Now is the time of year when high school seniors (me included) begin to choose and apply to their schools of choice. If you’re like me, many of you have already decided on a plan of action, aka what kind of career path you want to pursue. In some unfortunate cases, you might choose to go into the field of medicine. You are not alone; I am one among many unlucky individuals who have set their sights on med school. At one point or another, you must have deduced that a prospective medical school applicant should be highly qualified. What exactly makes a premed student successful? The two biggest things you will hear are probably a good GPA and a good MCAT (Medical College Admission Test) score; however, medical schools consider much more than an applicant’s GPA and MCAT when making an admissions decision.
There seem to be a number of similarities between competitive medical school applicants and competitive high school students. First of all, a specific curriculum must be taken to even apply to medical school (just like if you want to be a viable candidate for a truly competitive college it is a must to take honors classes and subject tests). The courses potential med school applicants must take are determined by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC). The AAMC also writes and administers the MCAT. The MCAT, which will be revised in 2015, will be edited to place greater emphasis on molecular genetics, biochemistry, multicultural sensitivity, ethics, and philosophy. In short, premed students will be expected to have a strong core in natural science (which includes difficult classes such as organic chemistry and biochemistry) and also a background in mathematics. The AAMC regularly updates the MCAT, so as you go through undergrad it will be very important to check for updates or announcements concerning these changes; after all, you don’t want to go through four years of undergrad only to find out you took the wrong prerequisites.
In addition to a heavy academic course load, competitive premed students will also be expected to participate in a variety of extracurricular activities (ECs). In high school, possible ECs might include band, orchestra, varsity sports, or school clubs. To prepare for a career in medicine, med schools like to see ECs such as shadowing at a hospital, and some sort of medical volunteering, community service, and leadership experience. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Aside from the heavy emphasis on medicine and science, volunteering as an undergraduate is nearly identical to the hundreds of hours of community service top high school students perform every year.
One of the main reasons medical school admission officers want to see these types of EC is for the experience. They do not necessarily look for well rounded candidates (as most undergraduate college admission officers do), but rather for people with real-world experience.
If you are determined (or resigned) to apply to medical school, then you are probably aware of the long road ahead- 8 years of intensive studying and learning. Wouldn’t it be great if there was some way to abbreviate that process? It is only natural to want to graduate a little early so we can begin preparing for our professional careers. Though graduating early may not make you a more successful premed student, personally, this is a very appealing option to me because you not only save time, but money as well. Depending on your school, college can prove to be tremendously expensive and medical school will be no exception. Without a doubt, graduating early, in 3 years, is no easy feat. Of course, credits given by AP exams and other such tests are a way to rush through premed; however, others argue that undergrad should be enjoyed and completed leisurely. Even if AP exams are used for credit, many choose to retake classes anyways. Going through chemistry and biology in college will only will improve your performance on the MCAT as well, and give you a better understanding of the subjects. Another option is to graduate early from undergrad and use your 4th year as a gap year. This gap year can be used to travel and seize opportunities to improve your med school application. You might also consider targeting an Accelerated Premed Program, like the one recently started at the University of Houston, rather than an elite university that does not offer such a program.
There are a variety of ways to be a successful Premed student. Though there are certain things every applicant must do (like completing the required curriculum set by AAMC), anyone with a good GPA, a good MCAT score, and solid ECs should be a highly competitive candidate for med school admissions.