How to Get Accepted Into Medical School

Many Students Have the Grades and the MCAT Scores — How Will You Stand Out?

Harvard Medical School of Harvard University
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You may already be aware that grades and MCAT scores are key factors for getting into medical school. However, due to increased competition for top schools, students must go beyond academic scores to get into the school of their choice.

Did you know that you also will be interviewed and evaluated based on several other characteristics? Some of the process is subjective and is judged by a committee of educators, administrators, and physicians. However, the basic qualities they seek in their prospective medical students are areas you can work on throughout high school and college, and communicate in your interview.

I interviewed an experienced, successful physician who also serves on the selection committee for a top medical school in the US. He asked not to be identified, to avoid solicitations for assistance from prospective students. He shared with me that, while candidates must have top grades and MCAT scores, the following are additional characteristics medical schools seek of their medical students.


Giving of your time and talent back to the community is an important part of the equation. Not only does volunteerism show that you care about helping others, but it also shows that you are able to balance your school work and social life with additional responsibilities required when you volunteer.

Volunteer activities do not always need to be medically related, although many prospective medical students do volunteer as part of medical missions to third world countries or volunteer at local health departments. You could volunteer for the Red Cross, for any medical association, or healthcare facility. If you volunteer in a healthcare capacity, you could build key professional networking contacts which will help you later in your educational and professional health career.


Doctors are leaders in the medical community and leaders in their home communities. Therefore, medical school selection committees want to see that you have what it takes to be a leader. The best way you can show your leadership experience and skills is to join campus or community organizations, and be sure to actively participate and hopefully, hold a leadership role in one or more of the clubs. But don’t just join a club for the sake of joining, and adding it to your resumé. Be sure to select the organizations which motivate and inspire you to take action for a cause.


Altruism is the heart and passion for helping others—particularly in a healthcare capacity. While it’s important for a prospective physician to be smart and test well, it’s equally important that they have a true passion, in their inner being, for reaching out to other people. If you’re trying to be a doctor just for money, for example, but there is no “fire in your belly” for caring for the medical needs of other people, this lack of devotion may come through in your interview, causing you to be overlooked for another student who has the grades AND that inner drive.

How will the school learn these things about you? Many of your leadership and volunteer activities will be on your CV or resume. The intangible, more subjective factors such as personality traits will be tested during the admissions interview process.

According to Tara Kuther, PhD, you should be prepared to answer questions such as “Why do you want to be a physician?”

In addition to describing your leadership and volunteer experience, you should be prepared to let your passion and drive for medicine shine through.

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