An open letter to pre-med students applying to medical school

Let’s face it. Applying to medical school can be a long and confusing process, but it doesn’t have to be. This article offers advice from students who made it to the finish line with the help of the SPDC!

By Taylor Garner ’20: Student Ambassador

In college, they tell you that it’s ok to take your time, it’s ok to switch your major again…and again. However, what they don’t tell you is that if you are planning on going to medical school or any other healthcare specialization school (i.e.: nursing, dental, etc.) you have to start early. This includes completing two courses of general biology and chemistry within your first year in order to be on track for graduation.

Emma Renfro ’20, a senior biology major who was recently admitted to nursing school, recommends meeting with a pre-health professions advisor early on to create a manageable 4-year-plan and understand all of your options. It’s also a great idea to reach out to students who have been through the process and know the secrets to success firsthand.

So, you’ve taken all of the classes, you made it through organic chem. What next? Applying to medical school can be intense and daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. The staff who work in the Student Professional Development Center (SPDC) know you’ve been waiting your whole life for this moment and want to help you to the finish line.

The Princeton Review offers this timeline for applying to medical school:

Sophomore Spring:

  • Start researching different medical schools and their programs
  • Create relationships with professors. These will be your future recommenders!

Junior Fall:

  • Keep researching medical schools
  • Identify your potential recommenders
  • Maintain relationship with recommenders, your favorite professors might be from sophomore year
  • Since so many students study abroad in the fall semester (pre-med students are no exception!) getting a jump on this is crucial

Junior Spring:

  • Begin drafting your personal statement
  • Request application from non-AMCAS (this is like the common app for med schools
    • AMCAS app opens in April
  • Collect letters of recommendation to turn in by September

Senior Summer:

  • Complete the primary application by June or July
    • The Early Decision Program application is due by August 1st
    • Technically some applications can be submitted until December but if you want to be seriously considered it’s best to submit by September at the latest
  • Start researching financial aid options (don’t forget you’re paying for this!)

Senior Fall:

  • Do more research about individual programs
    • If you make it past the primary application process, there will be a secondary application that is tailored to why you’re interested in that particular medical school
  • Prepare for the interviews (these usually take place between the fall and winter months)
  • Submit the FAFSA
  • Don’t forget to send a thank you letter to your recommenders!

During all of this, make sure you are also getting experience in healthcare. This includes volunteer positions or observerships. Don’t be afraid to ask that family friend to shadow them for a month or two. Any experience is good experience!

OK, now what about the MCAT? Don’t worry, we didn’t forget.

By the fall of your junior year, you should start creating a study plan for the MCAT. Remember you have to take it by mid-May of your junior year, so that the scores can be submitted with the application the summer before your senior year. You can take a free practice test with the Princeton Review to decide what kind of preparation you will need before the real thing. Important note! This is not like the ACT or SAT. If you’re like me, you took the ACT five times. That’s not the case with the MCAT. Most people only take it once, maybe twice, and the basic fee is $300. Plus, the test itself lasts, wait for it…seven hours and thirty minutes. So, plan ahead, don’t wing it. You can register to take the test at

Photo: Emma Renfro ’20

I also want to clue you in on some tips and tricks. Remember, Elon University has January-term. One secret that Renfro ’20 shared was that students can use this time to their advantage. Rather than taking a J-Term class, study for the MCAT and then take the MCAT at the end of the term.

Now, the personal statement. Nope, we didn’t forget about that either. Here’s where the SPDC professionals can really help you out. This is the time to show admissions committees who you really are and why you want to go to medical school. It is important to weave your various experiences into a carefully crafted story about yourself. Make an appointment with René Jackson or Rhonda Kosusko, graduate school specialists who work in the SPDC. Both have helped countless students perfect their personal statements and get them to that second application stage.

What about a gap year? Yes! Most medical schools now strongly encourage a gap year between graduation and applying to medical school so that your can obtain more experience, and make yourself a more attractive candidate. Renfro ’20 encourages doing something out of the norm. Work in healthcare in a different country. Take that weird anthropology class. Make yourself interesting to the review committee. You can also take this time to study for the MCAT without the craziness of being a full-time student.

Needless to say, it’s so important to be strategic when approaching medical school, so take advantage of the resources Elon provides. Join the Elon Pre-Health Professions page on Facebook! Review their web page. It provides all of the prerequisites necessary for the health professional tracks. Also, don’t be afraid to take those summer courses!

We obviously know that medical school is not the endgame for many biology and chemistry majors so please get informed by your advisors about your unique process and don’t forget to stop by the SPDC for help along the way.

Here are some other helpful sites for exploring health profession options:,63c94f575fa8f7f7a2b1,Elon,7909bb1649e27087db4a,Elon