USC Keck Medical School Quad

Photo credit: Julie Gross

At Collegiate Gateway, we greatly enjoy our work with medical school applicants—especially because the process is so competitive and the planning so complex! We are proud of our students and our collaboration. 94% of our applicants are accepted to at least one medical school, in contrast to the national average of 41%.

We attribute this to thoughtful planning at every step of the way, combined with a great attention to detail. Our process begins by evaluating each student’s candidacy using a framework that examines two categories of factors:

  • Background factors include the elements of your candidacy that you develop before you even begin the application process. These include the academic factors of GPA and MCAT; and the experiential factors of clinical experience, shadowing, research, and non-clinical activities.
  • Application factors include all the components of the application process, such as your medical school list, essays (Personal Statement, activity essays, and secondaries), recommendations, and interviews, as well as the timing of submission.

Boost your chances to get into your top choice medical school!

Ideally, we begin working with med school candidates early in their college experience so that we can help guide all the choices that will impact admissions outcomes. In these circumstances, we can ensure that all the background and application factors are as competitive as possible!

In Part I of this two-part blog series, we discuss Background Factors. Stay tuned for Part II, in which we will discuss Application Factors.

Background Factors

Here are the questions we ask candidates about their background:


  • Is your overall GPA competitive for the particular med schools you are considering – or for US medical schools at large? Your GPA is one of the most important factors that med schools will consider, because they consider it a marker of whether you can handle the academic rigors of med school curricula. Med school admissions officers look at your overall undergraduate GPA, as well as your GPA for each of your college years, in order to evaluate the trend of your grades.
  • Is your science GPA competitive? In addition, med schools pay particular attention to your “science GPA.” For MD (allopathic) programs, this is also known as your BCPM GPA, which includes all your courses in biology, chemistry, physics and mathematics. For DO (osteopathic) programs, the science GPA includes all the same, minus the math courses.

You can check the competitiveness of your overall and science GPAs by looking up on MSAR (Medical School Admissions Requirements) the mid-50th percentile range of accepted scores for your med school list; pay attention to the in-state vs out-of-state scores. If your GPAs will not be competitive by the end of junior year, we advise that you take at least one gap year, and enroll in a Master’s program in the medical or biological sciences.


  • Is your MCAT score competitive for the med schools on your list? Along with your GPA, your MCAT score is one of the top factors med school admissions committees consider. This is because the MCAT provides a robust, standardized assessment of science and social science knowledge that medical schools expect students to have before they enroll. As with your GPA, you can evaluate the competitiveness of your MCAT score by checking on MSAR the mid-50th percentile range of scores for accepted students, and noting the in-state vs out-of-state as appropriate. If your MCAT is not competitive for the schools on your list, you can retake the test. Keep in mind that med schools receive ALL your MCAT test scores and view multiple scores in different ways depending on the school. Some consider only your highest total score, others your highest section scores or your most recent scores, and still others the average of your total and section scores across all the tests you’ve taken.

Clinical Experience

  • Do you have breadth and depth in your clinical experience? The most important activities to participate in as a pre-med student are those that provide you with clinical experience, which involves direct contact with patients. Throughout your college years, exposure to the field of medicine will strengthen your candidacy for medical school by demonstrating that you are familiar with the demands and responsibilities of practicing medicine. Beyond this, it will help confirm your interest in pursuing medical school and a career as a physician.
  • Do you have clinical experience in a variety of settings? Med schools look for applicants with a broad range of experiences. During the school year, you might pursue volunteer work in a hospital, hospice, clinic, or nursing home, or work part-time as an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) or scribe. During the summer or gap year, when you have the chance to work full-time, you might explore more involved clinical opportunities that would be difficult or impossible during the school year, such as Physician’s Assistant, or work full-time as an EMT or scribe.
  • Do you have clinical experience with diverse patient populations? This will increase your exposure to the needs of different demographics, which will strengthen your awareness of the social determinants of health.


  • Do you have sufficient shadowing experience? Shadowing involves observing physicians and is typically a more passive activity than clinical experience, but also provides exposure to the medical world. There are many avenues to identifying opportunities for shadowing. You can tap your personal network of physicians, including your own doctors, friends, relatives, and professors. Often, you can shadow where you volunteer—for example, at hospitals, clinics, or nursing homes. In addition, colleges often have student premedical groups affiliated with organized shadowing programs. While med schools do not require a specific number of hours required for shadowing—as quality is more important than quantity—a good rule of thumb is somewhere between 50 and 100 hours.
  • Do you have shadowing experience in a variety of settings, with a variety of specialists? This exposure will show you the responsibilities and requirements of different fields of medicine. Shadowing may help narrow down, eliminate or point you towards potential specialties. You will also inevitably observe a variety of approaches to patient care, which can inform your vision of the kind of physician you would like to be.


  • Do you have sufficient research experience? While conducting research is not a requirement for medical school, the experience will typically increase your understanding of science, strengthen your MCAT score, and boost your candidacy, especially at top medical schools connected with leading research universities. The best opportunities for research can be found with your science professors. Think about the courses and professors you’ve been most drawn to and explore which run a lab of their own. You could also consider conducting research over the summer at a lab affiliated with another university or medical school.
  • Have you pursued research in a specialty area that’s important to you? If you’ve narrowed down your interest to a specific disease or condition, you could apply to work in a specialized lab, such as a cancer or diabetes center. If you’ve isolated an interest in a medical specialty rather than a disease, consider pursuing research with that patient population. For example, if you’re interested in pediatrics, you could conduct research at a children’s hospital. Focusing your interests in such a way before you apply to med school is by no means mandated, but it does, helpfully, demonstrate a strong commitment to a particular career path.

Non-Clinical Experience

  • Have you engaged in activities outside of medicine? Med schools are not only interested in your academic achievements and your motivation to become a doctor. They also want to build a diverse class of multi-dimensional students. Your non-clinical activities help demonstrate to admissions committees your values and your character.
  • Do your non-medical activities demonstrate your values and character? Many extracurricular activities can show medical schools your compassion, leadership, and teamwork skills—all of which play a critical role in medicine. To learn more about the qualities that med schools value, read the AAMC’s listing of “Core, Entry-Level Competencies.” Volunteer work, such as tutoring children or helping the elderly in nursing homes, can demonstrate your compassion, ethical responsibility, interpersonal skills, and desire to help others. Participation on sports teams or in Greek life illustrate your ability to function effectively as part of a team, as well as your social and leadership skills. These extracurricular activities serve to show med schools that you are a multi-dimensional person and lead a balanced life, which is an important component to thriving in an intense, demanding career!

As demanding as medical school applications are, there’s a reason behind their requirements. The more you throw yourself into your academic and extracurricular life before you apply, the better prepared you’ll be for med school’s rigors, and the more you’ll understand the kind of physician you want to become. If you would like guidance on any aspect of your pre-med preparation or med school application process, contact Collegiate Gateway. As always, we’re happy to help!