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How to Get into Medical School: Steps for High School, College, and Beyond

“How to get into medical school” is a question asked by thousands of aspiring doctors every year.

Many feel the desire to help others live a healthy life.

If you dream of wearing a white doctor’s coat, medical school may be the path to take.

But wanting to attend medical school is just the first step.

Programs are competitive and successfully navigating the application process is one of the first things that separates casual applicants from future doctors.

Here is everything that you need to know about getting into medical school.

The First Steps

Before you even start the medical school application process, you should do some research.

  • Why do you want to attend medical school?
  • What kind of experience are you looking for?
  • Do you have a specialty in mind?
  • Are you interested in research? Private practice? Hospital setting?

You don’t necessarily need to have all of the answers to these questions, but it helps to at least think through what your goals are and what sort of program would be a good fit.

These questions are often asked during the admissions process, so it’s helpful to start thinking about them early.

You can find opportunities to learn more about the medical field in your own community.

Sit down with a doctor to learn more about what they do.

  • What sort of patients do you see in a typical day?
  • Have you ever worked in other settings?
  • Where did you attend medical school?
  • Why did you choose that school?

Once you have an idea that medicine is the right path for you, start looking at specific schools and programs.

You should consider what type of medical school is a good fit for you and your goals.

The American Academy of Family Physicians outlines 2 main types: Allopathic Medicine and Osteopathic Medicine.

  • Allopathic Medicine: Students focus on physical systems and symptoms, with 2 years of classroom coursework and 2 years of clinical rotations.

Students graduate with an MD degree, which is recognized in the United States and internationally. Doctors who completed an MD program are well versed in how the physical body works and the treatment of disease and illness.

  • Osteopathic Medicine: Students learn to treat the whole person, including physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual symptoms.

The focus of these programs is on preventative medicine, while still providing treatment practice. Students graduate with a DO degree after completing 2 years of classroom work and 2 years of clinical rotations.

Some schools also have joint degree programs, where students take coursework to graduate with an MD/DO degree as well as another graduate-level degree.

Those who are interested in being a doctor who also has knowledge of the law (MD/JD or DO/JD), business (MD/MBA or DO/MBA), or advanced research (MD/Ph.D. or DO/Ph.D.) should look to see what joint options are available. 

Talk to the Pros

One of the best ways to learn more about applying and choosing a medical school is to talk to those who work in that area—admissions counselors and advisors.

“When you work one-on-one with a premed advisor, you can trust that they have your best interests at heart, will be open and honest about your candidacy, and help you put your best application forward,” says Lisa Kooperman, the Director of Fellowships and Prehealth Advising at Vassar College.

Advisors can help you determine who to ask for letters of recommendation as well as where to find experience opportunities.

Some easy ways to learn more about schools and the practice of medicine include:

  • Volunteer in the local hospital or medical practice to see healthcare professionals in action
  • Work as a lifeguard or EMT to gain professional experience in first-aid
  • Talk to teachers or professors about your goals—many have worked with students through the medical school application process before
  • Seek out leadership opportunities in activities you enjoy

College fairs are a great place to connect with advisors, as well as learn more about specific programs and schools.

The Association of American Medical Colleges recommends interested students attend pre-med conferences as a way to learn more about schools in a budget-friendly and efficient way.

“Visiting every school that you’re thinking about attending is expensive and time-consuming,” the organization says of conferences. “Any registration fees are often significantly subsidized for students and the cost will be far less than what you would pay to travel to several different campuses.”

Other workshop topics that AAMC has offered for students at past conferences they attended include:

  • 10 Things to Know Before Applying to Med School
  • Paying for Medical School: Get the Facts
  • How to Get Organized Now (You’ll Be Thankful Later)
  • Roadmap to Becoming a Doctor
  • A New MCAT Exam for New Doctors
  • Insider Tips: Applying to Medical School with AMCAS
  • The Achiever’s Guide to Finding Your Summer Experience

What to Do in High School 

High school is the perfect time for career exploration.

If you are interested in a career in medicine, try to find opportunities for hands-on practice and experience.

  • Volunteer in a healthcare setting
  • Shadow a doctor in a hospital, clinic, or private practice
  • Apply to summer internships, often held by top-tier Universities (It can also help you learn more about their medical schools and how to apply.)

This is also an important time to get a strong foundation in math and science, two areas you are sure to need during medical school.

Take challenging courses now to prepare you for the academic rigors of medical school.

What to Do in College

College students planning to apply to medical school should start crafting a top-notch application.

And classes provide the foundational knowledge as well as the credit requirements needed to start medical school.

The best thing to do is to pursue a specific pre-med program that includes all of the required coursework, but you should still make sure that it will satisfy the prerequisites of the medical schools where you plan to apply.

  • Check out our list of top pre-med schools.
  • Look at this list for top combined BS/MD programs.

Medical schools also like to see applicants who have practical experience.

This can come through summer internships, participating in research teams at your University, or shadowing a doctor a local hospital.

This is the time to seek out a premed advisor. Your school can help, as can the National Association of Advisors for the Health Professions.

Taking the MCAT

The MCAT, or Medical College Admission Test, is required for application to nearly every medical school in the United States and Canada.

Schools often publish the average scores of successful applicants.

  • The test is designed to have an average score of 500, with raw scores scaled to reflect the difficulty of the test questions.
  • The average score for medical school applicants in 2017-2018 was 504.7, which the average score for those who were accepted and registered for medical school was 510.4.

More competitive programs will have higher average MCAT scores.

Schools consider more than just MCAT scores. GPA, degree of difficulty of coursework, leadership and professional experience, and letters of recommendation are all part of a strong application.

Bottom line: Take the MCAT seriously. Study for the test, take it early, and repeat if needed.

Navigating the Actual Application, AMCAS

You have completed your research, talked to your advisor and professors, finished your pre-med requirements, and did well on the MCAT. Now what?

It is time to get familiar with the American Medical College Application Service, or AMCAS.

This is the “centralized medical school application processing service” used by most medical schools in the United States.

Using an online application portal, you will complete fields and upload the documents that will become your medical school application.

Sections 1-3: Background information

  • Name
  • Birthday
  • Schools attended
  • Citizenship
  • Race and ethnicity
  • Other personal details of your application

Section 4: Coursework

  • Transcripts
  • Course information

Section 5: Work and Activities

  • Professional experience (healthcare field and other fields)
  • Extracurricular activities (sports, clubs, etc.)
  • Awards received
  • Internships and research

Section 6: Letters of Evaluation

  • Indicate who your letter writers are and which should go to which school
  • Letters of evaluation will be sent directly to AMCAS, who will then send them with your application to the schools you indicate

Section 7: Medical Schools

  • Enter information for the medical schools you want to receive your application
  • You should be familiar with their admissions requirements, available on the AMCAS website
  • If you are interested in a joint degree program, you should indicate that here

Section 8: Essays

  • Your personal essay will be sent with your application to the schools you indicate
  • For those applying to a joint MD/DO and Ph.D. program will also be required to submit 2 additional essays.

You can monitor your application and even make your enrollment decision through the AMCAS portal.

Applications vary by school and it is up to the applicant to make sure that their AMCAS application is completed on time. The AMCAS Medical Schools and Deadlines search tool can help.

AMCAS is designed to streamline the application process by compiling your information in one place and sending it to the schools where you want to apply.

It takes some knowledge of the platform.

But there are numerous online tutorials and FAQ pages to help you navigate the application successfully. Premed conferences and premed advisors are valuable resources at this step. 

What NOT to Do 

There are a lot of things to do and remember during the medical school application process.

There are also actions that, if taken, could keep you from getting that coveted acceptance letter.

  • Limit your options: Applying to too few schools may mean that if you are not accepted, you are left without a back-up plan. It’s natural to have a first-choice school, but that doesn’t mean that it’s the only one you should consider.
  • Not making your personal statement personal: Most applications require a personal essay. This is your chance to talk directly to the admissions committee about your goals and why you will make a great doctor. It should be a true reflection of you, not just a bland and forgettable paragraph.
  • Skipping your research: Know something about the schools that you apply to and the medical profession in general. If you tell the admissions board how excited you are to work within a specialty that they don’t offer, they will know that you are not an informed applicant. This is a major red-flag and may indicate that you aren’t serious about becoming a doctor.
  • Not preparing for interviews: If you get to the interview step, your job is not done. You should go into the interview having done some preparation—learn about what the school has to offer, what they look for in a prospective student, and why it is a good fit for you.

Conclusion: How to Get Into Medical School

Applying to medical school can be a daunting process.

Acceptance is highly competitive and it can take years to develop the academic and professional foundation needed to demonstrate your commitment.

But the process can also be fun.

Explore what it means to be a doctor through researching schools, shadowing those in the healthcare profession, and working with an advisor.

Cultivate a strong academic background by taking challenging courses and seeking out internship and research opportunities.

The MCAT is another chance to demonstrate your commitment to earning that white coat.