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February 1, 2021

What Are the Top Medical Schools Looking For?


You’ve earned competitive grades and scored well on your MCAT. Is that enough? Well…… Yes and No! According to Socrates, “the unexamined life is not worth living.” He meant that without self-discovery, self-reflection and self-assessment, how can you envision the perfect future; and thus plan for it. There are approximately 200 medical schools in the US. However, they are not all the same. There is a “grand misconception” that admittance is just about grades and MCAT. In reality, it is all about fit. Do you fit with the mission, culture, curriculum, clubs, classes and community of the medical school? If there isn’t synergy (fit) in your application, it’s like trying to fit a large, round peg in a small, square hole. The other key feature is you articulating a compelling story to several strangers in order to motivate them to want to meet you for coffee and get to know you better. In the process, they offer you a seat in their medical school class.


  1. Holistic Admissions
  2. Academic Excellence & Intellectual Vitality
  3. Core Competencies
  4. Emotional Intelligence
  5. Social Intelligence
  6. Leadership and Impact on others
  7. Personal Character
  8. Passion, Growth and Progression
  9. Thoughtful and thorough vision for your Future

Holistic Admissions

  • Intuitively, you might think that high grades and MCAT are all that are needed to achieve admission into America’s top medical schools. While this is true around the world, the top medical schools in the U.S. appreciate that the best test-takers do not always make the best medical students, nor the best residents and doctors. In a holistic approach, medical schools review you as a whole person, how you would contribute to and benefit from their institution. Stanford, for example, looks at your college, your rigor, your academic success, your character and intellectual contributions, as well as your ideas and interests, what truly matters to you, and finally your positive impact on others.


Academic Excellence & Intellectual Vitality


  • While there are many types of intelligence, academic excellence is the core principle of premiere medical schools. They wish to see your preparation and potential for achievement. Stanford often recites their mantra “intellectual vitality.” Fundamentally, it means to possess uncommon “curiosity and enthusiasm” about a topic of interest.

Core Competencies

  • There are 15 essential Core Competencies for Entering Medical Students, as defined by the American Association of Medical Colleges (AAMC). The competencies fall in for categories: interpersonal, Intrapersonal, Thinking & Reasoning, and finally Science. You must excel in them in order to become a competitive applicant.


Emotional Intelligence

  • Simply defined, one who is self-aware and self-disciplined with regard to one’s emotions. Furthermore, to be able to manage interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathically.


Social Intelligence (SI)


  • This is the ability to successfully build relationships and navigate social environments. For example, being an effective listener is a key component of SI. If you meet someone with SI, you feel that you’ve made a personal connection with them, a bond. Moreover, Individuals with SI can carry conversations with a wide variety of people; tactfully and effectively.



Leadership and Impact on Others


  • According to Harvard Business School admissions, “leaders are people who leave their footprints in their areas of passion.” In other words, evidence that you left a positive impact on individuals and on society. More importantly than what you say about yourself, is what people in authority say about you.

Genuine Service to the Community

  • Do you authentically and genuinely serve your classmates, the unfortunate and the greater community?

Personal Character

  • Are you a person of integrity, reliability and strong moral compass? What choices have you made and why? Do you possess maturity, leadership, confidence, enthusiasm and a sense of humor? Do you play nice in the sandbox with the other boys and girls? Or are you quick-tempered, selfish and arrogant?


Passion, Growth and Progression


  • Do your interests push you to your limits and beyond, showing your resilience, initiative and potential? Have your interests developed and progressed towards excellence and mastery?

Thoughtful Forward-Thinking Vision for your Future

  • Perhaps you not only know what truly matters to you, you know what impact you wish to make on the world, and which of the world’s pressing problems you wish to solve. Medical schools are keen to assist students who are visionary, genuine, generous and strive to “make the world a better place.”


Take Home Message


  • Grades and MCAT scores are just the “tip of the iceberg.” Building a holistic application makes you competitive in a fierce and competitive application process.

Need help applying to medical school? Contact Physician Bound at mrichardson@physicianbound.com or text Dr. Richardson at 609.608.6258.