Should I Apply to Medical School this Year?

Padya Paramita

Should I Apply to Medical School this Year?

You’ve worked throughout your pre-med years and clinical extracurriculars. You’ve perhaps even narrowed down your school list and taken the MCAT. However, you’re well aware that the medical school landscape is getting more and more competitive every year—in fact, applications to medical school were at an all-time high during the 2020-2021 admissions cycle. So you’re asking yourself the question of “should I apply to medical school this year?

The question of “should I apply to medical school this year” cannot be answered simply with a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ without looking at all of your application components first. This includes your grades and test scores—two of the most important factors in admissions, but it also includes your personal statement, your extracurriculars, and whether you’re in a place to commit to this profession for the rest of your life. To guide you through the different elements of the medical school admissions process, we’ve outlined the factors you have to consider to weigh whether or not this is the year you take the plunge.

Do You Have the Required Coursework?

Having a high GPA isn’t enough. All medical schools have a set of prerequisite classes that students must complete to be considered for admission. Although different schools have slight variations, there is a general consensus among most medical schools that a strong foundation in science is a necessity for success in medical school. A common guideline for recommended courses would include: 

  • 1 year of general biology with lab 
  • 1 year of general chemistry with lab
  • 1 year of physics
  • 1 year of organic chemistry with lab. 

Additional prerequisites are likely to include at least 1-2 semesters of English, math (usually calculus), and sometimes statistics. For example, Harvard Medical School also requires a language, writing, or humanities course prior to admission. To find out each individual school’s requirements while preparing for medical school, you can reference this blog, or go to that individual medical school’s website.

If you’ve already graduated from college and are missing one of the required components, you can always sign up for post-baccalaureate courses. These are classes designed to enhance academic records for students who have already received their bachelor’s degrees. They typically last for 18 to 24 months and equip students with the academic experience and coursework necessary to boost their application. Not all post-bacc programs are the same. 

How Good is Your MCAT Score?

The Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) is a requirement for entry to all medical programs and a key component of applying to MD or DO programs. The MCAT offers approximately 20-25 exam dates throughout the year. Some dates do fill up, so it is important to schedule early if you know when and where you want to take it. Keep in mind you should aim to schedule your MCAT exam approximately 18 months before you plan to enroll in medical school. 

If you’re a student applying without a gap year, you should have likely taken the test spring of your junior year. Taking it early, when you are prepared, is important because it allows you the flexibility to retake it if necessary and not have to wait for the next application cycle. You should expect to set aside about 3 months of dedicated study time before taking the exam. Do not underestimate the MCAT!

How Does Your GPA and MCAT Score Line Up?

If you’ve fulfilled the requirements and received your MCAT score are asking yourself “should I apply to medical school this year,” it’s time to take a look at the data for admitted students at the school on your list. There is no standard “requirement” for GPA or MCAT score for acceptance to medical school. Yet, it is an extremely competitive process with only about 42% of applicants getting a spot in an entering class. Your GPA and MCAT scores are an integral part of demonstrating your ability to succeed in medical school.

MCAT performance has been linked to future performance on USMLE and board certification examinations. The median MCAT score at many top schools is above 511, with some of them at 520, while the average GPA for top schools is mostly above 3.8. Although many schools have transitioned to a more holistic admissions process, academic performance is still a strong indicator of future prowess in the classroom and is crucial to get your foot in the door throughout the admissions process. You should especially aim to keep a high science GPA. The bottom line is, these numbers are important to consider as you weigh your options.

Do You Have Enough Extracurricular Preparation?

As you ask yourself “should I apply to medical school this year?” remember that GPA and MCAT scores are not the only measure of future success when preparing for medical school. You will also need to demonstrate to a medical school admissions committee that you possess additional characteristics of a successful future physician such as empathy, communication skills, and leadership, through your extracurricular activities. 

It is important that you convey strong working knowledge of what it means to practice medicine. Many students tend to join pre-med student groups, work as a scribe, or take a service trip for a week to build their profile. But this isn’t the best way to prepare. While there are no “bad” activities per se, the ones we mentioned are just far too common and not reflective of passion. If you’ve been published in a medical journal, shadowed a doctor in your specialty of interest, volunteered in a cause you care about, you’re likelier to succeed than if you’ve only partaken in common activities.

What Is Your Personal Statement About?

Your medical school personal statement is your chance to tell your unique story to the admissions committee and provide them with context on why you want to pursue medicine. Your personal statement should maintain a perfect balance of compelling storytelling and strong, clear writing. In order to stay on top of the medical school application cycle, you need to start brainstorming topics for the personal statement as early as February or March and draft it by April. The more time you invest in this essay, the better. As you ask yourself “should I apply to medical school this year?” consider whether your essay tells a unique story about yourself and your passion for medicine.

Avoid mistakes such as rewriting your activities list, outlining a general reason behind your choice to pursue the profession, writing your essay about someone else, or writing a generic response about COVID-19. At the end of the process, if you believe your story is exceptional, on top of strong academic and extracurricular performances, you should feel more confident in applying.

Ultimately, admission into medical school is by no means a guarantee. Any medical school is extremely difficult to be admitted to—so, as you think about the different components upon asking yourself “should I apply to medical school this year?” remember that you’ll have to put your absolute best foot forward. As the AMCAS opening date approaches, be sure to have weighed all your options. But also remember to go easy on yourself—if you aren’t successful this year, there’s always the next cycle. Good luck!

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