Information for Medical School Applicants
Please refer to the current
undergraduate catalog or the Biology Department Web Page for detailed specialization requirements.
Choosing a Major/Minor
Your undergraduate academic program should include courses that give you a solid foundation in the sciences.
Most students interpret that as requiring a major in the sciences, but you should actually choose a major that interests you and in which you have some talent.
Although most students do major in the biological or physical sciences, there is no one major that will guarantee acceptance into medical school.
Published information for the 1997-8 entering class indicates that the acceptance rate (not the same as the matriculation rate) for all majors, with three exceptions, is between 38 and 43%.
The three exceptions are majors in medical technology, nursing, or pharmacy, which are at a distinct disadvantage in the application process (22-28% acceptance).
Regardless of your major, you will need to take a substantial amount of biology, physics, chemistry and math, with good grades.
Minimum requirements for most medical schools are one year of biology, two years of chemistry, and one year of physics. Some medical schools require calculus; others don't.
We have found that two semesters of biology is not sufficient for good performance on the MCAT.
We would recommend a minimum of four semesters of biology for that purpose. Your biology courses should give you a sound basis in general biology, zoology, genetics, cell biology,
molecular biology, physiology, and biochemistry.
In addition to the sciences, you need to have a well-rounded education in the humanities and social sciences; don't neglect these fields. Courses in computer science applications, writing, and statistics are also valuable. A major in science accompanied by a minor in some non-science field provides evidence of a broad background and interest.
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The Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT)
The MCAT covers biological sciences, physical sciences, thinking, problem solving, and writing. Students should plan to take the MCAT after completing chemistry and physics and at least two years of biology, but not necessarily calculus.
The best time to take the MCAT is in April of the junior year. This ensures that the medical
school will have the MCAT scores in hand at the time they begin to evaluate applications.
It also permits the student to decide to retake the MCAT in August if they want. On the other hand, students may have more time to prepare for the August test date,
so taking it then may mean they don't need to repeat it later.
It is acceptable to have more than one MCAT score sent to a medical school.
Different schools have different rules about how many scores they look at.
MCAT Interpretive Manual has replaced the paper MCAT packet. It has descriptions of the various sections of the MCAT and sample questions of each type.
MCAT tests are computer-based. You can register on-line for the MCAT at a
link on the AAMC web site.
The current MCAT testing calendar is at
The AAMC site has extensive information for students about planning for medical school, taking the MCAT, preparing the AMCAS application, and attending medical school. This is one of the most valuable resources available to pre-medical students.
Medical College Admissions Seminars--Don't miss them!
Students planning to apply to medical school should plan to attend a medical college
admission seminar at least once, preferably before fall of junior year. They are free and generally last all
day on a Saturday. They are presented by the eight Illinois medical schools, who all have
representatives there to talk to prospective students and to provide information about
their schools. There are minisessions on choosing a medical school, applying,
interviewing, writing personal statements, being a nontraditional student,
financing, etc. There is usually a panel discussion with current medical
students who answer questions. These seminars would be valuable even to students
who are not applying to Illinois medical schools. For more information, talk to
Medical School Applications
Students should plan to apply to medical schools the summer after the junior year--don't
wait until fall of the senior year. Plan to spend a substantial amount of time on your
application and especially on your personal statement. The AMCAS application materials should be
usually on-line by mid-April from a link on the
AAMC site and
more directly at the link for
information about the AMCAS application.
The AAMC site has extensive information for students about planning for medical school, taking the MCAT, preparing the AMCAS application, and attending medical school. This is one of the most valuable resources available to pre-medical students.
(Adapted from a presentation by Sylvia Robertson,
Asst. Dean for Administration and Finance, Pritzker School of Medicine,
Univ. of Chicago, at the Medical School Admission Seminar, November 1,
What do medical students wish they had known when they
Partly, that admission to medical school is not all about the numbers
(grades and MCAT scores). Medical schools do not want to accept students
who will be a failure in medical school because they have not taken a
rigorous science curriculum and are not capable of success in medical
school. The numbers and grades can suggest whether the applicant has an
adequate background and ability, but they are not the only important
factors in choosing among applicants.
Applicants with a GPA of over 3.7 and MCAT scores of
11's are routinely rejected by medical schools--Why?
The schools are looking for more than numbers--in addition, they are
looking for signs of inner strength and many other qualities. A
physician should be a person who places a high value on humanism, self
control, altruism, knowledge, skill, and duty, and who is willing to
dedicate his/her life to service to others. The concept of duty includes
taking responsibility for your own actions, being service oriented, and
feeling an obligation to other people and a responsibility to society.
Knowledge of science and medicine and personal ability contribute to
skillfulness. Knowledge of cultural issues, acceptance of diversity in
patients and colleagues, and ability to communication effectively with
people whose backgrounds are not similar to one's own are valuable
attributes for a physician. A well-rounded liberal education in a person
who is emotionally, physically, and mentally healthy is likely to
support these skills.
Questions applicants should ask themselves include:
If not, the life of a physician may not be for you.
- Are you willing to make sacrifices for another
person? If not, why not? If so, when? For whom?
- Do people trust you? Why? Should they trust you
with their lives? Who do you trust and why?
- Are you comfortable with your usual role on a
team? Is it leader, follower, facilitator, information source?
- How do you respond to failure and loss? Have you
helped other people through failure or loss?
- Can you accept that you can't learn and control
Gold Foundation (a public foundation dedicated to humanism in
medicine) held a national symposium in 1998 co-hosted with the
University of Chicago to discuss the barriers to sustaining humanism in
medical education imposed by the medical school admissions process. As
part of this symposium, the participants proposed attributes desirable
in physicians. Medical school applicants should demonstrate these nine
attributes in both their applications and in their interviews.
- Do you take responsibility for your own
- Do you exhibit a concern for truth, right,
fairness, opposition to injustice? Examples?
- How do you handle mistakes?
- Do you have the confidence of others?
- What are your core values and beliefs?
- How do you reach a right decision in an
- Respect for others:
- How have you demonstrated your esteem for
- How have you celebrated cultural differences?
- Are you culturally competent?
- Have you pushed your comfort zone by
interacting with others from different backgrounds from your
- Who do you describe as a "difficult" person
or patient? (Your answer should not show disrespect or a lack of
understanding of the difficulty of being a sick person.)
- Avoid stereotypes, generalizations; avoid
describing groups of people as "those" people.
- How well do you understand the needs and
feelings of others?
- Do you exhibit kindness, compassion and
respect for others, on a daily basis?
- Have you experienced diverse types of failure
and loss? How have you dealt with failure and loss? Has it given
you any insight into how others feel?
- How have you dealt with someone who has
different beliefs from yours?
- Who has served as an empathetic resource for
you? Describe the interaction and situation.
- How will you meet the emotional and
interpersonal demands of medical school?
- Common sense:
- Do you reject simple solutions in favor of
more complex ones? (Could you reject a treatment plan that is
unrealistic in terms of the patient's lifestyle?)
- Do you have unrealistic expectations of
yourself and others?
- Do you choose practical solutions that make
sense rather than valuing superficial appearances? (Could you
choose to wear boots to an interview on a rainy, muddy day?)
- Do you have much common sense? Or not?
- Do you value common sense?
- How do you go about solving problems?
- How do you set priorities? How do you choose
the right thing to do first in a crisis?
- Are you demonstrating a lack of maturity by
applying to medical school before you are ready and before you
have taken sufficient coursework to be well prepared?
- Does your personal statement show a lack of
responsibility for your actions, by laying the blame for
deficiencies on others?
- Have you made a sustained committment to your
- Do your high school experiences make up a
more important part of your life and your personal statement
than your more recent experiences?
- How open are you to criticism? Can you learn
from it? Does it make you defensive?
- Are you in control of your moods and your
- Have you learned to focus your efforts and
achieve your goals even if there are personal distractions
complicating your life?
- Examine it!
- Are you clear about your ability to sustain a
committment to medicine? Can you put it into words, with
examples from your experience?
- Do you have a real passion for lifelong
learning, especially about science?
- Are you truly dedicated to service to others,
no matter how hard or costly?
- Are you dedicated to excellence in your
- Is there any other career path that appeals
to you, even as a back-up plan?
- Do you have a family? How are they involved
in your decision? Will you have their emotional support?
- Are you relying on motivation based on a
decision made as a child? Have you reexamined such a decision as
- Inner strength:
- Can you deal with happy, healthy patients?
What about depressed, overstressed patients?
- What about patients who are
noncompliant--can't or won't do what you tell them to do?
- What about terminally ill patients? What
about an athlete who faces the loss of a leg?
- How could you help a person who is out of
control, exhibiting self-destructive behavior find a way to face
their problems and deal with them effectively?
- Do you know how to find the appropriate
resources to help your patients?
- How do you respond to challenges--to your
knowledge, to your authority, to your self-esteem?
- Do you require perfection of yourself and
others? How do you react to a lack of perfection in yourself and
- Are you calm under presssure? Or not? How do
react in a crisis situation, and how do you react after one is
- Do you withdraw into yourself or turn to
others in a crisis? Who do you turn to, if you do? Why?
- Personal effectiveness:
- How do you relate to others?
- Do you have a sense of humor? Do others
- Do you inspire confidence and trust in
- Can you function as an effective leader?
- What is your motivation for leadership? To
obtain power? To achieve goals? To reach a concensus?
- Do others find you a comfort in group
settings? Are you supportive, reassuring? Do you smile?
- Dedication to service:
- The demands, tasks, and rewards of being a
physician require a committment to service.
- Have you made such a committment to service
others? How? Why?
- What activities demonstrate that you can be a
servant to others?
- How do you see the impact of your committment
(Adapted from a presentation by Erin Graham, Director
of Admissions, SIU School of Medicine, at the Medical School Admission
Seminar, November 1, 2003)
Are you a non-traditional applicant? Are you a
non-science major, or older than most applicants? Or both?
If so, you may have concerns that are different from other applicants.
MYTH: You are too old to go to medical school.
REALITY: The age at which you enter medical school is a personal choice,
and depends on how you deal with the problems of time, sacrifice and
cost that medical school involves. SIU School of Medicine graduated a
woman over 50 last year.
There is no need to hurry to finish the courses
necessary to prepare you for medical school. It is a sign of maturity to
plan a curriculum that will make you a competitive applicant, no matter
how old you are. Taking the minimum number of science courses to meet
the requirements is not enough. A non-traditional student, even more
than a traditional one, has to be better than the competition in terms
of their credentials. You need upper level biology courses (such as
microbiology, cell biology, biochemistry, advanced physiology) not only
to be successful in medical school, but to be a competitive applicant,
no matter what your major is.
You need to think realistically about the demands of
medicine and medical school. Considerations:
- What do you know about medicine as a way of life?
(see the section called
Beyond the Numbers.) Have you shadowed a physician? Can you get
a job in a clinical setting? Will you be able to give up your
present job in order to get one in a clinical setting?
- Have you considered the cost of medical school?
The average debt of students graduating from SIU School of Medicine,
a state school, is $90,000 (including undergraduate and medical
- Medical school requires time. Not just in the
years of education and residency, but time away from your family and
- How will you deal with the stress of medical
school--on you, on your family? Anxiety, stress, fatigue are part of
the life of a medical school student. Will you have the emotional
support of your family?
How can a non-traditional applicant compete with a
A non-traditional applicant may have a variety of experiences that the
traditional applicant does not. Your life experience is valuable. The
experience of having and keeping a full-time job is important. Having
supported yourself and perhaps a family is a responsibility that many
younger students may not have had to accept. If you have had a different
major or a different career from most students, you will have a
different perspective on patients and on the practice of medicine that
you can communicate to other students. Usually, non-traditional
applicants are among the most dedicated medical students, because they
have made more sacrifices to get to the point of applying to medical
Non-traditional applicants are often hard for
admissions committees to evaluate. If the applicant had good grades, but
took the coursework a long time ago, it may help to take higher level
courses before applying. Most admissions committees look at the most
recent coursework, usually science courses. If the applicant had poor
grades when he/she was in college before, then he/she needs to prove
that he/she can do better now. If the student is truly more capable and
more focused now than they were before, he/she will be able to earn high
grades (only A's and B's) in the current upper level science coursework.
It will be necessary to explain the previous year(s) of poor grades and
to show that he/she is not the same person now as before. A
non-traditional applicant may have to do twice as much work as a
traditional applicant to prove that they are a competitive applicant.
When you are applying, provide evidence of your
determination to be a competitive applicant, of your maturity, and of
useful experience that has contributed to your committment to medicine.
Your depth of coursework and knowledge in science should be comparable
to that of a new graduate. Your grades in upper level courses are the
most important. You certainly need to take the minimum required courses,
but you also need to go beyond that to be a competitive applicant.
Various other considerations:
- The MCAT scores are even more important for
non-traditional applicants than for traditional ones. Strive for 9's
and 10's (range 0-15). There is no substitute for good scores,
except better ones.
- Time utilization: How do you fill your day
outside of class? Are you working? Taking night courses? Other
activities? Family? Kids?
- On AMCAS application, list everything you did
post-high school, even if your undergraduate years were a long time
ago. Include college extracurricular activities, even if they
weren't medically oriented. They will look at old course loads
(15/semester), and new grades (should be A's and B's). Non-science
coursework is important too. Your ability to manage a full course
load plus your other activities is evidence of your study habits and
- Who you are, what is important to you, your
character--these are evident from what you've done with your time.
- Letters of recommendation/evaluation: If you have
no pre-medical advisor, it is ok to have letters sent directly to
the schools that you receive secondary/supplementary applications
from. Usually you should be prepared to supply 3 academic letters
(preferably science instructors) and 1 letter from a non-academic
source, such as a physician or employer. These should be recent
letters, from instructors in recent coursework.
- Be knowledgeable about the field of medicine. You
should have investigated the current events in medicine, current
ethical issues, advances in diagnosis and treatment, etc., before
you consider yourself ready for an interview.
- Slow down! Don't let age pressure you into a
hurried preparation. Do the work that's necessary to make yourself
competitive and well-prepared. The minimum required courses are not
enough. 70% of successful applicants have taken biochemistry; nearly
100% have taken cell and molecular biology.
- Financial aid: Be prepared to fill out FAFSA
forms. Most people get loans for medical school. You may have to
give up some aspects of your current lifestyle and make do with less
for several years. Previous credit problems can be trouble for
getting loans, so clear up such problems before you need the loans.
- Poor science grades? If they were 1 or 2 years
ago, work on a master's degree to show you are capable of higher
level science work. If they were 10 years ago, consider a post-bacchalaureate
preparation program and repeat courses in which you did poorly.
- Past GPA problems? Most schools have a minimum
GPA for screening applicants. SIU focuses on the most recent 60
credit hours and looks for a minimum 2.7 GPA in undergraduate and
post-bacch courses combined. Not all schools do that. If your
overall grades are lower than the mean (3.56), schools will look
harder at your MCAT scores.
- Calculus: Some schools require it; SIU doesn't.
- Most schools will not be concerned that you
attended many different schools to get the courses you need to
apply. It may be hard to find night offerings of upper level science
classes, but keep looking (U of Ill Springfield offers some).
- Some schools worry if you have a large number of
hours from a community college (Northwestern, for instance); SIU
doesn't care so much.
- Graduate school: A master's program may be a good
idea, but one in a "soft" science (e.g., public health, psychology)
is not as helpful as one in a "hard" science (biology, chemistry,
physics). If you didn't do so well (low GPA) in the sciences, you
should have a heavy load of hard upper level sciences for your
- Single parents will not be able to spend as much
time with their family. They will need a support person that can
become a surrogate parent even more than most parents during medical
school and should choose a school closer to their family if
- MCAT: Scores can be 2 or 3 years old for some
schools. SIU considers scores no more than two years old, and
especially the most recent set of scores. SIU doesn't mix subtest
scores from different MCAT's; some schools may.
- Research: More important for research-oriented
schools like U of Chicago and Northwestern; less important for SIU,
which is more focused on primary care/family
- Secondary applications: Why are you choosing that
particular school? Research the school--particularly the curriculum.
How does your choice reflect your personal characteristics?
Minority Medical Education Program
A free summer enrichment program for underrepresented minority students is available through
Letters of Evaluation
Advising is now providing a centralized evaluation letter service--ask
your Advisor for the waiver forms
before you talk to your evaluators. The medical
schools prefer to receive a single packet containing all of the evaluation letters for each student.
will gather your evaluations together and send a packet of them to each medical school to which you apply.
Evaluators should send their letters and forms directly to
Advisor at SIUE. Make sure that you give
a copy of a waiver form for each evaluator for your file.
How to Interview Effectively
Click Here for Tips for an
A helpful site that gives interview questions asked at particular schools is
http://www.interviewfeedback.com/. Examples of questions an interviewer might ask:
- Tell me about yourself and the process that has led you to be interested in a career in medicine.
- I see from your AMCAS file that you have had experience with _________. Tell me about that.
- How would your best friend describe you to me?
- Describe your strengths and weaknesses.
- Why do you want to attend this school?
- Describe a difficult event in your life and how you dealt with it.
- How do you spend your free time?
- What medically related experiences have you had?
- What are the most important problems facing medicine?
- Describe the kind of physician you want to be and what changes you will need to make in order to reach that goal.
- What do you think about _______? (Euthanasia, health care reform, abortion, AIDS care, genetic counseling, privacy issues, etc.)
Follow-up to the Interview
Thank you notes are OK; gifts/presents are not. Preference regarding phone calls varies from school to school--you might ask at the final phase of the interview day if you could call to check on the progress of your application in a week or two.
Monetary Decisions for Medical Doctors (financial aid before and during medical school)
Extensive information about financing a medical education is available at
this link. Be sure to look at the speaker's notes and the power point slides in addition to clicking on the title of each phase of medical education--the pre-medical years, the medical school years, and residency and early practice. Much of this information has been presented at the Illinois Medical School Admissions Seminars as a session called "Financing a Medical Education."
Other information about financial aid can be found in
UIC College of Medicine Pre-Requisites
- Each candidate must complete the following courses in the biological and physical sciences:
- Two semesters of Introductory Biology or the equivalent with laboratory
- Two semesters of General-Inorganic-Chemistry or the equivalent with laboratory
- Two semesters of Organic Chemistry with laboratory (Introductory Biochemistry may substitute for one semester of Organic Chemistry)
- Two semesters of General Physics or the equivalent
- Candidates are expected to complete three semesters of Social Science courses with an emphasis in the Behavioral Sciences. A minimum of two semesters must be taken in a sequence within the same department, and one additional semester within the Social Sciences.
- In addtion to the above, candidates are expected to take at least one of the following courses:
- Advanced-level biology OR
- Biochemistry OR
- Physiology OR
- Mammalian Histology OR
- Comparative Vertebrate Anatomy OR
- Molecular Genetics
At SIUE, we interpret the social science requirements for UIC to mean that a student should plan to take two sequential courses in either psychology or sociology, presumably 111 and some 2xx course, plus one other behavioral science course. Appropriate behavioral science courses at SIUE might include Psyc 111, 205, 206, 201, 203, 204, 420, or 431 or Soc 111, 304, 308, or 391.
Regional Medical Schools
Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science/Chicago Medical School
Kirksville College of Osteopathic Medicine
Loyola Stritch School of Medicine
Midwestern University Chicago College of Osteopathic Medicine
Northwestern University Medical School
Rush Medical College
Saint Louis University School of Medicine
Southern Illinois University School of Medicine
University of Illinois/Chicago College of Medicine
University of Illinois-Urbana/Champaign College of Medicine
University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine
Washington University School of Medicine
American Association of Medical Colleges (allopathic)
American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine