8 Tips to Getting into Medical School

Advice for Meeting Medical School Requirements from Two Recently Successful Applicants

By Nathan Young


It’s no secret that getting into medical school is extremely difficult.

It requires many years of focus, sacrifice, and dedication. And that’s just to apply!

Medical school requirements include being amongst the top of your class in undergrad, accumulating relevant work and volunteer experience, getting letters of recommendation, writing personal statements, and scoring high on the MCAT standardized test.

Over the years understanding how to get into medical school has also become increasingly nuanced, varied, and opaque. Medical school requirements can vary from one school to another.

Jaren Mullen, a recently accepted applicant to two medical programs shares his experience of not getting any acceptances with his first cycle of applications.

“I asked for feedback from different schools that offer it on what I could improve before I applied again,” he said. “I got five different answers from five different schools. So I thought, maybe this process isn't as standardized as I expected.”

Angela Jimenez, another recent medical school acceptee, shares her experience with the arduous medical school application requirements.

“I think what was surprising to me is just how burnt-out you feel,” she said.. “We go in with so much energy and we're excited to get this chance to prove ourselves. Then five or six months down the line, you're like, ‘wow, I'm really tired. I don't know if I can spend another four or five months preparing all these essays.”

Jimenez and Mullen are also two recent graduates of the UC San Diego Extended Studies Post Baccalaureate Premedical Program. They both credit the program with playing integral parts in their successful applications to medical school.

We asked Jimenez and Mullen to share more of their experience and perspectives on getting into medical school, including their journey to applying, what they learned, and what they think other aspiring medical school applicants should know.

Despite their unique path, they have many insights in common to share.

Prioritizing Patient Care: Angela’s Journey

While many aspiring medical students develop the aspiration during their teenage years or earlier, that was not the case for Angela Jimenez.

She was a bright student and got encouragement from her family to pursue college, getting an undergraduate degree in biochemistry at UC San Diego, but still had questions about her next steps in life.

“I felt very lost. I still had no idea what I wanted to do.”

The economic situation of her family required her to work through college, mostly in retail, and that continued after college while she tried to figure out which career direction she wanted to go.

“I ended up working at LensCrafters, which was oddly enough my first exposure to patient care,” said Jimenez. “I would help transition patients from their eye exam to getting glasses. This is when the light bulb went off. I realized I wanted to explore more opportunities for work in patient care.”

From there she explored options like counseling, nursing, physical therapy, and drug addiction treatment. She found the direct intervention of applied medicine to be the most gratifying.

”I started volunteering at a primary care clinic that specializes in drug rehabilitation and opioid recovery. It really hit me in those patient interactions that this is what I wanted to do,” said Jimenez. “I saw the growth that can come from patient care. Being a part of that was what really inspired me to pursue medical school."

She applied to medical school the first year on her own while still working full time, but didn’t get any acceptances. From there she enrolled in the UC San Diego Extended Studies Post Baccalaureate Premedical Program and devoted her attention to applying to medical school full-time.

“I was very regimented and disciplined with how I approached my school work and testing,” she shared. “I didn’t have the energy for that before while I was working.”

Reflecting on her time in the post-baccalaureate program, she acknowledges it helped in other ways too.

"I think the most valuable thing was my relationship with my advisor,” said Jimenez. “He talked me through a lot of really difficult points academically and boosted my confidence. I don't think I would have been ready to apply again without his mentorship.”

“I'm really proud of the perseverance I showed,” Jimenez adds. “It's not easy to have to come back, apply again and show improvement. There was a lot of self-reflection during that process. I thought about where I can be better but also that it's okay to not always do as well as you thought you could have.”

Jimenez has recently been accepted to UC San Diego School of Medicine and plans to begin this fall.

Commitment to Service: Jaren’s Journey

Although Jaren Mullen understood his interest in medicine much earlier in life than Jimenez, his journey still had no lack of twists and turns.

His initial spark occurred his sophomore year of high school when he followed his older sister’s lead in volunteering at a local hospital.

"I volunteered in the ICU at Sharp Grossmont Hospital every Sunday for three years,” said Mullen. “I really liked the team environment and camaraderie."

But even though he started college pre-med at UC Berkeley and studied molecular biology, he still wasn't completely committed.

"It's hard at age 18 to think about a career that is still years away," Mullen reflected. “You have to make long-term decisions that require sacrifice."

It was in his first role post-undergrad that he committed himself to applying to medical school and started making plans accordingly.

"I started working in clinical research, interacting with patients at a cancer center," said Mullen. "It wasn't until I started sitting across from patients, when I had to show up both professionally and personally—to employ my empathy with people—that I started to get fired up about medicine and began working on myself towards eventually applying."

After working for a few years, Mullen first applied to the UC San Diego Post Baccalaureate Premedical Program in January of 2020 and was interviewed, but not accepted. He asked for feedback and worked on it before reapplying to the program successfully the next year.

"[The post bacc program] helped to bring my GPA up with more credits, but also showed that I could succeed in coursework more recently than when I graduated back in 2017,” said Mullen. “Even though I finished my last year of college with good grades, it's important to have school work within the last two years before applying to medical school to show that you are still able to handle being a student. It also helped me prove to myself that, in fact, I can be and am a good student. I also benefited from the extra preparation time to study for the MCAT."

Mullen was accepted to multiple schools this year and plans to start at the University of Miami, Miller School of Medicine this summer.

8 Tips for How to Get Into Medical School

Even though Jimenez and Mullen had different paths on their journey, they also had a lot of overlapping advice for prospective applicants wondering how to get into medical school.

The Process Takes Resilience

Both our interviewees shared that applying and meeting the medical school requirements was a long, difficult, and emotionally taxing process.

“The first year I applied to 49 schools and I didn't get a single interview,” shared Mullen. “I asked a lot of schools for feedback, worked and volunteered for another year, and then reapplied. I ended up getting five interview invites, attended three, from which I received two acceptances and am currently on the waitlist for the third.”

“If you add it all up, that's 99 rejections,” said Mullen. "It requires a lot of resilience. Rejection is not the end of the world and there is a path, but you really have to be resilient and self-motivated. I like to think of it as a positive experience of convincing schools to accept you rather than trying to be perfect and not get rejected.”

Jimenez talked about the importance of staying positive and taking care of herself through the process too.

“I think it's important for yourself and others to be positive and keep reminding yourself that there's a light at the end of the tunnel," said Jimenez. "What I found best was to take it one day at a time and not overwhelm myself. We shouldn't forget about ourselves while we're going through this whole process. Otherwise, it can turn bleak really fast."

Jimenez shares that finding additional ways to unwind and step away from time-to-time proved especially important for her.

"I think finding my own interests was a really good outlet," said Jimenez, adding that she developed an interest in cooking and baking in between working on her applications.

“It's something that almost refreshes you and keeps you going, which is necessary because it is a lengthy process."

Early Preparation and Organization is Important

Both our interviewees also emphasized that planning and preparation are key aspects of a successful application process. The applications are a lot of work and you don't want to be rushing everything at the last minute.

Jimenez especially advised starting early for drafting your personal statement and asking for letters of recommendation.

"I asked a professor for a letter of recommendation in December but did not get that letter until June," Jimenez shared. "I was very grateful, but imagine if I had waited! In hindsight, I’m so glad I ended up writing my personal statement and asking for letters of recommendation early. Otherwise, I don't think I would have had them for my application to be ready on time."

Honor Your Individuality

One of the most emphasized points by our interviewees on how to get into medical school was the importance of honoring what makes you unique as an applicant.

"I think as pre-meds there's a tendency to focus too much on ‘checking off the boxes',” said Jimenez. "We say, 'I should do research because everyone's doing research. I should volunteer at a homeless shelter because everyone does that for their volunteering hours.'”

"But I think we do ourselves a disservice by doing this," Jimenez continued. "We should be doing things that we enjoy and show our passion versus filling a preconceived notion of what we think we should fulfill."

Mullen shared a similar set of sentiments.

"You're going to get lots of advice from lots of different people," said Mullen. "You have to realize that not all advice you're going to get is actually going to be helpful. You have to be able to draw a line in the sand and focus on what is true and important for you."

Be Cognizant of Financial Considerations

Both Jimenez and Mullen were candid about the financial challenges, constraints and opportunities they had throughout the process of applying to medical school.

They both expressed that being able to focus on their applications and the Post Baccalaureate Premedical Program full-time played a big part in a more successful cycle of application for both of them.

"Taking a step back from working was hard given the financial constraints," shared Jimenez. "But it meant I was able to be fully focused on the post bacc program and my applications 100%."

Mullen echoes this.

"Before the post bacc program I was working full-time and I found it pretty difficult to balance studying with work and other commitments."

"It really does select for people that have the capacity–and a lot of times the privilege–to choose the longer-term rather than the short term."

Statistics are Important, but Not Everything

Many aspiring medical students can get caught up on their statistics of medical school requirements, but both interviewees talked about how that can also lead to a lot of unnecessary anxiety.

"We're so focused on statistics," said Jimenez. "I remember seeing that UCLA's median MCAT score was 514 and thinking if I don't get that score, I'm not going to get in."

"I think we fixate too much on statistics versus things we enjoy and can bring to the medical school community," Jimenez continued. "For me it was cooking, bringing food to homeless shelters, and focusing on nutrition. That was a fun thing that I liked mentioning in interviews and essays. I think it helped me stand out too."

"Schools focus on different admission standards based on their mission, their patient population, and who their admissions director is," said Mullen. "I had success with the schools that focus on service–particularly service to underserved populations and activities that reflect that–as opposed to schools that are more stats-focused."

Real World Experience Helps

Beyond academic achievements, medical school admissions committees value hands-on experience and service to the community too. Being able to bring a diverse set of experiences to your application can give you a leg up and make your application stand out more.

"It's basically an unspoken requirement that you have to have some exposure to clinical medicine,“ said Mullen. "If you don't, there might be some doubts about your real interest in being a doctor."

Some options Mullen mentioned for getting this real world clinical experience were being an EMT or medical assistant; volunteering at hospitals and free clinics; being a nurse, paramedic, or combat medic in the military; or doing clinical trials research.

In addition to cancer clinical trials work, Mullen also worked on public health projects with clinics in the Sierra Madre of Chiapas in Mexico for a year.

“I had about 2,000 hours of volunteering when I submitted my applications," said Mullen. “That's the equivalent of one year of my career spent volunteering.”

“Every applicant will have a different combination, duration, and depth of experiences,” he continued. “...But somewhere in your application–and more fundamentally in your motivation to be a doctor–there should be service to others."

Medical schools can also value applicants with different experiences.

"Before deciding to pursue medicine I worked as a manager at CVS," shared Jimenez. “I had been worried about whether I should include it or not in my application. Would they even care?”

“My advisor said that you'd be surprised how much work experience can translate to the medical field and mean a lot to admissions programs,” she continued. “It's different. It's real. It's what's brought you to being here. You could potentially bring a quality or experience to their cohort of students that they haven't found yet."

Understand School Preferences

Each medical school has its own unique mission, values, and selection criteria. Some institutions may prioritize academic metrics like GPA and MCAT scores, while others may place greater emphasis on service, research, or diversity. Tailoring your application to align with the values of specific schools can increase your chances of success.

Mullen emphasized the importance of researching and understanding the preferences of different medical schools.

"It's kind of interesting how different schools have different flavors. When you apply you can see some of this information on the application portal and in what questions they ask."

"I think I was accepted to the programs I got into based on a commitment to serve the underserved in my career. My prior years of doing that showed up on my application."

He also mentioned how the applications collect socio-demographic information and information on how people paid for college–such as what percentage was parental contribution versus what percentage was financial aid.

"That sort of information helps contextualize applicants that had to overcome often overlapping adversities and systemic barriers to their success,” said Mullen. “It’s definitely factored into a holistic review of applicants and shows up in secondary essays. Schools want to know what someone has been through. They want to know where you started in life, what you’ve done with what you were given, and what you had to overcome."

Consider a Post Bacc Program

Lastly, both of our applicants credited the UC San Diego Extended Studies Post Baccalaureate Premedical Program as being a huge help in the process.

The program helped them enhance their GPA, fulfill prerequisites, and focus on MCAT preparation.

"It wasn't until I got into the post bacc program that I had actual mentorship from people who have been in the field and have mentored others towards medical school,” said Jimenez. "Before that I had just been doing things on my own, sort of a DIY road to medical school. But to have that official mentorship from physicians and other doctorates was valuable because they can say ‘This is what you need. This is what you can do to improve.' I had never had that before."

Post Baccalaureate Premedical Program

For those considering medical school, the UC San Diego Division of Extended Studies Post Baccalaureate Premedical Program is designed for first-time and re-applicants to medical schools who have already completed their medical prerequisite coursework but wish to enhance their academic record within a personalized and supportive, cohort-based learning community.

Participants work toward establishing a strong GPA in upper-division Biological Sciences courses, reaffirming knowledge gained in undergraduate science courses, preparing for and taking the MCAT, and developing strong medical school applications, personal statements, and interview skills, all under the guidance of a UC San Diego faculty advisor.

To learn more view the Post Baccalaureate Premedical Program page.

Posted: 3/14/2024 8:00:00 AM with 0 comments

Blog post currently doesn't have any comments.

What's your story?

Share your accomplishments, advice, and goals for a chance to be featured.