Medical School: What You Need to Know

Preparing for Medical School

Allopathic (awarding an MD degree) and osteopathic (awarding a DO degree) medical schools are very competitive, receiving far more applications each year than the limited number of available openings. Admission committees are looking for well-rounded individuals who display a number of important character qualities and who have proven themselves capable of meeting the rigorous academic challenges of medical study.

Medical schools evaluate applicants on the following personal characteristics, demonstrated through clinical/research experiences as well as other extracurricular activities:

  • Leadership and communication skills
  • Ability to work collaboratively
  • Problem-solving ability
  • Honesty and integrity
  • Responsibility, motivation and dedication
  • Empathy and service to others
  • Exposure to the profession
  • Common sense and judgment

Two academic benchmarks are used by medical school admission committees to judge one’s academic potential (and make a big difference in likelihood of acceptance):

  • Grade Point Average (GPA): Pre-med students should strive to keep their GPA above 3.6
  • Medical College Admission Test (MCAT): Pre-med students should strive for a minimum score of 27 (out of 45).

Students interested in pursuing medical training in graduate school should begin early seeking out opportunities to demonstrate a commitment to community service and to gain practical experience in the medical field. An example of the opportunities offered at Houghton College for students to gain such experiences in the context of elective coursework is a semester-long course in Medical Ethics (which offers a service-learning experience in a health-related venue).

The Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT)

The MCAT is a standardized test used by medical schools to compare the academic performance/readiness of applicants across the country to one another. The MCAT tests knowledge in the areas of biological and physical sciences, including chemistry, as well as your ability to read and interpret information. Students will also be evaluated on communication skills. This exam is difficult and should be taken seriously with significant preparation including study and practice exams.

Students considering medical school should expect to work diligently from the very beginning of their college experience to ensure their best preparation for the MCAT. The MCAT is usually taken during the spring of the junior year to support an application for medical school matriculation in the fall following college graduation. Those who intend to follow this timeline for application to medical school should complete the courses needed for MCAT preparation (one year of General Biology, one year of General Chemistry followed by one year of Organic Chemistry, and one semester of calculus followed by one year of physics) by the end of their junior year.

Students can register for the MCAT online. The test is administered electronically 22 times per year. Students may take the MCAT exam up to three times per year (but may be registered for only one testing date at a time). For more detailed information, visit the official MCAT webpage.

Letter of Recommendation

Houghton College utilizes an advisory committee, the Health Professions Recommendation Committee (HPRC), for the purpose of writing an institutional letter of recommendation. Any student registered in the pre-medical program is free to request a letter from the committee by submitting a signed request for institutional letter of recommendation at the beginning of the application cycle. After a request is received, the student is assigned to a member of the HPRC. This person will be responsible for drafting a letter of recommendation from the college. As part of this process, students ask for individual letters of recommendation/support from faculty members or other mentors who know them well and can speak to the personal qualities noted above. Quotes from these letters and information from an interview with the student as well as from the Applicant Information Form and student essays are used by the committee member to draft a composite letter, which is then reviewed and endorsed by the committee as a whole. 

The committee uses the following scale in recommending applicants to medical schools:

  • Highest recommendation
  • Highly recommend
  • Recommend
  • Offer for your consideration
  • Do not recommend

While no minimum GPA or MCAT score is required to be eligible for a letter, these benchmarks are considered in determining the final level of recommendation endorsed by the committee. The final level of recommendation is assigned after reviewing a student’s overall application profile. The director of pre-medical education will speak with anyone not expected to achieve a recommendation of “recommend” or higher.