How I Got Into Med School
This is the seventh in a series of blog posts that feature stories of students' journeys to medical school. Last time, we heard from Will (Emory School of Medicine). Today, Thomas Caldwell -- who has been accepted to five medical schools and is waiting to hear from two -- shares his story and tips with us.
Thomas, tell us more about yourself and your college career.
A native of Greenville, South Carolina, I am currently studying neuroscience at Washington and Lee University in Virginia. My time at W&L has been great. There are certainly high expectations for students, but the faculty do everything they can to make sure we reach the goals we set for ourselves. The small community has made it easy to form deep friendships with fellow students and professors alike.
Outside of class, I work in a research lab that investigates how a high fat, high sugar diet impacts female reproductive health. Additionally, I help lead our InterVarsity Christian Fellowship chapter and compete on the men’s varsity swim team. Swimming is one of my favorite parts of attending W&L, and I have enjoyed every aspect of competing alongside my teammates.
Talk about the medical school application process.
My path to medical school started with following a pre-med track, as many do. For the sake of time, I’ll focus on a few moments and choices from the past year that were important to my success.
As I mentioned above, the faculty at W&L are outstanding, and my pre-med advisor is excellent. She encouraged me to always be ahead of the game, so I submitted my primary AMCAS application on June 4, just a few days after it opened for submission.
Initially, I only applied to in-state schools because I had not yet received my MCAT score. However, once I received my score and had an idea of my competitiveness, I used the Medical School Admission Requirements (MSAR) provided by the AAMC to get a good picture of the schools in my range. Once I determined those, I thought about whether I'd actually want to attend those institutions. I knew I wanted to stay on the east coast, so geographic location was a factor. I also made sure to read the mission statement of each school and look at their curricula to get a better idea of their values and expectations. There are a lot of different factors at play, so it is important to get all the information in front of you before applying.
Ultimately, I submitted applications to 14 schools and had all my supplemental applications finished within two weeks of receiving them. Setting deadlines for myself and being proactive throughout the process was a key component to getting early interviews. For schools with rolling admissions, early interviews usually increase an applicant’s chance of acceptance.
Once I received my MCAT score and had an idea of my competitiveness, I used the Medical School Admission Requirements (MSAR) provided by the AAMC to get a good picture of the schools in my range.
Explain three factors you think contributed to your acceptance.
Medical schools definitely look for leadership. I was fortunate to be a leader on the swim team, in my research lab, and in my campus fellowship, so those were some experiences that I could mention in my application and discuss during my interview.
Additionally, I think medical schools look for a certain level of investment, both in the community at large and in organizations with which applicants are involved. Throughout my college career, I decided to find a few things that I really loved and commit myself to them. I wasn’t involved in a bunch of different clubs, but I wanted to make sure that I could make a worthwhile contribution and leave a lasting mark on the groups and teams in which I participated.
Finally, being comfortable during interviews is key. If you get an interview, this means that the admissions committee members believe you can succeed academically at their institution. The interview allows them to see who you are as a person.
I had a lot of opportunities to practice interviewing with faculty and I think that really helped prepare me for the types of questions I would have to answer. I went into interviews excited to have a conversation with whoever was waiting for me. Having the right mindset is crucial to being yourself and enjoying the interview process.
I think medical schools look for a certain level of investment, both in the community at large and in organizations with which applicants are involved. Throughout my college career, I decided to find a few things that I really loved and commit myself to them.
How did you feel after your interviews?
While incredibly important, my interviews were great experiences, and I got to meet a lot of awesome people. Interviews got easier and easier as I moved throughout the process, and the conversations I had with doctors and medical students quickly became my favorite part of the interview day.
I remember the feeling of relief after my first interview and the realization that it wasn't nearly as bad as I had thought it would be. However, after a few minutes, it was easy to fall into the trap of looking back and analyzing every word that left my mouth. I don’t think that is a constructive practice and, honestly, I gave much more weight to my gut reaction as soon as I left the room.
After your interview, be prepared to wait. One school let me know its decision the next day, while another made every applicant wait until March. However, the feeling of seeing an acceptance email land in your inbox is worth the wait. In my experience, it took a while for things to really sink in. Once I got the chance to sit down and think about it, a sense of relief and excitement for the future washed over me. There is nothing quite like it.
Medical schools want people who are excited and passionate about being a doctor. If you are excited, it will show in your application and interviews alike.
Any last thoughts?
To re-cap, here's my parting advice on how to succeed as a medical school applicant:
- Invest time in your passions
- Pursue leadership roles
- Start your applications early
- Focus on your strengths and unique qualities
- Try to enjoy the process
Applying to medical school is truly an amazing opportunity and one that should be embraced with enthusiasm. Medical schools want people who are excited and passionate about being a doctor. If you are excited, it will show in your application and interviews alike.
A native of Greenville, SC, Thomas is an Atlantis Merit Scholar and a senior neuroscience major at Washington & Lee University. During his college career, he has enjoyed conducting research, competing on the varsity swim team and serving in leadership with W&L's InterVarsity Christian Fellowship chapter. Thomas has currently gotten into five medical schools and is waiting to hear from two others before he makes a decision. In his spare time, you can find Thomas swimming, playing pickup sports, watching college football, or enjoying the great outdoors.
Check out more of our stories and resources for pre-meds below: