Preparation is key when it comes to applying to medical school. If you think it’s all about your academic record—think again. The bottom line is there are several factors—along with the importance of grades—that can determine your acceptance into medical school. Your interpersonal skills, involvement in the community and overall medical-related experience can sometimes matter just as much as your GPA.

We sat down with Dr. Kevin Pawlak, Chair of the Admissions Committee at Xavier University School of Medicine in Aruba, for a candid conversation about the steps aspiring medical school students should take to have a competitive edge.

Here are his top tips for getting into medical school:

TIP 1: Take more science courses

There’s no denying that you must take a plethora of science courses when pursuing a medical degree. The key is to take the right ones—and plenty of them. Dr. Pawlak explained that when it comes to prerequisites, you should have two courses in the following areas of study:

  • Chemistry
  • Organic chemistry
  • Biology
  • Physics
  • Calculus

Dr. Pawlak’s Tip: Dr. Pawlak strongly suggests that you take additional biology courses, which will help you succeed in MD1. These are his recommended courses:

  • Microbiology
  • Genetics
  • Biochemistry
  • Anatomy
  • Physiology

TIP 2: Be a well-rounded candidate

As mentioned earlier, acceptance into medical school goes beyond academics. As a prospective student, you should have a well-rounded résumé with intangible qualities that will set you apart from the rest. The admissions process at Xavier, for example, takes a holistic approach. We believe that getting to know who our prospective students are—inside and outside the classroom—is an integral part of bringing positive energy and greater value to our school. We also understand that you—or any student—may experience a rough semester from time-to-time, which can affect grade point average. That’s why our holistic approach helps to level the playing field to give every candidate a fair chance. Here are some key factors that admissions officers may look for when considering a medical school candidate:

  • Meaningful volunteer work
  • Any medical related experience
  • Solid grade point average
  • Being academically and socially well-rounded
  • Strong communication skills

Dr. Pawlak’s Tip: It’s important for you to go “outside the box” in order to become a well-rounded candidate. The intangibles are just as important.

TIP 3: Bring your A-game to the interview

Competencies count when it comes to making a great impression at your interview. This is the chance to let your personality shine and where you can differentiate yourself from other candidates. Here are some of the best ways to bring your A-game to the interview:

  Display the following core competencies:

  • Communication skills: The ability to accurately articulate to patients (in words they can understand) what is going on and keep all parties informed
  • Service skills: A desire to help others, no matter the circumstances
  • Social skills: Understanding social queues, etiquette and being able to relate to all kinds of people
  • Cultural competence: Understand how to relate to people from all different cultural and economic backgrounds
  • Ethical responsibilities: Being able to respect the rights of patients, colleagues and other doctors   
  • Resiliency: Prove that you can make it through a rigorous curriculum
  • Leadership skills: Enjoy taking control of situations to deliver the best possible outcome
  • Scientifically curious: Possessing the curiosity and interest in scientific research

Dr. Pawlak’s Tip: Dr. Pawlak took this a few steps further by outlining additional tips that he considers important for making a great impression at your interview.

  • Avoid giving “common answers,” such as “you want to become a doctor to heal the world.” Instead, bring originality to your answers by making them more personal. This will not only give insight into who you are but also make you stand out among other candidates.
  • Show that you can engage in interesting conversation by not giving one-word answers.
  • Arrive to the interview prepared with a list of intelligent questions. This step proves you have interest and are serious about attending medical school.

TIP 4: Consider starting a pre-med program right out of high school to save time and money.

Xavier’s accelerated pre-med program is a unique pathway to becoming a doctor that can have a student straight out of high school ready for medical school in 16 months, without having to spend full four-year tuition of an undergraduate degree. And the best part? Pre-med students are automatically accepted into the medical program upon successful completion of the four-semester curriculum.

TIP 5: Consider applying to Xavier University in Aruba—the most affordable, accredited and New York State-approved medical school in the Caribbean.

Deciding where to apply to medical school can be challenging. With so many questions to answer and points to examine, more and more students are considering Caribbean medical schools like Xavier as a great option. At Xavier, you and other students will receive the same quality medical education as medical schools that are based in the United States. And most importantly, Xavier “checks off all the boxes” when it comes to ensuring that you succeed on your medical journey.

Thinking of becoming a doctor but overwhelmed by the competitive nature of U.S.-based medical schools? You should consider Xavier and here are a few reasons why:

  • Fully accredited: Xavier is among a select few Caribbean medical schools that is fully accredited by the Accreditation Commission on Colleges of Medicine (ACCM). This means that requirements set forth by the Educational Commission on Foreign Medical Graduates (ECFMG) for an internationally- recognized medical accrediting agency have been met.
  • More affordable tuition: Attending Xavier can save you thousands of dollars in tuition costs when compared to that of other Caribbean medical schools that are accredited and approved by New York State – check out the comparison.
  • Scholarships, grants, and loans: Xavier offers several financial aid options, including scholarships that cover full tuition, grants, student loans, and Veterans Benefits—all of which can assist in meeting financial needs. After all, Xavier’s mission is to make a medical education accessible to anyone with the drive, determination and vigor to complete the program. In fact, in 2022, 55% of all eligible new students received a scholarship.
  • A U.S.-modeled curriculum: Xavier’s curriculum is meticulously designed to mirror the U.S. system, thus ensuring a seamless transition for our students.
  • Scheduled U.S.-based clinical rotations at ACGME-accredited hospitals: Xavier has established several partnerships with the Accreditations Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME)-approved teaching hospitals and medical centers throughout the U.S. These partnerships provide our students with core rotations that not only offer unprecedented real-world medical experience but also serve as a guide for them when the time comes for them to select their specialties.
  • High match rate for residency: Xavier helps students prepare for Match from their very first day of medical school—and our high match rate every year reflects this.
  •  New academic campus opening in 2024: Read all about our new academic campus opening in 2024 in this article.
  • Location, location, location: The warm weather, beautiful white sand beaches with crystal blue water and happy people make studying in Aruba more pleasant. As they say on the island “Biba Dushi” which means living the good life. PLUS, Aruba is one of the safest islands in the Caribbean, takes U.S. currency and rarely gets hit by tropical storms?

Dr. Pawlak’s Tip: Beginning in 2024, anyone who applies for ECFMG certification must be a student or graduate of a medical school—such as Xavier—that is officially recognized by the World Federation for Medical Education (WFME). Dr. Pawlak noted that Xavier is fully compliant with ECFMG’s accreditation requirements. Learn more about these requirements.

Is attending medical school your lifelong passion? Let our years of academic excellence and commitment to our students’ success be the steppingstones to your future career as a physician. Apply today!