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Thinking About Applying To A Medical School? Here's What To Expect

For many people, medicine is the ultimate career. It is intellectually engaging and leaves a lasting impact on a person’s life. You might be choosing medicine for a rewarding and lucrative career, or to enable yourself to save someone’s life (or maybe you were just inspired by Grey’s Anatomy). If you’re thinking of applying to medical schools, here are a few things that you can expect:


If you can’t afford the expensive medical schools out-of-pocket, you need to take student loans, look for external scholarships, fellowships, or even employment. Only a few medical schools provide scholarships, and that too, to the highest achievers. You need to figure out and plan your finances from the very start. 

Curriculum Is Tough

Most of the medical schools go with the four-year curriculum, where the first two years are preclinical and the last two are clinical. During the first two years, all you’ll have to do is study hard and understand the basic medical concept, anatomy of the body, and the principles of diagnosis. You must explore and do thorough research before you apply to medical school. You need to be mentally prepared by understanding how the curriculum is designed, the campus life, what all extracurricular activities are available, and the finances.

First Two Years

You must have heard about medical studies being hard, it’s not an exaggeration. There will be anatomical structures that you never knew existed, many pathways of treatments to learn, many diseases with similar symptoms, and unpronounceable medical terms. Be prepared for late-night study sessions because the medical curriculum is quite fast-paced, and you’ll constantly need to catch up. It seems impossible, but you eventually get used to the pressure of studies with time. 

Last Two Years

The challenge lies in applying the knowledge. Now that you’ve crammed and learned vast concepts of the human body, you will now apply them in real-life situations. It will seem a bit overwhelming initially, as you will be required to make prompt judgments that will affect someone’s life. The medical curriculum is designed in a way that prepares you to make those decisions easily and with conviction. 

Don’t Expect Good Grades

If you are thinking of medical school, chances are you are a straight-A student with many extracurriculars and a great profile already. This means you are used to getting really good grades since you were a child. When you get your first result, you are bound to get disappointed, rather shocked. Remember that in medical schools, even the high achievers are thankful when they get average grades.

You’ll Feel Lost Sometimes

The first year is your transition period. From grading to teaching modes, everything will be different from what you have seen all your life. The transition period is a stressful time because you’re not yet used to the amount of curriculum you have to cover in a short period of time.  Many times, in the middle of their degree, medical students wonder if it is even the right career choice for them or not. But most of the time it turns out to be a phase and soon enough lab coats are out, and they’re deep in some anatomy books. Remember that medicine is different from all the other fields. Expect to feel lost sometimes, because the whole experience can be very different from your previous academic career. Many medical schools offer stress management and counseling. Be sure to contact them if you feel too stressed. 

Your Field Is Different From Your Friends

The medical field requires you to act like a professional from day one. It needs focus and dedication of the highest level. You will see all your friends in various fields graduating, having different terms, and enjoying their holiday periods while you are still halfway through your degree. You need to keep in mind that your experience will be very different, albeit rewarding, from your other college friends. It will be a challenging journey, but it will turn out to be more than worth it when every day you will get a chance to treat someone, save someone's life and make a difference.

Adios Social Life

Yeah, this one is difficult. When your roommate is out partying, you will have to stay in and study. As a medical student, studying will become your routine. A chore that needs to be done no matter what. Initially, it will be difficult to handle,  but the balance between studies and social life will come when you’ll stop considering your studies as a burden. Stay organized and plan a little around how you’ll manage studies, lectures, and social life. You’ll learn when you become a doctor, that staying busy during medical school actually prepared you for the real practice.

Standardized Tests

At this point, you must’ve given SATs. However, the SATs will not prepare you for the USMLE (United States Medical Licensing Examination). USMLE are standardized tests that medical students have to take after the second year and final year. Step one assesses the fundamental medical concepts. Step two is to evaluate clinical knowledge. The final exam is Step three which occurs after you have received your medical degree, usually when you have begun the first or second year of your residency. 


You choose your specialty area by the end of your third year in medical school. This way you will begin to prepare for the residency early. This is because choosing a specialty and applying for residency, are dependent on each other. Contact your career advisors if you are confused about choosing a specialty area. If you want to change direction, you may take up research or complete a dual degree like MD-MPH (Dual Medical Doctor and Master of Public Health). You have options, but you need to take a lot of things into consideration. 


Many facts about a  medical degree are discouraging, but it is essential that you understand what you’re getting yourself into before you make a long-term commitment. Medicine is a great career with all the perks and constant challenges. All you have to do is ensure that you are mentally prepared for all the forthcoming workload. If you’re up to the challenge, apply to your favorite medical school today!

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Tutor City's blog focuses on balancing informative and relevant content, never at the expense of providing an enriching read. 

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Resident author - Mr Wee Ben Sen, has a wealth of experience in crafting articles to provide valuable insights in the field of private education.

Ben Sen has also been running Tutor City, a leading home tuition agency in Singapore since 2010.