Since I have an exam tomorrow, it is natural to assume that I am doing lots of things that are not studying. We were given the entire day off to prepare for this exam, and I have managed maybe 4-5 hours of actual studying today. The rest I spent distracted for no reason, or helping my wife with stuff around the house. Now I’m writing, soon to go for a run, and maybe at some point study again.
I do want to touch on a topic that I think many people wonder, especially pre-meds that stumble onto this blog in the future. Also, I get asked this all the time by friends I made during undergrad that have been doing their AMCAS over the last summer. As an undergrad, I wanted to know how to get into medical school, and I wanted it straight from the source: the medical students. I figured that because they got in, they must have it figured out.
Then I got accepted into medical school and realized the truth. While there are some real lessons to be more successful, medical school admissions can be a pretty arbitrary process. It’s actually more of a crap shoot than you would like to think. I gave myself less than a 1% chance of getting in to my current school, yet here I am. My state school, where I considered myself very competitive (higher than average stats, etc) didn’t even put me on their waitlist. Why? No clue.
And so if you are looking for tips on getting in (and I know you are), I would like to refer you to anywhere else except this blog. I actually have far more experience being rejected by schools than accepted by them, so that will be my focus for this post. If you do these things, you will make yourself a much easier rejection.
1. Tank the MCAT.
I almost don’t want to start here, but I think I should. I’m not saying it’s fair, and I’m not saying I like it, but medicine is very performance based. Medical schools care a lot about the way you will perform on bigger and harder tests, and the best way for them to judge that is your score on your most recent test. There may or may not be a minimum score at your dream school, but my admissions directly told our class (quite honestly, I thought) that they make a HUGE first cut based solely off of MCAT scores. He acknowledged that there were likely great applicants in that category, but due to time constraints they had to draw a line somewhere. If you are currently pre-med, I’m sorry. This only adds to the stress associated with the test, and I get that. I want to encourage you that it isn’t that bad. Just don’t screw it up 🙂
2- Do anything really stupid.
This should go without saying, but it happens fairly often and is really important. Do not cheat (or even worse, get caught cheating). If at all possible, do not withdraw from a class during undergrad. If possible, stay at the same school for four years. DO NOT GET CONVICTED WITH A FELONY. If you make it to the interview part of applications, your chances are much improved. At this point, they are mostly looking for red flags, and part of that search is a standard background check. Even misdemeanors can be red flags. Your goal is not to be perfect, just to give them less things to worry about when considering your application. They will notice things like withdrawals, and ask you about them, so either stick it out or have a good reason for it. This dovetails nicely with my next point
3- Fail A Class
It is nice to have a good GPA, but that’s about it. What’s the difference between a 3.7 and a 3.85 if the students went to two different schools, took different classes, and had different professors? Who knows? Who cares? GPA is dumb, and most applicants will have pretty solid GPA’s. A surprising number will have 3.9+. You don’t need a 4.0 to get in to a medical school, but if you fail a class (or a few) you will make life much harder. In undergrad, especially, there are so many ways to improve your score. Seek help from the professor, classmates, tutors, etc. Ask for extra credit, or ways to improve your score. Don’t bother your professor and beg for extra points if you get a B in Organic Chemistry, but make sure you work hard enough that you never find yourself begging for a C.
4 – Expect Too Much
I will tie this in to a talk our deans gave us on the first week. They told us that on the first exam, half of our scores would fall below the median (that’s just math). For most of those who scored less than the median, it would be the first time that has happened to us EVER. So by the same token, do not enter the application process convinced of your own superior abilities. Nothing will make you feel more inferior than meeting a genius in your class. I’m talking guys like William Hwang, absolutely legendary (think very hard before reading his bio). If you are considering medical school, you have probably been one of the smartest people in your class since forever. Realize that your class will be, on average, just as smart as you (or in my case, much smarter). Even if your uncle happens to be a Dean at __________ School of Medicine, just understand how many insanely talented people are lining up to pay them 40k per year to go to school.
5- Be Boring
So you’re a biology/chemistry/biochemistry major from __________ University? You volunteered at some clinics and hospitals, did some research in undergrad, and shadowed a neurosurgeon/heart surgeon/ER doc? You’ve also got a minor or two, some fun hobbies, and were involved in six different charities during college? EMT? On academic scholarships? Get in line! Ok, so I’m joking a little bit, but that is a stereotypical mold for medical students. Why? Personally, I think it’s a self fulfilling cycle. Medical schools accept those students because a majority of good applicants fit that mold, so the next cycle of good applicants also fits that mold, so medical schools accept more of the same kind……..repeating over and over again. Otherwise, I have no idea. The point of this is to try to do something interesting, so that you stand out a little bit more. I don’t mean doing another thousand hours of volunteer work, I just mean whatever it is that makes you unique is what you need to capitalize on. Make sure they understand that you also started a business, wrote a book, lived in another country for a few years, etc. I’m the only Ironman triathlete in my class. I don’t know if that helped my application, but I bet it didn’t hurt.
6 – Be a Tool
Doing all of the above will get you rejected from medical school fairly quickly. This last one has more to do with the school than with you. Your MCAT, Step 1, and other stats don’t tell too much about how good of a doctor you will be one day. Schools want to turn out good doctors, both because it’s the right thing to do and because it makes them look better, therefore making them more money. Our Dean told us (at the interview day) that they try to detect traits that can’t be measured, but that will someday make us good doctors. Translation = they try to sift out all the jerks and narcissists as best as they can. Don’t be that guy. I can tell you already that they missed a few, based solely off of a few students that crashed an otherwise productive study session I was having with some friends today. Plus, everyone has a story to share about some terrible doctor they’ve met before, right?
I hope that helped! In all seriousness, feel free to ask questions (or add your own advice) so that over time, somebody, somewhere, will somehow find this useful.
Now what else can I do before I study?
Thanks for reading!