What are medical schools looking for in an applicant? Amidst all the talk about shadowing and scribing, GPAs and science GPAs, references and essays, this question is rarely asked. But the answer is simple and can guide you through the complex process of medical school admissions: Medical schools are looking for the applicants who will become the best doctors.
So take a minute to think about it. What would you consider the most important factor in making a good doctor? Is it kindness and compassion? Is it communication skills? Is it determination and hard work? All those things are crucial, and they're all things you should seek to demonstrate through your extracurricular activities. But even more important than that is how much your doctor knows. No matter how kind, compassionate, or talented your doctor is, all of that is useless if he doesn't have the necessary knowledge to be a good doctor.
In medical school, you'll spend most of your time acquiring that knowledge. You'll be memorizing hundreds of facts and terms, and not only do you have to be able to spit back answers, you'll have to understand it as well. Knowing an obscure fact as a doctor can be the difference between life and death for your patient. So when evaluating prospective students, the first question schools ask is whether the applicant is capable of doing that.
To do so, medical schools look at your GPA and your MCAT score. These are both extremely important, and are the main factors for admissions. But your GPA is acquired over four years of undergraduate study, and there are dozens of things that can affect it - your extracurricular activities and job experience, the number of classes you take and the difficulty of your college. None of these things alone can make up for a low GPA, but schools do take them into account.
Your MCAT score is different. The MCAT tests a body of knowledge that is necessary to do well in medical school and, eventually, to become a good doctor. Without the knowledge that is tested on the MCAT, it is extremely difficult to do well in medical school.
Also important is that the MCAT is a standardized test, so it allows schools to easily compare applicants. While courses and grade assignments vary across locations and colleges, the MCAT is the same everywhere. Schools can easily see how much knowledge you've acquired relative to every other applicant.
Just like knowledge is not the only thing that makes a good doctor, a good MCAT score alone will not get you into medical school. For that you will need extracurricular activities and essays that show a passion for medicine. But a good MCAT score is essential to have a chance at getting in to your dream school.