Applying to Medical School--Hints on the Application
and Interview Process from Dr. Mitch Smith, M.D.

This page is the work of Mitch Smith who was an Instructor in the Department of Biology at Willamette University for 5 years and I continue to maintain it as ode to a good friend.  In Spring 1999, Mitch enrolled in Medical School at Tulane University in the heart of New Orleans, Louisiana.  Prior to his departure for the crawdad and gator capital of the United States, Mitch composed these recommendations for students interested in Medical School.  I encourage interested students to read and take to heart the words of someone who has been successful in their quest for admission.  Please forward additional helpful and dead links to Professor John L. Koprowski (

What are you most interested in exploring today?

When to Apply?                     MCAT Info                 Where Should I Apply?
Interview Tips                   Helpful Links

When should I apply to Medical School?

      The quick answer to this question is "As early as you possibly can."

Most US medical schools want you to apply through the AMCAS program.  This allows you to apply to
as many schools as you want, with all of the schools getting the same information concerning grades,
extracurricular activities, awards, and one essay.

AMCAS will start accepting your applications on the first of June.  I would encourage you to use the
AMCAS-E form for filling out your applications. What you should do is have your transcript(s) sent to
the office in Washington anytime prior to June 1st (If you are a graduating senior, you should probably
wait until your final grades are recorded).  No later than June 1st, you should send in your completed

The next thing to do is to wait around until your secondary applications start coming in.  Some schools
will do an initial screen prior to sending you a secondary (Don't get too excited, since this screen is
essentially are you breathing; i.e. 2.5 gpa and MCAT over 20) and some send everyone a secondary.
The secondary application is essentially a way for the schools to collect some additional information
about you as an applicant and hit you up for an additional $50-100.

What about the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT)

Make no mistake, the MCAT is one of the most important hurdles to getting into medical school. Do
not take the MCAT as a practice, do not take the MCAT as a diagnostic ("I'll take it and if I do well I
will apply to med school"), do not think that your stratospheric GPA is so good that you can blow off
the MCAT.  The schools look at it this way.  They know that grade inflation is rampant at US schools
and they know that some of you will be $180,000 in debt after four years.  The schools want to be
absolutely sure that you will pass the board exams because if you can not, they won't get their money
back or you will default on some huge loan making them look bad.  What is the best indicator of a
students ability to pass the national board exams?  You guessed it, the MCAT score.

The MCAT exam takes a full day and is composed of  four sections:

    A reading comprehension section--this is the hardest section to do well at relative to all other test
takers.  Most people do very well on this section and you want to distinguish yourself from all other
folks.  The upshot is that you can miss very few question to get a good score.  Spend a good chunk of
time practicing these types of questions as you will get better with practice.

    A physical sciences section (first year chemistry and physics)--This is the easiest section to do well
on, but has the hardest questions.  Take solace in the fact that you can miss multiple questions and still
outperform your fellow test takers.

   A writing section--You will write two 30 minutes essays on an assigned topic just after lunch.  This
is the score that the schools care the least about.  It is not given a number score like the other sections,
but rather a letter with T being the high score.  Spend some time remembering how to write a good
essay, read the paper in the weeks leading up to the exam, remember the history you have not thought
about since freshman year.

    A biology section--The biology section is both biology and organic chemistry; the split can be 50-50
to about 60-40 with biology (thank god) being the majority of the questions.  You will need to know
more biology than they tell you (one year).  I would recommend having Diversity, CBG, Micro, and
Animal Physiology before the thought of taking the exam crossed my mind.  On the test that I took,
there was physiology, endocrinology, evolution, genetics, as well as other topics.

    A couple of other points:

       Studying:I spent 4 hours/day, 5 days/week for 6 weeks studying.  My score was a 32.  I would not
recommend paying $1000 for a course on how to study.  I went and bought the Kaplan book ($50) and
divided up the number of pages in the book by the number of days I had to study; that was the number
of pages I had to do a day.

       Scores:  What you should be shooting for is a combined score of  over 30 with no subsection score
less than 9.  I am not saying you won't get in with a 29, just that you are in a pool that has a greater
number of competitors.  With every one point you drop off of 30, your chances of getting in are getting
smaller and smaller.  If your score is less than 25, I would stop the application process and retake the

    Helpful Links on the MCAT:

       MCAT Registration Info from the AAMC --registration times, application requests, etc.

       Kaplan's Online --various test taking information on most of the major professional school exams

Where should I apply to medical school?

I would recommend that you apply to all of the public schools in your state (i.e. only OHSU if you are
from Oregon) and as many as 11 out-of-state private schools.  The national average for students
applying for the first time is around 12 schools.  Whatever you do, do not pick up the latest US News
and World Report and fire off applications to the top ten schools because you will not get in (an
exception to this rule would be if  you GPA is 3.8 or above and your MCAT scores hover in the 37
and up range).

Be honest with yourself concerning your abilities and realize that most schools get in excess of 5000
applications.  You will have to have a GPA around 3.5 and MCAT scores around 30 to be a serious
applicant.  In addition it helps to have significant research experience as well as tons of volunteer
health care hours.

The reality is that most medical schools in the US graduate folks who pass the boards (99%) and go
onto practice medicine.  Unless you are going to try and do academic medicine, where you go is not so
important.  Pick some places that are great, some that have a solid reputation, and some that seem
good but not great.  Again I would encourage you to be honest with yourself.  How many students with
a 3.47 and MCAT scores of 28 get into Harvard?

I would encourage you to look at the statistics concerning application #, % accepted,  and % of out of
state folks accepted.  This should give you an idea of your chances, based on the numbers.  You can
follow this link to the JAMA issue with this data (for some of the tables, you may need to head to the

Other Helpful Links on Universities and Medical School Programs:

      Peterson's Guide to Colleges
      Kaplan's --information on nearly 50,000 graduate programs
      U.S. News and World Report --various rankings and information
      College Net --general information and search capabilities for graduate schools

Interview Tips

    If there is one bit of advice that I can give you about the interview it would be this: be professional.
We all love to be different-- blue hair, 35 ear rings, trendy suit.  Think of it this way.  You are being
evaluated as a possible colleague and they are asking themselves questions like: Could this person deal
with telling an elderly person they have terminal cancer?  Will this person be able to deal maturely
with female health care issues?  Do not look like the latest VJ on MTV since you would not
leave your ailing mother with that person either.

           * Show up early for your interview

           * Try and spend the night with some students as they will give you the lowdown

            * Read as much as you possibly can about current events, health care issues, your
                        research projects, and volunteer work.  You could get asked about any of these topics.

            * Do a mock interview and think of ways to answer the most common questions within
                        2-5 minutes (Do not be a blowhard)

            * Bring questions to ask your interviewer.  They are busy people with many things to
                        do, if you answer their questions in 5 minutes, your interview could be over.

            * Bring a current professional copy of your resume and leave it with the interviewer(s)
                        or the departmental secretary.

            * If you talk about an article from a journal or a magazine send that interviewer a copy.

            * Send a thank you note listing all of the people that helped you on your interview.

Important Links

           Interview browser:  This site is a great tool to get a feeling for a place prior to going there

           American Association of Medical Schools:  A good site with lots of student information