Applying to Medical SchoolGap YearPre-Med Academics

What is a Well Rounded Applicant?

Most people know that medical schools value well-rounded applicants. But what dictates a well-rounded applicant? What does a well-rounded applicant look like? Does that apply specifically to the applicant’s accomplishments or does it even extend to his or her character or personality?

This is an excerpt from Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine’s statement on selection factors:

The Committee on Admissions looks for evidence of academic excellence, mature motivation for a career in medicine, altruism, and character. A premium is placed on the breadth and depth of academic and life experiences, as well as clinical and research exposure. Applicants should be liberally educated men and women whose studies have gone beyond the conventional premedical courses.

This is just one example, but pretty much every medical school looks for applicants who have: academic excellence, mature motivation for a career in medicine, altruism and character. These four factors cover the whole spectrum of what an ideal applicant looks like. In addition to these four qualities, Northwestern places a “premium” on significant academic and life experiences. Therefore, in short, both the type of person you are and the accomplishments you have achieved are important.

Why do medical schools look for well rounded applicants? And how do we become well rounded? I will break down each of the four qualities.

Academic Excellence

Having academic excellence demonstrates that the student is smart enough to handle the rigors of medical school and being a doctor. Doctors accrue a sea of knowledge that must be used properly to heal patients. Nobody wants a dumb doctor. Every patient wants someone who knows what he or she is talking about. Academic excellence requires natural intelligence and diligence. Without the proper motivation for a career in medicine and strong character, academic excellence is nearly impossible. You must be mature enough to learn from your mistakes and diligent enough to study when tempted to play.

Mature motivation for a career in medicine

How do we know whether we want to become a doctor or not? That is dependent on the “breadth and depth of academic and life experiences”. We must have clinical and research exposure to really have any clue of what a career in medicine will be like. Our upbringing and relationships with family and friends also affect our decision to go into medicine. Without these experiences, it is difficult to have proper and mature motivation–this usually leads to a lack of academic excellence. Medical schools do not want people who are not strongly convicted about their decision to go into medicine. Therefore, if you want mature motivation, go and experience. Spend some time volunteering, shadowing, researching, or working. Talk to doctors in your family. Talk to any doctor who will talk to you. You need experience for this quality.


Would you rather have a doctor who cares about you or cares about your money? Do you want a doctor that is willing to fight for you, someone who will go above and beyond his or her normal responsibilities? We, and therefore medical schools, want doctors who are altruistic. However, you cannot be truly altruistic unless you have character. And you can’t sympathize and want to serve others if you have never had exposure to them–I hope that it is obvious by now that all four factors are powerfully integrated. Do you want to become more altruistic? Spend time with the sick. Do some deep soul searching. What is your life really about? Are you here to serve yourself or serve others?


I personally believe that character is the piece that holds everything together. Ultimately, we don’t want to just be good doctors. We want to be good people. Doctors serve as a light in the community, a ray of hope. Nobody wants professionals to lie, cheat, and steal. But isn’t it the worst if someone who handles peoples’ lives does these things? The field of medicine is filled with ethical and moral dilemmas. Doctors must take a stand for what they believe is right. Without strong character, most physician hopefuls will be weeded out. And without strong character, it will be hard to be a good doctor.

Edward Chang

Edward Chang is the Co-founder and Director of Operations of He graduated from the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and is currently a urology resident at the University of Washington. He also attended UCLA as an undergraduate, graduating with a major in Molecular, Cell, and Developmental Biology. If you are interested in contributing to, please contact him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @EdwardChangMD and Prospective Doctor @ProspectiveDr.

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