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Applying to Medical School
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For graduates considering a career in medicine and public health, City Year provides a unique and valuable perspective. Corps members must be compassionate and empathetic, forging personal relationships with students and their families each day. They must be hardworking and persistent amidst seemingly insurmountable obstacles, constantly honing the skills that will one day turn them into both competent and caring physicians. They witness first-hand the impact a lack of access to high quality health care can have on an individual, a community and society at large. City Year alumni working in the medical field say City Year shaped their pathway and provided a solid foundation for their medical career.

Below, find resources to guide you in your journey to medical school.  The content below includes:

Medical School Course Requirements
Social Media and its Impact
Gaining Experience
Registering and Preparing for the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT)
MCAT Preparation
The Application Process
Mastering the Personal Statement
Mastering the Interview
FInancial Information
Transitioning to Medical School
Osteopathic Medicine

John Hopkins has an extensive guide on applying and preparing for medical school. 

Click here to see a two page overview about City Year Alumni going on to Medical School

Medical School Course Requirements

If you have not completed the following courses throughout your undergraduate years, it is best to gain credit for these courses before you apply to medical school.

  • One year of Biology with lab
  • One year of Physics with lab
  • Two years of Chemistry with lab (General/Inorganic and Organic)

Many health profession schools also require:

  • One year of English
  • 1-2 semesters of Mathematics
  • Social, Behavioral Sciences, and the Humanities
  • Biochemistry

Each school has different requirements, look on the school’s personal website to see their specific course requirements.

If you have not completed most of the requirements, it is a good idea to enroll in a post-baccalaureate program. Post-baccalaureate premedical programs are designed to help individuals pursue admissions to medical school after gaining their bachelor’s degree. Each program has a specific focus ranging from completing course requirements and enhancing credentials to assisting people from underrepresented, educationally and/or economically disadvantaged backgrounds.  A list of post-baccalaureate programs is available here.

Social Media and its Impact

Some schools do search for applicants online. You should assume that admissions committees DO look at your online profile. As an applicant, you are responsible for how you present your public face to the rest of the world. Researching a candidate online is not illegal and can either hurt or help you in the admissions decision. To find out what others can see about you, do a simple web search and see what comes up. Anything that is illegal, shows poor judgment or is controversial will affect you. It is important to censor what you do; posting pictures of illegal activities is a strict no. If you have any doubts about posting something online, chances are you shouldn’t.  Although schools can search you online, they have no right to ask for access to any of your accounts.

Gaining Experience

An important aspect of your application will be a demonstrated interest in the medical field. Medical school often look to your experiences as an indication of whether or not you have acted upon your interests and taken the necessary action to delve into the field and explore your options.

  • Shadowing doctors is a great way to gain experience and see a physician’s world from an inside perspective. If you or your family knows of anyone, start by asking them. You can also ask your professors, pre-medical advisors or fellow students if they know of any doctors that people have shadowed before. When asking why you want to shadow them, be specific and tell them briefly about your future aspirations. Once you have secured a shadowing position, be a professional. Bring a notebook, ask a lot of questions and write down notes in between patients. On your last day be sure to have a hand-written thank you note. If you think the shadowing went well, don’t be afraid to ask for a letter of recommendation right away.
  • Volunteering in a health-care related activity will benefit your application. Search for an opportunity that genuinely interests you so that you can get the best out of it. It is important to build relationships throughout your experience so that you may learn more about the field and can lead to a stronger letter of recommendation. It may also lead to more responsibilities and exposure.  Be sure to document these activities and what you gained so that you can use it as a reference when writing your personal statements and essays for medical school.
  • If you are interested in research, look for potential professors or researchers whose research interests you. Once you have compiled a list, start cold-emailing them. In these emails, introduce yourself, and state your purpose and interests. Do not be discouraged if no-one replies, that is an often occurrence since most professors are often too busy and get swamped with emails. Try another method and call their office directly and ask for an appointment to speak with someone. The people who you are contacting are often extremely busy; their failure to respond just may be because you are not their top priority. It doesn’t hurt to try a few times, after about 2 follow-ups along with the initial contact, try to find another person that fits your criteria.
  • If you do not have anything to do for the summer, there are many summer research/enrichment programs that you can participate in. Often these programs provide you with more experience and with the opportunity to develop a mentorship with a Primary Investigator. The AAMC has a list of opportunities available all across the U.S.   

Registering and Preparing for the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT)

The MCAT is a standardized test designed to help medical schools assess your skills. The test consists of four sections:

  • Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems
  • Chemical and Physical Foundations of Living Systems
  • Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior
  • Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills

The MCAT’s administration time is about seven and a half hours, including breaks and other activities. It is administered by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC). To register you must make an account here.  

MCAT Preparation

When will you take the exam? Do you need to take a gap year or two? Take the exam when you are prepared, practiced and ready. Typically, the MCAT is taken no later than the spring of the application year. For example, if you are applying for 2018 admission, the MCAT should be taken in winter 2017 or spring 2018 to give you adequate time to apply to medical school. If you need the time to fully prepare yourself, a gap year is reasonable Focused and time-intensive studying for the MCAT should start at least 6 months in advance of your expected test date. There are many resources and products available to help in your study for the MCAT.

 Discover the topics that will be on the exam, make sure that you know the content of the exam well. There is a lot of knowledge to be reviewed, but there are definitely topics that are tested more than others, so be informed. Constantly doing practice problems and timed mock exams are essential to preparation. Knowing the format and being used to the timing will be an important skill when taking the exam. There are supplemental materials  that the AAMC provides to aid in studying. If you learn better from watching videos, Khan Academy has a collection designed specifically to aid in MCAT preparation. There are also commercial MCAT preparatory programs, the most popular being Kaplan Test Prep and The Princeton Review. Keep in mind that these programs are often costly, knowing yourself is very important. If you need structured time and a strict studying schedule, participating in a preparatory program is highly recommended. If you can simply manage your time well and will not get distracted, these programs may not be useful. No matter what, be ready for a lot of additional independent study.

 A suggested timeline by the AAMC can be found here.


Retaking the MCAT

Only retake the MCAT if you believe that your score can be improved, medical schools do not look favorably upon those who take the MCAT again and receive lower scores. The point of retaking the MCAT is to demonstrate to medical schools that you are motivated and capable of improving and that the first score is not an indication of your capabilities. If you plan on retaking the MCAT, dedicate a lot of time to preparing and understanding your weaknesses from the first time you took the exam.

Taking a Gap Year

 A gap year is a good time to get your academics and financials in order. Yale ( has a lot of resources as to possible programs that you may possibly want to partake in. Use the gap year to your benefit and improve upon anything and everything that will help you succeed and become a better physician. A gap year is a good time for you to: 

  • Demonstrate your ability to master upper-level courses and use this opportunity to strengthen your GPA.
  • Study for the MCAT, since you do not have an outside course load, you have much more time to prepare for the exam.
  • Use this time to decrease your existing debt, medical school is not cheap.
  • This year is good for recovery and personal reflection. Take the time to prepare for the road ahead.
  • Keep looking for experiences that will enhance you weaknesses.  Remember, this is the time for you to make up what you missed in undergraduate. Be sure to check if you have all the requirements necessary to apply to medical school
  • Volunteer in a medically-related field and have meaningful, sustainable experiences.
  • Shadow as many physicians as possible to get a realistic view of what the environment is really like.
  • Participate in research or some other academic activity to keep your mind running and gain more insight about medicine.


The Application Process: Choosing where to apply to Medical School

You may apply to as many or as few schools as you’d like but keep in mind the financial implications and keep your list narrowed down to the schools that you are seriously considering attending. Apply to a broad range of schools, do not rely on rankings as a judgment of where you should apply, rather you should focus on how the school best fits you. The MSAR online provides a comprehensive list of schools, their programs and requirements.  Think about your best method of learning. Do you like lecture-based classes or more hands-on activities? Would you prefer to have a Pass/Fail system or an A, B, C grading system? Is student size important? Do you learn better in small or large classes? In addition, how important is location and diversity to you? Think financially. How much debt are you willing to accrue? Would living close to family be an ideal circumstance? The most knowledgeable person to aid in your search would be the pre-health advisor at your alma mater. Don’t be afraid to reach out to them and ask for advice, they’re there for a reason and utilizing all your resources is to your benefit.

To apply to most medical schools in U.S. you will used the American Medical College Application Service (AMCAS). If applying to a M.D. program at a public school in Texas, you will use the Texas Medical & Dental Schools Application Service (TMDSAS). There may be a secondary application depending on whether or not the schools want supplementary information about you.

  • The processing AMCAS processing fee is $160, including one medical school. Any additional schools may be added at $35 each. The AAMC offers the Fee Assistance Program (FAP)  , which gives awardees waivers for up to 14 medical schools and also reduced fees for the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT).

Mastering the Personal Statement

Medical school admissions committees are generally a combination of admissions staff, faculty, students and doctors. Make sure you consider who your audience is. The personal statement should ultimately answer the question, “Why do I want to be a doctor?” The essay should revolve entirely around you beyond your numbers. If it is generic enough to be someone else’s essay, then it is not going to make you stand out. The personal statement is an opportunity for you to present yourself to the medical school in a way that you want to be presented, make it count. Remember that the personal statement is a story depicting who you are, not an argument for why you should be accepted into medical school. Address why you want to become a doctor, what has been your motivation leading up to this current moment? Avoid using general statements and clichés. The personal essay is not a place for you to brag about yourself, nor is it the place to reiterate everything on your resume. Ponder deeply about what experiences have made contributed to your development. Provide details about these experiences, don’t merely tell. Be truthful and personalize your essay to cater specifically to you.

It is important to proofread and edit your essay many times. A grammatical mistake can indicate to the admissions committee that you didn’t care enough about getting into medical school to proofread your essay and may result in your immediate rejection.

Mastering the Interview

The medical school interview can be considered as the last filtering process. Generally, when an interview is requested, it indicates that the school is seriously considering your application. The interview allows the interviewer to have personal, face-to-face interactions with an applicant. Interviews are often used to separate qualified applicants from each other and see who stands out.  Take it seriously and prepare properly. Interviews can make or break your application.

  • What to wear?
  • Your appearance should be formal, business attire.
  • For women:  Simplicity is the best approach, with solid dark colors being the most popular. Skin-colored pantyhose are recommended and shoes should be formal, closed-toe with heels that are no higher than 2 inches. It is best to keep your hair away from your face. Jewelry, perfume and make-up should be kept at a minimum.
  • For men: Dark colored suits paired with a dress shirt, tie/bowtie, belt and dress shoes are the best option. Hair should be groomed properly and freshly cut. Facial hair should be groomed and cologne kept to a minimum.
  • Accommodations
  • Often times, an applicant must travel to attend an interview. If the school is far away, be sure to prepare adequate time to not feel rushed and anxious. Interviews often begin in the morning; therefore driving in the early morning often brings unnecessary distress. Consider spending a night to decrease tension. Some schools may even provide accommodations with current students, check to see if this is a possibility.
  • Preparation
  • You should be a well-informed person of yourself. Research the school and keep up to date with current medical events. Interviewers almost always ask if you have any questions. This is your chance to get to know the interviewer and ask questions that otherwise weren’t mentioned in the interview.  You will appear more interested and involved when asking questions, refrain from not asking any questions at all.
  • Be prepared to field common interview questions:
  • Why medical school? Why do you want to be a doctor?
  • If you do not have a coherent, compelling answer, you should not be applying to medical school.
  • Tell me about yourself, something that wasn’t present in your personal essay
  • Where do you see yourself in 10 years?  Do you have specific goals in medicine?
  • Questions involving current ethical/morality issues such as physician-assisted suicide, abortion, etc.
  • Be informed on the current issues and develop your own stance. It is not a question of what your stance is, but rather the thought process that took you to it.
  • What aspects of your life and experiences make you a good candidate?
  • Tell me about a mistake you’ve made
  • Be sure to explain how you’ve grown from this!!!
  • What will you do if you don’t get into medical school?
  • Have a back-up plan, you can’t rely on getting into medical school
  •  If you cannot answer a question, say so. Do not answer something you have no knowledge about, the interviewer will notice that your answer is not sincere.
  • The minute you step foot in the school, conduct yourself in a professional manner to everyone you meet. Your first impression will be lasting, make sure it counts.

Financial Information

Medical school is expensive; be prepared and aware of the financial burden you are putting on yourself.  Don’t let the cost frighten you. There are many loans, grants and scholarships available. They vary from being need-based, merit-based and/or require some service commitment. Most medical students borrow money to support their education. Both federal and non-federal loans are available. The AAMC’s Financial Information, Resources, Services and Tools program is a great resource when searching for financial assistance. Grants and scholarships are available from the federal government and individual schools. Some programs are specifically designed for individuals who agree to practice in underserved areas for a pre-determined amount of time. Students applying for financial aid must fill out the Federal Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to be considered for federal aid. Some medical schools will require supplementary materials. To be sure that you are considered for all possible financial aid, be sure to fill out all the forms on time.

There are two types of loans: Federal and Private Educational Loans. Each loan has its disadvantages advantages, it is to your best interest to research and carefully decide. Be aware of the terms and conditions of each loan you plan on taking. Take into consideration your future plans. Do you plan on attending graduate school and holding a job? Or will you be completely focused on school?

  • Federal Loans
  • There are many different repayment plans possible, some of which are based on your household income. You can also change the plan your situation changes dramatically. With a federal loan, there is also a possibility of obtaining loan forgiveness. Postponement of payment is also available in circumstances of continuing education. Federal loans have fixed interests that do not rise.
  • Private Loans
  • These loans offer variable interest which may be low but can often fluctuate as a result of the rate indexes they are based on.  Loan rates are often dependent on the borrower’s credit worthiness, with a co-borrower often helping to secure a better rate. Repayments may or may not be postponed depending on the loan company.  Options to defer payment are very few in comparison to federal loans and loan discharges may not be available in the case of extreme circumstances.

Transitioning to Medical School

Use the time before medical school to relax. Cracking open a book for a few months will not get you ahead. Instead, focus on having quality time for yourself, family and friends. Reflect on the fact that you are privileged enough to go to medical school. You’ve worked hard to get here, now you must work even harder for your patients!  Remember to get your finances in order. You will not be living on a physician’s budget, but rather on a medical student’s budget. Spend your money wisely and talk to other med students and see their strategies to deal with financial constraints.

Osteopathic Medicine

The osteopathic approach is a distinct form of studying and practicing medicine within the United States. Osteopathic medical schools emphasize the importance of primary care and strongly believe that a foundation in primary care is the basis of a better physician. It also focuses on providing care to rural and underserved areas. In addition to studying all of the typical subjects required in medical school, students are expected to take an additional 200 hours of training in the art of osteopathic manipulative medicine (OMM). OMM is a hands-on technique that involves using the hands to diagnose, treat, and prevent illness or injury.  Dos and MDs are both fully qualified physicians, licensed to prescribe medicine and perform surgeries in all 50 states and even beyond.

A Brief guide to Osteopathic Medicine: For students, by students is a comprehensive introduction to osteopathic medicine by current osteopathic students.

To determine whether or not a profession is osteopathic medicine is for you, be sure to shadow a DO. Ask them why they chose to be a DO as opposed to an MD, what lead them to working as an osteopathic physician.

If you are applying to a DO school, you must use the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine Application Service (AACOMAS). The process is very similar to applying to an MD school and the requirements remain the same.