Ask a Medical School Admissions Expert: Dr. Mike Frazier

Varsity Tutors brings you insider tips and advice straight from nationally recognized admissions experts. Dr. Mike Frazier is a member of the MedSchoolCoach team and the founder of Medical School Insider, a website he created to help aspiring medical students through the admissions process. He is a former member of the UCLA Medical School Admissions Committee and the author of his own eBooks, such as, Succeeding in Medical School: How I Landed My Top Choice Residency. A graduate of the UCLA medical school as well, Dr. Frazier has a clear and knowledgeable view of how to master the medical school application.

VT: How much time should be set aside to adequately prepare for and complete a Med School application?

Mike: Really, you should start preparing for your medical school application as soon as you think you want to go into medical school. You do this by investigating the field by finding doctors that you can shadow. That will let you know if it's really something you're interested in. From there, you can start getting involved in some research, volunteer and clinical activities. Choose ones that you are really interested in because you will naturally become a leader in these, people will notice, and you'll be able to get a great letter of recommendation.

For the actual application (compiling your years of experiences into the application), I would say starting in April for a June application should be enough time. Although you'll want to start on the personal statement before that (probably February or so).

VT: What is the single most important thing applicants should focus on with this application?

Mike: There's not really any one single thing. In my eBook, 10 Steps to Accepted, I explain the 8 categories that medical schools look at when making a decision on whether to accept an applicant. Some of these include academic performance (MCAT and GPA), research experience, volunteer and clinical experience. You'll want to present yourself as a solid applicant in as many of these categories as possible.

VT: What are the biggest mistakes one can make on a Med School application?

Mike: I would say not taking each activity description as an opportunity to sell yourself to the admissions committee. You have 700 characters per activity to describe what you did. Think of this as a chance to show the admissions committee why they should want you. Some activities will speak for themselves (you probably don't need to go into much detail if you won a Nobel prize), but most will be similar to other applicants (volunteering at a hospital). You need to show us how that experience made you into someone we would want.

VT: What do Med School admissions officers look for most in an applicant’s essays/personal statements?

Mike: The personal statement is a chance to show us why you love medicine. Probably the most important thing to show here is your excitement and passion for medicine. Show your journey of how you got interested in medicine and what it is that makes medicine the career for you.

VT: Is there anything on a student’s application that would automatically disqualify them from being considered for the program?

Mike: Not really. Any serious criminal activity will likely disqualify you. Most medical schools don't like felons. Other than that, what generally gets people passed over is either inadequate preparation or poor presentation. Also, I think people underestimate the importance of the interview. Once you're invited to interview, that interviewer may be the person who decides whether you're accepted or not, regardless of the other things in your application. You really need to do your best to win that person over.

VT: What about the Med School admissions process differs the most from undergraduate admissions?

Mike: As above, mainly the interview. It has a lot to do with whether you get accepted or not. Also, the criteria we're looking at are slightly different from undergrad, though not that different. We want to see community service, research, solid academic performance, etc. One difference is that we want to see a good amount of clinical experience (exposure to patients) so that we know that you have a good idea of what you're getting into.

VT: What undergrad majors best prepare one for med school applications?

Mike: I get this question a lot, and it actually doesn't matter as far as admission which major you choose. We don't really consider your major. However, from a pure preparation standpoint, something like physiology where you get the basic sciences plus anatomy and physiology would be a great pick. I also recommend a business minor to everyone. You don't get much training in that, but you'll need to know how to market yourself and how to invest your income once you get to that point.

VT: Is there anything you might see on a student’s application that would quickly put them ahead in the running?

Mike: If someone is strong in all 8 categories, they will definitely be put ahead. There's also something a little intangible that shows that a person really cares about people. You'll mainly show that through your activity descriptions and personal statement. Remember, doing service and doing clinical work are requirements not just for the sake of being requirements. The idea is that you will come out of these activities with a love for helping people. Or, that you went into these activities because you already had that desire.

VT: What advice do you have regarding MCAT test prep?

Mike: In general, I'd start some review about 4 months before and do a course about 1-2 months before. It's worth paying for a good course. I did mine through my university (Brigham Young University). Although your MCAT isn't everything, it is definitely something that will either open or close doors to you depending on your score.  

VT: What do Med School admissions officers look for in recommendation letters?

Mike: This is where we try to find out those intangible character traits of people. Is this person a hard worker? Do they get along with other people? Do they have compassion? Are they dedicated to helping others? If your letters say things like this, it's better than you saying it yourself. The way you get these letters is by spending time with these people and having them get to know you. You also either want them to see you doing things that "go the extra mile" in your activities (staying late to help a patient), or you want to tell them about these activities (in a non-conceited way). I explain how to do that in my book. Anyway, you want the writer to be able to write specific examples that show those character traits. That makes the letter much stronger.

Visit the Medical School Insider website for more information.

The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Varsity Tutors.