Many med school applicants share strong GPAs and impressive MCAT scores. So admissions officers look to other measures to make comparisons among candidates. Lab and research experience is one way to set yourself apart.

How Important is Research Experience to Med Schools?

Pre-med student gaining lab and resesarch experience

While research experience is not a requirement for admission to med school (unless you are a MD-PHD candidate), it can definitely be an advantage on your application. An interest in research shows off your curiosity, maturity, and work ethic—all qualities of students who are prepared to handle the challenges of med school.

If you are considering a career in academic medicine, you should try to get involved in research projects early in your undergraduate career. Bonus: Your research mentors are terrific people to ask for letters of recommendation!

Where to Find Research Opportunities

1. Sit down with your professor.

Treat a professor to coffee and ask about research and special project opportunities for undergraduates in her lab or department. Touch base with any teaching and research assistants you work with through your pre-med courses, as well.

2. Check out various science department websites at your university.

Department websites usually list information on current research projects or can direct you to your school's offerings for funded or volunteer research. E-mail principal investigators (the lead researcher for a grant project administered by a university) at your school and ask how you can get involved with their study.

3. Investigate summer programs.

Medical centers host summer research programs for undergraduates and even sometimes high school students. The National Science Foundation sponsors its Research Experience for Undergraduates program at many college campuses throughout the summer. Check out the AAMC database for summer undergraduate research programs geared toward students interested in scientific research.

4. Talk to your pre-med advisor or your college advisor.

These counselors are extremely knowledgeable about academic opportunities on campus and can point you in the right direction. You can also make an appointment to talk with a staff member at your college's career center.

5. Check out study abroad and internship programs.

Consider programs conducting research in the field. Internships at national laboratories and research facilities are also great options.  

6.  Consider taking a year off to participate in full-time research.

Applying to med school the summer before you senior year of college, essentially means you only have three years to pack in pre-req and extracurriculars. A gap year gives you time to devote to something you missed out—like conducting research— and strengthen your application.

What Types of Research Experiences Do Med Schools Look For?

Med schools typically find value in a wide range of experiences covering basic and social sciences, clinical, and humanities research. But a full year of research, preferably in lab setting, makes your research background stand out.

What if I don’t have Research Experience?

Med schools care about the sum of your experience. If you haven't had the opportunity or don't want to partake in research, dedicate your time to raising your MCAT scores or investing in your extracurriculars. Our med school admission experts can help you position your accomplishments and experiences on your application.

That being said, research-oriented medical schools are also more likely to prioritize lab research experience during the admissions process. MD-PhD candidates will write an essay for their AMCAS application that highlights their research background.

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