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Southern Oregon University

An excellent academic record will get your application considered by a medical admissions committee, but you will not likely be accepted without showing a number of nonacademic qualifications as well, particularly having a significant amount of time spent in a health care setting.  The following are some tips that pre-medical students need to consider well before actually applying to medical school, to ensure that you have the appropriate level of nonacademic qualifications to be competitive.


Admissions committees are looking for something that sets you apart:

  • health care experience and understanding
  • community service
  • extracurricular activities
  • research
  • what you have done in life

They are looking for committed, motivated, articulate people.

Health care experience is essential to acceptance, particularly at OHSU

What have you learned from your health care experience? Articulate your response.

How long did you spend (nature of commitment) i.e., one year or one time?

Shadowing is a start; watch the patient-doctor interaction.

So many applicants are alike. What have you done that sets you apart? e.g., work in Rwanda with the NW medical team, serve as a paramedic for several years, NASA engineer, other experience that demonstrates excellent people skills?

Show commitment and the ability to bring projects to completetion.

Do you have a sense of social obligation? How can you demonstrate it?

It is important to have experience working with groups of people.

No loners, need to be a joiner.

Make the best of activities given; don't make excuses.

An M.D. is an independent learner. Demonstrate this.

If you are forced to volunteer, why do you want to do this for a living?


It is reasonable to take a year or two after college to get health care experience. Get away from the safety of the academic environment; don't hang out in college just waiting

Average age of entrants 26

Applying to medical school is a long, difficult process, and is extremely competitive.  You need to carefully consider how to present youreself both on paper and in person.  Everybody who's applying has good grades and MCAT scores - how will you stand out as a person to the admissions committee?  Below is a brief list of tips that you should think about as you prepare your application and will give you some insight into what admissions committees are looking for when reviewing your personal statements and interviewing you.


Personal Statement

The writing must be clear and correct. Choice of topics or ideas is more personalized.

Express reasons to be in medicine

What experiences led to it?

Do you know what medicine is? How do you know? Personal experiences ok.

Avoid generic rhetoric - you need to become seen as an individual.

Does the reader want to meet this person?

They look at how a person writes, does it correlate with MCAT writing sample?

Creates an idea of the person

Use this statement to mention other selling points/experiences that don't show up as part of the application packet

Set up topics of conversation for the interview- growing up, travel, work, activities.




Applicants must sell themselves. This is equivalent to a job interview.

They must articulate their interactions, not say "help people".

Watch for an opportunity to get in "some things I want to say"

Great personality, great interview

Hit the high points, but be prepared for both "what are your greatest strengths?" and "what are your greatest weaknesses?"

Shy and quiet does not work - they are looking for candidates with good people skills.

What is your bedside manner? Can you talk? Express your motivations?

In five minutes an interviewer can detect sincerity. Not likely to get in for wrong reasons.

The interviews can be one on one with two individuals. One of the interviewers "presents" the applicant to the whole committee, tells what they are like.

Committee looks for inner fire, spark, shining stars, inner drive.

Because of the competition, you must stand out.

Some have entered undergraduate programs easily and are "shattered" by the rejection - this shows immaturity and lack of experience with realities.

With average applicant GPA 3.4-3.5, the applicant's focus must be to present their strengths in the best light.

Be prepared to ask questions re: curriculum, changes in managed care, change to corporation.  You will need to show that you are familiar with issues facing modern medicine today.

The interviewer is looking for a colleague.

Health Care experience shows commitment (or doesn't)

Discuss situations observed with patients.

You need to defend your interests. If you want to be a pediatrician, do they want your name on someone's refrigerator? If interested in primary care, do you know the subareas of primary care? (family, peds, internal med) Applicants need to know what they are getting into. This is getting a job.


You must apply to other medical schools. Otherwise it looks like you are not serious (because the odds are so tough). If no interviews from other schools, what's wrong? Did applicant choose the wrong schools or is there a flaw in the application?


If rejected, apply a 2nd or 3rd time. You must improve the application to get an interview. Become more competitive. In your secondary application, state what you have done to improve the application. If given advice about changes, take the advice.

Create a strong package to show academic and non-academic ability. Include the Pre-med committee letter plus 3-4 well-chosen letters that address different aspects of your nonacademic life such as health care experience, work in health care setting, volunteer work, extracurricular activities or employment. Discuss the letter choices with an advisor.

You may have letters sent to your pre-med advisor to include in a packet to send to medical schools along with the committee letter.


We recommend the following letters:

1. Committee letter: Complete the Pre-med Interview form and submit to Dr. Sollinger or Dr. May by May 15. Pre-med committee interviews will be conducted in June. The purpose of the interview is to enable the committee to write a clear specific letter on your behalf. An additional benefit is to practice an interview before you arrive at a medical school for the real thing.


2. Health care supervisor: When you do volunteer work or employment in any aspect of health care, ask the person who most closely observed your work to write a letter and send it to your pre-med advisor.  It is best if the letter comes from someone with an M.D. degree.


3. Other volunteer work or extracurricular activities: Again, have the person who best knows your work send a letter to your pre-med advisor.


4. Research: When you have completed a portion of a research project, either on campus, such as your senior capstone project, or off-campus in work with other agencies or institutions, have your supervisor describe your work and send the letter to your pre-med advisor. Because senior projects begin in the senior year, you might delay getting this letter until you have had considerable interaction with your mentor.

Biology majors interested in the biomedical sciences wishing to tailor their undergraduate biology degree to their interests and future employment, including preparation for medical, dental, veterinary, and other health professional schools, may pursue the Biomedical Science option areas as part of their Biology degree program. This option area has a modified core (including the option of taking upper division Human Anatomy and Physiology (Bi330) as a part of the core), upper division electives, mathematics, and physical science requirements and is designed to better prepare these students for their future courses of study.


Biology Degree with Biomedical Science Option

  1. Complete the biology core requirements with the following modifications:
    1. Ecology (BI 340) is not required; however, it may be taken for elective credit (see below).
    2. In addition to the existing capstone option, a student in this track may satisfy the capstone requirement by completing a minimum of 3 credits of Practicum: Capstone (BI 409) and 1 credit of Capstone Thesis (BI 404).
  2. Select 3 courses from:


    Microbiology (BI 351 and 353) 6
    Advanced Animal Physiology (BI 414) 4
    Molecular Biology (BI 425) 4
    Immunology (BI 456) 4
    Biochemistry (CH 350 or 451) 3

Admission to medical school is very competitive, as you are probably aware.  An excellent academic record is a prerequisite for applying.  The following information is based on figures from OHSU, but are representative of medical schools throughout the nation.


Nature of the Competition

Entry to medical schools is very competitive; most schools are similar.

Between 2007 and 2009 there were 4521 applicants for 120 positions at OHSU for the  class; 406 applicants were Oregonians.

At OHSU, priority goes to minority applicants, WICHE program applicants, Oregon residents, MD-PhD program and superior out-of-state students (3.8 GPA and 32 on MCAT).  Other state schools have similar priorities for their own residents.




Average applicant 3.4-3.5; Average entering GPA is around 3.6.

Below 3.0, not reasonable; If 3.2, where, why low? Which courses pull it down? What else were you doing? If 3.4-3.5, know that most applicants are in the same position. What sets you apart?

If grades are low, take courses to get them up. Consider a Masters program, but complete the degree. Graduate school is not a holding pattern. Must show commitment or completion.

Nonscience majors are good, e.g., literature, philosophy, but you should demonstrate that you can do upper division science. Nursing is OK if you have practiced it. Want well-rounded person.


MCAT Scores

Average entering scores at OHSU: "10s across".

If scores are 8, 9, applicant must have some other distinctive point, e.g. superior health care experience, other significant work or volunteer experience (long duration). Again, most applicants are in this range, why should they select you?

Studying for the MCAT is essential because the competition is studying for the MCAT. Intensive review courses are one option. No courses are offered in Ashland, but short courses are available in Eugene and Portland and in major cities in California. A self-directed study lasting 4-8 weeks, 20-40 hours per week using commercially available study guides is possible, if uncommon. Get a stack of practice tests and study guides 10-12 inches thick. Take tests weekly. Review what you don't know and firm up what you do know. 

If you are taking the MCATs while still in school, think about how you can ease your courseload during the time you will be studying for and taking the test, as well as making sure that relevant courses do not wait until spring your senior year after you have taken the test.


For more detailed statistics on academic standards for medical school admissions:

2007-2009 Medical school acceptance rates based on GPA and MCAT scores