Medical School Admissions, Explained

How Community Service is Viewed by A Medical School Admissions Committee

Community service, broadly defined, means helping your fellow man. Community service is an interesting part of medical school applications because when you really think about it, there are few other graduate schools out there that really care if you care for other people. But medical school, given medicine is a caring profession, really wants you to prove that you’ve spent some time serving other people.

Community service does not necessarily have to involve working with patients, although, of course, it can. It just has to involve helping somebody else. So, this is one of the buckets that’s incredibly broadly defined. You need to show the admissions committees that you enjoy helping other people. This can be done through working in a soup kitchen, building houses with Habitat for Humanity, and of course volunteering in a hospital. It can be working with your church, synagogue or mosque: it can be anything. The key to this bucket is avoiding a list of one offs. You don’t want to show up at the Red Cross blood drive and say, “Yep, that’s my community service.”

The admissions committees really want to see that you are committed to specific community service, and even better, that you’ve stayed with something long enough to gain leadership in it. So for example, let’s say you joined the Red Cross club when you were a freshman in college. And you stayed in your Red Cross club chapter for four years, rising up from secretary, to vice president, to president.

If that is the only community service you do in college, that’s okay, because you spent so much time in this one thing that you are passionate about. So that’s really the key. You need to be committed and you need to be a leader. Focus more on doing what you’re good at and what you’re passionate about, and put emphasis into one activity instead of doing seven different activities for one day or one week. I call this one-day kind of activity a “one off.” They don’t look good in the application. The admissions committees really want to see that you’re committed to a few things.

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As you well know, academics are a huge part of the medical school admissions process. This Academics Bucket is filled with items weighed by the medical school admissions committees when assessing your readiness to excel academically in medical school. These include: GPA, MCAT, undergraduate/graduate school strength, course strength, and major. I am often asked, “What GPA and MCAT do I need to get into Harvard Medical School.” I always answer, “It depends.” Many pre-meds think it takes a 4.0 GPA and 45 MCAT score to get into medical school. They are wrong. Pre-meds with 4.0 GPAs and 45 MCAT scores used my consulting services after they were NOT accepted to medical school. Sure, you generally need good grades and a decent MCAT score to get into medical school, but there is no exact GPA or MCAT score that guarantees admission. Medical school admissions committees look at a pre-med’s "whole package" when deciding who gets into medical school. Great grades and MCAT scores, a top-20 school pedigree, upper level classes, and a challenging or unique major are not enough to get into medical school. You need to be well-rounded and stand out among the other 40,000 applicants.