What medical schools are looking for
Medical schools 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): Premed students should strive to keep GPA above 3.6
- Medical College Admission Test (MCAT): Premed students should strive for a minimum score of 27 (out of 45).
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 premedical 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 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
- 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 premedical education will speak with anyone not expected to achieve a recommendation of “recommend” or higher.
Applicant Information Form
Students intending to apply for medical school and requesting an institutional letter of recommendation (usually at the beginning of their junior year) must complete an Applicant Information Form along with an essay articulating their motivation for pursuing a career in medicine.
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 your knowledge in the areas of biological and physical sciences, including chemistry, as well as your ability to read and interpret information. You will also be evaluated on your communication skills. This exam is difficult and should be taken seriously with significant preparation including study and practice exams.
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.
Most medical colleges participate with a centralized application services known as AMCAS. By designating schools to which one is applying, a student need only complete one application (done online) which AMCAS will then distribute to the desired medical schools. As part of the AMCAS application, students will be required to write a personal statement. (See below). For instructions and deadlines, please visit the AMCAS website.
How do I approach the personal statement?
The personal statement is an extremely important essay written as part of the medical school application. It is an applicant’s opportunity to distinguish him/herself before a face-to-face interview, to connect with those making admissions decisions, to tell them about oneself and create an interest in learning more. It needs to be authentically personal, to avoid clichés, and to provide insight into people and experiences and that have been formative in one’s choosing to go into medicine. Read some tips on how not to write the AMCAS essay here.
In beginning to think about the personal statement, here are some questions to consider:
- Why did you choose to go into medicine as a career?
- What were the turning points in your life?
- What were some of the biggest challenges in your life and how did you handle them?
- What people most influence your life, and how?
- What events/experiences most influenced your life, and how?
- What exposure have you had to medicine, and how has that shaped your thinking about going into medicine?
- What are your future goals, and why?
- What impassions you to act?
(some adapted from, “Story Works,” by John Molidor, PhD and Julie Campe, BA)
The answers to these questions can be used to create a compelling story, peaking the reader’s interest to know more about the writer, to want to talk in person to the writer.
Writing this essay will take a lot of time and energy. Start early (the essay written with the AIF may serve as a good starting point to work from), and don’t be afraid to write multiple drafts. Keep it simple and well organized; Use correct grammar, and have others proof-read rough drafts for suggestions. The premed advisor is available to review statements as well.