By: Danielle Purtell
Medical school admissions committees are swamped with qualified applicants. Many students apply with the same highly competitive MCAT scores and GPAs. Trying to get noticed by admissions committees can feel even more daunting if you’re a non-traditional applicant. If you took a gap year (or two, or three…), are changing careers, or had an unusual major, medical school is still an option—but it requires a strong application strategy. So, how do you make yourself stand out?
Whatever your situation, learning how to present your application package will make you more competitive to admissions officers, as well as help you find your best medical school fit.
Your personal statement and any supplemental or secondary essays are a great way to set yourself apart from the pack. Don’t focus on following a set structure of what you think medical school admissions committees want. Instead, show a clear and vibrant picture of yourself—the feeling of crisp autumn air that inspired your choice to pursue an ecology major or the children you met on a service trip that inspired your career. Use vivid detail to paint the masterpiece of your life thus far and how you envision your future.
Medical schools want a wide variety of students that will make for a rich and diverse campus. Again, avoid finding a “formula” for acceptance and instead capitalize on what you bring to the table. For example, take an evolutionary anthropology major—a rather unique degree with which to be applying to medical school. This applicant can use her passion for biological anthropology to stand out by showing her holistic view of health and disease. Or, consider someone who took several years off before applying to medical school. This applicant can get noticed by showcasing his travels and work experience to demonstrate growth and maturity. Focus less on fitting a “pre-med” mold and learn how to demonstrate skills that will allow you to break the mold.
When it comes to your extracurriculars—focus on quality, not quantity. It’s better to be highly involved in two organizations than loosely affiliated with a dozen. Start by volunteering and work your way up in the organization, run for leadership roles in clubs, or add management responsibilities to your summer job. Don’t worry if you lack “pre-med” clubs. It’s important to show an interest in health and medicine, but you can demonstrate passion and leadership in the arts, sports, or other hobbies as well. Further, you can really stand out by showing entrepreneurial projects or other ventures you created.
Just because a professor gave you an A doesn’t necessarily mean you should ask them for a letter of recommendation. In fact, it could be more effective to choose a letter writer who saw you struggle at first but really show determination in fighting for that B. Life lessons and character building experiences work on an entirely different grading system.
Be unique in in the content of your medical school application, not the format. For example, now is not the time to use wild formatting, write essays in codes, or mail strange objects to admissions committees in an attempt to stand out. Admission committees must scan, process, and handle applications in a standardized manner, and interrupting that process could make you stand out in a negative way. Your medical school application should portray your personal and professional aptitude. Wow them with your content, not your presentation.
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