How to Get into US Medical Schools as an International Applicant
December 8, 2014
Applying to medical school as a US citizen is already a difficult task. However, applying to medical school as an international applicant makes admission to US medical schools exponentially more difficult. If you are convinced that med school is the path for you, here are a few tips on how to get into US medical schools that I learned from my personal journey:
Make a list.
According to the AAMC, in 2012 there were 77 US medical schools willing to accept international applicants. However, some schools only consider international applicants from their own undergraduate schools, some will require undergraduate coursework in the US, and some will only take Canadian students. The best first step is to buy a subscription to MSAR, the Medical School Admissions Requirement guide published by AAMC, compile a basic list using the international application checkbox, and start narrowing down your list according to your own circumstances. If a school website has any equivocal or unclear information regarding their international admissions policy, correspond with an admissions officer. From prior experience, information received from health fairs or pre-med fairs may not be accurate, since international admissions is not a common question topic and many may be unfamiliar.
Hedge your bets.
Apply as widely as you can. For example, when I was applying to medical school as an international applicant, I narrowed my own list down to about 30 schools based solely on eligibility and financial feasibility and applied to all of them. I interviewed at 6 and was accepted by 3. Being picky about geographical preference and other criteria is icing on the cake once you get in, but first the cake has to exist.
One good approach is to anticipate what concerns the admissions committee may have about you, specifically as an international student, and prophylactically alleviate them. A common area of concern is communication. It is exceedingly important that you check and recheck every single word of your application. One misspelled word or grammatical error that might be interpreted as carelessness in a US citizen may be taken as a sign of a language problem in an international applicant.
If you have any achievements such as speech or writing awards mention it in your application. Another concern when applying to medical school as an international applicant is potential cultural barriers. At the end of the day, every school wants their students to do well and be happy, and if the admissions committee is concerned that you may not be used to the lifestyle here, that may dissuade them from accepting you. If you have significant educational experience in the US, this is less of an issue. However, if you are coming directly from another country, it may be wise to mention any prior experiences you have had in the US or spending time away from home in other cultures.
Showcase your uniqueness.
Your end goal should be to clearly demonstrate to the admissions committee not only why you are qualified but also why is it that your presence will improve their incoming class. When applying to medical school as an international applicant, your status puts you in a difficult situation, but it is also a unique situation. For those who have never set foot in the states, consider why is it that you want to come to the US, and specifically why you want to come to study medicine. For those who have spent time in the US, consider how your different perspectives have informed each other and shaped you and what influence it has exerted in your decision to pursue medicine. For example, my native experiences with traditional Chinese medicine came into conflict with my Western scientific education. This prompted a summer research project in traditional Chinese medicine and gave me a deeper insight into the role of culture in healing and made for very interesting conversations on interviews.
Keep in mind that it may be very easy for you to overlook experiences that others may consider unique. For instance, I once helped a friend with brainstorming her essay for business school applications, and in casual conversation she mentioned that she had single-handedly negotiated her family’s first car purchase as a twelve-year-old immigrant who barely knew English (and got a good deal on it too). Even though this was an excellent example of gumption, resilience, and good business potential, nowhere was this mentioned in her essay because she was so used to helping her family that she didn’t consider this special at all. If you are stuck on your application, consider talking with an advisor or mentor or an InGenius Prep admissions expert, tell them your life story, and ask them what stood out to them about it.