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The 5 Most Important Factors in Applying to U.S. Medical Schools

Applying to medical school is an exciting but stressful part of one’s academic career. In 2018-2019, there were 52,777 applicants to US medical schools, with 21,623 of these individuals matriculating. It is well known that gaining admission to medical school is a rigorous process.

Here are the top five most important factors considered in medical school admissions:

1. Academic Coursework and Performance
2. Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT)
3. Extracurricular Activities/Volunteer Experience
4. Letters of Recommendation
5. Interview Skills

Academic Coursework for Med School Admissions

While academic requirements vary among institutions, in general, most medical schools require completion of a core of basic science courses in order to be considered. These courses typically include:

  • General Biology (2 semesters)
  • General Chemistry (2 semesters)
  • Organic Chemistry (1-2 semesters depending on institution)
  • Biochemistry (most institutions now require)
  • Physics (2 semesters)
  • Advanced Mathematics, such as calculus, may be required by some institutions.

Academic Performance for Med School Admissions

GPA requirements necessary for admission vary. However, according to the AAMC, the average science GPA for matriculants in 2017-2019 and 2018-2019 was 3.64 and 3.65, respectively. The average total GPA in 2017-2018 and 2018-2019 was 3.71 and 3.72, respectively.


Optimal MCAT Scores for Your Med School Application

While most graduate programs use the GRE for admission, most medical schools require completion of the MCAT. An institution may or may not have a “cut off score” as most consider multiple factors in admission. According to the AAMC, the average total MCAT score for matriculants in 2017-2018 and 2018-2019 was 510.4 and 511.2, respectively.


Extracurricular Activities for the Prospective Med Student

In general, participation in meaningful extracurricular activities and volunteering is important. Having a variety of activities, such as working with student organizations or holding leadership positions, is helpful. However, quality is generally better than quantity. Participating in a few meaningful activities and working hard at them long term may mean more than participating in multiple short-term activities.

Demonstrating a commitment and interest in the medical field is crucial. Participating in extracurricular activities that show one’s interest and understanding of the commitment to a career in medicine is important for admission.

Volunteering in a hospital, shadowing a physician, working on an ambulance, or other similar activities will show admissions committees that one is dedicated to a medical career. Additionally, working with underserved populations, such as the homeless, whether in medicine or not, is often favored by accepting institutions.

In some circumstances, students have substantial commitments outside of medicine, such as working full time, being a regular caregiver for ill or elderly family, or participating in a college sport. Most medical schools will understand that such activities may limit a student’s ability to participate in multiple other extracurriculars as a result (and the personal statement is the perfect place to explain these circumstances!).


Letters of Recommendation for Med School Admissions

Letters of recommendation are an important component of the admissions process. A strong letter of recommendation can paint a picture of one’s character, drive, and ability to succeed in medicine.

When selecting individuals to write letters, it is a good idea to select people who know you well. Someone who knows your character, work ethic, experience in activities or medicine, and can attest to your drive to become a physician is best. The AAMC provides a list of competencies on their website which medical school committees hope to see addressed in a letter.

Letter of recommendation requirements vary among institution regarding the number required. Often, a premed advising committee letter/packet (put together by many undergraduate institutions) is accepted and helpful in demonstrating your ability to perform well.

Pay close attention to letter of recommendation requirements and deadlines, as some institutions have maximum or minimum requirements. If these requirements are not met, one’s application may be canceled from consideration.

Med School Admissions Interviews

The interview is an exciting but important part of admissions! Interview day is an opportunity to learn more about an institution but also demonstrate one’s interest in a particular program, one’s desire to become a physician, and one’s ability to succeed in medical school.

The style, length, and format of interviews vary among programs. Many undergraduate institutions offer practice sessions to prepare for the interview. If you have been offered an interview, you have likely already met the academic requirements necessary for admission. The interview is a chance for you to show an admissions committee you are personable, hardworking, and dedicated to a career in medicine!

An important final note: make sure to pay careful attention to every medical school’s individual admission requirements. These vary from institution to institution. The most up to date and helpful information about a school’s admission requirements can often be found on their website.

Need help getting ready for med school applications? We’re here to help. 


Med School Admissions Hack: 5 Tips for Your Primary Application

Diving into the MD/PhD Application Pool Without Getting the Bends

To Delay or Not to Delay: Submitting Med School Applications

How to Write a Med School Personal Statement That Will Blow Them Away

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