- It is highly competitive to get into the Stanford University School of Medicine, which is ranked No. 3 in the country by US News & World Report.
- On average, 90 students out of 7,500 applicants are admitted every year.
- Business Insider asked alumni and admissions officers for their advice on how to make it to the top of the pile, which included submitting top-notch reference letters and telling your authentic story in the personal essay.
- Be sure to research how Stanford Medicine’s multiple-mini-interview system differs from other schools.
- Click here for more BI Prime stories.
Established in 1908, the Stanford University School of Medicine is one of the most highly regarded medical programs in the country: It ranked third in the country for best medical schools in the 2020 rankings produced by US News World & Report, and it has long been highly competitive to make it into the program. According to Dr. Iris Gibbs, the school’s associate dean of M.D. admissions, an average of 7,500 students apply to the School of Medicine every year and about 90 are accepted.
Business Insider has curated tips and advice from Stanford insiders who recognize what works and what doesn’t for interested applicants. Find out what has helped these Stanford grads and which recommendations admissions officers and consultants regard as too valuable to ignore.
Don’t stress too much about MCAT scores — but you do want to hit the threshold Stanford sets
It’s an oft-told narrative that getting high marks on the MCATs may help propel an applicant into Stanford Medicine. But don’t heap too much weight on the test.
Brian Courtney, a 2004 graduate who is now the CEO of the medical-devices startup Conavi Medical, said when it comes to MCATs, “once an applicant gets above that high threshold Stanford sets, then it likely becomes less important what your score is on the test beyond that benchmark. What then becomes more important is how the student prepared themselves to tell a meaningful story on the vision of their career and how getting into an institution such as Stanford is part of that vision.”
Gibbs agreed. “As part of our holistic approach, other factors of the applicant’s articulated vision … help in the assessment of the applicant’s alignment” with the program, she said.
Get the right reference letters, and get them early
Applying to Stanford Medicine requires a minimum of three professional reference letters, according to its admissions page.
“It might sound trite, but the most compelling recommendation letters come from those who know the applicant best,” Gibbs said. “If the applicant wants to be a world-class researcher, and is conveying that in the app, he or she shouldn’t exclude a reference letter from that researcher who counseled them in their undergrad.”
Beata Williams, an independent admissions consultant based in Chicago, recommended finding faculty members who know you best, as opposed to getting letters from, say, a manager at a part-time job.
“Don’t ask for these letters within seven days of submitting them because everyone has a life, and you need to give these people enough lead time to be comfortable writing a strong letter for you,” she added.
Courtney said reference letters should carry a tone that the applicant is someone who is teachable, motivated, “and performs well and can interact effectively with a broad range of people.”
“There’s also benefit in having someone write that reference letter who understands the applicant’s academic performance, research potential, and clinical interests over an extended period of time, rather than from a single course,” he added.
He added that when it came time to select his references, “most of them were supervisors of my research that had known me for a long time and were familiar with my capabilities, interests, and work ethic.”
Use your essay to talk about not only your science background but also your longer-term goals as a doctor
Gibbs shared that the admissions team looks for essays that shine with authenticity.
“The essay is not telling anyone else’s story but your own, and it should convey a sense of passion for whatever the applicant has been interested in and hopes to achieve in medicine,” she said.
When Daniel Kraft, a 1996 graduate, wrote his application essay, he wanted to stress how well-rounded he was in his medical interests, along with his clinical and EMT experiences in college. He told Business Insider, “I emphasized how I had a science background at Brown, focusing on the microbiology of HIV infection and how that was a rich environment to become a physician scientist.”
He said that not every applicant would have his science-heavy undergrad to draw from, so he advised applicants instead to demonstrate a curiosity for how the world works.
“The essay should show you as a whole person, show the human side of you, because to be a good physician is blending the art of healthcare with approachability,” he said.
Chantal Lunderville, a counselor from the college-admissions consultancy group InGenius Prep, often advises applicants vying to get into medical school to write essays that take a long-term approach to where they want to go with medicine.
“It’s not enough to say, ‘I want to be a doctor; I want to get into Stanford,’ because you need to explain how you’re going to use medicine to change public health or the delivery of biomedical breakthroughs. Write down how Stanford will help you achieve those goals, and that’s why I often encourage students to craft a five- or 10-year plan that comes through in that essay,” she said.
Finally, find at least three people to read your essay before submitting it, Lunderville added. “Ideally, those other readers should have a background in writing so they can give advice on how well the essay is written too,” she added.
Prepare to answer critical-thinking interview questions, and avoid bringing up controversial topics
Stanford Medicine is one of the few American schools to evaluate candidates using the multiple-mini-interview system developed at Ontario’s McMaster University Medical School. Stanford said in a 2011 blog post, “It’s a timed circuit of short interviews with scripted questions. The process is completed in a two-hour period and is designed to measure character and critical-thinking skills rather than scientific knowledge. Its goal: to pick out the best future doctors.”
“These are not as structured as other interviews and can be more free flowing,” Gibbs said. “So applicants to our school should research how these interviews are conducted so they can best be prepared once they take part.”
She said the questions weren’t all focused on an applicant’s science or healthcare background. “Without giving too much away, these are real-world questions we’re asking, so it helps to be intellectually curious,” she said.
Lunderville said it never hurts for an applicant to conduct mock interviews with friends or family before taking part in Stanford Medicine’s interview process. “Tell your story in these interviews and what challenges you faced. And you should always review your CV the night before your interview so the exact details of what you did is fresh in your mind,” she added.
When Chen Yu, a 2003 Stanford M.D. graduate and later a 2004 MBA graduate, volunteered to take part in applicant interviews to help the school’s admissions team, he came across several cautionary notes worth highlighting. “Don’t talk politics or religion at these interviews. Like, these days, don’t talk about Trump,” he said.
He remembered one applicant mentioned their antiabortion stance in the interview and said those “kinds of controversial statements can disqualify you as an interviewee.”
“It just isn’t necessary,” he added. “It’s common sense to avoid controversial political comments in an interview. You just don’t know the beliefs of your interviewer, and there’s no reason to end up offending your interviewer.”
Stanford Medicine applicants may think they have a slim chance of making it into its hallowed halls, but Gibbs was quick to assert that the school is casting its admissions net far and wide.
“Students shouldn’t discount themselves when they see our acceptance-rate numbers,” she said. “If they are able to tell us their authentic story, they might be very surprised by the result. We always want a wider range of individuals applying from all types of backgrounds, ethnicities, and abilities.”