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How to Get into Harvard Medical School: Requirements & Everything Else

How do you get into Harvard Medical School?

Harvard Medical School (HMS) is a highly ranked, prestigious medical training institution – not least because it is part of the larger Ivy League school that is Harvard University.

Harvard Medical School offers students an adaptive, modern curriculum that is continuously adjusting to rapid technological and scientific advances.

It also has renowned professors, a multitude of resources, and talented peers, and different curriculum tracks for diverse passions.

It is no wonder that Harvard Medical School is one of the most difficult medical schools to get into.

  • Data from the 2017 – 2018 cohort show that a total of 6,917 people applied to HMS that year. 165 students were ultimately admitted, which means its acceptance rate was 3.4%.
  • Harvard Medical School’s acceptance rate is only 1.4% higher than the lowest medical school acceptance rate (2%).

What this means for your application is that everything holds weight.

Everything matters. One aspect of your application can swing judgment one way or another for you.

Luckily, we’ve got you covered. In this guide, we will go over just that: everything.

This includes course, grade, and test scores necessary, as well as what you should be doing during your undergraduate years and for your application to get into Harvard Medical School.

Tangible Requirements to Get Into Harvard Medical School

What we mean by “tangible” is the concrete and more easily definable requirements for getting into Harvard Medical School.

In short, these are the two things to keep in mind:

1. There are specific course requirements that you must meet in order to even apply to Harvard Medical School.

These course requirements may or may not be satisfied with Advanced Placement credits from high school; thus, be mindful of this when you select your classes in college.

Just because your AP credits meet undergrad requirements does not mean they automatically meet medical school requirements.

2. The higher your GPA and MCAT scores are, the better chance you will have of getting admitted into Harvard Medical School.

The catch here is that, while meeting and performing well in these tangible requirements will help your chances, they do not guarantee admission at all.

  • Moreover, these are not usually the factors that will ultimately catch an admission officer’s eyes and get you into the school.
  • This point is important to know because it is essential for your strategic planning for admission.

What we suggest is that you take the course requirements listed and aim for GPAs and MCAT scores that are within the ranges of previously accepted medical school candidates, but do not become overly focused in these requirements once you achieve the ideal ranges.

  • For example, do not attempt to take the MCAT over and over again trying to reach the 99th percentile if you already have a good score.

With this in mind, we present you with the course requirements and ideal GPA/MCAT ranges for Harvard Medical School.

Undergraduate Major & Required Courses for HMS

Like many medical schools, HMS does not have stipulations for what undergraduate major you should pursue.

There are two broad routes to approaching this decision.

  • You may decide to major in a science field (biology, chemistry, physics, etc.).

The advantage of this route is that it consolidates your course workload. Many of the requirements for your major will overlap with the requirements for medical school.

This is a good choice for someone who is interested or excels in the sciences and would like to focus on other activities that may boost their application.

76% of students accepted during the 2017 – 2018 application cycle elected sciences majors during undergraduate studies.

  • Or you major decide to major in a non-science field, like in literature or the arts.

The advantage of this route is that it diversifies your application and can showcase another dimension to HMS. Of course, this means that you will have to excel in a variety of subjects at school.

It is a good choice for those who are doubly interested in humanities/arts as well as medicine – and are able to demonstrate their knowledge in both.

If you are interested and capable of doing well, it is a natural way of differentiating your application from thousands of others.

Regardless of what major you choose, there is a list of required courses that you need to elect and complete in order to apply to HMS.

Breakdown of HMS’s Requirements (According to Subject)

Each breakdown also includes if you may use Advanced Placement credits to satisfy the requirement.

  • Biology. All applicants must complete one full year of biology.

HMS accepts advanced or higher-level biology for this requirement but suggests that the courses focus on genetics and cell biology and emphasize human biology.

AP credits may not be used to satisfy this requirement.

  • Chemistry. All applicants must complete two full years of chemistry.

These courses must cover general chemistry, inorganic chemistry, organic chemistry, and biochemistry.

AP credits that allow students to take an upper-level course may be used to meet one semester worth of this requirement.

AP credits that allow students to take an upper-level course may be used to meet one semester worth of this requirement.

  • Laboratory. In previous years, there have been exact requirements for laboratory classes/experience in biology and chemistry that were attached to whichever biology or chemistry you chose to elect.

HMS states that these are no longer “defined as discretely” now.

Students may meet these requirements through actual classes or through “active, sustained participation in faculty-mentored laboratory research.”

  • Computational Skills & Mathematics. All applicants must complete a one-year math sequence that includes calculus and statistics.

One semester of statistics is required, although biostatistics is preferred.

AP Calculus credits may be used to satisfy the calculus component (Calculus AB and/or BC), but AP statistics may not be used.

  • Analytical & Writing Skills / Expository Writing. All applicants must complete one full year of coursework that features expository writing. Almost every course in the social sciences or humanities will count. AP credits may not be used to satisfy this requirement.

Necessary Academic and Test Scores for Harvard Medical School

All applicants to HMS are required to take The Medical College Admission Test (MCAT).

While every medical school takes a balanced approach to its admission process and does not have a minimum MCAT score requirement, prospective students are expected to do well.

  • In the new, 2015 version of the MCAT, there are four sections: Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems (BBFL); Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems (CARS); Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior (CPBS); and Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills (PSBB).
  • Each section is scored between 118 and 132 points, and the maximum overall score possible is a 528, while the lowest overall score possible is a 472.

Here is a summary of the average MCAT scores for the Harvard Medical School’s class of 2022:

MCAT sections                                                          Average Scores

BBFL:

130.10

CARS:

128.84

CPBS:

129.90

PSBB:

129.99

OVERALL:

518.72

We can glean several pieces of information from this summary.

  • For one, accepted students performed fairly well in all areas of the MCAT. There was no one section that ended up “carrying” the overall score.
  • This means that HMS looks for robust medical school candidates – those who possess comprehensive knowledge of diverse areas of sciences and can integrate them with each other.
  • Harvard does not seem to favor any area of expertise over another.
  • We can also learn more by looking at the Association of Medical Colleges’ summary of percentile ranks for the year Harvard’s class of 2022 would have taken the MCAT.
  • Looking at the chart, we learn that the overall MCAT score of 518.72 falls between the 97th and 98th percentile ranks.

This means that you must do exceptionally well in the MCAT.

Because these are averages, you do have some leeway to work with.

  • If you fall a couple of rankings below the 97th percentile (95th – 96th), then it will probably still be acceptable.
  • To achieve these top scores, be sure to start your MCAT preparations early and sign up for a prep course, especially if you are not a particularly strong standardized test taker.

Last, the average GPA for students accepted to HMS during the 2017 – 2018 application cycle was 3.9 on a 4.0 scale.

This means that you must also achieve a competitive GPA during your undergraduate studies.

Other Eligibility Requirements for HMS

Aside from demonstrated aptitude in the biological and physical sciences and the GPA/MCAT score, HMS also requires that:

  1. applicants are fluent or have a nuanced facility in English,
  2. have completed at least three years of college work,
  3. and a have baccalaureate degree prior to matriculation.

Intangible Requirements for Harvard Medical School

Next, we’ll move onto the less obvious requirements, like what characteristics or traits Harvard Medical School looks for in a candidate and what you can do during your pre-medical years to gain an upper hand.

In many ways, preparing for admission to HMS is like preparing for any other medical school.

  • Similar elements are required or prioritized for each one – but your participation and role in them has to be taken to a higher, elite level for HMS’s selection process.

As we scoured HMS’s online resources, spanning their mission statement, selection factors, and admissions pages, we found several important recurring points that they look for in candidates.

These are listed and explained below:

  1. Harvard Medical School looks for demonstrated academic rigor, excellence, and achievement.

We basically covered this point in the previous section about academic and test scores, but we would like to further stress the word demonstrated here.

  • HMS is not the type of institution that prioritizes “genius” in itself over everything else.

If your professors and people who write your recommendation letters vouch for you, or even if you made a scientific breakthrough as an undergraduate, it will not mean that you will be accepted to HMS.

You must also have a consistent academic record of achievement that shows you care enough – are passionate enough – to put in the effort.

  • While competitive grades and scores may not be what ultimately gets you into its medical school, HMS sees them as a reflection of your ability to balance multiple responsibilities and challenges, as well as a reflection of how invested you are.

As a pre-med student, this means – yes – you should complete your work right away, rather than leave it for another day.

Yes, there are some instances where you should choose studying for your upcoming exam over a night out or a friend’s party.

  • During your undergrad years, you will often be torn between your social life and your studies.

We are not saying that you should always choose your studies (this is neither healthy nor advisable), just that you need to be intentional with your time and your choices when it matters most.

There are no short cuts to getting into this highly competitive medical school.

  1. Harvard Medical School looks for commitment to altruism.

Integrated throughout HMS’s website is the belief that medical and scientific knowledge should be applied to better the world.

  • Its mission statement states that the school is committed to “alleviating suffering and improving health and well-being for all” through “teaching… service and leadership.”
  • Furthermore, three of the four students who are highlighted as part of the Dean’s Report 2019-19 are known for aiming to bring equity to medical practice.

What this means is that your outlook for medicine must be purposeful, intentional, and big picture-esque.

Remember, HMS only admitted 165 students in 2018; it is not enough to want to be in medicine “because you would like to help people.”

  • How do you want to help them?
  • What population, specifically, do you want to help?
  • What policies or big-structure reforms are you thinking about?

We suggest that you think deep and hard about these questions during your pre-med years, then choose ways you may be able to show how you care.

  • For example, you could choose an issue you are personally invested in.
  • It could be abortion, low birth weight of newborns in disadvantaged populations, or making clinics more accessible and friendly to queer and/or gender non-conforming people.
  • Volunteer/work at the same clinic or service provider for several of your pre-med years. This could be during school or the summer (HMS pays attention to how you spend your summers and free time).

You should show up consistently. Once you are more integrated and familiar there, and if it’s appropriate, perhaps start making suggestions and getting involved in implementing new best practices.

  • Whatever you choose and however you demonstrate it, it is important to show HMS that your engagement in medicine is not solipsistic.

It should always be about more than just you, your passions, your achievements; it has to be outward-looking, towards the world, its people, and how you can perhaps change it for the better.

  1. Harvard looks for leadership.

Harvard values students who are self-directed and self-motivated. They want those who integrate what they learn to create their own, unique visions and then work toward achieving them.

There are many ways you could demonstrate this as a pre-med student.

  • You could join a club (pre-med or another serious, academic one) and gain a leadership position.
  • Of course, what’s more important is what you do in that position.
  • For example, if you were elected treasurer or a club, it is more impressive if you can tell Harvard that, when you were a treasurer, you raised funds by XYZ amount or organized an event that was able to collect and donate XYZ dollars to a cause.
  • Again, it’s all about presenting to Harvard what you care about.

You could also show this drive through other avenues.

  • For example, as a researcher, it is ideal if you could publish a paper as one of the primary authors.
  • This would show that you were committed to a scientific inquiry and contributed a lot to its experiments, processes, and conclusive or nonconclusive findings.
  1. Harvard looks for specialized clinical and research experience.

As an HMS applicant, you choose between one of two tracks: the Pathways track or the Health Sciences & Technology Track (HST). There is also the option of pursuing both.

  • 130 students are accepted into the Pathways track each year, while 30 students are admitted to the HST track.
  • Basically, Pathways is the more clinically focused track, while HST prepares students for a career in academic medicine/research as well as clinical care.
  • As a pre-med student, this means that you must engage in extensive and comprehensive clinical experiences.

Both tracks at Harvard Medical School place emphasis on this aspect of medical training.

  • We suggest that you do whatever you can – shadow, volunteer, or apply to positions – to gain real, hands-on experience.

If you are more interested in the clinical aspect, then focus on your clinical experiences and become specialized in a particular part of it.

While you will not need to then also specialize in research, it does not hurt to have some experience.

If you are more interested in research, then make research the focal point of your pre-med career.

  • This means working closely with a Principal Investigator (PI) of a laboratory, contributing greatly to their work, getting authorship on papers, and getting a recommendation letter from that PI that further showcases your skill and commitment to scientific research.

This does not mean you completely forgo clinical experience. You must also have that.

The Harvard Medical School Application Process

Now that we’ve covered what you need to do as an undergraduate, let’s move on to the actual Harvard Medical School application.

Harvard is part of the Association of American Medical Colleges, which means the first part of this process is the same as one any other medical school’s process.

The first thing you will have to do is fill out the general AMCAS application. The timing is extremely important:

  • The AMCAS application opens in early May. In 2018, it opened on May 2nd.
  • The first date people can submit their application for review is May 31.
  • The official application deadline for HMS is October 15. Do not submit it this late.

You should submit the AMCAS application as early as possible.

Generally, your chances of getting in are drastically affected if you submit later than June; it is even more true for HMS.

This is what you need for this application:

–       Background information (race, ethnicity, citizenship, etc.)
–       Transcript and course work information
–       Information on work experience, extracurriculars, awards, etc.
–       Letters of evaluations (this means you should aim your recommenders earlier on in the year). Generally, students will have 2 letters from science professors and 1 from another person that shows a different dimension.
–       All the medical schools you wish to apply to, which you will enter into the system.
–       A Personal Comments Essay
–       MCAT exam scores and other standardized test information (this means you should plan your test dates so they will be available at the end of May).

One unique thing about HMS is that it does not pre-screen its candidates.

  • While other schools will not send out secondary applications to students who do not meet certain criteria, HMS makes their secondary applications to everyone who submits an AMCAS application.

This is the timeline after you submit your AMCAS app:

Early JulyThe HMS secondary application opens and becomes available for submission
SeptemberInterviews begin
October 15Final deadline for AMCAS app
October 22Final deadline for HMS secondary app
JanuaryInterviews end
Early MarchAll admissions decisions are sent out
March 19Deadline for financial aid applications

As you can see, interviews begin even before the final deadlines, meaning you should aim to submit both applications in way before September.

Ideally, you should try to submit the secondaries 2-3 weeks after you start working on it, so that you would be one of the earliest applicants HMS reviews.

Conclusion: How to Get Into Harvard Medical School

Harvard Medical School looks for top students who demonstrate intellectual vitality, leadership, and a desire to help others.

This guide covers much of what you need to know about applying to HMS, including what makes a top applicant, when to apply, and the scores you’ll need to complete well with other applicants.

If you have any questions, feel free to contact us via email or phone. Good luck!