So you want to go to medical school? Great! The only thing is, so do a lot of other students. The number of students interested in going medical school in the U.S. is at its highest level ever. According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, a record number of students applied to and enrolled in the nation’s medical schools last year. And to further complicate things, the medical education space is evolving and reshaping the needs and areas of importance for admission committees. This means that while medical school admissions was never completely about test scores and grades, it has definitely moved well beyond being book smart and having an impressive resume.

As a prospective medical school applicant, it’s critical to look at what the admission committees at the schools you’re hoping to apply to are looking for in potential students and start thinking seriously about whether or not you’ll make the cut. Here are things that some of the most selective medical schools look for in their students:

MOTIVATION.

Why medicine? It’s a questions you’re going to find yourself answering time and time again if you are seriously considering a career in medicine. You’ll be answering it at family gathers, on internship applications, during mock interviews, on your personal statement, while talking with your professors,…you name the scenario. It will come in different forms – “why do you want to be a doctor?” and “why do you think medicine is a good fit?” – but it’s pretty much the same question. So if you are thinking about a career in medicine, you need to think about your drive and be brutally honest about your true motivation.

Successful applicants have many personal reasons to go to medical school or become a doctor, and they may also have practical reasons that speak to their motivation as well. Maybe you knew you wanted to be a doctor from a very early age. Perhaps it is based on your desire to follow in the footsteps of a family member. Maybe, you are inspired by the work of a physician who has done something remarkable in the field? Perhaps you feel a medical career will provide you with the stability you’ve always wanted for your future? Or you might be particularly skilled in the sciences and believe a medicine career provides you with the chance to utilize and apply those skills. There is no right or wrong answer to the question. Whatever your reason may be, however, it is very important to engage in some hardcore self-reflection to determine your true reason for pursing a career in medicine. Once you have figured out your true motivation, you’ll be able to effectively meet the expectations of what medical school admissions committees are seeking.

COMMITMENT.

It’s no secret. Becoming a doctor takes a one-of-a-kind commitment. Medical school is expensive in both time and money and the commitment that the journey requires is huge. Given the length of time to complete medical school, residency, and if necessary speciality training, and the hundreds of thousands of dollars, medical school admission committees want to know that you’re committed to what’s about to go down! Medical school will be such a huge commitment in your life. It will be a long, serious chuck of your life. Going to medical school and successfully obtaining your medical degree requires the type of commitment that will have an impact on many aspects of your life. It’s more than just a commitment of time; it’s an entire lifestyle change.

If you are certain that practicing medicine is what you want to do, then commit early to gathering as much information and experience as you can to set yourself apart for the competition and thousands of other students who will ultimately be vying for the same spot as you are. Medical schools want to know not only do you know how much of a commitment medical school is but that you’re truly okay with it and feel that it is going to be completely worth it in the end. If you are not too sure about whether or not medicine is for you, medical school admission committees will hone in on this and think twice about selecting you for admission.

MATURITY & EXPERIENCE.

If there’s one that medical school admission committees look for in addition to academic achievements and impressive test scores, it’s maturity. A students’ maturity is a huge factor that can ultimately affect their success in medical school and beyond. It’s not enough for medical students to be smart, driven team players. One of the qualities medical school admissions officers look for in potential students is maturity, focus, and a clear understand of what medical school requires and the road ahead. In all, maturity and experience can be very helpful to your medical school application. Mature pre-meds know that medical school will be a whole lot more challenging and rigorous than undergrad, and they will not be able to get away with the same things. A certain level of maturity is expected of those students who are ready to commit to a career in medicine.

What it comes down to is that medical school admissions committees are looking for applicants who are mature, who are highly aware of their strengths and weaknesses, and can handle a wide array of situations – new, stressful, challenging, trying. And of course, having maturity isn’t something you can take a class or read a book and you’ll get it.

COMPASSION.

According to Wikipedia ‘compassion’ is the emotion that one feels in response to the suffering of others that motivates a desire to help. Compassion it vital for practicing medicine and will ultimately impact how you interact and care for your patients. No doubt, an applicant’s academic achievements, performance on test, number of volunteer hours, or research experience is of great importance when considering admission to medical school. But what is also key is a student’s ability to be compassionate, which again, is the ability of a person to sympathize and show concern for the misfortune or suffering of another individual.

Over the years, studies have examined the importance of compassion training for future doctors. “It is time to incorporate compassion into the conversation about improving medical training, along with empathy and professionalism, since those three qualities of a physician may be more intertwined than previously thought,” wrote the authors of paper published in Academic Medicine. “There has also been evidence suggesting that compassion helps counter a variety of negative emotions, bring calmness to a physician’s practice.”

Often considered one of the core skills for practicing the “human side” of medicine, having compassion or showing the potential to “develop” compassion is a trait more and more medical schools seek out in their applicants. These are the folks they want to be a part of their incoming student population. The point is, if given two applicants who are identical in many ways, and their levels of compassion is measured and one comes out less than the other, who do you think will ultimately make the cut. As you move along your journey and path to applying to medical school, think about how you may have demonstrated your level of compassion.

LEADERSHIP POTENTIAL.

Something will happens from the moment you go from being a medical student to the moment you finish your residency training – you will instantly take on the role as a leader. You will take on the role of leader, managing and working with a multi-disciplinary team responsible for ensuring that patients receive the highest quality of care possible. It is a must that medical school applicants are aware how leadership skills effect how one works well with a multi-disciplinary team. As a physician, you will exercise our leadership skills daily in many different environment, in many different scenarios, in many different venues. “Leadership styles range from the heavy-handed, autocratic leader to the democratic leader (i.e., “one person, one vote”,” the authors of a paper published in the journal Family Practice Management.

If you are not aware, the focus on patient satisfaction in the United States has become critical and in an effort to improve patient satisfaction, training programs are including, yes – leadership, as one of the key competencies for making positive changes. And regardless of setting or specialty, leadership is a key part of a physician’s ability to perform successfully.

With a rapidly changing health care landscape, the new generation of medical students and practicing physicians will need to have leadership in their skill set in order to adapt to the transformation in health care and the industry overall. “New healthcare models require not only changes to the autonomous physician driven care model but also for a transformed physician leader/role, one who can lead the physicians and clinicians toward new clinical and financial benchmarks while driving and engaging all members of the healthcare team toward future success,” wrote Teresa Koning, M.D., MBA in the article “10 Skills and Characteristics of New Physician Leaders.”