Beat the odds: 7 tips on getting into medical school

By Andrea Siedsma


The inside scoop from students from UC San Diego Extension’s Post Baccalaureate Premedical Program

Getting into medical school can be a grueling and sometimes disappointing process. In 2013, for instance, nearly 58 percent of all applicants were denied admission to any medical school. Besides a lackluster academic profile, medical schools reject applicants due to a lack of clinical experience, poorly written documents, and submitting a late application.

Want to know how to beat the odds? Here are some tips from recent graduates of UC San Diego Extension’s Post Baccalaureate Premedical Program – who are all now first-year students at the UC San Diego School of Medicine.

Sarah Watler

Be yourself: The first thing Sarah Watler – who graduated from Extension’s postbac program in 2014 – advises students applying to medical school is to be yourself and don’t try to give answers you think that medical schools want to hear. “I think the biggest mistake an applicant can make is to try and present as someone they are not because they think there is a ‘checklist’ medical schools are looking for,” she said. “Ultimately if you are passionate about being in the healthcare profession, show that you have committed to certain activities in your life, and show that you learned valuable tools from the activities you chose to do, that shows a well-rounded and thoughtful person that will make a great doctor. I was a psychology and not biology major. I never volunteered in a hospital. The idea of doing basic science research was the exact opposite of what I saw myself doing. So I chose not to. Yet I still received 10 interviews. Lots of applicants believe you have to do science-related activities or research and that is just not true.”


 Theresa Whitchurch

Have confidence: The most valuable lesson Theresa Whitchurch learned from the postbac program is to have confidence in herself. “There isn’t a cookie cutter guideline to getting into medical school or to being a good student and future doctor,” she said. “There is the best path for me personally, and I’m learning to follow that path. The program also allowed me to solidify my own personal study habits, which has been an excellent skill to have in medical school. I know that I do better when I go to class and when I take actual notes during class.”

Find a mentor: Sarah Watler said strong advisors helped her improve her med school applications. “I received the support of my advisor throughout the year who is the current UC San Diego School of Medicine Assistant Dean for Diversity and Community Partnerships, Dr. Lindia Willies-Jacobo. As a woman of color, having her guidance and mentorship with her vast knowledge of the medical education system definitely helped build my confidence and to understand what approaches I needed to take to succeed in building my application.”


Ian Simpson-Shelton

Develop strong study habits: Ian Simpson-Shelton said applying to medical school was one of the most psychologically grueling processes he has had to overcome. But, he said, the postbac program helped eased some of that stress by teaching him discipline and proper study habits. “The program gave me foundational knowledge that has been critical to my success in medical school so far. Currently, I would say that medical school has been going very well. I would be lying if I said that I did not struggle initially, but my grades have continued to improve and I hope that trend continues going forwards.”

Submit applications early: One of the things the postbac program emphasizes to students is to send their med school applications in early. “Their interviews also have to be strong and the application has to be complete. We help them with that,” said program director Grace Miller.

Volunteer: One of the benefits of the postbac program, Miller said, is it improves the pipeline of physicians who are interested in improving primary care to underserved patients. “One of the deciding factors in getting into our program is serving underserved patients. That’s the vision of the UC San Diego School of Medicine. These doctors are most needed in rural and urban settings. That sets ours apart from the larger programs. I think connecting students with opportunities in the community to volunteer is key, as well as being exposed to different types of physicians so they truly understand what medicine is all about.”

Don’t give up: Sarah Watler said she would not be in med school today without the valuable guidance and skills she received through the postbac program. She encourages future medical school students to never give up in pursuing their dream. “There were many of my postbac colleagues who applied to medical school but didn't get in the first time. If you want to be a doctor badly enough, you will find a way to make it happen. Here I am now at my top choice medical school already getting to help underserved patients before the end of my first year. I couldn't be happier. I never had a ‘Plan B.’ I made my dream come true. It wasn't easy, but I did it.”

For these students, going through the postbac program helped pave a critical path into medical school and their future careers. By learning learn how to study efficiently, build networks, improve their grades, and how to navigate rigorous coursework while balancing life, they were able to get into the top medical school of their choice. For more information on the UC San Diego Extension’s Post Baccalaureate Premedical Program, visit

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