Most successful applicants to medical school have spent several years preparing. The following information will assist you in planning your path to becoming a physician. The Association of American Medical Colleges also has a wealth of information.
The pre-health advisors at your undergraduate institution are usually a great source of information and you are strongly encouraged to work with them. If you are an undergraduate at UW-Madison, then we recommend that you contact the Center for Pre-Health Advising.
Exploration of medical careers
There are many different professions available in the health care field. It is important to explore whether becoming a physician is the right profession for you in order to effectively answer the question "Why medicine?"
Talk to physicians about their experiences, and if possible shadow them in their clinics or hospitals. Volunteer in a health care facility. Your experiences should provide you with a realistic perspective of the health care field and confirm your reasons for pursuing this profession.
Develop your personal qualities and skills
All medical schools look for outstanding students who exhibit exceptional personal qualities and interpersonal skills. These include empathy, altruism, integrity, reliability, leadership, oral communication skills, and so on. Developing your potential and submitting an application that highlights your personal strengths requires planning.
Remember, there is no perfect applicant and schools such as the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health seek applicants with diverse abilities and characteristics. Our Admissions Committee evaluates your personal qualities based on your letters of recommendation, your interview and your written personal statement.
Remember, there is no perfect applicant and schools seek applicants with diverse abilities and characteristics.
The best letters of recommendation are from senior faculty who know you well. This rarely happens by taking just a single course and requires you to have experiences with faculty in the lab, seminar courses and other settings throughout your undergraduate years. Planning early whom you may ask for a letter allows a mentor to really get to know you. Mentors can provide you with the kind of letter that may sway the committee’s decision because of their depth of knowledge and enthusiasm for you. Not every letter needs to be of this caliber but successful applicants typically have one or two.
Interviewing involves skills which can be learned. Practicing answers to expected questions out loud with a friend or mentor can help you be confident and prepared during your interview. This allows you to organize your thoughts and tell your story coherently. A practice interviewer can also observe and give you feedback about idiosyncrasies that you may exhibit but of which you are not aware.
Writing is also a skill that can be learned. Reading essays that others have written can give you ideas for the wide variety of approaches that applicants use and the topics that they tend to discuss in their personal statements. The Admissions Committee finds it most useful to find out about you as a person rather than just having you reiterate your achievements.
It is usually helpful to have a couple of people read your personal statement when you are done. One may be a friend or family member who reads it for its overall message and grammatical correctness. The other should be a faculty member or someone with experience reading applications who can give you feedback as a reviewer.
Life and work experiences
Medical students at the UW School of Medicine and Public Health have an amazing plethora of life experiences that range from being an Olympic athlete to being a professional opera singer. There is no single experience that will best prepare you for medical school or your life as a physician. You should have enough health care experience that it is clear from your essay and activities that you know what a physician actually does on a daily basis and why you want to spend the rest of your life doing it.
There is no single experience that will best prepare you for medical school or your life as a physician.
Experiences that highlight your personal qualities and show your commitment to helping others are viewed positively by the Admissions Committee. Your passion, leadership skills and altruism are usually best shown by what you have done, not talking about what you are going to do.
Longitudinal experiences over the course of years are given greater weight than any single event. Do not underestimate the value that the Admissions Committee may place on non-medical experiences such as work, athletics, or military service. They can show such things as self-reliance, determination, and altruism which are all valuable characteristics in future physicians. Showing the ability to balance your education with your other interests is also important. It demonstrates maturity and the organizational skills that will be invaluable to you as a medical student and physician.
Activities should not be viewed as a checklist, but rather a demonstration of who you really are and what kind of physician you are going to be. If it is obvious that you did something simply because you thought that you “should” then it may be discounted in value. How you describe an activity in your application can also make a difference. Telling us what you learned about yourself from an experience is more important than telling us what you did.
Our premedical requirements and selection criteria pages provide excellent information on how our Admissions Committee views your academic preparation for medical school as part of their holistic review of your application. You need not have completed all of your prerequisites at the time of your application, but most applicants find the MCAT provides a better measure of their academic abilities if they have taken the appropriate courses.
We tend not to favor any single type of major and view your undergraduate years as your time to explore multiple interests and potential careers. Our Admissions Committee may view an unusual major as someone bringing diversity to a class filled with science majors. Doing well in your most recent upper-level courses (post-baccalaureate or graduate courses if you are returning to school), whatever your major, is viewed as evidence of your academic ability and maturity as you prepare for medical school.
Plan when to take the MCAT
Most applicants take the MCAT 14 to 16 months before they wish to enroll in medical school after completing most of their prerequisite courses.
The AAMC recommends averaging MCAT scores if someone takes it more than once. Thus a low score may count against an applicant if they take it when they are not ready. If you submit both old and current MCAT scores, then we will consider the score with the highest percentile rank.
The UW School of Medicine and Public Health will accept the following MCAT exam results:
- Entering Class of 2018 – current MCAT or former MCAT if taken after January 1, 2014
- Entering Class of 2019 – current MCAT only
Tips for applying
We encourage you to consider the following suggestions before applying to medical school:
- Find the pre-health advisor on your campus early in your college career, or as soon as you know that medicine is the career for you. They can provide you with a wealth of information and experience.
- Obtain access to the Medical School Admissions Requirements (MSAR). This resource lists the admissions requirements of most medical schools and details admissions processes.
- Educate yourself about the medical profession. Medical exposure is an important part of your application. Explore the medical profession by volunteering at a local hospital, clinic or hospice.
- Seek to build relationships with academic professors during your college years. Academic letters of recommendation are required by all schools. You want letters from senior people who know you well and say great things about you. One or two letters that aren't just nice, but "wow" the Admissions Committee members can make a big difference in the strength of your application.
- Consider research opportunities. Physicians are scientists who depend on the medical literature to remain current in their fields. Research can be in any discipline, and is not limited to bench science. Applicants should be able to describe their project, and their role in the research. Research as part of a course or as a senior thesis project is acceptable. If you are interested in the Medical Scientist Training Program (MD/PhD) then you will be expected to have considerable research experience.
- Complete most premedical sciences courses by the end of your junior year of college.
- Take the MCAT about 16 months before your anticipated enrollment in medical school.
- An early application is encouraged, but it is important to submit the strongest application possible. This might mean waiting for additional grades in your coursework, starting or continuing activities that will prepare you for a career in medicine, and fine-tuning your essay to reflect who you are, and your motivation for becoming a physician.
- Make sure that there are examples of your altruism and maturity in your activities or essay, or even better, in your letters of recommendation.
- Ask a couple of people whom you trust to read your essay. One may be a friend or family member. Another should be a person experienced in reading applications, although not necessarily for medical school, such as a senior professor. Listen to their feedback.
- Practice interviewing. This is a skill that can be learned.
- Continue to take some high-level science courses after submitting your application. These won't be considered as part of your application to the UW School of Medicine and Public Health but will prepare you for medical school classes.
- Continually improve your study habits and time-management skills.
- If you were not successful in gaining admission to our medical school, learn about how to strengthen your application if you plan on reapplying.
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