The Medical School Admission Process
Since there are many different types of post-baccalaureate medical schooling available to students, each medical field and program has its own method of evaluating and accepting potential students. There are some generalities most of these programs use.
Medical Program Admissions Committees strive for objectivity in making their decisions regarding admissions. There is, therefore, a great deal of emphasis on grades, scores on the MCAT, and other factors that can be easily measured, but they consider any information that is available regarding an applicant's overall suitability and promise as a future physician. There are four factors that will largely determine whether or not a particular applicant is accepted.
These are: 1) overall academic record, 2) scores on the MCAT, 3) letters of recommendation from professionals that have had an opportunity to work with the applicant, 4) impressions made during a personal interview with faculty and students of the medical school including members of the admissions committee. Besides these four factors, most Admission Committees are also interested in an applicants work experience in such activities as undergraduate research, in a medical treatment facility, volunteering experiences and other extracurricular activities. It should be noted that many states have guidelines requiring a certain percentage of all admitted students into one of the states medical programs be residents of that particular state.
Overall Academic Record
Admissions Committees pay particular attention to an applicants overall undergraduate academic record (and especially grades in the natural sciences). Many Medical Admissions Committees feel that the quality of work in the subjects taken leading to the baccalaureate degree is the most important indicator of probable success in medical school. While overall GPA is important, Admission Committees are also interested in the subjects taken, the rigor of the specific major and trends in performance. A strong undergraduate academic record is considered evidence of both ability and motivation. Basically, if a student has both high aptitude and good motivation, a good overall academic record will be demonstrated throughout the student’s baccalaureate studies. An applicant’s grades are not evaluated “in a vacuum” but are considered in light of the student’s total undergraduate experience. Extracurricular activities, part-time and full-time employment and other severe demands on study time are looked at and considered. Student’s interested in pursuing medical studies should be cautioned about maintaining a good GPA by the excessive use of W’s (withdraws). While an Admissions Committee will not reactive negatively to a few W’s appearing on an applicant’s transcript, several, even with a good GPA, would be viewed very bad light. The close interactions with both a student’s primary academic advisor here at St. Andrews as well as the Pre-Med advisor help students make appropriate academic choices.
The MCAT Score
The Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) can be viewed as on par with regards to importance to an applicant’s Overall Academic Record. Many Admissions Committees consider high scoring on the MCAT as an essential component of a future medical student’s application package. A number of medical schools conduct a preliminary screening based entirely on GPA and MCAT scores and secondary applications are not invited, unless certain minimum scores are exceeded. Even if a secondary application is accepted, most medical schools select applicants to be interviewed on the basis of combined GPA and MCAT scores.
The MCAT now has four sections, biological sciences, physical sciences, verbal reasoning and a writing sample. This nearly 6 hours long test is given twice a year and is normally taken by Pre-Med students at the end of their junior year or in the summer between their junior and senior year (if they plan on apply for medical school right out of their undergraduate degree. The St. Andrews Pre-Med Advisor is an excellent source of information regarding preparing for this test.
Letters of Recommendation
Admissions Committees require that all applicants make arrangements for the submission of letters of recommendation from professionals that have worked closely with the applicant. These letters will be used to support an application for admission to medical school. Three faculty letters are usually required with two being from professors who have taught a science or math courses to the applicant. Additional letters from medical professionals with which an applicant has had a working relationship with are also important for an applicant to arrange for. At a smaller college, like St. Andrews, qualified students will find that they will know many different faculty that know them, have had them in classes and will be willing to write letters of recommendation for them.
On Site Interviews at a Medical School
Personal interviews are required at essentially all medical schools. Interviews are granted only by invitation of the Admissions Committee and an applicant invited for an interview has passed the preliminary screening and is now being carefully considered for admission. The impressions made in a personal interview will be extremely important, particularly for those students with grades and MCAT scores that are marginally competitive.
Each medical school conducts their interviews slightly differently. Some schools will do one-on-one interviews with an applicant while other will do group interviews. It is essential that all interviewees conduct themselves in a professional manner as their actions and responses will often be being observed and/or noted. Interviewees should be prepared to answer questions regarding their general background, academic background, beliefs, and experiences, as well as some general moral and ethical questions regarding their views and experiences in the medical fields. An interviewee that is comfortable and confident with speaking in groups always has a leg up. Students at St. Andrews have many opportunities over their baccalaureate careers to do presentations, take part in round table discussions and talk one-on-one with faculty and administration. This experience has served our applicant’s well in the past when they have been invited to medical school interviews.