The Written Application: Maximizing Your Chances at Receiving a Medical School Interview Invitation

Medical schools look for dedicated candidates who are competent, driven, and holistic. They assess these qualities in several components of the pre-interview application, including GPA, MCAT, autobiographical sketch (or CV equivalent), CASPer, and supplementary essays. The weighting of these components depends on the school, program, and your geographical status. Here are some tips on how to strategically shape your profile to uniformly impress medical school selection committees. (Please note that this blog is directed toward traditional medical school applicants in Canada. If you are applying as a non-traditional applicant or through a special stream such as UofT’s BSAP, some or all of the following information may not be relevant).

GPA: Medical schools either assess weighted GPA (wGPA), a formula that excludes low grades and/or puts more weight on senior undergraduate years, or cumulative GPA (cGPA), which is an average of all undergraduate grades. Based on official documents available online, personal experience, and the trajectories of medical school colleagues, a wGPA or cGPA of ~3.95 is competitive for all Canadian medical schools. There is some leeway for this threshold in that a lower GPA may be compensated for by an explanation of extenuating circumstances or a stellar track record of research and extracurricular achievements, but a high GPA is generally essential to the success of your application. 


  • Plan your courses well in advance.
  • Enrol in courses with less workload to maintain a high GPA, but balance these courses with pre-requisites and more challenging courses because some medical schools assess the difficulty of the courses you have taken. 
  • It is ideal to take challenging courses in subjects that genuinely interest you as you will more likely be intrinsically motivated to perform well.

MCAT and CASPer: There is no shortage of resources for these standardized tests online, so I will not talk about them at length here. In general, Canadian schools use MCAT as a cut-off but do not specify whether CASPer is treated the same way. MCAT scores of 128+ in CP, BB, and PS combined with a CARS score of 129+ is very competitive for virtually all Canadian schools.


  • Read what is online and consult people who have already taken the MCAT to find the study method and resources that would best work for you.
  • Start studying and practicing for CASPer and MCAT well ahead of time so that you can target your weaknesses early on.

Autobiographical sketch: In Ontario, the autobiographical sketch (ABS) is an annotated list of your activities since the age of 16. The activities fall under six umbrellas: employment, volunteer activities, extracurricular activities, awards and accomplishments, research, and other. Medical schools in other provinces have different names and formats for this list of activities; for example, UBC provides more space for the description of each activity, and McGill asks for a CV in lieu of the ABS. 

The importance of the ABS cannot be understated. While GPA and MCAT scores are mostly used as cut-offs, most medical schools meticulously use the ABS to differentiate strong from weaker applicants. For many selection committees, the ABS is their first look into you as a person and speaks heavily to your potential as a competent, empathic health professional. Since the ABS is almost universal to all medical schools, it is vital that you invest ample time and effort in its development.


  • Holistic applicants tend to have a relatively equal number of items for each umbrella (e.g. employment, research, awards). However, it is OK to be more focussed on one area such as research as long as your entire application is consistent with this focus.
  • Due to the limited character space for each item’s description, only describe the most salient and relevant aspects of each activity. For example, if one of my activities is part-time work at a fast-food restaurant, I would avoid describing menial tasks such as washing dishes and instead delineate interpersonal skill development such as teaching new employees and resolving conflicts with dissatisfied customers.
  • Use abbreviations such as ‘w/’ for ‘with’ and ‘dvlp’ for ‘develop,’ but do not overly crowd your descriptions with abbreviations as clarity may be impacted.

Supplementary essays: Not many Canadian schools require supplementary essays, but for those that do, these essays can make or break your application. Since they are assessed in combination with all the other components of the application, you should make connections with your essays (e.g. a difficult time in which your GPA suffered, or an ABS activity that you are using to provide a personal example) to construct a coherent application. Most importantly, you should not write what you think selection committees want to read. This intention can make your writing seem insincere and soulless. Committees will sift through thousands of essays; think about writing something compelling and genuine that only you can write.


  • Start thinking about the essay prompts as early as possible to ensure that your ideas are unique and insightful.
  • Use diverse personal examples to demonstrate that you possess qualities befitting a physician.
  • Write multiple drafts if you are having difficulty deciding which idea you would like to go with.
  • Ask individuals with different experiences (e.g. friends, family, peers, mentors, professors) to give you feedback.

Check out more blogs on the medical school application process:
Mind over Matter: Tips for Applying to Medical School
7-Step Guide to Completing your Medical School Application
Start Preparing your CV and ABS for Med School
5 Tips for Applying to Med School
Perfecting your OMSAS ABS
Write a Solid Personal Statement
7 Tips for Applying to UofT