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Quantity vs. Quality: What Do Med Schools Want? Med Times Copyright, All Rights Reserved, 2004-2005

By Alysha Khavarian

The following information was gathered from an interview with Mario San Bartolome, a 3rd year UCI medical student who is now on the admissions committee.

A better question is: what do you want? Do you want to take the extra 4 units to increase your GPA? Do you want to be stuck in a research lab washing petri dishes for another month? The reality is that medical schools want you to do what you want with your life. They want you to take the classes you find interesting. They want you to have a job you enjoy. They want a balanced student.

This concern over what medical schools want leads to the issue of whether the quantity of classes taken is more important than the quality of education, bringing to mind some relevant questions...


Q: Should I take a hard class and learn more or take an easy class and get a good grade?

A: If you can handle the course load, take hard classes. However, medical schools do not mind an occasional art class in the schedule, and they encourage it. They want their future students to have a variety of interests, so they can relate to patients. They want students who have exposed themselves to different subjects. Medical schools also do not know the difficult classes from the easy ones. Admission committees do not have a list of hard and easy classes.

Translation: Balance your classes by taking an art class as well as physiology.


Q: Should I do a lot of volunteer work at any clinic or do a little volunteer work at a renowned clinic?

A: Look for a clinic with “quality of work with quantity to it”. Medical schools prefer internships that allow for a high degree of experiences. The reason medical schools want students to have clinical experience is so they can be exposed to the lifestyle of a doctor/nurse. They want students to be aware of the various professions that exist in the health field.

Translation: It is better to have a few quality internships than several that leave you with little learning experience.


Q: Which is better...research with any professor or research with an acknowledged professor?

A: Realistically, the reputed professor is going have an undergraduate student stocking equipment and washing glassware. This professor is not going to include a student’s name on a paper once they are published. They do not recognize the students who wash glassware. Therefore, do not be concerned with the prestige of a professor. Admission committees do not know the names of all the professors. Medical schools want you to have lab work to expose you to all aspects of the research field.

Translation: It does not matter which professor you work with as long as you get lab experience.


Q: Do I get a job at Target or get a job at a doctor’s office?

A: Get a job that is oriented toward your field of interest. Medical schools do not really care where you work. They are not going to drill you on your work experience. Volunteer work is the only work experience they are interested in.

Translation: You do not need a job.


Q: Double major or stay a biology major?

A: There is a marginal benefit to double majoring. Graduating with two degrees will impress the admissions committee, but there are drawbacks. Double majoring takes a lot of time away from other activities such as internships, volunteer work, and clubs. Medical schools want their students to be involved in these extra-curricular activities rather than double majoring.

Translation: If you can juggle double- majoring - then do it.

Q: Should I be involved in a lot of clubs or a club relevant to a field of interest?

A: Get experience from the clubs. The clubs are supposed to expose a student to volunteer work and other humanitarian events. Admission committees evaluate every quarter to see what clubs the student was involved with while taking the hard classes. Medical schools want a student who has broadened their interests each progressive year.

Translation: Be involved in multiple clubs that interest you.


There are a few facts to keep in mind when deciding what classes to take and what clubs to join. The first two things an admission committee notices are the GPA and MCAT scores. This is one-third of the application process. However, now everyone has a high GPA and competitive MCAT scores. Therefore, the other two-thirds of the application involves research experience, volunteer work, and personal characteristics (letters of reference and interview). The GPA gets a student’s foot in the door, but the personal characteristics open the door wide enough to walk through.