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Pre-med Requirements

Almost all medical schools require taking the MCAT, specific course work and obtaining a degree.
There are also many extra-curricular activities that may not be "required" or spelled out anywhere per se, but that are absolutely necessary to be a competitive applicant. Some schools will not only consider you a weak applicant if you cannot show some of the activities on your application, but will deny an interview if they don't see enough of it.

What medical school admissions committees look for

Most pre-med advisors will probably agree that maybe 70% to 80% of the admissions decision depends on your GPA and MCAT scores alone (since these are given much emphasis). However, there is more to the admissions decision. The weight placed on different aspects of your overall application varies by school. Some medical schools place very heavy emphasis on the MCAT and don't consider much else, while other schools almost completely ignore MCAT scores unless they are very low. Instead they may place all their emphasis on extra-curricular activities and a well-rounded application.

Generally, the following are the main areas used by admissions committees to evaluate candidates:

1. GPA
2. MCAT scores
3. Application material
4. Recommendation Letters
5. Personal Interview

Note that recommendation letters are written by people (usually faculty, physicians or managers) who have interacted with you in extra-curricular activities or in the classroom. Therefore, these really reflect how you did in the activities that you listed on your application and what type of person you are. (See the recommendation letters section for details.)

The personal statement of your application, the personal interview and recommendation letters all have one thing in common: They allow the admission committee to get a glimpse into your personality, your character and give them an overall impression about you. Numbers on a page are meaningless by themselves. Most applicants have a good GPA and at least a decent MCAT score. So, some of these other factors are just as important (or even more) than your scores and grades.

Your application, scores, grades and recommendation letters will get you the interview. Your personality, character and the overall impression you leave at the interview will get you the spot in the class.

Most medical schools won't seriously consider you if you have never been in a clinical setting.

How would you know what physicians do, or that you like what physicians do?
Also, some schools have an absolute requirement that you do some sort of research - without it, they will not consider your application, either. Other schools may not care about research at all. So, a lot depends on the specific medical schools you are interested in.

But, generally speaking, it is best to prepare as if you needed to cover all of the areas mentioned next. This makes you a very strong applicant no matter where you end up applying in the end.

Be sure to read what other successful applicants did to prepare for medical school admissions in our Student Perspectives section.

Specific school requirements

Some schools are more specific than others in specifying what activities are required or are just "good to have" to make your application stand out from the pack. The list of requirements or recommendations should look about the same for most medical schools. Some research "powerhouses" may have larger research requirements than your "average" schools. There may even be various lists available from different schools, but most don't spell out their requirements very well.

For this discussion I will use a list provided by University of Utah School of Medicine. It is useful because it does not just list what activities are recommended, but it also details very specifically what must be done to meet each goal on the list. These numbers were compiled by averaging what previous years' applicants actually did who applied to their school. So, it may provide a look at what the average applicant has done in the past and it allows you to set some specific goals that you can meet, or better yet, exceed. Therefore, following these guidelines should, generally speaking, make you a better candidate at most medical schools.

In order to qualify for an interview, a candidate has to meet at least the "average" values in 5 of the 8 categories and the "minimum" value in the other 3. The "Average" reflects the true average for all of their applicants each year (2004 numbers in the following table). Performing below the minimum in any one category automatically disqualifies applicants from receiving interview invitations.

Note that a detailed discussion of each of these areas can be found under the respective links for each area on the navigation menu on the left side of the screen. I would recommend finishing reading this section first, before jumping to individual topics, however.

GPA 3.0 3.7
MCAT 21 30
Shadowing 1 day 3 days
Volunteer/Service 3 hrs/week for 3 months 4 hrs/week for 4 years (no typo)
Clinical Exposure 4 hrs/week for 2 months 4 hrs/week for 3 months
Research 4 hrs/week for 2 months 4 hrs/week for 3 months
Leadership Positions 1 in past 3 yrs 3 for 3 months each in past 4 yrs
Multitasking   20 hours per week

Time spent in these areas can overlap. For example, volunteer tutoring hours would be considered leadership and volunteer time. Time spent in a volunteer clinic would count as volunteer/service time and clinical exposure.

The weaker your MCAT score and GPA, the more important are all the other areas to strengthen your overall application. If your MCAT or GPA are average or below average, you will need to make your application stand out in other areas. This allows you to prove to the admissions committee that you have something to offer that is not reflected by your MCAT score and GPA alone.

The goal of all of this

Your goal is to score well on the criteria the admission committee uses to evaluate you and gain admission to the school. Having spent plenty of time in each of these areas makes you a much stronger applicant and shows the school that you are serious about medicine.

The importance of recommendation letters, to show the admissions committee how you did in different activities, but even more importantly - what type of person you are, is discussed in the Recommendation Letters section.

Again: Why should you do all of these?
1. To make you a better applicant.
2. To make you stand out from the pack of applicants.
3. To show them you are serious about medicine.

So, your MCAT and GPA are average? (If you don't know your score yet, prepare as if it was average - and you cannot go wrong with your preparation)
Is there anything else you can show the admissions office that they should choose you over someone with a higher GPA and MCAT score than you?
You bet: all kinds of hours spent in extra-curricular activities to demonstrate your commitment.

Your activities demonstrate your commitment to the admissions committee. All these extra activities look good on your application and may make it stand out from the rest. Perhaps you could also argue that most everyone does those things, so you really can't stand out. Reverse that thought: All the more reason to do them so you are not behind your competitors.
And: Not all applicants do these, so you have a chance to stand out.

You can pick one area that you really like and spend way more time there to stand out. If you love research, try to invest years there instead of months. If you love shadowing, (like me) put in hundreds of hours instead of 20 hours only. If you can't stand out everywhere pick one area to do it. I personally think you can beat the averages listed in the table previously in all categories fairly easily.

Be sure to read what other successful applicants did to prepare for medical school admissions in our Student Perspectives section.

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