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Tips from a Medical School Admissions Officer

A student admissions officer from a prominent NE medical school helps elucidate the admissions process at his school.

Process Overview At this particular school, members of the medical school admissions committee screen applications and assign a score, which conveys the level of desire to extend the candidate an interview. A second committee member then sees the score and reads over the application again and assigns his or her own score. If the average of the two scores is above a certain cutoff, then the school extends an interview offer.

This medical school uses a traditional open interview format, consisting of two in-person interviews with members of the committee. The “open” format means that the admissions officer has read your application materials ahead of time.

At the admissions committee meeting the week following the interview, one of the two interviewers presents the candidate, providing information from the AMCAS and secondary written applications and interview, as well as personal impressions. Following the presentation, committee members assign the candidate a score, and the average score determines the candidate’s acceptance/rejection/waitlist status.

Details During the screening process, reviewers see GPA and MCAT scores first. Some reviewers, (including the one Prospective Doctor interviewed), will try not to look at these scores before contextualizing them by looking at your undergraduate institution, major, and activities.

The initial screening score is thrown out – the admissions decision is based entirely on post-interview scoring by the committee. Therefore, the interview is critically important. The way your interviewer presents you to the committee impacts voting, so the impression that you leave is pivotal.

Tips from an Admissions Officer

  1. Be “well lopsided.” Try to be very strong in a few areas, rather than superficially involved in many. You should have experiences in leadership, research, and service, but certain cornerstones – such as being a varsity athlete or leading a major campus organization – will stand out, and could even make up for lower MCAT scores or GPA.
  2. Be specific in your secondary. Be sure to tailor your secondary to the school you are applying to, mentioning specific attributes and why those make you a good fit. A generic secondary shows a lack of effort.
  3. Get prestigious and/or superlative letters of recommendation. It helps if your letter writer is well known, particularly if he/she is from the institution to which you are applying; however, a more personal letter with superlatives (“…among the most intelligent,” “…one of the best students to come through my lab,” etc.) trumps an impersonal letter from an academic celebrity.
  4. Avoid lying and arrogance. Perhaps this seems obvious, but your written application should be a truthful representation of you and is subject to scrutiny in interviews. For example, if you list cooking as one of your activities, then your interviewer may ask you what you like to cook and how you prepare it. The activities you designate “most important” will likely be covered. Walk the line between being humble and confident when discussing any part of your application.
  5. Be excited. It is easier for the interviewer to connect with someone that is passionate about something and can talk about it at length. Your passion does not have to be strictly academic – it can be ballroom dancing or writing short stories, provided you are enthusiastic and knowledgeable about it. Be sure that you can articulate the things that you really care about.

Emily Singer

Emily is a writer for She graduated from the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and is currently a general surgery resident at Ohio State University. She is a graduate of Stanford University, holding Bachelor’s degrees in Economics and Russian Languages and Literature. After graduating in 2009, Emily worked as a research analyst at a health policy consulting firm and a research scientist studying green products chemistry at a San Francisco-based startup. Emily’s interests include health policy, medical education, and global health.

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