Varsity Tutors brings you insider tips and advice straight from nationally recognized admissions experts. Having been accepted to three of the top ten medical schools in the country as well as being the founder of a prominent Medical School application consulting service, Dr. Sahil Mehta truly knows all the ins and outs of the Medical School Admissions world. Previously, he has served as an interviewer on admissions committees for both Columbia University and the University of Chicago. He graduated Summa Cum Laude from Columbia University and then went on to attend the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine. Dr. Mehta has helped hundreds of students get into top medical school programs with his expert advice and had plenty to share with us as well.
VT: How much time should be set aside to adequately prepare for and complete a Med School application?
Sahil: The application itself has many parts. You'll need to write a personal statement, perfect your CV, gather letters of recommendation and your transcripts. While each of these individual steps may not seem to take very long, in total, they can take up a great deal of time. You should plan at least three months ahead of time to start to do all these things. In particular the personal statement can take awhile as can gathering the appropriate letters recommendation. As with everything else you do, putting aside more time and planning ahead will only help you succeed.
VT: What is the single most important thing applicants should focus on with this application?
Sahil: Without a doubt the two most important things are your MCAT and GPA. As far as the application itself one should really focus on writing a great personal statement that will separate you from the pack. Remember, medical schools are reading thousands of applications, many of which have the similar “stats” and even similar activities. It’s how you present these that will separate you.
VT: What are the biggest mistakes one can make on a Med School application?
Sahil: Submitting late. Submitting late will be detrimental to your chances at most medical schools. While schools have admissions deadlines that sometimes say December, many will have filled a significant portion of their class by then, if not all of it! You need to get your application in as early as possible and that usually means June. The second mistake that people make more often than they should is coming across as cocky in their personal statement or their application.
VT: What do Med School admissions officers look for most in an applicant’s essays/personal statements?
Sahil: They want unique and interesting personal statements. Remember many individual members of an admissions committee are reading hundreds of these a day. If your personal statement is like everybody else's it's going to get the same treatment as everybody else. In order to stand out you should have a unique story. Build your personal statement from the experiences you've had and spin them in a way that is fun and interesting to read. The first few sentences of your essay really can make or break your personal statement and subsequently your entire application.
VT: Is there anything on a student’s application that would automatically disqualify them from being considered for the program?
Sahil: Academic dishonesty can easily lead to being disqualified. Additionally things that are huge red flags are multiple withdrawals from classes and a poor letter recommendation. In today’s world of admission consultants, a personal statement that appears to be written by somebody else besides you will automatically get you rejected. If you do not have any of these other things but for some reason come across as a cocky and arrogant individual that can automatically disqualify you as well.
VT: What about the Med School admissions process differs the most from undergraduate admissions?
Sahil: In the medical school admissions process you are competing for one of about 150 spots. In college you're competing for one of 1000 or even more spots. Almost everybody who's qualified will get into college somewhere. That's not the case with medical school. There simply a limited number of seats and many well-qualified people will not get in. Schools want to diversify their class and are not just looking for people with great MCAT and great GPAs but for people with life experience, diversity and who make good team members. All in all you should not be discouraged if you don't get into medical school the first time around.
VT: What undergrad majors best prepare one for med school applications?
Sahil: There's not one undergraduate major that will prepare you better than another. Certainly a science major can help you through your first two years of medical school, but being a physician is more about communicating with your patients than anything else. Developing those skills can come from any number of majors, not just biology or chemistry. Medical schools will not look down upon particular majors provided that you've done well in the prerequisite classes.
VT: Is there anything you might see on a student’s application that would quickly put them ahead in the running?
Sahil: In this day and age where everybody comes in with shadowing, volunteering, and a bit of research work, it is definitely hard to separate yourself. However if you can show that you're passionate about something and have given it your all, that will certainly look better than spreading yourself thin across multiple activities none of which you are actually care about.
VT: What advice do you have regarding MCAT test prep?
Sahil: The MCAT is a test of subject knowledge but also of endurance and reasoning. The best preparation is to do well in your prerequisite classes. I recommend to students that they buy a few MCAT review books and just sample them as they're going to the classes. That way when
they put aside dedicated time to study (2 to 3 months is recommended) they will be reviewing the material for that third and fourth times rather than the first.
VT: What do Med School admissions officers look for in recommendation letters?
Sahil: Letters of recommendation are always better from people who know you best. Not only are we looking to judge people based on their grades and how they performed in class but deeper than that we want to see that the student is able to develop relationships with their professors. A professor who can talk about activities and perhaps their relationship with the student outside of the classroom as well as how well they performed in the classroom goes along way. It's always best to get these from people who know you best rather than just big names.
The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Varsity Tutors.