Getting into Medical School For Dummies
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If you’ve followed the nontraditional road to medical school, your application should reflect your maturity, determination, and life experiences. As a nontraditional medical school applicant, the key to success in the admissions process is to create a compelling application package that highlights the experiences, skills, and qualities you’ve developed as a result of traversing a longer, less direct path to medicine.

However, although your unique experiences may give you an edge in some ways over more typical applicants, you also face certain pitfalls when it comes to applying. Luckily, you can still create an application that reflects everything you have to offer.

How to tell your story effectively in the personal statement

As an older applicant, you’ve had more experiences, both professional and personal, than an applicant fresh out of college. For this reason, you may find tackling the personal statement especially challenging because the approximately one page of space allotted may be woefully insufficient to fit in everything you want to discuss.

Your breadth and depth of experiences provide you with a rich store of material to choose from and allow you to craft a statement that will help to set you apart as long as you choose wisely and don’t attempt to stuff too much into your statement. Keep these tips in mind:

  • Don’t dedicate the entire essay to elaborating on your past career. Mentioning your current or previous profession in the context of how you came to make the switch to medicine or what skills you’ll bring to the medical field is appropriate.

    However, if a discussion of your experiences outside of medicine dominates the essay, you’ll have little room in which to talk about why you want to be a physician, how you’ve explored the medical field, and what you have to contribute to it.

    If you’re worried you won’t have space to do your professional achievements justice in the personal statement, remember that you also have the work and activities section of the application in which to discuss your employment history.

  • Be clear about the timing and chronology of events. If you have a complicated history that includes taking breaks from college, attending several institutions, travelling for extended periods, or holding jobs in various fields, giving the reader a good road map to follow about the order and timing of particular events is critical.

  • Address why you’re making the switch to medicine. Simply stating what you like about medicine isn’t enough to convince the committee that you’re committed to your new path. You should also address how and why you made the decision to change your career plan.

    Leaving a career and returning to school at a later stage in life takes a lot of sacrifice, so make sure the committee understands how strong your motivation is to enter medicine and why you’re dedicated to becoming a doctor despite the literal and figurative costs.

  • Highlight the elements of your background that will make you a good medical student and future physician. Many of the skills you gained during your years of working and living life are apt to transfer to medicine.

    For example, you may have honed your communication skills as a team member in the workplace or developed excellent time management techniques by juggling a full-time job with your premedical classes as a returning student.

How to use the work and activities section effectively

Medical schools strive for diversity in their student bodies, and one advantage that nontraditional applicants have is that they bring something different to the class through their background and life experiences. The work and activities list gives you the opportunity to showcase the range of your experiences during the years following high school.

You can include only 15 entries in this section, so be sure to include full-time employment, clinical experiences, research, community service, and activities demonstrating leadership. If you must choose, emphasize more recent activities.

Note that you have the option to select three activities as “most meaningful,” so consider using one of these slots for recent full-time employment and how the skills you’ve acquired are transferrable to a medical career.

Line up letters of recommendation

Obtaining letters of recommendation can be one of the greatest trials for nontraditional applicants, especially for those who finished their undergraduate studies more than a few years previously. To obtain a strong set of letters of recommendation, consider the following:

  • Check with your undergraduate institution to determine whether it provides premedical committee letters for alumni. Med schools prefer you use a premedical committee letter over submitting individual letters if you have access to a committee. In addition, some post-baccalaureate programs have premedical committees, so make sure you check into this option as well if you’re enrolled in a post-bac.

  • Find out whether the medical schools you’re applying to have different letter requirements or options for nontraditional applicants. For example, some med schools require students who’ve attended a graduate program to submit at least one letter from graduate school and one from undergraduate.

    Others allow applicants who finished their undergraduate studies longer than a specific number of years ago (for example, five) to submit a letter from a supervisor from their employment in place of one of the faculty letters.

  • Take a science class or two in order to obtain a recent letter from a science faculty member. One or two science faculty letters are required by many schools.

    So if you completed your prerequisite course work several years ago, taking additional sciences classes close to when you apply not only gives you some recent experience in the classroom but may also provide you with a faculty contact from whom to request a letter.

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book author:

Carleen Eaton, MD, has used her expertise in admissions and test preparation, as well as her experiences as an applicant who received acceptances to top-ranked medical schools, to guide hundreds of applicants successfully through the medical school admissions process. She is the founder of, a medical school admissions consulting firm.

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