What Are Medical Schools Looking For?

There is no one right way to get into medical school. In fact, there are many different ways to achieve this goal encompassing a wide variety of majors, minors, activities and experiences. There are, however, some important considerations that will directly affect your ability to achieve your goal.

Academic Considerations

  • Major: All Allegheny majors are acceptable to medical schools; pre-medical students do not have to major in a science. All students, though, regardless of major, must take the pre-health core curriculum. The Health Studies minor may be particularly useful to the student who chooses a humanities or social science major since some of the courses will “double count”. While non-science majors do not have to take science coursework beyond the core curriculum, alumni, currently attending medical school, strongly recommend additional work in biology or chemistry. Conversely, science majors are strongly encouraged to take courses with significant analytical reading and writing components to maintain or improve their verbal skills.
  • GPA: Of course, your GPA is very important. Professional schools look at your BCPM (biology, chemistry, physics and math) GPA as carefully as they look at your overall GPA. Also, if you take any college coursework at another institution (summer school or college courses you took in high school, for example), you must report it to the professional school and figure it into your overall GPA. In 1999, the mean GPA of students who matriculated to allopathic (MD) medical schools was 3.59. The mean science GPA (BCPM) of this group was 3.53. Other programs (osteopathic medicine, dentistry, etc.) would require somewhat lower GPAs, but certainly in the 3.0-3.3 range.
  • MCAT: The MCAT is the standardized test required for all allopathic and osteopathic medical school applicants. It is offered twice a year (April and August). The April test is offered on the Allegheny campus. Students generally take the test in April of their junior year unless they have decided to delay applying by a year or more. All core coursework needs to be completed before taking the test. This test consists of three multiple choice sections: Verbal Reasoning, Physical Sciences (physics and intro chemistry) and Biological Sciences (biology and organic chemistry). The fourth section is the Writing Sample which requires two essays. The three multiple choice sections are scored on a 15 point scale (1 being low) and the essays are graded on an alphabetical scale from J (low) to T (high).

    In 1999, the mean MCAT scores for allopathic (MD) medical school matriculants were P in the Writing Sample, 9.5 in Verbal Reasoning, 10.0 in Physical Sciences and 10.2 in Biological Sciences (overall 29.7). The osteopathic schools do not publish similar data, but Allegheny experience indicates that scores of 24 or better are generally quite competitive. Your coursework at Allegheny should prepare you well for the MCAT. We offer two practice tests per year (primarily for juniors) to help you get familiar with the test format. We encourage you to take analytical reading/writing courses beyond the core requirements since so much of the test is analytical reasoning and interpretation.

  • Research: With the senior project requirement at Allegheny, all students are guaranteed to have some type of research experience. Many students choose to do research earlier, though, as an independent study with a professor or as a summer internship. These experiences are all highly valued by the medical schools. They are essential for the student who desires a career in academic medicine and/or who plans to pursue to MD/PhD degree

Non-Academic Experiences

  • Extracurricular and Job Experiences: Extracurricular activities play a significant part in most Alleghenians’ lives. These range from performing arts to community service; from religious activities to varsity sports; from cultural awareness clubs to sororities and fraternities. Besides the sheer enjoyment of participating in these activities, they allow you to develop interpersonal skills, teamwork, leadership potential and time management skills. Many also allow you to demonstrate your interest in serving your community. It is easy, however, to get overextended with activities and you are encouraged to start slowly, adding activities only as you are sure you have time for them. Medical schools will be far more impressed by a serious commitment to one or two activities than by a long list with little depth.

    Many students must work for financial reasons and the medical school will recognize that someone who works extensive hours is likely to have fewer activities. Even students who must work full-time in the summer, however, can surely find time to volunteer or enjoy a hobby several hours a week.

  • Health Care Related Experience: It is important that you experience medicine firsthand, to discover if you really want to spend your life working with sick and injured people. It is also important that you experience the various setting in which health care is practiced–hospitals, clinics and offices. There are many ways to experience medicine: shadowing physicians, working in a hospital ER, volunteering at a nursing home or working at a camp for disabled children, for example. Homeless shelters, hospices and AIDS clinics would welcome volunteer help. Whether the experience is paid or volunteer is not important. Allegheny sponsors several programs (EL Term internships, summer internships and the Primary Care Preceptorship) to help students find relevant medical experience. The Health Professions Office maintains a file of summer internships that may also be helpful to you.

    Experience working with people, though not specifically in a medical setting, is also very valuable. This might include volunteering as a Big Brother/Sister, tutoring children, taking an Alternative Spring Break trip, volunteering for Special Olympics, etc. Working with people whose ethnic, religious, socio-economic, etc. background is different from your own is also very valuable experience.

Personal Considerations

  • Letters of Recommendation: Before applying to medical school, you will need to collect letters of recommendation from four faculty members. It is, therefore, important that you actively participate in class and get to know the faculty who teach you. Without becoming a pest, let them get to know you–your hopes, your dreams, your interests. You may also want to obtain letters from health care professionals you have worked for. Keep this in mind during your internship experiences.
  • Interview: All medical schools require an interview, often two or three, with members of their faculty and, sometimes, medical students on the admissions committee. Since Allegheny requires a thorough interview of all candidates for medical school, you will have some experience doing this. But, in general, the more you have dealt with people, the more comfortable you will be in an interview. So, if you are on the shy side, push yourself a bit socially and try to become more comfortable talking with other people, especially strangers. Of course, having had a variety of interesting experiences will help make you a more interesting (and appealing) interviewee.
  • Honor Code and Other Disciplinary Violations: As an Alleghenian, you take an oath to uphold the Honor Code. Violations may result in serious sanctions and all sanctions will be reported to the medical schools. At the discretion of the Health Professions Advisory Committee, other disciplinary violations (repeated alcohol violations, theft, etc.) may also be reported. If you abide by the rules and take responsibility for your personal conduct, you should have nothing to worry about.
  • Professional Behavior: Doctors are professionals. Professionalism encompasses a number of areas. One is your ability to treat other people appropriately; to understand and honor different beliefs and traditions, to treat others with respect and courtesy, to be able to work as part of a group. A second area is personal accountability. This includes knowing and adhering to deadlines, arriving on time to appointments, canceling meetings if there is an unavoidable conflict: in short, acting responsibly. Finally, professionalism involves being informed about ethical issues and acting honestly and with integrity. A medical professional is expected to be altruistic; that is, to place the interests of individuals and society above their own.
  • Ability to Care for Yourself: Medical schools want students (and eventually doctors) who can take care of themselves. This means students who know how to relax in a healthy, responsible way. This means knowing your limits and knowing enough to seek help when you are have reached them. This means maintaining a healthy life style–eating healthy meals, sleeping a reasonable number of hours, getting regular exercise, and having a social support system–family and friends who will listen and help when times are rough.