By Meghen Jones
Since you were a kid, becoming a doctor has been one of your biggest career aspirations. With so many TV shows glorifying the job— like your absolute favorite Grey’s Anatomy, for example—how could you not want to toss of a pair of scrubs and save some lives in the process? But, what the show fails to convey is the difficulty that accompanies becoming a doctor. The educational trek alone includes 4 years of a relevant undergrad program, 4 years of medical school, and 3-7 years of the appropriate residency program before you can replace “Mr.” or “Mrs.” with “Dr.”
Even though you’re most likely one-third of the way there— set to earn your degree in Pre-Med, Biology, or another science-related field— it’s time to get it into gear for your next hurdle: applying to medical school! Like applying to law school – or accomplishing anything worthwhile, really –sending off med school applications is a rigorous process with many obstacles along the way. However, this doesn’t mean that you don’t deserve some help along the way, which is why uCribs has nailed down 4 tips to consider during your med school application process.
Schedule a Meeting with Your Advisor
Given that you’ve probably done preliminary research by scoping out the best med schools in the country, it might be time to involve a second party in your application process. Depending on your university, you’ll either meet with a dean, department head, or general academic advisor, who will help you in taking the next steps on your educational journey. The appropriate advisor can help you learn more about the medical field while answering all the hard-hitting questions that will determine if you even want to do this. Becoming a doctor is a physical, emotional, and academic commitment like no other, and it’s beneficial to decide if it’s truly the path you want to take before investing time and money into it.
Not only will your advisor keep you on track with the important deadlines on your admissions timeline, but they will also help you plan your undergrad classes, extracurricular activities, med school selection, and even your gap year— if you’re considering taking time off between earning your bachelor’s degree and applying to medical school. Essentially, they’re on your team as educators, experts, and leaders of their field. It’s wise to use their wealth of knowledge to your advantage while taking steps toward your next goal.
Build Medical Experience for Your Portfolio
As you begin your journey to the medical school of your dreams, it’s important that you evaluate your dedication to the field and allow yourself at least two years to build some solid work experience before applying. Like any field of study, pre-med students want to develop a portfolio that showcases their accumulated on-the-job experience as an undergraduate. Portfolios can include medical volunteer abroad programs, relevant part-time jobs or internships, or lab and/or academic research assistantships. Some of these may even be required by your current program, but if they aren’t, your participation in one or more of these opportunities will make your application stand out amongst numerous candidates.
Additionally, students seeking out summer programs to lighten their course load can register for the annual Summer Health Professions Education Program or SHPEP. This program is a free, 6-week enrichment program for first and second-year college students who are interested in health professions. Launched in 1989, the program has been highly successful, with 27,000+ participating students from a roster of top-tier schools, including Columbia University, Howard University, the University of Florida, and the University of Nebraska. Despite the route you choose to enhance your portfolio, be sure to focus on your interests and career goals while scouting out resume-boosting opportunities. This way, you can get a taste of your career trajectory early on, see if it jives with your personal preferences, and modify your expectations accordingly.
Prepare for the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT)
If you thought that passing your classes with flying colors was enough, then you’ve completely overlooked one important component of the med school application process—the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT). The Medical College Admission Test, or MCAT, is a computer-based test that nearly all medical schools in the United States require for admittance. Acceptable scores for the MCAT typically range between 472-528, but the average score is 508.
Actually, it’s much easier to prep for this monumental test than you might think! First, find a pre-health professions club or association at your university, such as Alpha Epsilon Delta, a national honor society for health pre-professionals. Participation in this type of organization will allow you to meet study buddies and network with future healthcare professionals, like yourself. You can also get ahead of the test-prep curve by purchasing MCAT study guides, taking additional MCAT-related courses, signing up for tutoring sessions, or meeting with your professors for test-taking advice. Although the prep process may have a few sleepless nights in store, it will all pay off once that long-awaited acceptance letter is in-hand.
Collect Solid Letters of Recommendation
Before you complete that killer portfolio or ace the MCAT, it’s vital to consider who can write a letter of recommendation for you. A letter of recommendation is a reference letter that will assess your personal qualities and capabilities. This documentation is required for employment at most workplaces, scholarship eligibility, and admission into certain programs you’re just dying to get into—like med school, duh. Most students seek referees who know the applicant well enough to speak highly of their academic history, work ethic, and skill set, while offering their insight on past academic achievements, current research focus, and so forth. For example, if you’ve spent some time in an internship or part-time job within the medical field, it would be wise to request a letter of recommendation from one of your superiors.
Any department advisor, thesis chair, or professor you generally work closely with will also serve as an excellent reference. Because each of these people has significantly impacted your college career, they will be able to write a credible evaluation of your academic success. Whomever you choose, we suggest that you give your referees an appropriate window to write the recommendation, in lieu of springing it on them last minute. No one wants a rushed, half-baked rec letter—you’re trying to get into medical school, after all.
Whether you are entering college as a freshman or in your junior year, it’s never a bad time to begin properly preparing for a smooth, seamless med school application process. Even though you’re a busy college student, a pain-free application process is completely possible through a bit of organization, planning, and grit. Above all else, stay on top of your deadlines and don’t hesitate to meet with your advisors when necessary—in fact, they are there to help you achieve your goals! Sure, it may not be the easiest journey, but that’s life, guys—anything we want, we must work for. With these 4 tips at your disposal, you’re on your way to successfully completing your much-anticipated med school application!