Thinking you'd like to go to medical school? No matter where you are right now—high school, undergrad, pre-med—there's a path to get there. Actually there are a lot of paths, with a lot of choices along the way.
There's also a lot of hard work along the way, and probably more than a few challenging truths to be faced. Medical schools are highly selective, with an average acceptance rate of just 7 percent according to a recent study. Hopefully that number won't scare you away, but instead make you more focused and determined than ever. If so, read on to learn the steps you should take to get into medical school.
1. Interview, Shadow or Intern with a Doctor
While you're still in high school, one of the best ways to get a taste of what the medical field is actually like is to interview—or better yet, shadow—a real doctor. Talk to someone you know in a medical field you're interested in, and find out all you can. Ask if they'll let you tag along on their day-to-day routine so you can see what being a doctor is really like. If you aren't able to shadow a doctor, it's still helpful to interview a medical professional. Ask questions like:
- What led you to choose to become a doctor?
- What does your daily routine look like, before, during and after work?
- What do you like and dislike about being a doctor?
- Would you recommend going into a career in medicine?
- How did you choose your pre-med program and/or medical school?
If you are looking for a more extended look at what the day-to-day life of a doctor is like you can look into applying to medical internships. Many internships offer students an opportunity to work in an office or hospital setting for several weeks at a time. An internships in the medical field can give you a better understanding of what different medical professions will be like.
2. Excel at Advanced Courses in Pre Med Areas
Before you can get into med school, you'll have to face getting into college. To do that, you'll need to excel in high school, especially in courses that are preparing you for pre-med curriculum. As you can probably guess, that means a strong focus on science and math, but don't get tunnel-vision. English, history and other courses are important too.
You should take all the most rigorous classes available at your high school, particularly AP and/or IB courses if possible. That being said, colleges won't penalize you if your high school doesn't offer these courses; the idea is to take all the most challenging courses available to you. Advanced science and math courses like AP Biology, AP Chemistry and AP Calculus will all look good on your college application, and they give you a strong foundation for a lot of the college courses you'll eventually need to get into medical school.
If you are looking for a chance to spend your summer getting some extra experience in these types of classes, consider taking pre-med prep summer courses.
3. Get Some Real-World Medical Experience
Gaining relevant experience in the medical world will accomplish a couple of things. First, it will give you some insight into what being a doctor is really like, which will help you answer one of the toughest questions of all: "is being a doctor really for me?" Second, it will show pre-med college programs that you're serious. There are a few ways you can work on getting real experience while you're still in high school:
- Volunteer at a local nursing home or hospital.
- Find a part-time or summer job at a health-care facility.
- Apply for one of the many research or internship programs that are designed for high school students interested in medicine.
- Complete training during the summer to become a Certified Nurse Assistant (CNA). In most states, you can do so at age 16.
There are also a lot of great summer programs offered by universities across the country, many of them designed specifically to give high school students experience in a medical setting. These will give you a taste of the medical field, as well as an idea of what your pre-med studies will be like once you get to college.
Create Your Own Health-Related Project
This is good advice for high school students looking to get into a pre med program, just as it's good advice for pre med students on their way toward medical school. The folks who will be reviewing your application love to see that you've gone above and beyond. Coming up with your own ideas, doing your own research and putting together your own projects outside of the classroom will really make you stand out.
There are countless ways you can do this. Write a health-related column for your high school paper that focuses on health issues faced by teens. Use science projects to explore medical issues. Use the curriculum of your science and math classes to branch off and explore new areas on your own.
Choose the Best Pre Med School for You
Choosing the right college is essential, but perhaps not in the way you might think. Don't get too hung up on getting into the best pre-med college; just try to get into a school that works for you. A quick internet search will reveal plenty of lists of what might be considered the "best" pre-med schools, but the truth is that what's "best" for someone else might not be best for you.
Once you get to medical school and see the diversity of students from different backgrounds, you'll realize that where you did your undergrad work isn't as important as some might lead you to believe. Apply to colleges that you can afford, that you can excel at, and that offer the types of classes that interest you. Getting into medical school will depend much more on how you performed at undergrad; not what college you attended. Here is an article full of tips on how to choose the right school for you.
Pick the Right Pre Med Classes
A lot of soon-to-be pre-med students are surprised to learn that, at most colleges, there is no such thing as a pre-med major. A handful of universities offer a specific major for pre-med, but most don't. That means that choosing your major is up to you, and it's an important choice. Medical schools will weigh your GPA heavily—a 3.7 GPA or above gives you the best shot—so it's important to choose a major that will both prepare you for the rigors of medical school, and that you will do well at.
While many pre-med students choose to major in biology or chemistry, there are a lot of different ways you can go. It's possible to major in subjects as diverse as English, philosophy and engineering as an undergrad, as long as you also do well in the biology, physics, chemistry and math classes required by most medical schools. These requirements vary, but as a general rule the classes you will need in order to get into med school are:
- 2 semesters physics
- 2 semesters general biology
- 2 semesters general chemistry
- 2 semesters organic chemistry
- 1 semester biochemistry
- 1 semester statistics or calculus
- 1 semester English
- Some schools may also require psychology, sociology or humanities
Apply to a Wide Range of Medical Schools
Medical schools are highly selective, some more than others. To increase your odds of being accepted, it's best to cast a wide net. Don't focus all your efforts on just one or two top schools. Do your research, make a list of ten schools you like, and apply to all of them. As plenty of doctors will tell you, an MD is an MD; where you went to school isn't so important at the end of the day.
Acceptance rates vary from year to year and school to school, so don't be discouraged by schools you don't get accepted into. Most medical schools get hundreds, or even thousands, of applications every year, and they simply can't take everyone. Applying to a wide range of schools increases your chances of success, and you may even end up being accepted by more than one, which means you get to choose the one you like best.
Get Volunteer Experience During Undergrad
Grades matter, but medical schools also want to see that you care about bettering others. The best way to demonstrate this is by volunteering. Doing volunteer work in a clinical setting is one option, but you can choose anything you're passionate about. The Big Brothers-Big Sisters organization, Habitat for Humanity and countless local and regional volunteer organizations will also look great on your application.
It's also better to get a quality volunteering experience that spans several weeks or months rather than picking up a few quick one-off gigs to fluff up your application. Solid volunteering experience will show your commitment to helping people, but it also makes you a more well-rounded person, and offers crucial experience, medical and otherwise, that you might not otherwise get to have.
Study for the MCAT Early, and Study a Lot
No matter what path you choose to get to medical school, the Medical College Admission Test, or MCAT, is one test you can't get around. MCAT scores range from 472 to 528. The average score for students who get accepted to medical school is 510 to 511. The recommended study time is 300 to 350 hours.
All this is to say, it's a big test, and it pays to start preparing early. Take courses, buy books, study on your own and join study groups. Take practice tests and don't let your scores scare you; just hit the books and try again. When the time comes to take the real thing, you'll be ready.
Getting into medical school isn't easy, but for anyone with a passion for medicine and the drive to succeed, it's not out of reach. Whether you're a high school student wondering how to get started, or an undergraduate looking for the next steps, there is a clear path to attain your goals.
Medicine Summer Programs for High School Students
Julian Krinsky Camps & Programs offers summer camps and programs on prestigious college campuses. If you are a high school student looking for a way to get more prepared for college, pre-med classes or a career in medicine, check out the options available. Whether it's taking summer med classes, interning in medicine, or experiencing what med school is like - there is something for any high schooler who is interested in medicine: