If you are getting ready to apply to medical school and you objectively consider yourself a “lower ranking” applicant, there are many things you can do to help improve your chances. If you have decided that you are ready to apply (remember, there is NO rush to do this!), consider the following points when organizing yourself in preparation for your applications.
1. Apply early.
So much this. Applying early is essential to being successful with your applications. The later you submit your applications, the less seats are available for interviews and acceptances. When you apply early, you are one of the first applicants a med school adcom sees, before they have had to sift through thousands of names. Remember, some schools receive upwards of 10,000 applications per season. If you can be one of the first they see, you’re already ahead of the game.
2. Write REALLY good essays (personal statement, AMCAS 15, secondaries)
Good communication is a highly valued skill, especially in the medical professions. Well written essays are a sign of your communication skills. Take your time in writing them. You can also look into having them reviewed or edited by someone you respect or the writing center at your school. There must be no grammar or spelling mistakes, and make sure you address the right school when sending secondaries (yes, some students submit essays that were copied and pasted from other school essays and forget to change the name). If you have difficulty with writing, especially writing about yourself, seek help. It is worth your time and effort to make these essays as good as you can possibly make them. You want to only have to do this once!
3. Bolster your application with extracurriculars (significant amount of volunteering, clinical experience, research), or with something unique
If you are accommodating for low numbers (MCAT, GPA), it is in your best interest to do EVERYTHING you possibly can to make your application strong in other ways. The only other way to do this is by applying with badass extracurriculars. Spend a significant amount of time in a research lab and try to get your name on a paper. Volunteer your time at every single event you possibly can, or devote a large amount of time to a single cause or location. Start a new club at school. Get a leadership position in a club you’re already in and contribute great improvements to that club. Go on a study abroad trip, or a medical mission (these are both WELL worth the money!). Go to another university for a few summer weeks to participate in a research program. Spend a significant amount of time shadowing in a clinical setting with direct patient contact. There are so many things you can do to improve your application, you just have to be willing to devote the time. Keep in mind that you can branch out and do something unique. For example, I designed, authored, and illustrated a children’s coloring book for the hospital I volunteered at during high school. This project ended up being a huge talking point during my interviews and a big plus on my application. In what time you have left (whether it be a lot or a little) do everything you can to build the strength of your application.
4. Explain any shortcomings and/or difficulties with honesty and sincerity
Did you have a bad semester? Did you overcome any challenges while in undergrad? If so, these things need to be explained. If you explain to an adcom why you got bad grades or had to retake the MCAT, they will likely be more understanding (and possibly forgiving) of your lower scores. You must be honest. Did you immigrate to this country and have to learn another language? Was there an illness/death in your life that made it difficult to succeed? Everyone goes through hard times, but if you don’t tell your story they won’t know how hard you had to work to get here. Someone who has overcome adversity and changed their life for the positive shows great strength and tenacity, which are desirable traits in an applicant. If you feel like you need help in understanding how to tell your story, seek the advice of a Pre-health advisor or professor, or someone who successfully applied in the past.
5. If you have a low GPA, work on getting a higher MCAT score and vice versa, or consider getting another major, minor, or a Master’s degree.
Sometimes, a low MCAT score can be balanced out with a high GPA and vice versa. This is not to say that if you have a high GPA you can relax a bit when studying for the MCAT. No! You must try your hardest at all times. But if you are a poor test taker, for example, and retook your MCAT twice and are still scoring below your desired number, but you have a high GPA, it might be ok to still try and apply. To improve your GPA, you can consider getting another major, a minor (or double minor), or a master’s degree. This may require you to postpone your application date by a year, but it is worth it if you will be applying a year later with a significantly stronger application. If you choose this route, though, is is crucial that you get as many A’s as possible (especially in a Master’s program). You must show them that you are intellectually ready for the challenge of medical school. You have many options when deciding how to improve your GPA before you apply. As far as the MCAT, though, you may be able to get by with a slightly lower score than a school’s average if you have a really high GPA. This is not a sure thing, though, and you are taking a chance when you apply to a school with lower numbers than their average. If you know your GPA is not as high as it should be, work on getting a killer MCAT score so that your application can appear more academically balanced.
Obviously this list is not exhaustive, but it is a basic guideline to how you can help improve your chances of getting an interview/acceptance if you’re applying with a less than stellar application. There are many applicants who play their cards right and get in to medical school with lower than average grades or MCAT. You are definitely taking a risk by applying, but this does not mean that you won’t be successful. Just be realistic with yourself when identifying your weakness and what your chances might actually be. Again, there is no rush to apply and if taking an extra year will mean the difference between being rejected or accepted, it is worth the wait!
Any comments or questions are welcome below!