You’ve got to love the internet for providing vast reserves of useful information. But that also comes with the cost of even larger reserves of misleading information from unqualified keyboard warriors. Here is what medical school admissions committees care about most with your medical school application, straight from the horse’s mouth.
This isn’t a complete and comprehensive list, but are instead key factors and often unspoken truths that aren’t recognized enough. This comes not only from the Med School Insiders team’s over 150 years experience on admissions committees, but also from the scientific literature.
1 | The System is Often Gamed
No system is perfect, and medical school admissions is no different. There are a variety of societal and larger systemic issues that medical schools have great intentions of addressing, but unfortunately, these efforts are often taken advantage of.
For example, many US medical schools, particularly public schools, want to serve the needs of their local communities or states. Given the increased need in rural and urban underserved areas, it makes sense for these medical schools to select individuals who are more likely to graduate and practice in these areas with the greatest primary care physician need. Some of these factors include growing up in a rural community, being a member of a group underrepresented in medicine, or stating an interest in practicing in an underserved area.
As Evans et al discusses in their 2020 paper, most schools that are mission-driven to target students for rural, urban underserved, or primary care practice, primarily rely on stated interest from students, with only about one-quarter of schools including additional interview screening. Only 5% of schools had different interview types or questions for these applicants.
It’s not uncommon or surprising, then, that a large number of matriculating medical students claim to be interested in primary care, rural medicine, or urban underserved medicine, yet by graduation, only a small fraction have remained true to that commitment. After all, if they believe it will improve their admissions chances, which the data shows it does at many medical schools, then surely many stressed premeds will take advantage of this loophole, even if it doesn’t reflect their true long-term interests.
You also see this happen with race, which is a difficult subject to even approach. Should a student who is 1/4 underrepresented minority and 3/4 Caucasian have preferential treatment in medical school admissions? What about if they were 1/2 or 1/8? Where does one draw the line? How does the equation change if they grew up in an affluent neighborhood versus in an urban underserved community? If East and South Asians on average need higher GPA and MCAT scores to gain admission, are they incentivized to downplay and underreport their Asian heritage?
2 | Social Media Will Be Used Against You
Those funny photos of you doing a keg stand or using a beer bong for the first time may be memories you and your friends cherish, but medical school admissions committees will feel differently.
As social media becomes even more ubiquitous with each year, we see this becoming a growing problem. In some surveys, approximately one-third of admissions officers say they’ve visited an applicants’ social media profile to learn more about them. The majority of those who did ended up finding something that negatively impacted the applicant’s admissions chances, with “lewd images” and “unprofessional behavior” as the two most common reasons.
To mitigate this risk, you can change your social media profile name to a pseudonym rather than your real name. You can also make your profile private, but note that some of these images will still be viewable through Google image search or other websites that archive photos. Even better, delete and remove any suspect or concerning images from your social media profile as soon as someone tags you or uploads it, or find friends who respect your desire to simply not post such things online.
3 | Objective Metrics Matter
There’s a great deal of confusion about how important your GPA and MCAT are – the two main objective measurements in your medical school competitiveness.
The first myth is that too high of a GPA or MCAT is a bad thing, and indicates you must be socially awkward, not have interpersonal skills, or otherwise have a lopsided application. This is nonsense. All things being equal, stronger stats will result in a stronger application. The only way this would be detrimental is if your pursuit of maximizing your MCAT or GPA resulted in compromising your attention and energy to other factors in a well-rounded application. And yes, sure, there are some students who are very book smart yet painfully awkward, but them scoring higher on their GPA and MCAT isn’t used against them. It’s simply their social skills and interview that’s holding them back.
The second myth is a general misunderstanding of how medical schools view these objective metrics. Every school will have a separate process. Some schools have hard cutoffs, but more and more schools are moving toward a more “holistic approach.” Still, a low GPA or low MCAT will be used against you, as evidence you are unlikely to be able to handle the rigors of a medical school curriculum.
But what about my friend with a 3.2 and a 503 who got into a top medical school? Here’s where the exceptions come into play. Schools may overlook or place greater importance on other factors in certain circumstances. Yes, having family connections is a big one, and no it’s not fair. There are other situations too that may result in reconsideration, such as being of an underrepresented minority, coming from a disadvantaged socioeconomic background, or fitting into some other quota or mission that is important to the medical school.
4 | Narrative Based Applications are More Effective
The other major exception is when a student presents with a highly compelling medical school application. Most applications are boring and generic, more or less resembling the premed stereotype. They’ve checked the boxes of doing X hours of clinical volunteering and Y hours of shadowing and Z hours of research. They want to go to medical school because they want to help people and love science. Yawn.
When medical school admissions officers come across rockstar applicants and look past a suboptimal GPA or MCAT, it isn’t always because the applicant is necessarily better than other applicants. It’s actually often the case they’ve crafted a better narrative to their application – the story that led the student to pursue becoming a physician. Officers are moved by their experiences and exposure to the field – their trials and tribulations, struggles and obstacles, who they became in the process, and the story that brought them to this moment, applying to medical school to become a physician.
When properly crafted, these narrative-focused applications cause the admissions officer to root for your success. And at Med School Insiders, this is what we specialize in – helping premeds craft the most effective narrative-based application to maximize their chances of a medical school acceptance.
Our Insiders are former admissions committee members, combined with over 150 years of admissions committee experience. And with that comes the expertise and understanding of nuance that makes the difference between getting that sweet acceptance or facing the dreaded re-application the subsequent cycle. We understand the importance of the MCAT, and our tutors can help you crush it. We understand how admissions committees assess applicants, and our advisors can help finesse your personal statement, application, secondary essays, interview, and any other part of the application process.
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