If you are pre-med, you know the process of building a strong application is not only stressful, but is also an essential part of preparing for your future. Countless hours are spent searching for ways to make yourself more appealing so when the time comes you will be the golden student who stands out among the rest.

However, so many people have so many different opinions and suggestions that it becomes hard to decipher what steps will truly be of benefit and which ones are a waste of time. When should I start volunteering and how many hours do I need? How do I find a doctor to shadow? Why does everyone keep mentioning research and how do I get involved in it? Eventually you find yourself in a state of a mental fetal position and you hear this little voice in your head say, "This is too much work, you should run." Fortunately for me, I have been blessed to have many successful doctors in my life that were able to help formulate a plan for success to tackle the Goliath problem of building myself into a strong applicant. Here are five essentials for a standout medical school application. 

1. Volunteering


Typically, it is best to begin volunteering as early as your freshman year of college and as late as entering your junior year. According to PrepScholar, the typical pre-med student needs at least 200 hours for a strong stance in this area. Completing at least 200 hours in at least a one year span shows you can commit for long periods of time, so aim to do this. If you are already busy, keep in mind that there are ways to lessen this load. Volunteering for four hours every week, starting your freshman year, will give you roughly 832 hours and you would only need to actively do this for a year to meet the requirement. If four hours seems impossible, consider a lengthier route by doing fewer hours at a time such as two hours every week for two years, as this will meet your minimum requirement. It is also good to keep in mind that the closer you get to patient contact the better. Volunteering to teach kids to read is not the same as clinical volunteering.

2. Research


Research can seem intimidating, especially if you are unaware of what it entails. For those of you who don’t know, research volunteer duties can consist of anything from washing petri dishes to recording data requested by the doctor leading the study. Don’t worry if you don’t have any experience in a lab setting; they don’t expect you to be a seasoned scientist yet. You're just there to help assist. Another important thing is timing. Getting involved as early as possible will give you the opportunity to earn more merits and a better chance of getting your name put on a paper, this being an ultimate asset for an application. Finding research is also not as grueling as it sounds. it’s very simple; you can either Google the research that is around you and contact faculty via email, or ask a professor or doctor if they know of any opportunities.

3. Shadowing


Finding a doctor that will take you on is becoming difficult. Due to HIPPA, (which is a patient confidentiality agreement which strictly guards the information of patients) you are most likely not going to weasel your way into a patient room. The only doctors who will even consider taking you on are those of private practice. However, this shouldn't worry you as med schools are highly aware of the growing difficulty and are understanding of the issue. So if you can't find a doctor to shadow, it’s not a big deal and it’s not going to hurt your chances. Just make up for it in other areas such as extracurriculars.

4. Extracurriculars


Extracurriculars are a big one. The number of qualified students that get denied on a regular basis due to the fact that they did not take part in activities or advanced learning opportunities outside of getting their degree is overwhelming high. To set apart your application, consider getting EMT or CNA certified. To get even more of a leg up, consider working in the field you get your certificate in to gain clinical experience. Also, consider minoring in art or maybe a foreign language. One thing schools are big on is versatility, not only do they want smart students, they also want creative students; so writing monthly for a student writing website such as this one or getting a short story published will go a long way with admissions. 

5. GPA and MCAT Scores

Two more things that are very important are of course your GPA and MCAT score. According to Kaplan, your GPA will be broken into three categories for reviewing. First are your science courses or BPCM which consists of Biology, Physics, Chemistry and Math. Second, are your non-science courses which include humanities, social sciences and language. Third, is your overall GPA. The averages as recorded by Kaplan for each category are: BPCM at 3.45 for applicants and 3.64 for matriculants, non-science at 3.68 applicants and 3.77 for matriculants, and overall at 3.55 for applicants and 3.70 for matriculants. According to MCAT-prep, the test consists of four sections: Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems, Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills, Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems, and Psychological, Social and Biological Foundations of Behavior. The maximum score is a 132 while a minimum score is a 118. MCAT-Prep also states that an ideal MCAT score is around a 508 overall or a 127 in each section. GPA and MCAT score are the most important aspects when applying to med school and should not be over looked.

It looks like a lot of work, and it is, but it’s not as bad as it may seem. It is possible to get all of this done and more if you remain committed and organized. It is important that when you are feeling tired and over worked to take a step back and rest, then continue on your pre-med journey. It’s all worth it in the end and it's essential to keep your eye on the prize.

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