Medical School Admissions: Lessons Learned

Last Updated on June 27, 2022 by Laura Turner

AMCAS opens in early May and the next wave of applicants is preparing to submit applications, so it seems apropos to summarize some key observations I have made while privately advising medical school applicants. Here is my list of some essentials for medical school applicants to improve their chances of acceptance.

  1. Submit an early application
    Everything you read tells you that the #1 rule of medical school admissions is to apply early. But, I find that many applicants still ignore this advice. You should not only submit your application as early as possible but also make sure that your transcripts and letters of reference are sent in promptly.
  2. Take your MCAT exam early
    Again, the key word here is “early.” Your application will not be reviewed until your pending MCAT scores are in so, if you have worked hard to submit your AMCAS application in June, don’t negate this effort by taking an August MCAT.
  3. Don’t apply once for “a practice run”
    Yes, people do this. I suggest applying only when you are truly ready. While the stigma of being a reapplicant is declining, being a third-time applicant does trigger a negative bias, so it is best to try and make your application as perfect as possible the first time around. Take an honest inventory of your stats, experiences and accomplishments and decide if you are ready to apply or if you must do something to enhance your candidacy.
  4. Apply broadly
    It may be your dream to attend a top 10 medical school, but be realistic. Too often, applicants apply to only a few schools initially and limit their chances. It is important to apply to a broad range of schools both in terms of geography and ranking. Around this time of year, I receive calls from applicants who say “Well, I didn’t get in last year but I applied only to five schools because I wanted to stay in California.” If you really want to increase your chances of being accepted, do not limit yourself.
  5. Think about your story
    I encourage applicants to think about their unique story and path to medical school. What motivates you? What are the overarching themes in your background and experiences? Why do you want to be a physician? Really thinking about who you are, how you got there and what you hope to do in the future will set the stage for your entire application process. Think about this throughout your education. And, remember, nothing is set in stone. As you develop new interests, expertise and hobbies, your story will evolve and change. Just make sure that your story doesn’t have any major unaccounted gaps in time because admissions committee members often regard these gaps as “red flags.”

  6. Make your application entries descriptive
    While some applicants write a bulleted and brief description for each AMCAS entry, my advice is always to give as much information as possible in your written activities descriptions. You have a 1325 character limit per entry so, unless you have nothing to say about your experiences (which would be a red flag in my book), use this space to your advantage. The person who wants to read less can opt to skim your entries but the person who wants more information won’t take the time to pick up the phone and inquire about your experiences. These descriptions present an opportunity to write about your insights, experiences, accomplishments and observations.
  7. Do not regurgitate your application entries in your personal statement
    It is important to say something new, different and fresh in your personal statement that does not repeat your application entries. Interestingly, I find that many applicants shy away from the very topics and aspects of their backgrounds that make them unique. Applicants also lament that they don’t really have a story or anything special about them. Boloney. Every applicant has a compelling story, but sometimes you need an outsider to bring it into focus. Often applicants are self conscious about the very experiences that will make them more compassionate providers (and more attractive applicants), such as being an immigrant, growing up with few opportunities or having their own encounters with illness. Applicants often say, “I don’t want anyone to feel sorry for me and I don’t want to tell a sob story.” As long as you present your story in a matter- of- fact way and write about the positive direction of your path, you won’t be perceived as a whiner. It is often the most challenging times in our lives that are the most catalytic, and any experienced medical educator understands this.
  8. Fill out your secondary essays in timely fashion
    Here is that theme again. Early, early, early.   For schools that have secondaries, your application won’t be screened until the secondaries are in.

  9. Practice Interviewing
    Many applicants think interviewing is easy and, for some, it is, but everyone needs practice. Even if you are a great public speaker, sitting down and talking about yourself one on one with a person in a position of authority does not usually come naturally. Also remember that you can guide your interview and highlight what you think is most important about you. Most medical school interviews are fairly low stress and conversational, so enter your interview knowing which experiences and thoughts you want to discuss and emphasize. When I do mock interviews with clients, I am often surprised at how many people, including those with a long list of impressive achievements, are not able to present their stories cohesively and comprehensively.

  10. Make every interview count
    Every interview is an opportunity for an acceptance. Be sure to smile, be positive and be personable on your interview day. Regardless of “scoring systems” or “rankings,” there is a huge subjective component when evaluating an interviewee. This “halo effect” works both ways; if someone perceives you positively, this will likely carry over to everything about you and your candidacy, whereas if someone perceives you negatively, the opposite is true. I have several clients who received only one interview invitation which resulted in an acceptance. So, approach every interview, literally, as if it is the only one.

  11. Get good advice
    This isn’t as easy as it sounds. Seek out individuals who are knowledgeable about medical school admissions and provide sound guidance. When I used to evaluate applicants as an admissions officer, it was often obvious when an applicant received bad guidance because they did not have the best mix of experiences, had poorly written documents or weak interview skills.

  12. Stay objective and be honest with yourself about your chances
    If it is late in the season and you have not received any interviews or only have wait list offers, consider what went wrong and correct your mistakes. If you plan on reapplying, you must, once again, do so early. If you reapply in August after you realize you won’t get off a wait list, you may again be unsuccessful. Inevitably it is the waitlisted applicant who reapplies in June who gets off a waitlist in August just before classes start.

Learn from my collective experience working with medical school applicants and try to make the most of your candidacy. What I have learned from my clients, most of all, is that the new generation of physicians is a motivated, well-intentioned and inspiring group with a positive outlook.  Apply well because our patients need you. Good luck!
Jessica Freedman, MD, a former medical admissions officer, is president of MedEdits (, a medical school, residency and fellowship admissions consulting firm. She is also the author of the MedEdits blog, a useful resource for applicants: (

About the Ads

32 thoughts on “Medical School Admissions: Lessons Learned”

  1. Very good advice. Thank you, I will keep this as reference when it is my time to apply to med school. I’m curious how many applicants would follow this advice.

  2. #6 is contrary to what LizzyM encourages pre-meds to do.
    I am now confused.
    ::sits in corner::

  3. My advice is don’t waste too much time on the essays if you already have good grades and MCAT. I had good grades and MCAT but I wasted months brooding over my essays. In the end , I realized that my grades and MCAT score were the two major factors. I think the adcoms know how easy it is to cheat on the essay parts but grades show 4 years of work and MCAT is difficult to cheat.

  4. I love all these advice columns about ‘how to get into medical school’. Most are total BS, including this one. Unless you are a stellar applicant (ie, high grades & MCAT), your chances of getting into medical school are left to pure luck. The best (and only) advice from this column is the “Apply broadly.” You will have incredible difficulty getting into a state school as a non-resident, but there are plenty of private schools (like Drexel, eg). Also, if you are an advanced student, remember that your applications are being read with people with non-advanced degrees (ie, medical school is not graduate school! you are re-taking sophomore/junior-level classes, and most will likely stay at this level throughout their career). if you really want to get into medical school, state that you want to go into ‘geriatrics.’

  5. To Jim:
    Hah! That’s the spirit. Apparently you need to read a few statistics about grades and MCAT to understand that you don’t even have to be an average medschool applicant to get in. If this was all about luck, then people could just apply blindly without worrying about any aspect of their application. And “geriatrics”? Anyway, pretty immature response. I hope you will use only your luck or “stellar” grades to get in. Makes it much easier for the rest of us. You’ll be one of the whiners on SDN who start a thread about having almost perfect grades and no acceptances. Need an attitude adjustment.

  6. Yeah – you know what?
    This process is full of subjective crap that nobody can predict.
    Apply to medical school at your own risk, and be careful of stepping into the BS.

  7. @ food / @ Jim
    I got into a great school a few days ago with less than stellar numbers. Largely, it was because I followed similar advice to this columnist. In the med admissions process, it’s _not_ luck. It’s working super hard and convincing a school that they want you.
    And luck.

  8. Brava maestro.
    Succinct, clear, and elegantly put. I’ll look it over a few times throughout the application season.
    Thanks for the insightful, helpful piece.
    –Be talking to you then.

  9. To the disgruntled commenters–and I understand your point of view.
    What Dr. Freedman does is combine her years of experience in the selection of people for this career, with a determined compassion to bring out the best in people.
    Knowing full well the biases and subjectivity in play. If you read the piece you could hardly fail to see her addressing how an applicant can work in this milieu for their maximum potential to emerge.
    It is most certainly not BS. And it may be the only voice in your corner that is troubling to get through to you on how to fight your fight. Pacquiao listens to Roach. Don’t be foolish. Do the same.

  10. This is far from the hackneyed advice from counselors and the vapid “getting into medical school” books. It is sound and clear advice that will improve one’s chances of getting into Med School. In a few areas it challenges some of the usual dogma that gets passed on from year to year and she clearly explains the reasoning. It’s great having someone with Dr. Freedman’s experience and written eloquence on SDN… many THANKS!!!

  11. Reasonable advice, and fits well with my recollection.
    The lateness thing is so true and it always surprises me when applicants get lazy. I bet med schools use it to help trim their pool — reasoning that if a person can’t get their application together in time, how could they do well in med school?
    The only thing I’d add to Dr. Freedman’s advice is maybe a concession to the “scores are all that matter” crowd. If scores are so important, well, take the MCAT in August — but the YEAR BEFORE you apply. Taking it so early demonstrates foresight, discipline, and it’s easier to study for MCAT in the summer.
    Otherwise I think Dr. Freedman’s advice is spot-on and I was lucky to get enough good guidance like this from my college’s pre-med adviser.

  12. Why is it so important to apply early? I have heard that most schools don’t even consider looking at applications until at least November. I become concerned when I hear this because I am wrapping up my pre-reqs this summer and taking the MCAT in August. As a non-traditional student, I am already older than the average applicant and I don’t want to wait another year to apply.

  13. @ Eryn
    You’ve heard wrong. Some acceptances go out as early as October 15th. An August MCAT is very, very late.

  14. I got into med school with really piss poor numbers (3.2 and a 32MCAT, but retook the exam and got a 27 – family emergency screwed up my focus right before the exam). For the most part, I agree with the advice, especially applying broadly. However, I think the two other things that really help are sickeningly strong recommendation letters from individuals with some heft to their name (I had three really strong rec letters from people who are fairly famous in their fields write and then call the schools I liked for me). Also, I think playing to your absolute strength is huge. I have a lot of research experience compared to others my age, so I applied as an MD/PhD and killed the interviews. Good luck to everyone and just take it one step at a time.

  15. I think people make this harder than it really is. The important things are:
    1. MCAT
    2. GPA
    3. Interview (i.e. being a normal person who can hold a conversation)
    The rest is important only for those who don’t have 1-3 nailed down or are going for top schools where all bets are off.

  16. Jimmer,
    The person who I heard this from was on the admissions committee at the University of Minnesota. Some schools’ deadlines aren’t until December 1st. This is why I am confused about why applying early is so important. Do schools NOT wait until the application deadline to start looking at applications?

  17. Does all of what she suggested apply to Canada as well, or only to the United States? Would it be much more difficult for a Canadian to gain entry into a medical school in the United States?

  18. To Eryn – from what I’ve heard, the U. of Minnesota has a fairly slow and lagging admissions process, so it may be true they don’t accept until later.
    On a more general note, schools most definitely do NOT wait until the application deadline to look at apps. They do so whenever it fits their schedule. I have heard of interviews going out july and august. An august mcat means they won’t get your score until november. It’s not impossible to get in then, but there will be fewer interview slots available. Perhaps at big schools or your state school you will still get an interview and will have luck.

  19. Question #1
    I am re-taking MCAT at the end of July.
    I was wondering if I can still submit everything else (Personal Statement, CV’s, etc) to get the primary application varified while the MCAT score is being scored (will be released at the end of August or early Sept).
    Question #2
    I checked from the other link (
    Data for allopathic (MD) schools Entering Year
    Overall GPA MCAT (Verbal) MCAT (Phys) MCAT (Bio) MCAT (Essay) MCAT Total
    2005 3.63 9.7 10.1 10.4 P 30.2 P
    2004 3.62 9.7 9.9 10.3 P 29.9 P
    2003 3.62 9.5 9.9 10.2 P 29.6 P
    2002 3.61 9.5 10.0 10.2 P 29.7 P
    2001 3.60 9.5 10.0 10.1 P 29.6 P
    2000 3.60 9.5 10.0 10.2 P 29.7 P
    Does anyone know official link to this website so that I might be able to find GPA data for 2006-present.
    avg GPA 3.60’s seems way below med schools in Canada so I got little confused.
    (My GPA is 3:65 for 4 years of undergrad then does this mean that my GPA is competitive enough to get in?)
    Any inputs on these matters will be greatly appreciated.
    Thank you.

  20. I meant, in terms of GPA itself.
    avg GPA 3.60’s seems way below (than GPA requirements for) med schools in Canada so I got little confused.

  21. “Just make sure that your story doesn’t have any major unaccounted gaps in time because admissions committee members often regard these gaps as “red flags.”
    I know, but what if you have gaps in time that are accounted for? ie, due to illness in self and family members??

  22. For people against advice #6:
    It does not hurt to do it. Doing it is like the equivalent of overstudying (with the right information) for a test. As mention in this thread, an admission officer that is not interested in knowing a lot about your activities could just skim through the descriptions.

  23. @Early application: Knowing all of that, I knew I was a very competitive applicant so I applied later than what I originally intended. I was a non-traditional applicant with somewhat of a strict timeline, but I was fairly certain that I would be accepted….I was lucky, but I wish I knew…
    – It’s probable that you gain acceptance somewhere, but it may not be your ideal program. As an applicant, you only have a ballpark understanding of what is most important in your personal choice in a medical school. You won’t find out what is really important to you until you interview at 3+ schools and learn more.
    – You may realize your top program is no longer your first choice. It is doubtful, but you may able to apply still and gain acceptance elsewhere. I met people on interviews who advanced a last choice school to their first choice.
    – Once you are accepted somewhere, you can not start the cycle over again unless you seriously wish to put your opportunity to become a physician in jeopardy. The program has no reason to accept you a second time. Deferrals may limit your ability to reapply to any other programs.
    – You may be interviewing at your first choice program’s waitlist and have very little recourse…for my first choice program, I was very excited that I had an interview invite…for the rest of the night I couldn’t fall asleep when I realized that it wasn’t until the end of January.
    – The pre-medical committee for our school didn’t write my LOR until every LOR was received. Even though I met with them in April before I applied, my letter and files were not complete until October. Other committees meet very early or very late in the season.
    – Applying early translates to more acceptances, more options and better choices (programs, housing, research opportunities, etc). In some urban areas (eg, Philadelphia), housing options radically dropped as more people enrolled in the entering class.
    – Applying to medical school is costly and time-consuming. You have to miss class and/or work for interviews and your grades suffer, albeit very little. It is hard to build a more competitive application for the following cycle unless you get outright rejections at all schools.
    – Once you are accepted, you have more time to transition into medical school. More time to evaluate housing, plan, and prepare for all of the steps that follow. There are always more things that are better to be done before medical school begins.
    – The earlier you are accepted, the more time you have to enjoy the joys of being accepted to medical school. Enjoy your freedom, free time, and complete lack of responsibility – arguable, your last chance for many years…
    to appeal to your lazy side, applying early means you can relax sooner! 😉

  24. Peter: MedEdits now offers a more affordable service with fees comparable to Essay Edge. You can work directly with our professional editors/writers all of whom have at least 10 years of experience and are trained in the art of medical admissions. As an added bonus, TWO people review and edit every document. We do not hire recent graduates — we hire only the most experienced professionals. Check it out.

  25. No thank you Dr Freedman, I used Essayedge for half the price and they provided great service. If anyone is interested, you can use my coupon code (MED9A for $15 off)

  26. Jessica,
    I just came across your article and found it very similar to the advice I have received from my advisor. After reading that the medical schools do not evaluate an application until all the scores are released even if I apply in June, I became worried. I am currently waitlisted to one medical school and am on “hold” for another. I am beginning the application process again and have not retaken the MCAT because I did not expect to be going through this process again. I just rescheduled the MCAT a week ago for the July 31st date. After reading your article, I realized that my application would not be evaluated until after September 1st, and I don’t want a repeat of last year. I thought the schools would still evaluate me with my old score. I applied late last year because I took the MCAT in August and one of my recommendation letter writers did not provide me with the letter until November!!!
    So, is it better to apply with a 28O and a 3.86 overall GPA in June or take a chance and take the MCAT in August hoping for a better score (thus applying “late”)?

  27. I suggest all reading this thread reconsider medicine, even if other occupations don’t seem so favorable right now. I strongly recommend that you follow residents around 1 month in house. Be on call when they’re on call. Everything on our time, not medical student time. You will see what commitment is needed.

  28. I agree with Musicaldna. This is simply an article written for SDN members to read and consider. There are plenty of forums in which you are able to pose whatever questions you might have or discuss your history/application/CV etc. This muddles the page with unnecessary text. Gary is right. If you don’t have an opportunity to shadow an intern or resident, i suggest reading the book, “The Intern” by Sandeep Jauhar. It provides, in great detail, the transition from med school to first-year internship, all the way through fellowship. Medicine is not a fantasy world. It’s a field that requires giving everything you have. It has to be who you are, not just what you do.

Comments are closed.