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Want to Go to Medical School?

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While there are forthcoming changes to the MCATs in 2015, what hasn't changed about getting into medical school is that applicants must have strong grades and MCAT scores. But there are also less obvious things you need.

"Applicants not only need to do well academically and on the new MCAT, but they also need to work or volunteer in a health care setting during their college years. They need to shadow physicians to see what physicians really do," points out Tahnee C. H. Prokopow, assistant professor of biology at Hope College in Holland, MI.

Evidence of undergraduate research also can be a plus on the med school application, notes Robert M. Dores, director of the University of Denver's Pre-Professional Allied Health Advising Center.

"Having some research experience either through a summer internship program or by working with one of the faculty will enhance a resume," he says. "Many pre-med students do an honors thesis--an individualized research project that may take a year to complete."

Volunteer service is also considered by medical schools in the admissions process, says Wayne Shew, professor of biology at Birmingham-Southern College in Birmingham, AL. Med schools want to see a demonstration of interest in serving others through hands-on activities.

"Medical schools do look for well-rounded students," adds Andrea Marritt, assistant professor of biology at Meredith College, a women's college in Raleigh, NC. "An applicant's (resume) should contain items outside of the sciences. Leadership and service work are important, as well as the clinical experiences."

Of course, clinical experience, volunteer service and undergraduate research will only help those candidates who have robust grades and suitable scores on the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT). Some pre-med advisors say any GPA below a 3.0 is a disqualifier. Others point to a GPA of 3.5 or above and say that Cs or Ds in freshman level biology will sink an applicant. Denver's Dores advises first-year students to shoot for a 3.75 GPA and an MCAT score of 32 or higher.

Dores says, "Does the 3.65 student get into medical school today? Yes, but in my experience that applicant will have an MCAT score of 34 or better. So numbers do make a difference. For osteopathic programs, the GPA and test score expectations are not as high but their expectations have been rising in the past four years."

Applicants to medical school are also encouraged to understand that the time-frame for applying is more flexible than it used to be.

"In the old days (students) took five classes then took the exam in the spring of their junior year after they studied for three-to-four months intensely," says Hope College's Prokopow. "Now students are encouraged to consider many ways to prepare."

Prokopow says that if students want to take four years of college classes before sitting for the MCAT, they should. Others could take it sooner, especially if they have had some advanced placement work or done some college work during the summer.

"My mantra is always, 'It's a marathon, not a sprint.' Usually the freshmen don't get that until they hit their second semester or their first semester of sophomore year. The juniors and the seniors fully understand the marathon concept and come to an uneasy peace with it. The alumni are the most accepting and usually the happiest and strongest applicants in our cohort."