What Do Med Schools Look For?

  • /Reviewed by: Amy Rontal, MD
  • There’s no way around it: admission into medical school is really hard. In the 2016- 2017 application cycle alone, 53,042 people applied while only 21,030 matriculated. That means that over 60% of applicants didn’t get accepted to a single medical school.  So what do the 40% have that the rest don’t? What are medical schools really looking for?

    You could write an entire book answering this question  in fact, many people have and have made a lot of money doing so! And you already know the big ones: good grades, a strong MCAT score, etc. So instead, in this post I’d like focus on the factors that aren’t quite as obvious. During my time on our medical school’s admissions committee, I noticed that the students who would consistently get accepted weren’t necessarily the ones with the best numbers, but the ones who could answer the following three questions:

    • Why do you want to be a doctor?

    Now, I know this one seems self-explanatory. After all, it’s the personal statement prompt! But I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to answer this question with your application as a whole.

    A career as a physician is a massive commitment. This profession takes a toll on you academically, emotionally, and psychically, from medical school to residency and beyond.  Where does your passion and drive to become a physician come from? The easiest way to demonstrate this is through your personal statement, especially if you have a compelling reason for entering medicine. But two understated, super-effective ways to answer this question can come from your LOR and commitment to your activities. Your actions, as described in your activities section of your AMCAS and by a letter writer who knows you well, often speak louder than your personal statement can.

    • What are you passionate about? What activities have you really committed to?

    In general, admissions committees prefer depth over breadth. That’s not to say that they view having a wide range of activities unfavorably. But what committee members really love to see commitment to individual activities. Giving your time over months and years to one or two specific activities provides you with a chance for leadership roles and letters of recommendation. More importantly, it shows passion and commitment  qualities essential to success as a physician.

    • What can you bring to this school that no one else can?

    It’s no secret that medical schools pride themselves on how diverse their student body is. A diverse student body produces graduates better prepared to care for the patient population they will treat. Diversity of race, gender, etc. are all of course factors, but medical schools also consider the diversity of experiences. Students who have had other professions, have children, have lived in other parts of the country and the world bring unique experiences that enrich the education of the student body. Think of an experience you’ve had which other applicants haven’t and emphasize it in your application through your personal statement and activities.  

    There’s no doubt that GPA and MCAT score factor greatly into your medical school application.  However, if those were the only factors that medical schools looked for, they would miss out on some wonderful physicians and accept some that might not be fit for medicine. Hopefully this post shed a little light on some things admissions committees strongly consider that aren’t as talked about as grades and scores. Just be warned  if you want to information about what medical school admissions committees are looking for, you’ll just have to wait to buy my book!