Premed 101: How to Get Into Medical School
Today, we're going to cover how to get into medical school. When you're studying for the MCAT, trying to ace every exam, and squeezing every last second into volunteering, you don't have much time left to search for answers in message boards and compare conflicting advice from anonymous strangers. That’s why we've given you this reliable, up-to-date source of premed information.
We'll be going over what you need to do at every step in your premed journey to maximizing your chances of getting into medical school. First, let's take a bird's eye view of the premed path.
How to Get into Medical School in 7 Steps
- Confirm medicine is right for you with shadowing and clinical experience.
- Ace the medical school prereqs.
- Do well on the MCAT.
- Write a great personal statement.
- Apply early in the cycle.
- Prewrite your secondary essays.
- Prepare for your interviews.
Of course, there's more to it than that, and we'll cover a lot more below. But if you let these 7 steps be your roadmap, you'll be positioning yourself well to get into medical school.
Premed 101: The Roadmap to Becoming a Doctor
If you prefer videos to blog posts, you can check out this video explanation of what you need to do to get into medical school and the journey ahead of you.
Deciding Medicine Is Right for You
The first step of getting into medical school is gathering information and experiences to decide if medicine is right for you. Thoughts of becoming a physician can begin long before you start college. Early exposure to the medical field often spurs interest in high school students. When you're in high school, medical school might seem very far away, but there are still things you can do to prepare early.The first thing you need to do is seek out clinical experiences and shadowing that give you a full picture of what it's like to be a doctor.Click To Tweet
Even if you're a nontraditional student who is becoming interested in medicine in your 30s or later, the steps you take will be similar. The first thing you need to do is seek out clinical experiences and shadowing that give you a full picture of what it's like to be a doctor.
The path to medical school is long and challenging. The sooner you can figure out if you are ready and willing to take the leap, the better off you will be. But you don't want to rush into a career path that's not right for you. So getting more experience is the first step.Volunteering at a hospital is a great first step in the premed path that many people are able to start doing right away, even in high school.Click To Tweet
Volunteering at a hospital is a great first step that many premeds are able to start doing right away, even in high school. Shadowing doctors is another one of the most valuable steps you can take. You can pursue any number of entry-level healthcare positions like being an EMT, CNA, or phlebotomist to see if you like working with patients.
Do Medical Schools Accept AP Credit?
As a high school student interested in going to medical school someday, you may wonder, can your advanced placement (AP) biology class in high school count toward your medical school prerequisites? Unfortunately, it is not an easy answer. Some medical schools accept AP credit. Many will not accept AP credits for the prerequisite classes.
Even if the medical schools you are interested in accept AP credit, you will be a stronger applicant if you take the college course and ignore the AP credit. It is generally accepted that a college-level course is more challenging than a high school AP course and better predicts your ability to be successful in medical school. Repeating the course in college will also help with your MCAT prep.
Choosing the Best Premed School for You
The first anxiety-provoking decision when it comes to your premed path is choosing what premed school you should go to. If you google “best premed schools” you'll find many sites that claim to give you a top 10 list of the best premed schools guaranteed to get you into medical school. Check out our full article about how to choose your premed school here.
In the end, it doesn't really matter what school you attend for undergrad. I repeat: It does not matter if you go to the "best premed school" according to some website. The only thing that matters is to go somewhere you can be successful.Don't go to a great school. Go to a school that will make you great.Click To Tweet
You may find it hard to believe that your college choice doesn’t matter. But once you're in medical school and you see the diversity of your classmates, you will agree that it doesn't matter if you went to Harvard, a big state university, or a small liberal arts college.
Can You Get into Medical School with Community College Credits?
Similar to the discussion of AP credit above, taking community college courses for your premed requirements can be a risky proposition. Every medical school has its own policies on accepting community college credit.Every medical school has its own policies on accepting community college credit.Click To Tweet
This is another situation where you should call around to each medical school you want to attend and find out what their policy is on accepting community college credits.
If you do take your medical school prerequisites at community college, you may want to take some higher-level science classes at a 4-year university afterward. This will demonstrate that you can handle the academic rigor of science classes at 4-year universities.
Attending College as a Premed
Picking the Best Premed Major
How important is your major in getting into medical school? Some people think you need to major in biology or chemistry in college in order to go to medical school. Fortunately, those people are wrong.
You can major in any subject you want and still get into medical school. In fact, only 63% of students accepted to medical school majored in the physical and biological sciences in college.
So what is the best major for medical school? It really depends on what you're interested in. We covered some more about this question here.You don't need to major in the sciences to go to med school. In fact, only 63% of med students majored in the physical and biological sciences in college.Click To Tweet
Is there a “Premed Major?”
Most schools don’t offer a specific premed major, but there are some colleges and universities that do offer premed as a major. As we already stated, it doesn’t matter what you major in, so finding a college that offers "premed" as a major is not important. All you need to do is take the prerequisite classes listed in the next section and complete a bachelor's degree with any major.
Taking the Medical School Prerequisite Classes
The exact prerequisites will vary depending on the medical school you're applying to. So, be sure to check the websites of the medical schools you are most interested in. Here is the general list of prerequisites that most medical schools require:
- Physics (1 year, with labs)
- General biology (1 year, with labs)
- General chemistry (1 year, with labs)
- Organic chemistry (1 year, with labs)
- Biochemistry (1 semester)
- Statistics or calculus (1 semester)
- English (1 semester)
- Some schools also require psychology, sociology, or a certain number of humanities classes
You just need to have these classes completed by the time you start medical school. It's okay to apply when you still have a couple more of these classes to finish, as long as you finish them before medical school.
Premed Timeline: What to Do in What Order
The premed process should go off like a well-choreographed dance. Unfortunately, it's typically more like a waltz performed with someone with two left feet.
Having a plan and following that plan is essential. We put together a pretty comprehensive timeline for medical school to help you create that plan. In that post, you'll learn when you should be talking to your premed advisor, getting involved with volunteering, and preparing for the MCAT.
How Premed Advisors Can Help You Get into Medical School
Along with our timeline, the other invaluable resource will be your prehealth advisor. Just remember that a lot of their advice is generalized, and you must take the time to do your own homework to validate some of the advice. But the job of a premed advisor is to help you figure out how to get into medical school.
If you go to talk to your premed advisor and they discourage you from pursuing medical school, don't listen to them. As we talked about in episode 238 of The Premed Years podcast, it's not the job of your premed advisor to tell you no. They should be helping you figure out how to fix and improve from wherever you're at—not bringing you down with negativity or saying it's not worth trying.
There are a lot of premed myths out there, and one of the biggest is the myth of the perfect premed. You do not have to be amazing in every part of your application to be considered for medical school. It only takes one medical school to give you a chance.It's impossible to calculate your chances of getting into medical school because it's based on details of your application and your story that are completely unique to you.Click To Tweet
So don't give up when you hear something pessimistic about your "chances." It's impossible to calculate your individual chances because it's based on details of your application and your story that are completely unique to you. The question to ask is not whether you can get into medical school but how to get into medical school.
[Related episode: What Are My Chances of Getting into Med School?]
Volunteering on the Path to Medical School
An important aspect of your application is your volunteer experience. When it comes to the impact a volunteer experience has on your medical school application, it's all about having an impact and contributing to something you're passionate about.When it comes to the impact a volunteer experience has on your medical school application, it's all about having an impact and contributing to something you're passionate about.Click To Tweet
One solid, quality volunteering experience that spans several months or longer is much more valuable than several one-day volunteering gigs that you do just to fluff up your application.
Remember that during your medical school interview, you will discuss many of these volunteering experiences. As you talk, your interviewer will be able to see how much your volunteer experiences meant to you. So don't just view volunteering as a "checklist" item. Focus on impact.
The Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT) is the test that can make or break you. With roughly 25 test dates a year, the MCAT challenges the core knowledge learned in your medical school prerequisite classes.
MCAT prep can be a second full-time job after being a full-time student, which is why you need a solid plan when preparing for it. Listen to The MCAT Podcast for the best study tips and examples of how to work through MCAT questions.
MCAT Score: What Do You Need to Get into Medical School?
Here is a table from the AAMC showing historical data about what percentage of students have been accepted to medical school with different combinations of GPA and MCAT score.
A common question I receive is, "What MCAT score do I need to overcome my low GPA?" The truth is that GPA and MCAT measure different things, so one can't really "overcome" the other—here's a longer explanation of that. But you can still use the above table of AAMC data to look at historical data for what percentage of students have been accepted with each combination of stats.
What past statistics can't ever tell you is why some low-MCAT students get accepted while others don't. These data tables don't include anything about the students' personal statement, extracurricular activities, or interview prep. There are important parts to the medical school application which are qualitative and unique, and they can't be plotted on a chart or table.You are not just your MCAT score. You are not just your GPA.Click To Tweet
MCAT Prep Options
The MCAT is the gatekeeper to medical school. Score well, and your chances are much better to get into medical school. Do poorly, and you will be struggling to figure out how to get into medical school.
Online MCAT Courses, one-on-one private tutoring, and self-studying are just a few different ways to prepare for the MCAT. Here is a podcast episode we made about how to decide between an MCAT course and self-studying. You might also consider one-on-one tutoring, depending on your needs and budget.The MCAT is the gatekeeper to medical school.Click To Tweet
[Related post: Best MCAT Course (with a Promo Code).]
Choosing a Medical School
How do you choose which medical schools to apply to? There are more medical schools opening their doors and getting accredited by the Liaison Committee on Medical Education (LCME) all the time.
Every year with the release of the US News Best Medical Schools report, thousands of premed students update their application and the list of medical schools they will submit their primary AMCAS application to. Unfortunately, this medical school rankings report is a flawed system. Don't choose your medical school based on US News rankings.So what are the real factors you should consider when making a list of medical schools to apply to?Click To Tweet
So what are the real factors you should consider when making a school list? Look at the location, weather, class size, mission/philosophy, and research and clinical opportunities. Visit the schools if you can, so you can get a sense of the atmosphere on campus and talk to current students.
[Related episode: How to Choose a Medical School & Put Together a School List.]
Caribbean Medical Schools
Sometimes, even with the best effort and all the best planning, getting into a US medical school is not going to happen. While many look negatively upon Caribbean medical schools, they are a viable option that can produce good physicians.While many look negatively upon Caribbean medical schools, they are a viable option that can produce good physicians.Click To Tweet
As a graduate of a Caribbean medical school, you would be considered an International Medical Graduate (IMG), which does put you at a disadvantage when applying to a residency program back in the US. But if you do well on your boards and work hard, you can still match into a great residency from Caribbean medical schools.
It’s not the name of the medical school that creates a good physician. It’s the effort that each student puts in. But there are some very important things to know when applying to Caribbean medical schools, so we discussed those here.
Applying to Medical School
Each year, the medical school application cycle opens in early June. A lot happens throughout the application cycle:
- First, you submit a primary application that goes out to all the medical schools you chose.
- Next, you receive prompts from individual schools to write essays for a secondary application.
- Third, you may be invited for an interview.
Only after all these steps will you learn if you've been accepted, waitlisted, or rejected. Now let's cover each of these steps in a little more detail.
Primary Applications to Medical School
There are three different application services used to apply to medical schools in the US:
- AMCAS (used for most MD schools) = American Medical College Application Service
- AACOMAS (used for most DO schools) = American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine Application Service
- TMDSAS (used for most Texas schools) = Texas Medical and Dental School Application Service
They all can be very intimidating. We have a thorough AMCAS application guide you can refer to. We also did a great interview with the executive director of the TMDSAS application service for Texas med schools.
Your primary application should be submitted in June if possible, soon after the application services open. This ensures that medical schools have many remaining spots open when they are reviewing your application. Medical schools have rolling admissions. This means that if you wait until later in the application cycle, they will have fewer remaining spots and will be more selective.The #1 inexcusable reason that students are not accepted to medical school is applying late in the cycle.Click To Tweet
The Medical School Personal Statement
When talking about how to get into medical school, your personal statement plays a huge role. The AMCAS, AACOMAS, and TMDSAS all require one. In the personal statement, you need to explain why you want to be a doctor.
In your personal statement, you want to tell the story of what made you initially want to become a doctor. You should also tell stories about moments along your premed path that reinforced that decision.
Your personal statement should be exactly that: personal. The moment you start writing your personal statement to please the admissions committees is the moment it is no longer personal. Be authentic about what is driving you. Share stories that are unique to your life that won't show up in anyone else's application.The moment you start writing your personal statement to please the admissions committees is the moment it is no longer personal.Click To Tweet
For many more suggestions on how to write your personal statement, check out my book, The Premed Playbook: Guide to the Medical School Personal Statement (that's an Amazon link).
Secondary Applications to Medical School
After you submit your AMCAS, AACOMAS, or TMDSAS applications, you will start receiving secondary applications in the mail. Secondary applications are another level of filtering for ranking medical school applicants. At many schools, every single applicant who submits a primary application will get a secondary application.
Sending secondaries to everyone benefits the medical schools in multiple ways. The fees you will pay for secondary applications is anywhere from $40 to $120 or more each. This can really add up, for you and the schools. Sending secondaries to everyone also reduces the school's huge pile of applications to go through since not everyone will return a secondary application.
A rule of thumb is that you should try to return your secondary applications within two weeks of receiving them. This shows the medical schools that you are interested in attending their school specifically.A rule of thumb is that you should try to return your secondary applications within two weeks of receiving them.Click To Tweet
Many students choose to prewrite their secondary essays to help them meet this two-week turnaround window. Since most medical schools reuse the same essay prompts every year, you can use a database like our Secondary Application Essay Library to prewrite your answers. Then, when you get the actual prompts from the school, you can just double check your answers, and send it back right away.
[Related episode: 6 Secondary Essay Mistakes and How to Avoid Them.]
The Medical School Interview
In talking about how to get into medical school, the interview is an iconic step to complete. If you've done a good job with your primary and secondary applications, hopefully you'll start getting some invites for interviews in the following months.
It's very exciting to get those interview invites because now you know that some medical schools are actually considering accepting you. You are one step closer to being a doctor.
Then you realize that the medical school interview is another hurdle that separates the strong all-around candidates vs the socially awkward introverts. Medical schools want a student who can not only properly diagnose a patient but also communicate with the patient.Preparing for the medical school interview is just as important as preparing for the MCAT.Click To Tweet
Preparing for the medical school interview is just as important as preparing for the MCAT. We put together 10 solid medical school interview tips to help give you a head start. But you need to do mock interviews in some form. Practice answering the most common medical school interview questions. I offer 1-on-1 Mock Interviews myself, as well as an Anytime Mock Interview Platform.
If you'd like more help with the medical school interview, check out my book The Premed Playbook: Guide to the Medical School Interview (that's an Amazon link).
How Much Is Medical School Tuition?
Once you get accepted to medical school, how much can you expect to pay for your education? How can you decrease that amount with scholarships, and how can you pay off your student debt?
Medical school tuition varies greatly with each state and each school. State schools almost always cost less than private medical schools. Medical school tuition starts around $15,000 for most in-state residents. Of course, there is also the Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences School of Medicine (USUHS, a.k.a. the military medical school) if you want to go to medical school for free.
Attending a public medical school out-of-state can be upwards of $60,000 just for tuition each year! This doesn’t include books, fees, and living expenses. Medical school costs can add up quickly, with the average debt of graduating medical students in 2018 at $196,520 according to the AAMC.The average debt load for graduating medical students in 2018 was $196,520.Click To Tweet
I've done several podcast episodes about paying back your student loans as a doctor. One of the best was my interview with Dr. Dahle of The White Coat Investor on The Premed Years.
Medical School Scholarships
As you can see, the average debt of medical students is quite large. Add interest, and you will likely be paying back around a quarter of a million dollars! Medical school scholarships can help you decrease those costs. There are many sources of money for medical school scholarships, and finding all of those sources can be overwhelming. We give you some good information on medical school scholarships here.
As you keep learning about how to get into medical school, and as you are working your way down this path, check out all our Meded Media podcasts for insight, inspiration, and stories of students just like you.
Links and Other Resources
- Check out my Premed Playbook series of books (available on Amazon), with installments on the personal statement, the medical school interview, and the MCAT.
- Related episode: 7 Reasons Premeds Don't Get into Medical School.
- Related episode: What I Wish Every Premed Student Would Know.
- Need MCAT Prep? Save on tutoring, classes, and full-length practice tests by using promo code "MSHQ" at Next Step Test Prep!
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