10 tips for getting into medical school

Applying for medical school requires a great deal of planning and strategy. Competition is stiff, even more so for the non-traditional medical school applicant.

For Australians, of the more than 10,000 students worldwide who take the GAMSAT every year, approximately 75 percent intend to apply to Australian medical schools, according to unofficial figures from the Gold Standard GAMSAT Prep website.

In North America, of 52,777 medical school applicants, 21,623 matriculated, according to Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) 2018 admissions data. That means 59 percent of applicants were not accepted. The same AAMC data indicated that each applicant submitted an average of 16 applications. 

“It’s not necessary to apply to 16 medical schools if you’re realistic about what schools are the best match for your academic record, personal situation, and finances. Facts of life such as children and mortgages may make traditional programs requiring you to be on campus all day, or perhaps even move to a new city, not quite right for you. Non-traditional students need to look at more options,” says Scott Cunningham, MD, PhD, Director of Curriculum at Oceania University of Medicine.

Some factors are universal for any student to consider when applying to medical school. Having served on several medical school admissions committees, Dr. Cunningham offers these tips to prospective students seeking to strengthen their applications:

  1. Do a self-assessment. Are your grades and GAMSAT/MCAT scores (if required) going to meet or beat your competition?

“Essentially, determine whether you are medical school worthy. Do a frank self-assessment. Be honest with yourself about your goals vs. capabilities,” says Dr. Cunningham.

  1. Develop a realistic strategy. Take courses that will satisfy pre-requisites while also preparing you for the entrance exams. And make sure you can handle the course load.

“To say that medical school is demanding is an obvious understatement,” he says. “Make sure your desire, your calling, are truly attainable.”

  1. Distinguish yourself. If your GPA or exam scores are not stellar, you need something else to stand out from the crowd—a special award, volunteer experience, etc.
  2. Prepare for entrance exams. Know what to expect. Make sure you have a good understanding of biology, physics, and chemistry on which the exam will test you. If you never have, take a biochemistry course.
  3. Overcome blemishes. If you have a low GPA or GAMSAT/MCAT scores, take additional courses, a post-baccalaureate program, or go to graduate school.
  4. Choose your references well. The more impressive, the better. Make sure they know you personally.

“They must know you well enough to say more than boilerplate language about you,” says Dr. Cunningham. “Make sure they can speak to your character, your ambitions. If you are a healthcare professional, how you interact with patients and colleagues could be invaluable.”

  1. Write a thoughtful essay. Dig down deep to show your inner self in your essay. Be sure to have it edited.
  2. While volunteer work is no substitute for good grades, it does look good on your record and shows a well-rounded student.
  3. Apply early. Apply as early in the process as possible. Applications received early might get a more careful reading than those during the last minute crunch.
  4. Choose the right school. Look at a program’s location, tuition, curriculum, and academic expectations.

 Dr. Cunningham stresses that due diligence is imperative. “As with any life-changing decision, your research and the credibility of your information sources is paramount. Make sure you are getting good advice.”

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