What makes a standout med school applicant?

July 1, 2014

Article by Global Pre-Meds
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Standing out can sometimes be a good thing, and that’s definitely the case when it comes to applying to medical school. As you may imagine, the competition can be tough. 

It’s not uncommon for some of the top medical schools to have hundreds or thousands of applicants each year; however, there are ways you can stand out as a medical school applicant and increase your chances of getting that acceptance letter.

Of course, there are the obvious things you can do to be a standout med school applicant, such as obtaining a high grade point average and scoring well on your MCAT exam. That being said, admissions committees look at more than grades and test scores. After all, most applicants to medical school will have fairly high grades. Consider some of the other ways you can set yourself apart from other applicants.

Medical experience

A great way for a med school applicant stand out from the crowd is to have medical experience. It can be paid experience, such as working as an emergency medical technician or nursing assistant. It can also be volunteer experience, such as volunteering at a hospital or clinic.

If you do not have any type of medical experience, consider volunteering at your school’s health services or at a community health organization, such as the American Lung Association or the American Cancer Society. Experience shadowing a medical professional may also help you stand out.

It’s important to show your commitment to projects. Whether you get a paid job or volunteer work in the medical field, try to stay at the position for at least six months or longer. If possible, get letters of recommendation from professionals in the medical field who have worked with you.

Involvement in research

Prior research experience is also valued by medical school admissions committees. There are several ways you can get experience by helping with research projects. Consider applying for a research internship before you complete your medical school application. If you cannot locate an internship, you may be able to volunteer to assist with research at labs, pharmaceutical companies or even a neighboring university.

Leadership activities

Doctors need to be leaders. After all, once you become a physician, you will be leading a healthcare team of nurses and technicians while caring for patients. On your medical school application, include any activities, jobs or experiences which showcase your ability to lead. Leadership activities may include offices you held in school, projects you organized and committees you chaired; even serving as the captain of a sports team shows the ability to lead.

Community service

Involvement in your community not only shows commitment, but it shows altruism. Doctors should have concern for the well-being of others. Having compassion and caring about other people is a big part of a doctor’s job. You want to convey to the admissions panel that this is the type of person you are.

One common way to get involved in the community is to volunteer for an organization. You have many choices when it comes to volunteer work. Think about a cause you care about, and you can probably find a local nonprofit agency to volunteer with that shares your passion. For instance, consider helping out at a soup kitchen, tutoring children or raising funds for cancer research. Volunteering not only helps you stand out, but it can be a great learning experience.

Your personal statement

Your personal statement is a chance to introduce yourself to the committee. It’s a time to show your personality, strengths and the traits that will make you a great doctor in the future. Your personal statement may show the admissions committee who you are more clearly than test scores and grades.

Be sure to put a lot of thought into what you write. Don’t just rewrite things on your resume. Think about the experiences you have had in life and how they have shaped your desire to become a doctor. If you have a unique perspective which led you to applying to medical school, consider sharing it. Maybe you volunteered at a health clinic after high school and loved the experience. If you have a personal connection or experience dealing with a medical condition that added to your desire to help others, write about it.

Also, remember to write from your heart. You probably have many reasons why you want to become a doctor. Whether these reasons originated in your formative years, from recent work you did or by a combination of factors, include them. If you write from the heart, your writing will flow more naturally and your sincerity will shine through.

Keep in mind that you want to avoid controversial topics or sob stories when writing your personal statement. While it is completely acceptable to write about a traumatic experience, writing about how tough you had it in life only to gain sympathy is not the best approach.

The total package

As a med school applicant, you want to have a strong background in science, good grades and possibly some medical or research experience. Medical schools also look for candidates who are well-rounded and have diverse interests. One way to show you are well rounded is to participate in extracurricular/co-curricular activities. While it’s a good idea to have been involved in at least a few extracurricular activities or organizations, you don’t have to go overboard.

If you have been involved in extracurricular activities which involve science, research or community service, that’s great—but activities that have nothing to do with medicine should also be included on your application. Medical school committees want to see you have a range of interests. Activities like sports, theater or playing an instrument show you have an interest in the world around you.

It can be a challenge to stand out from thousands of other applicants. The bottom line is that you want to show admissions committees what makes you unique, so take time to consider all of factors and experiences that inspired you to become a doctor.


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Gap Medics provides year-round hospital work experience for people aged 16 and over. Our shadowing placements offer a unique insight into the work of doctors, nurses, midwives and dentists – helping students to focus their career aspirations before embarking upon medical training.