15+ MD acceptances. 5+ lessons learned.

medical school admissions strategy
By Matt Y.

I’m nearly finished with my first semester of medical school at Harvard and MIT. This same time last year, I was thinking about the steps it would take to get here, the pitfalls I needed to avoid to get here, and how I would thrive once I got here. By the end of my cycle, I had gained admission and merit scholarships to over fifteen of the nation’s top medical schools including Harvard, Yale, and Johns Hopkins.

Here are some nuggets of advice I wish someone told me when I was applying to medical school.  

1. Story is everything

The importance of crafting a cohesive narrative about yourself cannot be understated. When applying to medical school, you are applying with thousands of other qualified candidates who have similar volunteer experiences, research, and extracurricular activities. A key way you can stand out is by ensuring that your own story is unique, and taking care that your extracurricular activities support that story. I’ll quote a solid piece of advice I heard while interviewing at Harvard, “the medical school class is like an orchestra, each student contributing their own melody; if everyone played the same instrument, it simply would not function correctly.”  

2. Grades and MCAT are not everything

I remember thinking that I needed a perfect GPA and MCAT score to make myself as competitive as possible. While having excellent grades and a high MCAT score are very important, they only take you so far. It seems to me that your statistics (grades and MCAT) serve primarily as a benchmark that show medical schools that you will thrive in their rigorous academic environment (this benchmark is different from school to school, you can use the MSAR tool to see average MCAT scores and GPAs at different medical schools). Once you reach a certain threshold, one extra point on the MCAT likely doesn’t matter all that much. This is not to say that you should not aim to do as well as you can, but rather do not focus so much on these metrics that you neglect other key parts of your application like your essays, extracurricular activities, and passions in the pursuit of perfect numbers.  

3. Quality over quantity

This is a common pitfall you need to avoid to have a balanced life and a stronger application. Having accrued a thousand hours of service in a club you joined because you thought it “looked good” is not nearly as helpful as three hundred hours in an organization you founded about something deeply meaningful to you. Using your time meaningfully to pursue activities you truly care about will take you much further than farming thousands of hours in places you are not as passionate about. Let that passion shine through in your interviews.  

4. Secondaries are good for you

I recall how nervous I was last spring about the wave of secondary essays I’d have to write over the summer. Pre-writing your secondaries (and ideas for your secondaries) is key to having a productive and enjoyable medical school application cycle and learning about yourself (and why you are going into this field). You can take it slow. Start thinking about experiences you can write about early and write these in a notes document on your phone as the ideas come to you. By the time you reach secondary season, you’ll have a sea of ideas to draw from and a much better time. 

5. Have fun with your interview 

I was more worried about my interviews than anything else in the application cycle. I thought about how I might get questions that I simply did not know how to answer, or that they would feel like interrogations. I was so wrong, and gladly so. I found that the vast majority of my interviews felt like a simple conversation, and I could tell that the schools wanted it to feel that way. As cliché as it sounds, medical schools really just want to know more about who you are, and why you did the things you did (except for the multiple mini interview, please feel free to ask me how I prepared for these!). Viewing your interviews this way can alleviate a whole lot of stress and significantly boost your performance. Last thing: remember to smile. You worked so hard to get to this point, so you should feel free to have fun with it and speak with a smile! 

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