Most successful applicants to medical school have spent several years preparing to apply. The following information will assist you in planning your path to becoming a physician. The Association of American Medical Colleges also offers a wealth of information.

Pre-health advising

Pre-health advisors at your undergraduate institution are typically great sources of information, and we strongly encourage applicants to work with them. If you are an undergraduate at UW–Madison, we recommend that you contact the Center for Pre-Health Advising.

Exploration of medical careers

There are many different professions available in health care. To effectively answer the question, "Why medicine?" it is important to explore directly whether becoming a physician is the right profession for you.

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, and leadership. Developing your potential and submitting an application that highlights your personal strengths requires planning. The University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health seeks 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.

Letters of recommendation: Experience and planning are key

The best letters of recommendation are from senior faculty who know you well. This rarely happens by taking just a single course. Often, it requires you to engage in experiences with faculty mentors in laboratory settings, seminar courses, and similar environments throughout your undergraduate years. It is helpful to invest time, thought, and scholarly commitment to your relationship with your mentor. Mentors can provide a letter that may inform the committee’s decision due to the depth of knowledge and the enthusiasm that they have for you as a mentee. Not every letter needs to be of this caliber, but successful applicants typically have one or two letters from faculty mentors who know them well.

Interviewing: Practice makes perfect

Interviewing involves skills that can be learned. To develop confidence and prepare for your interview, practice answering some anticipated questions out loud with a friend or mentor. This allows you to organize your thoughts and tell your story coherently. A practice interviewer can also observe and give you feedback.

Personal statement: Focus on you, not your achievements

Writing your personal statement is also a skill that can be learned. Reading essays that others have written can illustrate 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 reviewing a reiteration of your achievements.

It is usually helpful to have two or three people read your personal statement when you are done. One may be a friend or family member who reviews it for its overall message and grammatical correctness. Another might be a faculty member or someone with experience reading applications who can give you feedback as a reviewer. Finally make sure you have someone copyedit your essay (and entire application) for spelling, grammar, and language use.

Life and work experiences

Medical students at UW enter their study of medicine with a wide variety of life experiences. There is no single experience that will best prepare you for medical school or your life as a physician. You should have gained enough exposure to the field of health care to have a clear understanding of the day to day work of a physician and why you wish to spend the rest of your life in this profession. 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 through your actions.

Let your character and interests stand out

Longitudinal experiences over many years are given greater weight than a single event. The Admissions Committee places great value on non-medical experiences such as work, athletics, and military service. Such experiences can demonstrate traits such as self-reliance, determination, and altruism, which are all valuable characteristics in future physicians. Showing the ability to balance your formal educational pursuits 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 as a demonstration of who you 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.

Academic preparation

Our premedical requirements and selection criteria pages provide information about 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. We view your undergraduate years as your time to explore multiple interests and potential careers. Our Admissions Committee may potentially view an unusual major as a means of bringing scholarly diversity to a class in which a major in a scientific field is the norm. 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 and after completing most of their prerequisite courses. UW will accept the following MCAT exam results:

  • Entering Class of 2021 – MCAT taken between January 2017 and September 30, 2020

At the time that you submit your AMCAS application, you must indicate any future dates when you intend to take the MCAT. We will hold consideration of your application until we receive those scores. Once our Admissions Committee has reached a decision on your application, we will not consider any additional MCAT scores for the current year. Do not submit your application until you have decided whether you will retake the MCAT.

Tips for applying 

We encourage you to consider the following suggestions before applying to medical school:

  • Find a 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 valuable information, advice, 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. It is helpful to have letters from senior faculty members who know you well and who can provide positive, thoughtful reflections and characterizations. One or two letters that "wow" the Admissions Committee members can greatly aid the strength of your application.
  • Consider research opportunities. Physicians are scientists who continuously study the medical literature to remain current in their fields and often contribute new discoveries and knowledge to the literature. Research can be in any discipline and is not limited to bench science. Be able to describe your project and your 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 (combined MD/PhD program), you will be expected to have engaged in considerable research experience.
  • Complete most premedical science 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.
  • Ensure that your activities, essay, and ideally your letters of recommendation illustrate examples of your altruism and maturity.
  • Ask trusted individuals to read your essay such as a friend or family member and someone who has experience in reading applications such as a senior faculty member. 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 will not be considered as part of your application to UW 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 UW, learn about how to strengthen your application if you plan on reapplying.

If you have additional questions that are not answered above, please feel free to contact us at