Getting into medical school is about more than earning a great GPA and beating the average MCAT scores. It also requires convincing a committee of professionals that you have the personal qualities and work ethic that would make you both happy and productive in medicine. 

Make your medical school application stand out

Admissions comittees carefully review personal statements, letters of recommendation, professional experience and interview responses to develop a complete picture of who you are. As you prepare to fill out the the AMCAS application, think about the work experience, extracurricular activities, awards, honors, or publications that you would like to bring to the attention of your medical schools. Here are a few ways that you can stand out from your fellow applicants.

1. Highlight Your Medical Experience

The majority of successful applicants have some experience in a hospital, clinic, hospice or other health care setting. Some premeds find part-time paying positions as emergency medical technicians (EMTs), nurses’ aids or organ and blood bank workers, while other nontraditional applicants may have had full-time careers in health care.

For a more in-depth experience in primary care, some undergrads set up a preceptorship with a willing physician. In a preceptorship, motivated pre-meds shadow a doctor as they go about their day. You'll have the opportunity to observe the physician's activities, often in a number of different healthcare environments (office, hospital, community and occasional field trips to conventions). The best preceptors are doctors with great people skills, patience and a passion for education

You should aim to hold a volunteer or paid position for at least six months. You will be able to speak far more effectively about why you want to become a physician, and you will know what the practice (rather than just the study) of medicine is actually like.

2. Show off Your Research Chops

How important is research experience? Academic research experience is not required by most medical schools, but it is certainly valued. Getting involved with research is easier than you might think—labs are always looking for undergraduate interns. Additionally, many universities and private companies sponsor summer research programs in medically-related fields. One final note, medical research is essential for those applicants planning on pursuing an MD/PhD or Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP).

3. Demonstrate the Value of Your Extracurricular Activites

The extracurricular activities you choose for your application are opportunities to show off leadership skills, unique interests, and aspects of your character.

Diverse interests

Obviously, medical schools admit students who have displayed a strong aptitude for science. But they also want to recruit individuals who will bring a wide range of skills and real-life experience to the classroom. Diversity comes in all flavors: academic, extracurriculars, experience. So the minor in art, the years on the cross-country team, and the short stories you published are all valuable on your application.  

Commitment and follow through

Medical school is lengthy, challenging, and physically strenuous. Admissions committees want to know if you can commit to something over a long period of time. The best evidence of this is long-term commitment to research, volunteerism, or clinical work. Don't sneeze at a violin hobby, a club sport, or anything else you've pursued for several years.


Altruism distinguishes a strong medical school applicant from a mediocre one. Volunteer work and community service (anything from working on a local public health campaign to joining the the Peace Corps or participating in Canada's SHAD program) speak most strongly to this quality. Many schools expect you to explain how service to others has informed your decision to become a doctor. Teaching experience is always an asset to a medical school application because it suggests an ability to communicate clearly and confidently. If you are teaching in an underserved community (like working as a tutor at a Boys & Girls Club), you're also likely to develop your compassion and humanity.

Leadership and initiative

To determine your potential for leadership and initiative, medical schools will evaluate your academic and extracurricular record. They will look for evidence of leadership roles in the past, such as in student government or as an editor of the student newspaper. They may also look for personal initiative and passion, like a self-designed major or an independent study program with a celebrated professor.

Interest in medicine

If you haven't spent much time at the soup kitchen or community health clinic, don't despair. There are other noble and just reasons to decide to pursue medicine. Did you have a personal experience with illness, injury, or death that sparked your interest? Did a role model or family member inspire you to become a doctor? How have you demonstrated a genuine concern for the well-being of other people? 

The Whole Picture

Medical schools look for individuals who have a strong interest in science and a wide-ranging intellect. They want to graduate physicians who listen to their patients and use their acquired talents to heal them. There is no magic combination of scores or personal qualities that will create an unbroken path into medical school, so sell yourself, not someone else.

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