Applying to Medical SchoolExtracurricularsGap YearMCATPre-Med Academics

5 Parts of A Competitive Medical School Application

Some say “the hardest part about medical school is getting in.” Applying to medical school is an intimidating process. This article breaks down the 5 things that will make you a standout candidate with a competitive medical school application at any school.

1. Grades

Grades sit atop the list for a reason – medical schools want to be confident that their students possess the academic dedication that these next 4 years will demand. The journey to becoming a physician involves hours of lecture, long nights of studying, endless pages of textbooks, and rigorous testing. The endeavor towards an ever-expanding professional knowledge is a constant one in medicine. Problem solving takes on an entirely new aspect when it is a patient’s health and wellbeing at stake. An impressive GPA reveals that an applicant has already constructed the scholarly habits that will translate over into medical school success.


The Medical College Admission Test is the standardized 7.5 hour test that has been a part of the admissions process for over 80 years. The MCAT assesses an applicant’s critical thinking, reading analysis, and scientific knowledge. While GPA demonstrates a student’s educational routine, the MCAT reveals students’ intellectual talents under high-pressure conditions. The MCAT also provides medical schools with a means of comparing students from different universities and backgrounds. While schools will not accept applicants based solely on MCAT scores, it is a reliable gauge of a student’s test-taking skills. These skills, by the way, will become especially important during the board exams and reflect on the school’s training. Advice: Set aside at least a few months, if not an entire summer, to study for this test. A high MCAT score can bolster a sub-par GPA or reaffirm an impressive GPA. For more see MCAT Tips and Facts.

3. Extracurricular Activities

AMCAS leaves an entire section for “Work and Activities.” This section serves as a space for applicants to elaborate upon their interests beyond academics. The activities entered here not only supplement the grades, but also paint a more comprehensive picture of each students’ medical school journey. This component should be thought of as an opportunity to discuss medically related activities such as research projects, shadowing experiences, and volunteer efforts. However, one pitfall that many applicants encounter is spending too much time and energy describing the experience itself, rather than discussing what they learned from the experience. Another common mistake is leaving out experiences that don’t directly pertain to medicine but still help shape the student’s character and interests. Experiences such as athletics, musical talents, and hobbies allow small windows into an applicant’s life and demonstrate a healthy sense of balance. For example, a well-balanced application may include experiences in intramural sports, spending a summer in Peru hiking, and salsa dancing. Schools look for diversity in many ways, and the unique experiences in this section may be the contribution that you can provide in medical school.

Read: How To Stand Out With Extracurricular Activities

4. Letters of Recommendation

This section is the trickiest of the five, as it requires the most planning and effort in reaching out to professors and other references. Once you decide on applying, it is a good idea to keep a running list of professors and mentors with whom you have established solid rapport. After all, any applicant can go on about themselves and their qualities, but when multiple physicians or professors reaffirm the same qualities, it provides a greater voice of authority.
Most schools require at least two LORs from science professors and one from a non-science professor. Additional letters of recommendation can be sent in from physicians, research mentors, organization leaders, and work supervisors; any mentor figure who can be trusted to provide insight into your potential as a medical student. The actual timeline and nuances of submitting LORs is discussed in “How to Ask For a Letter of Recommendation”.

Read: Letters of Recommendation for Medical School

5. Personal Statement

If the medical school application is a crown, then the personal statement is the jewel embedded in the center. It may start out as a rough body of text, but by the time of submission, your medical school personal statement should become a finely crafted work of art. This means that sufficient time should be given to brainstorming, drafting, and reviewing the essay. It is also recommended to have your essay read and edited by others. Since this part of the application has the most variability, it is important to start at least a couple months before the date you hope to submit. The personal statement provides an opportunity for you to distinguish your med school application from the hundreds of other applications that will be read. The question “Why do you want to go to medical school?” while fairly simple, allows for endless answer choices. A good personal statement gracefully weaves together threads of experiences, values, and personal growth into a story. Keep in mind that the application is a two-way street. It is just as important to express why you wish to pursue a medical education as it is to demonstrate what you have to offer to the world of health care.

Ask yourself these questions before writing your personal statement.

Evan Shih

Evan Shih is a writer for ProspectiveDoctor. He is currently an internal medicine resident at UCLA. He graduated from UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine and also graduated from UCLA undergrad in 2013 with a B.S. in Physiological Science. He hopes his efforts on PDr can provide the guidance and reassurance that readers seek along the medical journey. When he’s not studying, Evan likes to hike, swim, and spend time with his family in Orange County.

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