How to Get into Medical School

There and Back Again: A Student's Tale

The following is adapted from a 2013 presentation by George Fox University graduate Austin Park, who majored in chemistry. He was accepted and is attending the University of Colorado Medical School in Denver, Colorado. It is an excellent summary of the application process by someone who has not only applied, but who has been accepted. Updated in April 2015 with help from Luke Rines.

One does not simply get into medical school meme


The following is the advice I can give concerning the process of applying to medical school. That said, there is more than one way to do this. I might not have the best way, so this is not gospel.

  • January to September: Take the MCAT
  • May 5: AMCAS primary application opens
  • June 1 to ~December: AMCAS primary application opens for submission
  • Schools have differing deadlines for submission
  • July to ~January: Secondary application submission
  • September to ~April: Interviews
  • October to August: Acceptance/waitlist/rejection

APPLY EARLY. This CANNOT be said enough.

So you want to be a doctor: Here's what you can do now

  • Make sure you meet the requirements for ALL schools you apply to, usually:
    • 1 year of General Biology with lab
    • 1 year of General Chemistry with lab
    • 1 year of Organic Chemistry with lab
    • 1 year of Physics with lab
    • 1 year of English (Literature or Composition)
    • 1 year of Math (Calculus or Statistics)
    • Med school requirements differ from one school to the next
    • Check each school for individual requirements
  • Shadow Physicians
    • Find a doctor you can shadow
    • Explore different specialties
  • Volunteer
    • Schools place HIGH value on volunteerism
      • Volunteer clinically in hospitals
    • Doesn't need to be medical related
    • Be Involved
    • Pro Tip: Whatever you do, show commitment
  • Research!
    • Helps familiarize you with the scientific process
      • Understanding primary literature
      • Running experiments
      • Grant proposals
    • Some medical schools require scholarly projects (AKA research)
    • Publications look great on resume
    • Get to know faculty better
  • This process is expensive. Start saving now.
    • MCAT: $270
    • Primary application: $160 base, $36/school
    • Secondary application: $50-$150 each
    • Flights and hotel: $200-$500 depending on location
    • Getting into medical school: Priceless
    • The AMCAS has a Fee Assistance Program
  • Start thinking about your personal statement and which schools you might attend

Study all the things meme

MCAT Basics

  • Medical College Admissions Test
  • Last eligible MCAT for the year you are applying is in September
  • Try to take it before you apply
    • Pro Tip: You don’t *need* your MCAT scores to submit your primary application
  • Scores are good for three years
  • Format changed in 2015

MCAT Scores

  • 2015-16 mean for students applying to U.S. medical schools: 28.3
  • 2015-16 mean for matriculated (accepted) students: 31.4
  • Scores over 30 are considered competitive
  • Better to score 10/10/10 than 14/8/8
  • You can retake the MCAT
    • Generally your most recent score is the one used in evaluations, although it does vary from school to school

MCAT Preparation

  • Pay attention in your classes
    • Don’t take classes to "study" for the MCAT
      • That being said, biochemistry and developmental biology helped me on the test
  • The AAMC offers online MCAT practice products
    • For a fee, of course
    • These WILL help you study, 100%, no doubt
  • Kaplan, Examkracker, Princeton Review
    • Prices range from $100-$2,000
    • May or may not help
      • That being said, I shelled out for a Kaplan Course

MCAT Format

  • Format changed in 2015
  • Disclaimer: I don't know much about these changes
  • 4 Sections
    • Chemical and Biological Foundations of Living Systems
      • 59 questions over 95 minutes
    • Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems
      • 59 questions over 95 minutes
    • Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills
      • 53 questions over 90 minutes
    • Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior
      • 59 questions over 95 minutes
    • That’s right ladies and gentlemen, the MCAT WILL test psychological and sociological concepts


  • Opens May 5, available for submission June 4
  • Sent to all schools
  • 9 different sections
    • Some take longer than others
  • It takes 4-6 weeks for the AMCAS to verify your application after you submit it

AMCAS verification timeline

Primary Application Sections Overview

  • Identifying Information
    • Name
    • Social security number
    • Place of birth
    • Etc.
  • Schools Attended
    • High school, any undergraduate institutions (including community college!)
    • Institutional action
      • Don’t pay a visit to Student Life
  • Biographical Information
  • Coursework
    • Every. Single. Class. You've. Taken.
      • Also your class grades
  • Work/Activities
    • List up to 15 activities, given 700 characters to describe them
      • Volunteering, research, clubs, etc.
    • List up to 3 activities as "most meaningful experience"
      • Given 1,325 additional characters to describe why you designated activity as most meaningful
      • My meaningful: Rock climbing, Organic Chemistry TA, and OHSU research
    • Hobbies also make great additions to activities
      • E.g. baking, dancing, filmmaking. Whatever you do in your spare time that is meaningful to you.
      • These can contribute heavily to well-roundedness!
  • Letters of Evaluation
    • Most schools require 3-5 letters of recommendation
      • Some schools require letters to be sent with the primary application, others with secondary
    • Almost all schools participate in the AMCAS Letter Service
    • Who writes the letters
      • Remember those doctors you’ve shadowed and researchers you’ve worked for? Ask them.
      • Basic science faculty
        • Some schools require one letter from non-science faculty
      • Employers
    • The more your recommenders know you, the better
      • Include resumé
      • Give plenty of time (1-2 months)
  • Medical Schools
    • Designate which medicals you send primary application
    • Also designate which letters of recommendation to send to which schools
    • Apply to a wide range of schools
    • Things to consider:
      • Cost
      • Location
      • Public vs. private
      • Research vs. primary care focus
      • Students *usually* have a home state advantage (sorry, Oregonians)
    • MSAR: Medical School Admission Requirements
      • Resource put together by AAMC
      • Cost: ~$35 (as if applying isn't expensive enough)
        • Tells you school stats, programs, entering GPA/MCAT score, selection factors, etc.
  • Essays
    • AMCAS Personal Statement
    • 5,200 characters including spaces
    • Prompt: "Use the space provided to explain why you want to go to medical school"
      • You MUST address the two golden questions:
        • Why do you want to go to medical school?
        • Why are you a good medical school candidate?
      • This is a good space to differentiate yourself from the pack
      • I compared myself to Samwise Gamgee from "The Lord of the Rings"
      • Another student used examples of fictional and real-life heroes to demonstrate his journey to medical school as a "hero's journey"
      • Be creative! This can win you big points during your interview.
      • Pro Tip: Don't talk about your most meaningful activities (that you listed earlier), you would get bored reading the same thing twice, too.
  • Standardized tests
    • See the results of your MCAT test

  • Schools either:
    • Review your primary application and then decide whether or not to send you their secondary
    • Automatically send you secondary application
  • Completed online
  • Usually require 0-5 more essays, such as:
    • Why X school? Give us a brief autobiography of your life.
    • What do you want to do in medicine?
    • How will you contribute to this school’s diversity?
      • DIVERSITY!!! Diversity is the most commonly-asked question on secondaries
        • Start thinking about it now!
        • Doesn't necessarily have to be race/social class. Some students use experiences with others or coming from a small town as examples of diversity. Everyone is diverse somehow.
  • More biographical info required
  • Deadlines range from 3 weeks (from time of receipt) until ~December

Brace yourselves: hearing back from secondaries takes forever meme

Medical School Interviewing Basics

  • Invitations to interview can come from October – April
  • Good opportunity to check out campus
  • Some schools will assign you a date, others will let you choose one
    • Choose the earliest possible interview
  • Schools may have option to stay with student host
    • Great way to see the school from the students' eyes
    • Save money on hotels
  • Interviews are an excellent indicator that the school likes you (duh)
  • The function of the interview is the same as the personal statement
    • Why would you make a good doctor?
    • Why should X school want you in their program?
  • Interviews can take on many forms:
  • One-on-one and MMI interviews are most common
  • You can be interviewed by both students and/or faculty
  • Interviews can be conversational or question-answer

Preparing for Medical School Interviews

  • Arrive early, helps reduce stress
  • Dress to impress
  • Bring pencil and paper
  • Know and understand the basics of current issues in medicine, as well as ethical scenarios
    • Health care reform
    • Euthanasia
    • Stem cells
    • Etc.
    • Study up!
  • Be ready to address any troublesome aspects of your application
    • Poor GPA
    • Institutional discipline from our pals at student life
    • Contradictions in application
    • Etc.
  • Have a couple well-thought-out questions
  • Set up mock interviews with faculty
  • Look up possible interview questions on the internet
    • Helps get you in the right mindset
  • Research the school before you go
    • Understand unique aspects of the curriculum
  • Pro Tip: Consistency is good, so is answering questions based on your life experience, it shows depth of character

  • Congratulations!
  • Be sure to send in acceptance paperwork to reserve your spot
    • Schools require a non-refundable deposit, but it's generally not due until late in the summer (July)
  • You may hold multiple acceptances until May 15
  • If you are definitely not going to a school, politely decline to free up your spot for another student

Not sure if I was a good candidate or I just got lucky meme

  • I'm sorry. It sucks.
  • Some schools offer workshops to improve application for the next cycle
  • Most schools look at re-applicants favorably
  • Try to improve upon weak portions of your application
    • Volunteer
    • Shadow physicians
    • Take more science classes

  • We can all agree that the process is awful
  • Hang in there, keep your eye on the prize
  • You can overcome a poor GPA or bad MCAT score

Suboptimal grades, made it into medical school meme


If you have any further questions, please feel free to contact Dr. Jeff Vargason (chemistry), or Dr. John Schmitt (biology), the Biology and Chemistry department's pre-med committee.

Learn More About Our Pre-Med Program