likely be approximately 5,000 characters long, every sentence and word must serve a purpose (and show why you’re the best candidate)! 

Crafting a compelling narrative takes time. You must brainstorm, select relevant experiences and traits, outline your first draft, and write it. Don’t neglect the editing process; editing is key to producing a polished personal statement. 

Apply Early 

Most medical schools have rolling admissions, meaning seats are filled throughout the application cycle. Applying later in the cycle (closer to application deadlines) means you may have a lower chance of acceptance due to fewer open seats. Apply as early as you can without sacrificing quality! 

Submit Your Secondaries Quickly 

You can reasonably expect to receive secondary applications from most schools you applied to. This means that you may have many essays to write when the time comes. 

Secondary application deadlines can vary. You may have two weeks to write your secondaries from the date you receive them, or they may have another deadline a month or longer away. 

A quick turnaround time on your secondary applications can indicate your interest in the school, so submitting them within two weeks (regardless of the deadline) is ideal. One way to write your secondaries quickly is to pre-write them based on previous prompts (although they may be subject to change). 

If you’re ready to start pre-writing, check out our Med School Secondary Essay Database!

FAQs: Getting Into Medical School

Do you still have questions about applying to medical school? These FAQs will help answer any other questions you might have. 

1. Is It Okay to Take a Gap Year Before Applying to Medical School?

Yes, it’s perfectly acceptable to take a gap year before you pursue medical school. Just ensure you use your time wisely by gaining relevant professional and personal experiences that strengthen your application. Strong medical school candidates are well-rounded in addition to high academic performance.

2. Can I Apply to Medical School as a Non-Traditional Applicant?

Yes! Non-traditional applicants are usually those who decide to change careers or students who have a degree unrelated to pre-med or the sciences. Non-traditional applicants are increasingly in demand as medical schools adopt holistic approaches to reviewing candidates. 

Diverse backgrounds and skill sets are desirable in the field. If you are a non-traditional applicant, you can use your unique experiences to your advantage. 

3. I’m Not Happy With My GPA/MCAT Scores. What Are My Options?

While your application materials will be reviewed holistically, it’s difficult to advance in the application process with a low GPA or MCAT score. However, a low GPA can be offset by a high MCAT score or vice versa. 

Consider retaking courses or the MCAT. Also, you can ask for help — instructors, tutors, and experienced mentors will happily guide you.  

4. Do I Need to Take the CASPer Test to Apply to Medical School?

The CASPer test is required by some medical schools. It’s a pre-screening tool that evaluates applicants’ characteristics and behavioral traits and helps schools decide which candidates to invite for an interview.

The CASPer test was created to assess candidates’ soft skills and desirable qualities more accurately in collaboration, communication, empathy, equity, ethics, motivation, problem-solving, professionalism, resilience, and self-awareness. 

5. Is It Better to Attend an In-State or Out-of-State Medical School?

Attending an in-state or out-of-state medical school is entirely up to you and depends on numerous factors. Consider the cost of attendance and available financial resources. 

Some medical schools offer the same tuition rates for both in-state and out-of-state students, and some have higher tuition for out-of-state students. Some schools, like the NYU Grossman School of Medicine, have substantial affordability initiatives like offering all students full-tuition scholarships regardless of academic merit or financial need.

6. I’m Reapplying to Medical School. What Are Some Things to Keep In Mind?

Reapplying to medical school is perfectly fine. Take some time to regroup and tackle the application process again. When you reapply, you should comb through your application materials objectively and spot any areas needing improvement. Don’t simply resend the same application without meaningful changes. 

Solicit unbiased feedback from trusted mentors and peers. Think critically about what’s missing, then take steps to fill those gaps. Maybe your application materials are strong, but you didn’t do well on the interview because your nerves got the best of you. In this case, you’ll need more practice.

7. What Are the Top Medical Schools In the United States?

Here are the top medical schools in the U.S. as ranked by U.S. News & World Report:

If you’re wondering how to get into a good med school like the ones above, consider seeking an admissions consultant’s help. These schools are competitive, but you can get accepted with the right preparation and effort! 

8. What Does It Take to Get Into Medical School? 

Getting into med school requires completing many steps and gathering the correct application documents. You’ll need to: 

While this is a simplified breakdown, you’ll need to complete these steps to apply! 

9. What GPA Do You Need for Med School? 

In short, it depends on your MCAT scores and which med schools you’re applying to. However, data from the AAMC shows that 61% of all applicants with a GPA of 3.79 or greater were accepted to at least one med school. 

You can check out this chart to gauge your chances based on your GPA and MCAT scores. 

10. Can You Just Go Straight to a Medical School? 

You can’t go straight to medical school without applying in most cases. The only exception would be through BS/MD programs that essentially guarantee admission into the school’s affiliated medical school. 

Is Getting Into Med School the Key to Your Future?

Now that you know how to get into medical school, you can tailor your application to unlock your potential. The deciding factor for your success is your commitment to the process and work. To get into medical school, you’ll need to consider why you want to attend and choose the best pathway for your career goals. 

Be sure to understand the application process before you apply. May your efforts lead you to success!

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