Medical School Admissions, Explained

How Research Factors Into Medical School Admissions

One question I’m often asked is, “Do I need to do research to get into medical school?” And the answer is yes, you do need to do some research to get into medical school, but I think the mistake a lot of people make is thinking research equals pipetting in the lab. I personally could not stand the lab, the rats running around and it smelled bad. I was very, very bored. Now, that’s not to say that the laboratory is not an amazing place to be, if that’s what you like, but what I’m trying to say is, basic lab research is not the only way to perform research to get into medical school.

For example, I was a history major, so I went out and found a history professor who needed a research assistant. Research, by definition, means that you form a hypothesis and you try to find the answer to that hypothesis. You ask a question and go after it. So really the key is showing the admissions committee that you are an analytical thinker, that you like to problem solve. So, yes, you do need research to get into medical school but no, it doesn’t have to be pipetting in the lab. Does it help if you have publications? Absolutely, but do you not need to have publications to get into medical school? Not necessarily.

It’s all about showing that you’re analytical and you like to problem solve. I don’t want to downplay the value of lab research. It is important and can be interesting and help you get into medical school. Of course, it is. But I don’t want to make people think that that’s the only way. I have clients come to me all the time saying, “Oh, I could only handle the lab for a semester, I think it’s going to look bad in my application” and my answer is, “Well why did you even the first semester if you hate it?” And if you hate it, fine. Go find something else for the rest of the time. So that’s really the key. Find what you’re interested in that focused on problem solving – ask a question and go answer it. That’s what the admissions committees want to see. The problem solving process.

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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.