The Anatomy and Physiology of the Pre-Med Student’s College Application Process

Admissions Tips Advisor Tips 5 min read

In this article, CollegeAdvisor.com admissions expert Rashmi shares tips for applying to college as an aspiring pre-med student. For more guidance on the college application process in general, sign up to work with an admissions coach 1-on-1.

Stethoscope and Laptop Computer. Laptop computers and other kinds of mobile devices and communications technologies are of increasing importance in the delivery of health care. Photographer Daniel Sone
Photographer: National Cancer Institute | Source: Unsplas

If you are anything like me, you have known that you wanted to be a physician since well before high school. As you prepare to take the first step in your journey to become a doctor (i.e. applying to an undergraduate program), it is important to think about how best to craft your college application to gain admission into robust pre-med programs.

In this article, I will share some tips and tricks on the sorts of extracurricular activities you should be engaging in and offering advice on college applications and majors.

The Anatomy of a Pre-med Student’s College Application

I refer to this section of the pre-med student’s application as the “anatomy”—that is, the extracurriculars. If you are seriously considering a career in medicine, you should think about participating in the following activities: shadowing, clinical volunteering, and research.

1) Shadowing:

A shadowing experience allows you to gain insight into the daily life of a physician. It helps you to understand what to expect in your future career. Before COVID-19, many hospitals offered application-based shadowing programs. You could also directly reach out to physicians via email to see if they would be interested in hosting a shadow. While many of these opportunities may no longer be available due to COVID-19, free virtual shadowing opportunities have gained popularity. This means that students who live in rural areas or lack connections with hospital staff can benefit from these programs.

2) Clinical Volunteering:

Service opportunities that allow you to interact with patients or people can also affirm your interest in the medical field. After all, a large part of being a physician is working with patients. Whether you do intake at a clinic, converse with residents in a nursing home, help out at a vaccine distribution center, or wheel patients around in a hospital, you will have the opportunity to serve and connect with others. Stories from these experiences can also make great essay topics.

3) Research:

If there is one thing that COVID-19 taught us, it is that the medical field is stagnant without research. Participating in research, whether through science fairs or formal programs, demonstrates your desire to contribute to the growth of medicine. While these sorts of experiences are difficult to obtain, many universities have related summer programs. You can also always cold-call/email professors working on research that interests you. After all, the worst thing that can happen is the professor says no.

While I am essentially sharing a checklist for you to complete, there are two things to keep in mind.

1. First, you do not have to do everything on this list to be a strong candidate for a pre-med program.

Most students do not have access to these opportunities, and that is completely understandable. There are many ways you can strengthen your interest in medicine outside of health-related experiences.

For example, non-clinical volunteering or job experiences teaching others can open you to an interdisciplinary understanding of medicine. Many of my high school extracurricular experiences addressed educational inequity, which, at first glance, may not seem related to medicine.

2. Second, you should find activities within these categories that truly fit your interests.

Admissions Officers can easily distinguish between applicants who genuinely care about their activities and those who are just trying to check off boxes. If you are interested in improving mental health awareness and resources, shadow a psychiatrist, volunteer with a crisis hotline, or work with a professor studying a specific mental illness.

It is also okay to be unsure about your interests. Exploring an array of passions can be just as valuable.

The Physiology of a Pre-med Student’s College Application

At its core, the pre-med college application process revolves around how a student’s extracurricular activities and life experiences come together to tell a story. I’ve labeled this section “physiology” to reflect this emphasis on function. How do you take the “anatomy” of your activities and academics and make it into a compelling narrative?

Here, I will answer a few questions potential pre-med students may have about showcasing their extracurricular and life experiences on their college applications. I will also offer some advice regarding college majors.

Where and how should I discuss my interests in medicine?

There are two places where you can discuss your interest in medicine: your personal statement or your supplemental essays. As you detail your interests, you should focus on sharing how you have grown from specific experiences rather than listing out why you would be a good doctor. Ultimately, you should aim to connect with your readers rather than sell yourself as a future physician.

How much should I talk about my interests in medicine?

While you can talk about your medical interests in your personal statement or supplemental essays, be careful not to oversaturate your application with this information. For example, if your medical interests are a focal point of your personal statement, you should focus on other topics in your supplemental essays.

Similarly, if you indicate interest in a pre-medical program, you should elaborate on why pre-med interests you in some part of your application.

What should I major in as a pre-medical student?

When I was in high school, I thought that I had to major in biology, chemistry, or neuroscience to be a model pre-med student. This is not the case. You truly can major in whatever you want as long as you fulfill your prerequisites for medical school.

Students often major in biology and related majors since this lets you fulfill your prerequisites without many other requirements. That being said, you can also choose to major in the arts or humanities while still completing your requirements. When selecting a major on your college application, pick one that truly interests you. Your chosen major should also align with the extracurricular activities and classes you pursued in high school.

Keep in mind that most college students change their majors several times (depending on the program or institution), so you can always change your mind.

Pre-Med College Applications: Final Thoughts

I hope this article gave you a better understanding of how to explore your medical interests and share them on your college applications. We also have many advisors who specialize in guiding students interested in the medical field through the college application process.

The path to becoming a physician is long and arduous; however, you can put your best foot forward by following these tips and tricks. Good luck!


This article about the college application process for students interested in being pre-med was written by Rashmi Bharadwaj, Vanderbilt ‘21. If you want to get help with your college applications from Rashmi or other CollegeAdvisor.com Admissions Experts, register with CollegeAdvisor.com today.

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