Successfully jumping through all the pre-med hoops to make it into medical school is a huge accomplishment. Unfortunately, it’s one that can seem unattainable at times; the percentage of applicants versus accepted students can seem overwhelmingly unfavorable. Plus, there are all of those voices of “advice” who enjoy telling you how to succeed in this route, even when they might never been there themselves. It can seem like a hard, lonely road at times. Because of the overwhelming process, we’ve spoken to eight successful former “pre-med” students. All currently either in medical school or within their first year of residency training, they’re all students and professionals who have “been there, done that” and have great inside perspectives on how to successfully navigate medical school applications, as well as how to success within medical school itself.

Much of their advice definitely has a theme to it. Even though everyone we talked with came from a variety of undergraduate universities and each took different paths to medical school, there are common threads that weave together their sound bites of wisdom. Studying hard, being pro-active within the application process, and staying true to your individual interests came up again and again during these interviews. If successfully making it through the medical school admissions process is a sign of a good source of advice, then paying attention to their suggestions will definitely be to your advantage.

David | Med-Peds Intern:

“Apply early–on the first day the app opens if possible–which includes talking early to recommendation writers. On a similar note to being ready to apply once applications open, be sure to apply wisely. Subscribe to the AAMC Medical School Admissions Requirements database to learn more about the tuition, admission MCAT and GPA 10-90th%ile ranges, and locations and strengths of programs.

Finally, invest yourself and time into things that you’re passionate about, not just what you think medical schools care about. It’s better to see wholehearted devotion to mission work, marathons, or music than half-hearted research or something else that sounds science-ey.”

Kate | 4th year medical student:

“My advice to pre-med students would be to investigate–this isn’t the only medical avenue. It’s a hard road (that I would 100% choose again), so do what you can to make sure it’s what you want. Plus, knowing exactly why you want to pursue a degree as a medical doctor instead of another medically-related career can often be a question that comes up while on the interview trail, so it plays well within interviews if you can articulate your reasons well.

. The vast majority of pre-meds are bio or chem or some spinoff of those. But if it’s something you love, you’re more likely to do well in it, and if it’s interesting you’ll still get asked about it in residency interviews–I’ve been asked about my math degree in >90% of the interviews I did for medical school, and then it was brought up again and again for residency. If you love biology or chemistry, then study those topics and major in them. But if you want to spend time in college learning about something else in addition to your pre-med classes, then definitely do that.”

Alix | 3rd year medical student

“One of the things I wish I’d really thought about prior to going to medical school was just how being in school for those specific four years would affect the rest of my life. Know you’re going to sacrifice most major life events during those four years.

Different medical schools have different policies, but overall you really can’t count on much flexibility or days off. Also, learn good study habits before going to medical school. If you’re smart and cruised through college by cramming, you are are the person that needs to learn good study habits. When they say that learning in medical school is like trying to drink from a fire hydrant, they’re not really kidding. Last of all, remember that once you’re in medical school, it’s not a competition, and things work better and you’re perceived better if you are kind to others and act as a team. Be known as the student who is kind to others, who actually cares about other people.

Stephen | 4th Year Medical Student:

“Don’t be one dimensional. Medical schools don’t want someone who just gets good grades. They know that good grades aren’t the only things needed to make a good doctor in the long run. Have a passion, and understand how that passion will help you be a good doctor; understanding your passion for medicine will not only help you as you answer questions with confidence during medical school interviews, but it will also help push you through the long nights of studying, whether for your MCAT exam or for your National Board Step Series once you’re in medical school. Also, submit your applications right when they open. Medical school applications aren’t something that you should procrastinate on at all; you want your name submitted to schools to consider right when applications open, not right before they close. Finally, everything said above is with the caveat that grades and test scores matter. Sure, doing these things will give you that extra edge over other students who have the same GPA and MCAT score as you do, but if you don’t have that good GPA and solid MCAT score to start out with, it will be harder for you to get an interview in the first place.”

John | General Surgery Intern:

The question “Why do you want to be a physician?” needs to be answered in utmost completeness– to the point the answer will carry you through the fire of a 20hr shift in a bad 100hr week. And while you’ll be busy in medical school, know that you’ll be even busier in residency. Practice how to make time for God, family, friends, while maintaining excellence. It’s easy to burn out if you don’t find a way to take care of the non-medically-related parts of your life. On the same theme of being busy all the time, know that the one thing that will set you apart from your colleagues as the responsibility of being a medical professional drags on at times is how little you complain in the midst of it. Be known for a good attitude, be known as the guy who doesn’t complain.”

Josh | 1st Year Medical Student:

“Don’t do things just to put them on your resume, do things because you’re either interested in them or think they are fun/worthwhile. The top things people asked me about in interviews were my summer that I spent working in Yellowstone and my pottery. Having other interests outside of medicine or science develops you as a person and sets you apart from other applicants. From my perspective also, I’d tell pre-meds not to stress too much about grades; focus more on learning things to learn them (instead of just learning them to pass a test). Having this approach to school and studying and learning will help you the most in the long term. Also, have friends outside of your major. Having conversations and making friends with people with different interests will grow you as a person and allow you to relate to more kinds of people.”

Caleb | 1st Year Medical Student:

“I guess my advice is pretty simple. Balance focused studying with activities for personal wellness (exercise, spiritual pursuits, etc.). Taking this approach to studying and life outside of studying will keep you from being a boring applicant who is likely to burn out eventually. Another thing that is really important is to begin considering who you would like to write your Letters of Recommendation, whether in classes or in extracurricular work. Be intentional in your relationships with potential letter-writers. Having a recommendation letter from someone who really knows you and can write about your character convincingly is a lot better than just having generic letters from professors who barely remember your face.”

Kimberly | 3rd Year Medical Student:

“Medical school is hard. Realize this, know solidly your reasons for wanting to go through it, and you’ll be a much more convincing candidate on the interview trail because you’ve fully convinced yourself that this is the career path for you. It’s ok to take time off between undergrad and medical school; it might it a little harder to get back into the swing of studying once you’re in medical school, but you’ll have real life experience of those years to add dimension to your perspective on life. It’s easy to worry about what to write in your personal statement or how best to study for the MCAT, but those things never came up in interviews for me. During one of my interviews the interviewer literally only asked me about the dance career I’d had prior to pursuing medicine for the entire interview. It surprised me, but looking back it also made sense. As a doctor, you’ll be working mostly with patients who work non-science jobs; medical school admissions committees want to see that they aren’t only picking candidates who have limited eight (or more) years of their lives to only being around other medically-minded people.”