Reflections on Getting Accepted to Medical School

Are You Trying to Navigate the Med School Application Process?  In general, all the cliche tips you’ve heard are true: get good grades, you need an ‘acceptable’ MCAT, definitely get patient experience, and you’ll likely need some extracurriculars. All of these things about this pseudo check-list are true, it’s just a matter of figuring out a strategy to execute it. It’s also important to take a 10,000 feet look at the process of trying to get into medical school: you just want to get in, but medical schools are looking for people who can add to their program.

1.    Find a mentor as soon as possible, it’s never too late.
2.   Go at your own pace (grades, scheduling and taking the MCAT, and extracurricular activity).
3.   Gain marketable skills during your undergrad.
4.   Have the right attitude.
5.   Understand how the admissions process works overall and for the specific programs you’re applying to.

Finding a Mentor

Finding a mentor is easier for some more than others. If you already have connections, then it’s a rather straight forward process since all you need to do is reach out to who you already know. This mentor doesn’t have necessarily have to be a medical doctor, they should just know or be willing to get to know the difficulties you’ll face. Statistically speaking, since you’re in college you’ll probably have more access to a PhD professor than a MD or DO, it’s okay to start there. My mentor was my old physiology professor, I later worked on several projects with this individual. Because my mentor was an active researcher in electrophysiology it allowed for me to gain marketable skills and later find a job after graduation in the office of research at my old university. This made it easier for me to develop a set of traits and experience that may come of value to my matriculating class. I think people put too much emphasis on finding a physician mentor, while it’s great to have a physician as one, it’s important not to neglect your other resources. If you don’t know where to start, try checking out your universities “Office of Undergraduate Research” (or something analogous to it) as they typically specialize in aligning undergraduates with research mentors. I highly suggest research mentors because of the amount of depth and involvement that will be required for both you and your mentor — the deeper your involvement the easier it is to argue to medical schools just how you’d add to their program. Research certainly isn’t required (for most programs), but it’s a lot easier to explain what you did if you were part of a research team than say passively shadowing a physician. A good mentor will know your personality traits (the good and the bad) and will be able to work with you, helping you to become your own person and not necessarily a miniature version of them. Another trait of a good mentor is that they’ll often push you further when you’re all but ready to give up, not to torture you but because they know you’re capable of it.

Go at your own pace, don’t rush into failure

It’s easy to get sucked up into following another’s pace. Don’t be afraid to slow down, and be sure to get help when you need it — rushing to apply when you’re not ready, or trying to plow through the organic chemistry series isn’t the best strategy if things aren’t going your way (unless you’re applying for DO remember that your retakes at best are averaged together with the old scores). You have to be flexible about your abilities at the moment and pragmatic about what you can accomplish. That’s not to say you can’t get past the MCAT, but maybe trying to rush to take it so you can apply isn’t the best strategy. I’ve seen a lot of friends lose their chance to apply to medical school because they tried to sprint through the requirements or stack up too many extracurriculars concurrently. Take your time, this is your life, one or two years won’t really make a big difference in the long-run; take on challenges at a pace you can handle, you need not emulate anyone else or follow other premeds “suggested timeline.” Really, the only timeline you need to worry about is applying early during your application season, everything before that should be a personal journey. For myself, I didn’t go straight into the university I actually found myself working for years and considered dropping out of college completely because I had a career going at a young age. I later decided to go back, and went to a university and graduated in 5 years with a major, minor, and research under my belt. I took my time, and found my own path, with the help from mentors and several friends, and I ignored people whenever they questioned my timeline. Realize that a lot of people who you think are “rocking it” and will “surely get in” won’t, part of this is probably because of rushing and doing badly or burning out while doing well.

This also means that it’s better to do several things exceptionally than to do 100-mediocre things. In my old lab we used to host premeds who were ‘interested’ in research, but it soon became obvious where their heart was when they’d stop showing up once they got what they wanted, wouldn’t finish their assignments, or would put minimal effort into what they considered to be “scut work”. At that point, for example in lab, you’re probably unnoticeably sabotaging the lab. So, keep in mind that if you’re involved in activities you may be hurting more than helping by participating. If you hurt the organization more than help then don’t expect either a transformative experience or a letter of recommendation. So, if you can’t commit, and things are going too fast for your pace, slow down and figure out your priorities and only commit to things that you can help.

Gain some marketable skills

I wasn’t sure if I’d get into medical school, so I was terrified to graduate without any marketable skills. In other words, try to “specialize” in college. Unfortunately, not everyone will have an appreciation for your pipetting prowess or that you took labs like the thousands of others — so don’t be fooled into thinking that just because you’re a premed you’re automatically skilled because you’ve titrated a few times (some people get their PhD on titrations). If you get into research, it’s rather straightforward, you’d likely gain skills because you’d have to grow more proficient than the average premed because the success of your lab is riding on it. If you’re not a research orientated person, learning how to start service orientated clubs for example is an excellent skill, as is learning how to fundraise. What helped me in this process was to keep a resume and a CV, this way I was always objective when it came to “why” I was doing something. This also makes writing your applications for medical school dramatically easier, as you already understand your motivation and your objectives. Most premeds have a problem filling out the AMCAS application, though if you’re used to applying for jobs (jobs that require a degree) then  it’s not an extraordinary process.

Have the right attitude — once you think of it as “scut work” all is lost

“Scut work” is a amorphous phrase, one person’s ‘scut work’ is another’s dedicated career. You may feel wiping out vomit and feces is below you, but besides the lessons in humility it’s also a lesson in relativity and often a lesson in team work. You may wonder what mopping the floor with disinfectant has to do with you becoming a physician. Well, in that case a lot, because you’re helping to prevent MRSA infections in the hospital, lessening the load of the staff etc. You may feel washing lab ware  is beneath you, after all you just shadowed a neurosurgeon on Friday, but I’ve seen months of data lost (plus the lives of mice wasted) because premeds thought rinsing out the soap at the bottom of our glassware wasn’t important enough of a task for them. Yes, shadowing the surgeon was probably conceptually cooler, but how much did you really do besides observe? Often, it’s really the “scut work” that is where you can have the most impact. Besides, if you can’t wash glassware, or pipette properly, why would you be given harder tasks that you seem to not able to handle?

Once you start seeing things as “scut work” you’ve probably already missed the lesson, and the lesson is typically team work. Yes, I’ve gotten coffee for my lab mates and professor, but at the same time my lab mates and professor have brought me food and coffee because they knew I couldn’t leave my work space until dusk.

At the end of the day, hypothetically if you didn’t get into medical school and you abhorred your extracurriculars, than you probably weren’t doing it for the right reasons.

Know how the admissions process works

There’s a ton of advice floating around, some of it is legit, most of it is garbage. There’s a certain website, who’s name I won’t mention, that is ripe full of useless or misleading advice. Some advice you’ll get will be bad because people are ignorant of the process because they’ve personally have never went through it, but they’ll consider themselves self appointed experts because they’ve read enough anecdotes. Instead, go with people with admission experience and keep up with the latest AAMC news, and of course your specific programs’ guidelines and advice. The AAMC isn’t an evil agency as some would make it out to be; they’re rather invested in making sure you have the best shot possible at getting in — though, you wouldn’t know it by how some people act about the process of applying to medical school. Applying to medical school isn’t necessarily a mysterious process, but it sure will be if you didn’t do your own homework. Make sure not to be pulled into 20 different directions, stick to a few good sources (including the crown jewel aka the AAMC website), and don’t dilute your efforts too much by taking disparate advice from others. — even those who’ve applied many years ago are likely out of touch with what is required or expected of you currently, so it’s very important that you secure your future by doing your own background research. In the end, if you don’t get in no one will be accountable or more affected than you.

And lastly, it’s okay to be pragmatic, but don’t give up hope because of a bad grade or MCAT score. For the most part, courses and the MCAT can be retaken. Sure, it’s ideal to get past them with flying colors, but life doesn’t work that way usually. A test of your commitment is not only getting past these things, but learning how to do what it takes to get past them. This may mean you can’t apply to all Ivy Leagues, or that you’ll have to make a few detours. But, one C (or even D) won’t exile you from medicine, nor will a bad MCAT score — nor does it imply that you couldn’t survive medical school. You might find yourself taking a few detours, but in the end if you’re satisfied than that’s all that matters. Getting into medical school isn’t that transformative, but the journey to get there is, and if your endgame is just to get in without trying to better yourself then it’ll make applying just that much harder.

Are you misusing the med school rankings? Click here to find out!

About the AuthorI’m a non traditional first year medical student at BUSM who was originally planning to obtain a PhD. Growing up, I often struggled in school because I was usually absent because of constant hospitalizations, and I never expected to go into college never mind medicine. Though, later in college I learned how to excel in the sciences and became a department recommended organic chemistry, biochemistry, general chemistry, and human physiology tutor. During college I was also involved in numerous electrophysiology projects where I studied principally muscle chloride channels under my research mentor. Towards the end of my college career volunteering at a children’s impatient oncology center as a science instructor helped to solidify my decision to apply to medical school. To better serve my community I later served the underserved as a academic advisor and tutor within correctional institutions in hopes to reduce inmate recidivism in my local community. Around the same time, I became a contributing writer where I wrote health and fitness. While applying to medical school I became a member and Ethical Compliance Associate for both the Institutional Review Board (IRB) and Animal Care and Use Committee. Currently, as medical student I write as a hobby and will never turn down a beer or wine tasting opportunity (maybe except around exams), play guitar, socialize, and dabble in art. 

Can You Submit Your AMCAS Application BEFORE Retaking the MCAT?

Check out our Med School Admissions 101 Pages!

You don’t want your application relegated to the bottom of the stack.

It’s risky to apply to med school before taking or retaking the MCAT for a few reasons:

1. Applying to med school is expensive and time intensive. It would be a shame to put in all that effort and then bomb the test and risk rejection. When you submit your application without an MCAT score, your application remains pending until your scores are submitted. There’s no taking back your application if your scores aren’t what you’d like them to be.

2. Not only does it make the application process more stressful – knowing that you’ve submitted but that your application is still incomplete – but it makes the MCAT exam itself more stressful as well, and for some applicants, this stress could negatively impact their score.

3. Finally, it may not be the best idea to go this route because some schools won’t look at an application until the MCAT score has been submitted. So if they see “MCAT score pending” on an application, it’ll go to the bottom of the stack until it’s ready to be reviewed in full.

A better option…

I recommend taking the MCAT, getting your score, and then applying early in the next cycle, rather than going through the stress of submitting an application with an unknown MCAT score and then taking the test under pressure, knowing that the results will be used and weighed heavily, regardless of how you performed.

If, however, you do decide to apply to med school before you’ve taken the exam, then I recommend the following: Apply only to schools with less competitive programs, those that you think you have a good chance of getting into with, say, the lowest score you think you may get. You can always go back and add more schools later. This way, at least you’ve gotten your application verified on the AMCAS side. Worst case scenario – you don’t score well and have to wait and apply again next year. Not the end of the world.

You know yourself best…

The final word on this is that you know yourself best. If you think you can apply before taking the MCAT without the stress killing you and knowing that if you bomb the exam, you’ll bomb your chances of admission – then go for it. There’s always next year. And some people are fine embracing that attitude.

The advice in this post is based on a conversation we had in our recent webinar, Ask The Experts: Medical School Admissions Q&A with Cydney Foote and Alicia McNease Nimonkar. Check out the full transcript for more tips on applying to med school successfully!

Great Advice on All Things MCAT!


Related Resources:

• How to Get into Medical School with Low Stats, a free webinar
• MCAT Mania: How to Prepare
Tips For Applicants With A Low MCAT Score (Part 1)

Gap Years, Blogging, and Applying to Med School: IV with Derin

Click here for more interviews with med school applicant bloggers!This interview is the latest in an blog series featuring interviews with medical school applicants and students, offering readers a behind-the-scenes look at top medical schools and the med school application process. And now, introducing Derin…

Accepted: We’d like to get to know you! Where are you from? Where and what did you study as an undergrad?

Derin: Hey readers! My name is Aderinola but most people know me as Derin. I am originally from Lagos, Nigeria but I moved to the U.S. when I was l0 years old. I moved around a bit but the longest place I have lived in the U.S. is now Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

I went to the University of Pennsylvania here in Philadelphia and was a double major in Sociology of Health & Medicine and African Studies. I also minored in Biology to supplement my pre-med requisites. I loved the education I received, being able to combine my love of medicine with the social sciences and humanities.

Accepted: How have you been spending your time since graduating college (other than applying to med school)? Why did you decide to take a gap year, rather than jump directly from college to medical school?

Derin: I have been working as a Clinical Research Coordinator at Perelman School of Medicine – University of Pennsylvania. I love the work I do! I work mostly with qualitative data, so it’s essentially utilizing qualitative and mixed methods methodology to solve clinical research questions.

I remember when I decided to take a gap year. It was the summer going into my junior year and I had just received my physics grade. I was very disappointed at my performance. At the same time, I realized it had been difficult trying to succeed in physics and working many hours at my summer job. My self-esteem felt shot and I concluded that I needed to reduce my workload. So instead of taking organic chemistry the first semester of my junior year, I decided to take only social science/ humanities courses for that semester and focus my energy on my two majors. At that point, I also started thinking about having a real world experience. I decided I wanted to have some professional work experience before plunging right into medicine. Most of the positions I was interested in required at least a two year commitment, so I decided  I would have a two year gap.

Accepted: I see you submitted your AMCAS application just a few hours after the system opened for submissions. Can you talk about how you managed to be so prepared and why you felt it was important to submit early?

Derin: Well, I literally started working on my application the first day it opened up – May 1st. Step one was actually logging in. The next day I started filling in the biographical information and my work and activities. Surprising the work and activities section took a lot longer than I thought because I had been involved in so much during undergrad! I utilized my resume/CV to fill out this particular section, along with past journals and written reflections. At UPenn, there is a process pre-health applicants have to go through to obtain a committee letter; the process also helps in getting some materials for AMCAS ready. I had a rough draft of my work and activities section ready to go because of this.

By the middle of May, I started working on my personal statement and actively editing and rewriting. I had a very rough outline that I had started a few months ago and I built my personal statement off that. I also had some awesome mentors and friends help me by reading and critiquing my essay.

I wanted my personal statement to be an accurate representation of both my writing abilities and my journey to med school. It was a juggling act trying to get my application ready and working full-time. However, when it comes to deadlines and applications, I am a very organized individual. By June 3rd, I was ready to submit my application.

Accepted: What would you say has been the most challenging aspect of the med school admissions process so far? How did you approach that challenge and overcome it?

Derin: The most challenging part is trying not to stress out and think of the worst scenario. To tackle this, I surround myself with positive people and read a lot of success stories. I also exercise a lot and do obstacle races like the Spartan race to remind myself that no challenge is too big, it CAN be conquered. In addition, I write in my journal to ease the anxiety and talk to my friends who have also been on this journey. I wrote a post on my blog called “Strategies for Managing the Stress of the Application Process” where I list some other tactics I utilize. Check it out!

Accepted: Where are you applying to med school? Do you have a top choice program?

Derin: I am applying to schools in the east coast and a few in the midwest and south. Each of these schools have their own specific strengths. I spent a great deal of time researching my schools well in advance and had 12 of the schools on my list since May 2013. The qualities these schools have in common are emphasis on research, commitment to the underserved/ local community, and working with diverse population. I could see myself at any of these schools, and well my top choice program, is one that enables me to thrive. I am looking forward to finding that out during my interview process.

Accepted: Do you have any idea at this early stage what sort of medicine you want to practice?

Derin: Yes! I am very interested in Obstetrics and Gynecology. I got interested in this while doing a winter internship in Peru and shadowing an OB/Gyn doctor. Prior to that I had no exposure to the specialty, but that experience sparked my interest and I looked into the field. All of a sudden, it seemed like I was meeting female Ob/Gyns everywhere I went! All my medical mentors right now are Ob/Gyn doctors. One is currently practicing, two started their residency and the fourth is in her final year, so it’s pretty cool seeing their different stages. I will add that, I did not go looking specifically for mentors who are Ob/Gyns; I believe this was just God setting me up, divine intervention really.

Accepted: Do you have any other advice for our med school applicant readers?

Derin: Plan ahead, stay organized, and don’t be afraid to ask for help. One thing that I have learned along the way is that “The well laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” Sometimes you can’t sweat the small stuff. What may seem like a down fall or rejection is just a redirection. Pick your head up and plunge ahead! Taking this gap year for instance, has been the best redirection I could have ever imagined. Another example: I was initially supposed to do a fellowship abroad after I graduated college, however due to funding, it got cancelled. I was crushed and the next day began frantically applying to jobs, that’s when I actually stumbled on my current job. It was the best redirection! I have attained a certain level of maturity, explored my interests and grown so much in just a short while.

Also, don’t let procrastination get the best of you!

In addition, don’t be afraid to go at your own pace! Some things just can’t be rushed.

Lastly, ask for help if you need it! I wish I had talked to more upperclassmen while in undergrad, or had some strong mentorship. I didn’t do that. I made silly mistakes like not researching my professors before I took the class and not asking upperclassmen what they did to succeed in the class. I’ve realized now that no man is an island and you just have to open your mouth and ask. And even if one person isn’t willing to help, ask the next person.

Accepted: Can you tell us about your blog? When did you start blogging? What have you gained from the blogging experience?

Derin: I’ve been blogging since 2011. My last two blogs were travel blogs, one on my trip to South Africa and one on my internship in Peru. I love blogging and recounting my experience for the sake of posterity. I started “Curve Balls and Med School” because I envisioned my gap years as being a critical stage in my life that I’d want to record and look back on. I also knew a few undergrads on this path and I wanted to be a source of inspiration. Of course, there was the initial fear of failure so even though I started the blog in July 2013 right after I graduated, it was anonymous until a few months ago. I wanted to demystify the med school application process and I felt there would be more credibility by being open.

From blogging, I’ve learned that no one’s journey is the same, everyone has their own curve balls and that’s what makes it so unique. I feature current med students and it’s interesting learning about their journey to med school. It’s also been really cool to see how encouraging and receptive people have been to my blog. I felt a little vulnerable at first – there is a very real possibility for failure and people are following my journey knowing fully well I am not in med school – yet. At the same time, I live by faith and I walk by faith, so I know God is in control. Blogging has been a humbling experience, and that’s why I adopted this quote by my favorite author Maya Angelou: “When you learn, teach, when you get give.”

For one-on-one guidance on your med school applications, please see our catalog of med school admissions services.


You can read more about Derin’s med school journey by checking out her blog, Curve Balls and Med School. Thank you Derin for sharing your story with us!

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Do you want to be featured in’s blog, Accepted Admissions Blog? If you want to share your med school journey with the world (or at least with our readers), email us at

Learn How to Match: Live Webinar on Tues!

Reminder: Our residency webinar will air on Tuesday, August 19, 2014 at 5:00 Pm PT/8:00 PM ET.

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Washington University (St. Louis) Medical School 2015 Secondary Application Essay Tips

Get the rest of our school-specific secondary application tips!In the top ten ranking for research, WUSOM provides exciting opportunities for medical students to participate in research at the basic science or clinical levels. They are looking for students with strong ties to their communities—with excellent communication skills, a dedication to service, and well-rounded interests. The secondary application requests three essays.

Washington University (St. Louis) 2015 Secondary Application Essay Questions:

• Three essays are requested: two essays with a 3,000-character limit and one essay with a 1,800-character limit.
Applicants should use single line spacing and 12 point size font.
• Responses should be constructed strategically to highlight an applicant’s strengths.

The following are required in the Secondary Application:

1. Describe a time or situation where you have been unsuccessful or failed.  (maximum 3000 characters including spaces)

The best responses to this type of question will demonstrate resilience.  It will be important to select an event or commitment that you clearly did not perform well on but one in which you did not give up.  Choose something that you had to repeat or improve and demonstrate how, through hard work, you were able to succeed.  For example, you could use your first teaching experience.  For most people, the first time you have to teach a class or group, it does not go well but we learn from that first experience and improve.  Focus the bulk of the essay on how you improved and on outcomes.  End on a high note.    

2. Do you have unique experiences or obstacles that you have overcome that were not covered in your application about which you would like to inform our Admissions Committee? (maximum 3000 characters including spaces)

Given this institution’s dedication to community service, I recommend sharing the details of any long-term volunteer work that you have not discussed in your personal statement.  What was your role?  How did you help the community?  What was your connection to this group of people?  Staying true to the prompt, have you overcome any significant challenges in your life to be successful?  Learning a new language or finding resources to reach your goals can be good examples.  Think broadly of your life experiences—were there difficulties in your life that you have overcome which other people may see as obstacles?     

3. If you have already completed your education, if your college or graduate education was interrupted, or if you do not plan to be a full-time student during the current year, describe in chronological order your activities during the time(s) when you were not enrolled as a full-time student. (maximum 1800 characters including spaces)

Using an updated copy of your resume or CV, be comprehensive in your response.  Capture the diversity of your activities and interests.  Include all work experiences or volunteer activities.  Review a copy of your transcript to be sure that you have covered all significant gaps in your education.  If there were increases or decreases in your GPA before or after these breaks, explain.    

WUSOM Application Timeline:

AMCAS Application Due December 1, 2014
Secondary Application *December 31, 2014 (Strong recommendation: Submit within two weeks after receipt.)
Interviews Conducted October 2014 to March 2015
Rolling Admissions November 2014 to April 15, 2015
School Begins August 11, 2015

If you would like professional guidance with your Washington University School of Medicine application materials, please consider using Accepted’s Medical School Admissions Consulting and Editing Services, which include advising, editing, and interview coaching for the WUSOM application materials.

Check out the rest of our school-specific secondary essay tips!

Alicia Nimonkar is an advisor and editor specializing in healthcare admissions. Prior to joining Accepted, Alicia worked for five years as Student Advisor at UC Davis’ postbac program where she both evaluated applications and advised students applying successfully to med school and related programs. Explore’s services to see how Alicia can help you achieve your professional dreams in healthcare. ~ Helping You Write Your Best