Getting Into a Good Medical School Is Both an Exciting and Challenging Process
"Last year, more than 48,000 people applied to U.S. medical schools," says Theodore Hall, MD, Associate Dean for Admissions in the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. "Less than 18,000 matriculated."
How can prospective students ensure their applications stand out? There's no magic formula, according to Dr. Hall, but candidates can make themselves more competitive by understanding what schools look for in applicants. Here, he shares the admissions process and his best med school application tips.
Makings of a Future Doctor
Academics are important, but premed students shouldn't focus just on getting high test scores. Top medical schools take a more holistic approach to admissions.
"Academic metrics are only one variable," Dr. Hall says. "We also evaluate candidates' experiences and personal attributes. We want to understand who they are and what they bring to a career like medicine."
The David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA considers experience in four areas:
- Medical environments. "Perhaps they've interacted with patients in a clinic, volunteered with a mobile health program or worked as scribes for emergency departments," suggests Dr. Hall. "Shadowing opportunities are helpful, but not enough. They should have an active role in these experiences."
- Community service. "We look for humanistic qualities in applicants, so activities that involve caring for others are important."
- Research. "Clinical research is directly applicable to how we treat and manage patients. So familiarity with the principles of research is important."
- Leadership. "We're looking for students who want to become leaders in academic, community, research and policy areas. Leadership experience could come from being mentors or teachers, officers in student organizations or research PIs or coauthors. Leadership takes different forms."
Once students are ready to apply, Dr. Hall suggests they:
1. Start Early
Premed students should begin creating portfolios at least two years before applying. "As you're planning for your career in medicine, you should be documenting your extracurricular activities and research projects, people to ask for letters of recommendation and any other evidence [that] you'd be a good candidate," Dr. Hall says. "When it comes time to apply, you have a ready source of material."
He also suggests applying early; the earlier a candidate submits an application, the more likely there will be an open interview spot waiting for him or her.
2. Think Big Picture
The best applicants create a coherent picture of who they are and why they want to practice medicine. "We look for something called 'strength of evidence,' which is identified when an applicant's goals and passions are translated throughout the entire application — including the personal statement, experiences and letters of recommendation."
3. Get Strong Recommendation Letters
Applicants often submit letters from academic course professors who only know their academic profiles, and they neglect submitting letters from people who know them in a more personal, well-rounded way. "Ask people who can speak to different parts of your application — community service, research, leadership," suggests Dr. Hall. "Each should write something different because each is looking at a different area."
4. Be Thorough
Certain application and interview questions are optional, but Dr. Hall says they should be answered anyway. "When you don't, it leaves a question in the screener's mind about why. Give more information about yourself. That helps to round out the application."
Some applicants write personal statements that are specific to one school, then copy and paste it into another application without removing references to the first school. "That tells the screener an applicant didn't take time to think about how they best fit the mission of this school."
Every student's mission, however, should be to ensure their aspirations as a medical professional compliment the interests of the school to which they are applying. Keeping Dr. Hall's med school application tips in mind, this should shine through.
(Learn more by reading our How to Prepare for Medical School article...)