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How to get into medical school

June 15, 2009

First and foremost, this initial post is only going to cover the basic steps to get into medical school.  I am not going to provide “tricks” to being a successful med school candidate here, but may provide my own insights in subsequent posts.  Additionally, I will only cover allopathic medical schools.  The admissions process for osteopathic medical schools is largely the same, but there are a few different steps to the process.  If interested in osteopathic schools check out the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine’s website.  Finally, I am only presenting the bare minimum steps to getting into medical school.  This is not an attempt at an exhaustive guide.  People publish entire books on this subject, so this is only a brief, incomplete overview of the process.  Also keep in mind there are many different routes to getting into med school.  Anybody considering medical school should seek the advice of prehealth advisor and check out the links to online resources at the end of this post.

So, how do you get into medical school?

1)  Complete the required science courses

Unfortunately, each medical school sets its own list of required courses so I can’t make a single list of classes needed.  However, by and large, most medical schools require the following:

  • 2 semesters of inorganic (general) chemistry
  • 2 semesters of organic chemistry
  • 2 semesters of general biology
  • 2 semesters of general physics

With each of these sciences courses you must also take the accompanying lab classes (usually an additional hour or two taken concurrently with the lecture).  Additionally, most schools require college English (2 semesters) and at least one semester of math.  Although some schools may not require calculus, you’ll likely have to take calculus to take the necessary  physics courses.  In addition to these courses, some schools require (and most recommend) biochemistry and genetics.  You must check the requirements of the individual schools you want to apply to for their list of required classes.

2)  Take the MCAT

The MCAT is probably one of the most dreaded requirements for med school admission.  Without a question, it is a tough test but not impossible and it should not become a stumbling block for somebody wanting to become a doctor.  Excellent resources exist for preparing students for the MCAT.

Up until a couple of years ago the MCAT was only offered twice a year–once in the spring and once in the fall.  However, now it is offered 22 times throughout the year.  For most students, you should take it sometime in the spring of the year you are applying to med school (ie–if you will be beginning the application process in the summer of 2010, you should take the MCAT in the spring of 2010).

Most students spend 3 to 4 months in preparation for this test.  The AAMC provides very good resources for the MCAT at their website.

3)  Fill out an application

One of the very nice things medical schools have done is come up with a single, electronic application for all medical schools.  This service is called the American Medical College Application Service (AMCAS).  You simply fill out this online application and then choose which schools you want it sent to (for a fee, of course).  This, however, is only the primary application.

After reviewing your primary application, schools will send you an email requesting you to fill out their own individual secondary application if they feel you are a good candidate based on the information in your primary application.  The structure and extent of the secondary application varies widely from school to school.  Some are electronic, some are paper-based.  Some will simply ask for an additional essay or two and letters of recommendation, others will want much more extensive information.  More importantly, they’ll want more money–generally anywhere from $30 to $100.  I haven’t talked about the exorbitant cost of applying to medical school yet (I’ve actually covered this in previous posts here and here) but it is a consideration and you should only send primary and secondary applications to schools you honestly believe you will get into and will want to go to.

See my subsequent post on secondary apps here.

4)  Interview (see my subsequent post on interviewing here)

All medical schools (at least to my knowledge) require an in-person interview.  They generally consist of at least one or two interview sessions with people who sit on the admissions committee and include tours of the medical school and other informational sessions on the school.  However, interview structures are highly variable from school to school.

Everybody prepares for interviews different ways.  Probably one of the best preparation techniques is mock interviews, generally with a prehealth advisor or somebody who is very familiar with medical school admissions.  At a very minimum you should study up on the school–it’s stated mission, important or unique programs at that school, etc–and be prepared to answer the question “So why do you want to go to University X?”

5)  Decide which school to go to

If you’re lucky enough to be accepted at more than one medical school, deciding on which one may be a painful process.  Comparing one school to another may be very difficult.  However, rest assured that all accredited US medical schools provide an excellent education.  After deciding on which school you simply have to follow their specific instructions notifying them of your acceptance of their admissions offer.  Most schools also require a deposit which may range from $50 to $300 and be refundable or non-refundable.  Many students choose to accept a position at one school while waiting to hear back from another one (or while sitting on the waiting list at another school) to insure that have a seat in at least one med school class.  If you do this, just keep in mind that you may lose your non-refundable deposit.

5 easy steps.  That’s all it takes.  Never mind that this process generally takes the better part of four years, costs a lot of money, and can be emotionally draining.

The following resources are only a partial list of tools available to those considering medical school.  Your best resource is a prehealth advisor or somebody who has gone through the process themselves.  Seek out their help and trust their advice.


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