LAST YEAR, MEDICAL SCHOOL IN THE U.S. received 731,595 applications, making it the most competitive application cycle on record. No matter how intelligent or accomplished a prospective student is, it’s all up to medical school admission committees. With more competition to standout among the growing applicant pool and successfully gain admission into medical school, institutions have been and will continue to make changes to how they are selecting the best students for their next class. Here are 6 medical school admission trends you should know:

Increased Number of Applications

A growing number of students want to become doctors and while the effort to expand class size for first-year students has gained some traction, the formula is unforgiving – more students applying plus limited number of admission spots equals more competition. If the trend towards more and more students wanting to pursue careers in medicine continues, medical school admission committees will face tougher decision and force to look well beyond grades and test scores. In today’s world, one of the most popular career path is health care and students who are pursuing career as health care professionals are interested in medical school. This growing trend of more students being interested in medical school means that the admission committees will evaluate your application a little differently than they would have five years ago. The hard part is to have a very strong application and to present yourself in the most unique way possible – there is more competition to become a doctor than ever before. And knowing that there are a lot of other students interested in applying to medical school should not scare you in any way, however. It can actually help you potentially tweak your admission strategy make yourself the best medical school candidate possible. At the end of the day, being aware of this trend and the increasing applicant pool can help you fine-tune your application.

The MCAT Still Counts Most

For years, medical school admission committees have revealed that an applicant’s MCAT score is one of the most important factors considered when making admission decision and the percentage of those who think so is only increasing. And on the same note, performing poorly on the MCAT is, and has been, one of the biggest turnoffs. As more discussion turn toward evaluating students through a more holistic lens, MCAT scores give medical schools a “standard” by which they can measure and compare each applicant.

For medical school admission committee, an applicant’s MCAT score has is still the most important factor in admission decisions. Undergraduate grade point average, clinical experience, and the admission interview are other key factors. The point is – the MCAT, although somewhat limited in what a particular score means, can be a predictor of success in medical school and therefore admission committees will use what’s available to make final decisions.

Having Relevant Experience Is Becoming A Bigger Factor

A growing number schools consider having experience relevant to their interest in becoming a doctor. Being able to show that you took the initiative to engage in an activity aligned with your ultimate goal of practicing medicine is key when applying to medical school. For the committees making the decision about which students to select, it is important that you demonstrate to them that you have informed yourself what you’re signing up for. There’s one thing to learn concepts and topics in a classroom and another thing to gain hands-on experience and a first hand account of what practicing medicine really entails.

Most pre-med students know how important it is to gain experience in a clinical or research setting before applying to medical school and a growing number of medical schools think so too. Would a medical school select a student with relevant experience over a candidate with high academic performance and test scores – probably not. But what they would certainly do is if similar in always ways but that, admissions committees would certainly prefer a student who has relevant experience over one who does not.

Experience relevant to pursing medicine will put you in a great position when applying for medical school. Admission committees are starting to place a greater value on relevant experience as it demonstrates an applicant’s commitment and interest to a career in medicine and it means a student would have also developed an understand of the field and the role of a physician. Relevant experience will also give an applicant a peek into the lives of doctors or researchers and should help solidify their decision for wanting pursue medicine.

Social Media Playing Role In Admission Process

It’s no secret that we live in a digital age and many pre-med students are no exception when it comes to documenting their lives and struggles in the virtual world. When applying to medical school admissions, more schools than ever before are revealing that they are in fact visiting applicants’ social media pages during the admission decision process. The once taboo practice of checking social media for prospective students is slowly going away. While medical schools might not yet routinely employ social media background checks to find out about who you really are before offering a spot in their school, know that there is a chance that they could do so if they wanted to. And, in such a competitive space, prospective students do not want to give decision-makers a reason to give them the side eye. The truth is, you can have an exceptional MCAT score, impressive grades, volunteer tons of hours, and may write the “perfect” personal statement, but if find yourself answering questions at your medical school interview about your social media buffoonery all bets may be off.

Schools Like Those Who Want To Serve the Underserved

Millions of people in the United States live in areas that do not have enough doctors to meet their needs and a growing number of medical schools are admitting students who express and demonstrate a strong interest toward training for and pursuing careers as physicians in underserved areas. Some schools are recruiting students as early as high school and others are implementing fast-track programs that allow students to obtain their medical degree in three years – a move designed to boost the number of primary-care physicians available for these underserved areas. The goal of these programs supports students who wish to go into primary care medicine and ultimately practice in underserved areas, including rural communities, to practice medicine and meet the health care needs of millions.

Medical Schools Like ‘Em Older

A greater number of applicants between 23 and 25 years old are being accepted into medical school. And while medical schools look closely at MCAT scores and undergraduate academic performance when evaluating a student, “gap year” experience gained by older applicants can play a big role in the eyes of admissions committees. Not only do medical schools feel that “older” students – also considered nontraditional – bring a lot of transferable skills to the table, they have more life experience. What’s more, medical schools like that older students tend to know for sure that medicine is something they want to do. They know this because they’ve already worked in the “real world,” have had two or three different jobs, and have expectations that are reasonable when it comes to pursuing a career in medicine and what will ultimately be required of them.