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June 2, 2020

Why is It So Damn Hard to Get into Medical School?

We’re facing a shortage of doctors in the United States, anywhere between 40 and 100,000 by the year 2030. And yet, getting into medical school is harder than ever.  

What gives?

In this article, we’ll discuss the five main reasons that it’s getting more difficult to gain admissions into medical school.

But it’s not all bad news - we’ll also give some suggestions on how to increase your chances of getting in!

Why Is It So Damn Hard to Get Into Medical School?

REASON #1: AMPLE COMPETITION FOR LIMITED SPOTS

One thing’s for sure - getting into medical school is significantly harder than getting into college. Let’s compare the application ratios of college versus medical school:

UCLA undergrad: 19 applications for each spot

UCLA medical school: 83 applications for each spot

So, the first reason it’s so damn hard to get in is that there’s more competition for fewer spots. The applicant pool has grown 25% in the past decade, and the increase in available spots is disproportionate.

A picture is worth a thousand words - in the past 10 years, the number of applicants has risen three times relative to the number of applicants accepted:

Hnet.com-image.jpg

REASON #2: THE COMPETITION IS SELF-SELECTING

Only ¼ of pre-meds who start college make it to the application process. That’s the same drop-out rate for NAVY Seals.

There is little tolerance for mistakes or missteps. When those happen, it's hard to keep floating in the competitive pool without disciplined, intelligent strategic action.

It’s gotten so hard to get in that I’ve often met with fourth-time applicants - students who have applied and failed to get in three times to medical school.

REASON #3: THE APPLICANT POOL KNOWS HOW HARD IT IS TO GET IN

The average MCAT is going up, rising by 1.8 points in just the last two years alone.

Candidates also have more clinical experience, research, and leadership. And partly as a result, more candidates are taking gap years to improve their applications.

The people who apply to medical school are smart, well-organized, and strategic about every aspect of medical school admissions. They maximize and optimize continually. They make it hard.It's simply a very driven pool of idealists, perfectionists, and dreamers.

More broadly, we might dub this the “Child Prodigy” effect. Parents in the United States are having fewer children, and they’re treating each child like he or she is Tiger Woods: putting the metaphorical putter in their hands younger and younger. Or in this case, maybe it’s a microscope or high school research internship. The end result is a more qualified applicant pool.

REASON #4: THE PHYSICIAN SHORTAGE IS CONCENTRATED IN UNGLAMOROUS AREAS AND SPECIALTIES

We don’t need more doctors generally; we need more doctors in the neglected parts of medicine: to practice in rural areas, underserved urban areas, and in the least glamorous specialties, such as primary care and geriatrics.

For those who have grown up in those areas - or those who have spent years serving the underserved - then it isn’t so damn hard to get into medical school.

REASON #5: SUCCESS IN THE APPLICATION CYCLE DEPENDS ON AN EXQUISITE COMBINATION OF FAVORABLE OUTCOMES

There are so many moving gears which must be synchronized and well-timed relative to each other, each demanding uniform excellence.

These include the coursework which leads to the MCAT; clinical, service, and research commitments; getting letters; writing the application and time-consuming secondaries; and the interviews.

If one doesn't happen to work out, you likely have to wait until the subsequent cycle.

THREE TIPS TO INCREASE YOUR CHANCES OF GETTING IN

1. Spend time volunteering with the patient populations you hope to serve, especially if you think that might be an underserved group.

2. Find an activity that helps set you apart from other pre-meds--something different you’ll bring to the incoming class at a medical school--so that you don’t just look like everyone else applying.

3. Don’t apply until you’re 100% ready, and take a gap year if you need it.

Do you have questions about how to increase your chances? Let us know in the comments below, and we’ll respond to you personally.

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