• Katerina Tolkachev

The Medical School Application Process: Keys to Success


Getting into a good medical school involves a long application and interview process that requires a lot of advanced planning and preparation. Here is everything you need to know.

Most U.S. medical schools use the American Medical College Application Service® (AMCAS®), which is the Association of American Medical Colleges’ (AAMC) centralized medical school application processing service. The general medical application process and preparation takes approximately ten months. You should take the MCAT sometime between September and April during the year before you plan to apply for Medical School. This is a test that allows one to get into medical school, similar to taking the SAT to get into college. As a medical school applicant, it is essential to receive a high score, so study well in advance of taking the test. In April or May, begin preparing for primary applications that should open around the first week of June.

In order to complete the primary application, first you will need official college transcripts, which is an official list of your courses and grades taken throughout college. Second, you will answer personal statement questions, which are short answer questions that medical schools use to find out more about an applicant’s personality, morals, and motives, helping admissions counselors make overall decisions about whether you are a good fit for their school. Third, you’ll want to include an inventory of your extracurricular activities. This should be submitted in a list format and include jobs and other experience such as shadowing doctors, volunteer work, leadership or medicine related activities you were involved in during your college years. Finally you should also have an MCAT score available that you feel comfortable submitting. Start inputting the information for your primary applications into the application portal around May, so you’re ready to submit in June, when the submission opens.

As mentioned before, personal statements are a significant part of the primary application for medical school. It is essential to begin crafting a personal statement months in advance of submitting your primary application. During this time, you should reflect on your life and goals. What have you done in your life up to this point that demonstrates your commitment to and passion for your goals? Be careful not to make your personal statement too flashy or overly wordy, as most medical schools can easily see through this tactic. A common question that is asked for the personal statement is “Why Medicine?” It is important that you reflect on this deeply and consider what past experiences, interests, and events brought you to where you are today and what you want to become.

After you submit your primary application, there are two events that may occur. One, the medical school will reject you, and your application process with that school ends, or two, the medical school will send you their secondary application. While primary applications are general and work for each medical school, secondary applications are school specific and require you to answer more specific questions pertaining to a particular school. You should submit your secondary applications around July or August. After you submit your secondary application, you’ll be placed into one of three groups. Group one includes candidates who have been selected to be interviewed, giving them the highest chance of acceptance. Applicants in group two who are not selected to be interviewed have thus been rejected from that specific medical school. The third group of applicants are considered “undecided,” meaning that the medical school does not know whether to interview them or not, and will decide based off of the interviews that have already taken place.

If a medical school wants to invite you for an interview, set one up as soon as possible and start preparing early to increase your chances of success. After the interview, you may be accepted, and if not, you may be put on a waitlist for that school. The “undecideds” will either be granted an interview or not once the admissions board has conducted the first round of interviews and has a better idea of their applicant pool.

Succeeding in your in-person interview is crucial to being accepted to a medical school. It gives the school a chance to see who you are in real life, to get to know you personally, and to figure out your motives and aspirations for going to medical school and becoming a healthcare professional. Here are some tips:

  • Remember that not only is the medical school interviewing you, but you are interviewing them as well to see if you are a good fit for their school.

  • Be sure to know what to say about everything you have done in the past, as anything you put on your application is fair game for the interviewer to ask about.

  • Know about all of your extracurriculars and be prepared to recall specific details about each activity. For example, if they ask about shadowing, know the doctor’s name and their speciality. If they ask about research you did, be able to discuss your hypothesis, your process, and the outcomes.

  • Be sure to convey your motivation and interest in both medicine and in the specific school you are interviewing for.

  • Be prepared to be asked “Why Medicine?” and come up with a genuine, but not cliche or repetitive, answer (ex: do not just say “I want to help people”).

  • Be prepared, but don’t rehearse specific answers.

  • Keep in mind that the interviewer is also assessing your communication skills.

Some schools use the Multiple Mini Interview, or MMI, interview format. This consists of 6-10 interview stations, each incorporating small interviews for a specific scenario. This type of interview format is specially designed to measure oral skills, non-verbal skills, communication skills, and social skills. But how does it work? There are 6-10 short session interviews held in a two-hour period. Each candidate gets the chance to be interviewed by multiple interviewers and showcase different skills. Before each interview there is a short prep period (approximately two minutes) and then a 5-8 minute interview commences. What is asked in this type of interview? MMI interviews may test a variety of things, from current events to role playing. It is important to be well rehearsed and prepared for anything.

Most medical schools will require three or so letters of recommendation from your undergraduate college. They often want two letters of recommendation from science-based classes such as biology and chemistry, and they’ll often accept one letter of recommendation from a non-science based course. The professor or teacher’s assistant of a class will write these letters of recommendation. Be sure to ask for letters of recommendation from the professors of classes that you excelled in. You may also be asked to submit letters of recommendation from a faculty member of an extracurricular activity that you participated in. These extracurriculars may include shadowing or research-based activities.

It sounds like an overwhelming process, but remember, all of this takes place over the course of nearly a year. Adequate planning and preparation prior to and throughout the entire process will not only reduce stress but will likely prove to be a recipe for success!