Applying to Medical SchoolHigh School Students & BS/MDPre-Med Academics

Why Grades Matter in the Medical School Application

I’ve touched on this in a past article, but I feel that it’s a subject that deserves more consideration. To start, the road to medicine is often associated with some emotional passion for becoming a doctor. This is an important feeling to understand, cultivate and seek to explain in your medical school application, however, you must carefully consider what role your “passion” plays in the application process. If the few spots available in medical schools were given to people based on how passionately they wanted to pursue the profession, then the competitive elements of GPA, MCAT and extracurricular activities would be irrelevant—and this is hardly the case.

One of the most underrated challenges of the medical school application process is developing an accurate perspective of the field of medicine and the people in it (these are, after all, the people that ultimately sit on your admissions committees). In other words, know your audience. When I was applying to medical school there was more or less one thing on my mind: I really wanted to be a doctor. I could describe my passion, where it came from and why I wanted to pursue medicine, but there were some realities of the application process that were unfamiliar to me. Many of the physicians I talked to during my admissions cycle told me that although passion is great to see, it may get passed off as an expected and uninformed idealization of the career. In my conversations with experienced physicians I was forced to seriously consider the following question: what am I applying for? The answer was simple: I’m not applying to be a doctor; I’m applying to be a student. Therefore, think of how you can show a school you’re capable of being a successful student before you sell them on why you would make a successful doctor.

Additionally, when you’re considering going into medicine you can’t just zero in on the thought of yourself in the role of a physician who is treating patients and running clinics. There are many steps that come before that, and you need to prepare yourself to be a student who is in it for the long haul. You have to be focused, organized, tireless, time-efficient, respectful, driven and capable of acquiring and applying an incredible amount of information quickly and deftly. It takes the ability and desire to manage a lifestyle of continuous learning and integration of medical knowledge and information to be a doctor. Along with this, a good doctor is also capable of being a conduit between an immense amount of technical knowledge and the general public. You will need to be able to effectively disseminate what you know to those around you in order to improve the health and well-being of your patients, their families and your peers. That means you have to be a skillful and compassionate communicator who can alleviate suffering through a communication style that engages rather than alienates your patients. This is the job you are applying for so make sure you align yourself with the job description.

Finally, it is also beneficial to consider what a medical school may want on a purely administrative level. It reflects poorly on a school when their students are unable to complete the coursework, or score poorly on the STEP 1 exam (a super MCAT taken after your second year that in part determines your residency competitiveness). In this light, it might seem more clear why your GPA and MCAT truly do matter in your acceptance to a medical school. The school wants students who they know can handle the rigorous curriculum, and who also show that they are capable of testing well. Those skills have nothing to do with a passion for being a doctor and are critical for your personal success and the success of your school. If you feel that your scores do not accurately reflect your competency in those areas then you need to address them in your medical school application and search for ways of assuring a school that you can test well for them and handle the workload required to be a medical student. For some, this may mean taking the MCAT a second time, or demonstrating academic capability in a postbac program.

||  Read: Questions to Ask Yourself Before Taking the MCAT  ||

A passion for medicine is necessary to drive your ambition to apply to medical school, and is something that should live within all prospective doctors, but you don’t want to let your passion hijack your medical school application and deprive it of the practical aspects that you should also be addressing. Demonstrate a capacity for the realities of medicine such as being lifelong learner and teacher, an effective communicator, and a student who can handle the workload and testing at an institutional level. Make sure to develop the most accurate and informed perception of the field that you are applying for, whether that happens through shadowing, a job in healthcare, or just talking to family or friends that are doctors or medical students. Gaining this perspective will not only benefit the depth of your application, but will benefit your own evaluation of the career in general. Know your audience, and show them you are capable of being a strong medical student who possesses the ability to become a skilled and compassionate physician.

You can read also about Virtual Pre-Health Shadowing

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ProspectiveDoctor

Evan Laveman

Evan Laveman is a writer for He is currently an emergency medicine resident at Harbor/UCLA. He graduated from the David Geffen School of Medicine and is also a UCLA graduate from the department of Microbiology, Immunology and Molecular Genetics. He is originally from San Diego where he was a lifeguard and EMT. During his free time he enjoys cooking, hiking, and being in the water.

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