by Lauren DiProspero, former admissions officer at Columbia University
The process of applying to medical school requires a lot of reflection on the part of applicants. As you start considering when you want to apply, the very first question you should be asking yourself is: Am I competitive for medical school? You need to do an honest assessment of your academics, MCAT score, experiences, and motivation. It can be helpful to include your pre-med advisor in this process as that person has seen many students from your college apply to medical school. They can also provide suggestions for next steps to take to improve your application. Remember, gap years are incredibly common and you do not want to apply to medical school unless you have prepared the strongest application possible.
Look first at your transcript. What do your grades look like both in and out of medical school pre-requisites? Have you completed the pre-requisites for the medical schools you are considering? If your GPA is low or you have not completed all course work, you may want to consider a post-bac program or take classes during a gap year to improve your GPA. Additionally, do you have professors who can write about your abilities in the classroom?
Do an internal assessment: Do you have a solid understanding of material covered on the MCAT? If the answer is no, you may struggle. The higher the MCAT, the better your chances of getting into medical school. Ideally, you will be in the 85th percentile or higher. As you plan out your testing, allow for more than one sitting of the MCAT. And lastly, if you took the MCAT a few years ago, make sure your score is still valid.
Review your resume and specifically look for exposure to medicine. Do you have sufficient research experience for the medical schools you are interested in? Have you spent time gaining clinical exposure? If any of these areas are weaker, consider spending a gap year or two working in a lab or in a job that would increase your clinical exposure.
The medical school application process takes a tremendous amount of time and dedication. Are you able to submit the AMCAS in early June? Will you have the time to complete the school-specific secondary essays in early July? During the fall, what does your availability look like? Are you able to take the time to interview, if invited to interview? If the answer is no to any of these, you may want to consider waiting a year to apply.
Are you really sure that medical school is the right path for you? As said above, this process requires a lot of reflection and certainty that you want to become a doctor. Take time to explore alternative pathways, make sure you have spent time asking questions about what the life of a doctor looks like, and keep a journal so that when you sit down to write the personal statement and interview, you are able to answer that question with confidence.