Categories:

How Many Medical Schools Should I Apply To? A Future Doctor’s Guide

So, how many medical schools should you apply to?

Selecting a medical school is one of the biggest and most far-reaching decisions an aspiring physician will make.

The average medical student should expect to spend 4 years in medical school, followed by 3-7 years as a resident and possibly pursuing a specialty.

This amounts to a significant time commitment, so choosing the right medical school is very important.

But it’s not enough to find your dream school and apply.

As a prepared medical school applicant, you know that you need back up schools and options.

Medical schools, especially very prestigious ones, are very competitive. It is important to give yourself plenty of chances to get accepted to medical school and options from which to choose.

Here’s how to know how many medical schools you should apply to.

What are medical school acceptance rates?

One of the biggest concerns for medical school applicants is getting into the program of their choice.

  • According to the 2019 U.S. News and World Report, only 6.8 percent of applicants were accepted to medical school, based on data collected from 118 nationally ranked medical schools.
  • Compared to an average 14 percent acceptance rate among the 10 most competitive business schools and an average 15.1 percent acceptance rate among the 10 most competitive law schools, medical school can be viewed as an almost impossible task.

Acceptance rates across all medical schools vary.

  • The most competitive programs often stay in the 2-5 percent range, while others report up to 11-15 percent acceptance rates.

Keep in mind that the lower the acceptance rate, the more competition you will have for admission. This is why making sure that your application is as strong as it can be is critical.

There are a lot of things to consider when applying to medical school; the acceptance rate is just one of many factors that will influence your decision.

There are a lot of outstanding programs with higher acceptance rates, but it is overall a very competitive process.

Am I a competitive med school applicant?

Determining how competitive you may be for admission will depend on the school that you want to attend.

There are a few key areas that almost every medical school looks at during admissions.

Your academic history

Medical school is a school, meaning that you will attend classes, take exams, and complete labs.

Admissions committees want to know how you have performed as a student in the past to make sure that you are ready for the rigorous academic environment of medical school.

To be competitive at highly selective schools, you will need to demonstrate top academic abilities through a high GPA.

Your MCAT score

The MCAT, or Medical College Admission Test, is a standardized entrance exam that tells the admissions committee how well you are expected to do with the skills and knowledge you will study in medical school.

Check the admissions statistics for the schools you want to attend to see what the average MCAT score is for their student population.

If you need to keep studying and retake the exam, you may need to do so.

Extracurricular activities

Medical school can seem like all work and no play, but admissions committees want to know that you can thrive while juggling multiple priorities.

This is why having some outside interests is important. It also provides you the opportunity to be more than just a set of numbers in your application.

Some programs prioritize this area more than others. Talk to your medical school counselor or other students to see how important this is at the schools you want to attend.

Recommendations

There is no greater endorsement than having someone currently working in the medical field tell an admissions committee how great of an addition you would be to their profession.

Personal statement

All applicants will need to write an essay based on a given prompt, often focusing on why they want to get into medicine or how they plan to contribute to the school, profession, and larger community.

To take full advantage of this section of the application, you should have a well-thought-out personal statement that is personal and grammatically correct.

All of these aspects are part of a competitive medical school application, but each school has its own set of priorities.

  • Some schools look closer at data, such as your GPA and MCAT scores.
  • Others want to understand you as a person and know that your goals are in line with the mission of the school, which you can demonstrate in your essay.
  • The important thing is to do your research and know what is important to each school.

That way, you can apply to those schools that will be the best for your background, strengths, and goals.

Do you struggle in one area?

As long as your performance is in an acceptable range, you may be able to overcome shortcomings by demonstrating higher abilities in another area.

  • For example, if you struggled with your undergraduate courses and came out with a less competitive GPA, an exceptionally high MCAT score may help the admissions committee overlook your grades.

In highly selective programs, however, competitive applicants will need to be strong in all areas to be considered for admission.

How do GPA and MCAT factor into my decision? 

The two biggest aspects of the application that prospective med students worry about are GPA and MCAT scores.

  • Almost every medical school publishes the average GPA and MCAT score of their student body on their admissions pages, which can be a valuable resource throughout the application process.
  • An online search for a student profile at the school of your choice can provide an insightful picture of what the institution values in their applicants.

Schools often publish the range of GPA and MCAT scores of their incoming classes as well.

This is helpful because it can give you an idea of the upper and lower edges that are possible for acceptance.

  • Remember that having a score within that range, even on the high end, does not guarantee admission.

Medical schools consider a wide range of factors, not just your GPA and MCAT scores. However, those data points are heavily weighted at almost every school.

If your MCAT score is well below the range for admission, you may need to retake the test.

You may also consider applying to a less selective school. As always, do your research to find a school where you fall solidly in the middle to upper end of the applicant pool to be the most competitive.

Where should I apply for medical school?

Another factor you may not have considered is the advantage you may have as an in-state student applying to medical school.

  • Some schools give preference to applicants who are currently living or studying in the same state; it can make a significant difference in acceptance rates.
  • For example, the University of Alabama-Birmingham accepts 6.1 percent of applicants. But that number jumps to 36.9 percent when you just consider in-state applicants.

In-state options

Start by looking at the medical school options available in your state.

If you are currently a student, the medical school at your university may be a great fit.

  • Often the same things that drew you to your undergraduate program continue on in the philosophy of the advanced degree programs on campus.
  • You also have the added bonus of being able to seek out letters of recommendation from faculty who are known by the admissions committee.

Not all schools give preference to in-state applicants, however. If a school does not seem like a good fit for you, it does not benefit you to apply and attend.

Research acceptance rates online to decide.

Out-of-state options

If you have your heart set on a school that is located out of your state, you may still be competitive.

  • Some schools, such as The University of Chicago or Washington University in St. Louis have similar acceptance rates for in-state and out-of-state applicants.
  • In this case, it does not impact your chances of acceptance to reside in another state or even across the country.

Even if your school of choice does have a preference for in-state applicants, you can still apply. Just know that you will probably need a stronger application.

This may mean focusing more on your grades, studying harder for the MCAT, or working with professors to have strong letters of recommendation.

Research the statistics of the incoming class (GPA, MCAT scores, etc) and aim for the top of the range.

How to rank your medical schools

It’s time to apply!

You now know that you should have a few options and what makes you competitive, but still may be struggling to determine exactly which schools you should take the time (and money) to pursue.

It is helpful to categorize schools into 3 main areas to boost your chances of getting accepted to the best program possible.

  • Safety (25 percent of your applications): These are schools that you are reasonably confident you are a competitive applicant, based on how you compare to past admissions statistics. Your GPA and MCAT scores should be on the upper end of the range of current students.
  • Target (50 percent of your applications): These are the schools that you want to attend but that you will be in competition with a lot of other students. You may sweat over getting that acceptance letter but you are still a strong candidate. Your GPA and MCAT scores should be in the middle of the range.
  • Reach (25 percent of your applications): These are your long-shot schools. It’s less likely that you will be accepted, but it is still a possibility. Your GPA and MCAT scores are on the lower end, or below, the range.

How much does an application to medical school cost?

Before you even have to worry about tuition, you will face some financial burden during the medical school application process.

Almost all medical schools in the United States use the American Medical College Application Service, or AMCAS.

  • Administered by the Association of American Medical Colleges, AMCAS is a central portal where you can upload documents, designate schools to send them to, and complete all sections of the application online.
  • Schools can access your application easily and you no longer need to send the same information out multiple times.

The Association of American Medical Colleges estimates that application fees are the largest expense during the application process. They break out all fees into 3 categories:

  • Primary application fee: $170 for the first school and $39 for each additional school
  • Secondary application fee: Varies—Some schools require a secondary application of all prospective students while others use it as a second round of screening.
  • College services fee: Varies—This covers sending your college transcripts to the designated admissions committee.

If you want to apply to a school that does not use AMCAS, expect to pay an application fee through their admissions department. These fees can vary by school.

As you can see, these fees can quickly accumulate.

  • If you plan to apply to 15 schools, you should plan to pay up to $2000 in fees alone.

Add in the cost of taking (or retaking) the MCAT, traveling to in-person interviews, study aids, and professional tutoring and the application process can get expensive very quickly.

Planning your finances when applying to medical school

Even applying to medical school can be a significant financial investment, which is why it is so important to do your research and know how competitive you are for the schools you want to attend.

  • You should apply to some reach schools but make sure that the majority of your efforts and expenses are focused on safety and target schools.

If you are unable to afford the application costs, the Association of American Medical Colleges offers a Fee Assistance Program.

  • For those who qualify based on income, the AMCAS and MCAT registration fees may be discounted or reduced.

The Association also offers resources to help potential and current medical students manage their finances while pursuing their degree through the Financial Information, Resources, Services, and Tools (FIRST) program.

The program covers everything from budgeting to application costs and ways to reduce med school debt.

How long does a med school application take?

The application timeline will be based on when you want to attend medical school. Choose a target start date and work backward from them.

The University of California, Berkeley advises applicants to begin their application in April/May of your application year.

  • Following this guidance, if you want to attend medical school starting in August of 2025, you should start the application process in April/May of 2024.
  • This allows time for you to gather all required documents, request letters of recommendation and transcripts, perfect your personal statement, and take the MCAT.

You should be preparing by saving money, researching schools, and studying for the MCAT ahead of actually starting the application. The sooner you can start your preparation, the better.

Well, how many medical schools should I apply to?

The Association of American Medical Colleges says “on average, students currently apply to 16 schools through the American Medical College Application Service (AMCAS).”

It is important to consider how competitive you are for the schools you plan to apply to in order to make the most of your financial resources and time.

Look at admission requirements, student profiles, and statistics to see how you compare to those who were accepted in past years.

Mike Davis, assistant professor of biology and pre-med advisor at Sweet Briar College, has this to say:

Given how competitive it is, students should plan to apply to 15-20 schools.

Conclusion: How Many Medical Schools Should I Apply To?

Still have questions?

Reach out to the pre-health counselor at your university, professors who are familiar with the application process, or the admissions department at the schools you are considering.

All of these individuals are there to answer questions and ultimately find the best place for you to pursue a career in the medical field.

Getting accepted to medical school is no easy task. But with some careful research and preparation, you will know how many schools to apply to, what makes a competitive applicant, and how to plan financially for the application process.