Although there is no “correct” way to apply for medical school, students are always looking for guidelines and ways to keep themselves on track. Here we provide a sample checklist of recommended activities and a timeline for applying to medical school, from high school all the way to admission.
Just to re-iterate: everyone takes their own individual path to medical school. Some people work or do additional degrees before applying. This is just a sample timeline for applicants looking for some guidance.
- Take Gr. 11 physics, chemistry, and biology to prepare for the MCAT
- Research university programs and what Grade 12 prerequisite courses are required
- Start becoming involved in school clubs and volunteer work
- Take Gr. 12 physics, chemistry and biology to prepare for the MCAT
- Apply to university programs
- Continue to become involved in school clubs and volunteer work, try out leadership roles.
1st year school
- Study hard, focus on getting strong GPA since transitioning to university can be quite challenging.
- Do a few prerequisite courses if you can
- Get involved in a few ECs and volunteer work, but not at the expense of your GPA. A good GPA always comes first.
- Look around for professors interested in taking on a research student.
1st year summer
- Summer research
- Summer courses
- Volunteer work
2nd year school
- Continue to work towards a strong GPA
- Complete most of your prerequisite courses
- Seek out leadership roles in ECs and volunteer work, as you now are better a balancing school with activities
- Register for the MCAT to take in the summer
- Register for any MCAT prep courses if you need it
2nd year summer
- Take the MCAT
3rd year school
- If grades and MCAT are good enough, consider applying to medical school (see application cycle below)
- Continue to maintain good grades and ECs
4th year and beyond
- Rinse and repeat – GPA, MCAT, ECs and volunteer work.
- Apply to medical school (see application cycle below)
After 4th year (if graduated, and not applied/accepted to medical school), consider:
- Graduate school (PhD, MSc)
- Other professional schools (law, dentistry, etc.)
- If interested, continue applying to medical school while pursuing these current alternatives.
- Ask referees to write letters of reference, to ensure they have enough time before the due dat
- Work on your application – essays, resume, etc.
- Complete medical school applications and submit
- Hear back regarding interview invites or rejections
- Learn results – accepted, waitlisted, or rejected
- If waitlisted, you may hear back if a spot opens up for you
- If lucky, start medical school!
- If not, apply again. Many people do not get in after their first attempt, so don’t give up!
More in-depth discussion:
Essays are an extremely important component of many medical schools’ admissions processes. This is because essays are one of the few aspects of the application where the applicant can shed light on who they are as a person and their preparedness for medicine outside of academics. It’s your chance to show the committee how amazing, genuine and passionate you are for a career in medicine. Suffice to say, it’s important, and you should take it seriously.
Some medical schools require one long essay (e.g. 1,000 words). Some require several short essay (e.g. 3 essays, 200 words each). Some medical schools don’t require essays at all. Usually the the topic of the essay will revolve around why you want to pursue medicine, how you have prepared for it, and discuss various experiences in your life that show you are developing the necessary personal and professional skills.
If the medical school you are applying to does require an essay, there are some key things to keep in mind, which we will cover here.
This will be the most important essay advice you ever read. Start early. You can’t write a good 1000 word essay in one night. No one can. Serious about medical school? Then take the essay seriously. Give yourself at least a month to write it.
Have a theme
What is the point of your essay? What message are you trying to get across? A good essay always has a theme, a point. And everything you write justifies that theme.
Maybe your theme is “I want to be a pediatrician because I love working with kids”, then everything you write should be about how you developed an interest in working with kids, what you currently do, and how that is leading you to pediatrics. If your theme is “I am fascinated by medical research and applying that in the care of patients” then talk about your research experiences, and how you’ve seen research translate to patient care.
Have a theme, and make it very clear. This will make your essay very strong and believable.
One of the hardest parts of writing an essay is the introduction. If you are writing a longer essay (1000 words), draw your reader in with an exciting “hook” or interesting introduction. Ideas including using a short interesting story, a famous quote, or just an interesting line of thought. If, however, it is a shorter essay (200 words), there is no space for that and you should dive straight into the topic.
Be clear and concise
At the end of the day, you are applying to medical school, not a literary arts program. The content of your essay, and getting it across clearly and easily to the reader, is much more important than being able to write as well as an English literary major.
When you have to write a short essay (200 words), it becomes even more important to write clearly and concisely. Focus less on fluff and more on getting your point across. Be straight to the point – you’d be surprised how hard it can be to write everything you want to say in 200 words. Fluff will just make it more difficult.
With a longer essay (1000 words), you have a bit more room, but you still don’t want to bore the reader with unnecessary details. Be interesting, but be relevant. Also, with longer essays, several concisely laid out ideas/experiences (e.g. 5-6) is better than fewer, longer and overly detailed ideas/experiences (e.g. 2-3).
Always have evidence, experiences and activities to back up what you say. If you say you have good leadership skills, then you should be briefly describing the experiences to prove that. If you say you have explored health care, then you better talk about that clinical or volunteer experience. Real experiences will make your essay more real to the reader.
If it’s a short essay (200 words), then your conclusion is one sentence. If it’s a longer essay (1000 words), your conclusion should be 2-3 sentences. The point of the conclusion is to tie up everything, and clearly state your message/theme to the reader now (because it should now be quite clear what your theme was).
Don’t go overboard
Students always ask “is it okay if I’m over by 5 words? Would anyone even notice?” Our advice: just don’t go over the word count. If it says 1000 words, then write 1000 words. Better safe than sorry.
Get feedback from people you trust can make your essay better. Whether it be your English professor or English major friend to help with grammar and style, to a 1st year medical student who used to be in your lab to help with ideas and content, get feedback.
Just because you get feedback doesn’t mean their advice is best – at the end of the day, you need to decide what will make your essay better. Don’t just blindly accept feedback. Think about it. You need to submit an essay you are proud of and believe in.
If you take all of this advice into account while writing your essay, I am confident you will put together an amazing piece of work. Good luck!
More in-depth discussion:
Reference letters are an important aspect of your application at any stage of training, whether they are for medical school, residency, or fellowship. In the “Getting Started” section, we will discuss the basics of medical school reference letters.
Typically, medical school applications require at least 3 reference letters. The letters can come from anyone you have worked with, preferably from someone who held a senior position. Unless specified, they do not have to only be academic (professors or research supervisors); they can also come from work or volunteer. One thing to note is that these letters should come from professional settings only, i.e. not from any friends or family members.
What if you have more than 3 referees? Well, you can certainly prioritize whom to ask letters from. It is a good idea to inform your referee that you are applying to medical school, and if they could write a good or strong reference letter. Quite often, referees will be honest about how much of an impact they intend to make with the letters. You should ask letters from people who know you well, not necessarily people of high positions who barely know your name.
You should ask for reference letters at least 4 weeks before the deadline, and provide addressed and stamped envelopes if necessary. Your referees may have busy schedules and you want to ask them in advance so they can fit the task into the schedule. This will give your referees sufficient time to write a thorough letter. If you ask your referees at last minute, they probably would not be in the mood to write a good letter.
After the letters have been sent, always remember to thank your referees. When your admission decision is released, whether you are admitted or rejected from medical school, thank your referees again for their help.
More in-depth discussion:
An interview is required at all medical schools. It is one of the most important components of your medical school application: it can make or break you. Applicants with stellar application packages have been rejected due to poor performance on the interview. You have worked so hard to get to this stage, so you need to work even harder on preparing for the interview -the last step towards a possible offer of admission!
How are interviews structured?
The are two main interview formats: 1. the traditional panel interview and 2. multiple mini interviews (MMI).
In the traditional interview, you will be asked a series of questions from a panel of 2 to 3 people, usually comprised of faculty members, students, and members of the community. Some schools may have a couple of panel interviews to get a more objective assessment. The traditional interview usually lasts 30 minutes to 1 hour.
In the MMI, you will go through a circuit of 10-12 stations, with a couple of rest stations in between. Each station will be carried out in a separate room, in which you will be expected to answer a series of questions, or perform a task/s, or a combination of both. Each station lasts about 10 minutes in total, and consists of 2 minutes to read the question/task before entering the room, and 8 minutes to ask the questions or perform tasks inside the room. In each station, your performance will be assessed by an evaluator (you may or may not see the evaluator in person).
Most medical schools use either the traditional interview or the MMI. Rarely, a medical school will incorporate a bit of both.
What questions do they ask?
In most traditional interviews, the interview will be fairly conversational. Certain schools may have a more interrogatory interview style (It’s merely a means to evaluate applications. It is not meant to be condescending). You can be asked to talk about yourself (your background, schooling, interest, etc), explain why you want to do medicine, describe your strengths/weaknesses with examples, and make decisions in real or hypothetical ethical situations. At the end of the interview, you will get a chance to ask questions about the medical school and the curriculum.
In contrast, the MMI is very structured. You may encounter questions similar to those delivered on the traditional interview. You may also be asked to analyze situations in detail and answer follow up questions. Furthermore, you may encounter task performing stations, which really can be anything: solving maths questions, writing letters, acting, etc. Typically, the MMI is more stressful than the traditional interview.
How should I prepare?
First, you should research past interview questions, especially those used at your schools of interest. For these traditional interview questions, classify them into categories: personal background, hobbies/interests, extracurriculars, research, ethical, health policy. Practice answering these questions with your friends and family, identify your area of weakness so you can better focus your preparation. It is more helpful to practice with medical students, especially those who have been on the admissions committee. Similarly, practice for the MMI with your friends and other applicants.
More in-depth discussion:
Read the rest of the Get Started series:
- Part 1: Premed basics: Learn the path to becoming a doctor and the basics of applying to medical school
- Part 2: University applications: An introduction to selecting your university program and courses
- Part 3: GPA, MCAT & ECs: Everything you need to know about GPA, the MCAT, and building a strong resume
- Part 4: Application process: Learn all about essays, reference letters and interviews.
- Part 5: Results: Accepted? Waitlisted? Rejected? Get some advice on what to do next