How to Get Into Harvard Medical School: A Complete Guide

February 27, 2024
Contents

”Jonathan

Reviewed by:

Jonathan Preminger

Former Admissions Committee Member, Hofstra-Northwell School of Medicine

Reviewed: 10/5/23

Do you have your sights set on Harvard Medical School? Then read on to have all your admissions questions definitively answered. 

There’s no use in denying the reputation. Harvard Medical School (HMS) offers students of the best educational experiences. It’s no surprise that U.S. News and World Report ranks HMS as the best national medical school for research and No. 9 in primary care. 

While HMS is a reach school for many students hoping to get into med school, insider knowledge can help you claim one of the approximately 165 seats up for grabs. Fortunately, our expert team is passionate about getting you accepted at HMS. We regularly receive ecstatic testimonials from accepted students each cycle: 

This ultimate guide will provide the relevant insights you need to know how to get into Harvard Medical School. Read on for admissions requirements, application deadlines, and more! 

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MD Programs At Harvard

Programs offered at Harvard medical school

HMS offers two tracks within the MD program: Pathways and Health Science Technology (HST).

Pathways: This more traditional track allows students to gain early clinical experience and core basic/population science knowledge. Through advanced science courses, faculty-mentored scholarly projects, and electives, students forge their own paths. Most Harvard Medical School students enroll in Pathways. 

Health and Science Technology (HST): HST is a joint program between Harvard and MIT centering on clinical expertise, rigorous scientific instruction, and research experiences. Compared to 135 Pathways students, 30 enrolled in the HST program in a recent cycle. 

You can apply to both HMS tracks if you’re unsure which is best for you. You can also choose from combined degree programs such as: 

  • MD-PhD
  • MD-MAD
  • MD-MMSc
  • MD-MBA
  • MD-MPH
  • MD-MPP

If you want an interdisciplinary education, a combined degree at HMS may be right for you. 

How Hard Is It to Get Into Harvard Medical School?

HMS is highly selective, so getting in is no easy task. According to CBS News, Harvard Medical School is one of the hardest medical schools to get into. The average GPA of matriculants is 3.9, evidencing that high-achieving students have the best shot at admission. 

Harvard Medical School Admissions Statistics

MSAR data shows the class of 2026 was formed from 7,796 applications. Assuming only 164 students were admitted, that puts Harvard Medical School’s admission rate at only 2.1%. 

This chart outlines more Harvard med school admissions statistics to help you learn about the school’s selectivity: 

Harvard Admissions Statistic Number/Percentage
Average MCAT Score 520
Median MCAT Score 521
Average Total GPA 3.91
Median Total GPA 3.95
Average Science GPA 3.9
Median Science GPA 3.95
Percentage of Applicants Interviewed 11%
Number of Applicants Interviewed 857
Estimated In-State Acceptance Rate 2.6%
Estimated Out-of-State Acceptance Rate 2.1%

Source: MSAR

The Harvard average MCAT score and GPAs of students are slightly lower than the median. 

Take our interactive quiz below to find out how likely you are to get into Harvard Medical School.

Harvard Medical School Admissions Requirements

Before applying, you must ensure you meet all Harvard med school requirements. 

HMS Course Requirements

You can apply to HMS with any undergraduate major. However, you must take all HMS prerequisites

Infographic outlining at you need to get into Harvard Medical School

While you don’t need to have finished these Harvard med school prerequisites before applying, you must complete them by enrollment: 

Subject Description
Behavioral Sciences Students are encouraged to complete coursework in psychology, sociology, etc.
Biology At least one year of biology with lab experience, including cellular and molecular aspects. AP credits can’t be used, but you can fulfill this prerequisite if you take upper-level courses in biology.
Chemistry/ Biochemistry Two years of chemistry (four courses) with lab experience are required. Chemistry courses must include:
Inorganic chemistry
Organic chemistry
Biochemistry
You can use AP credits to take higher-level inorganic chemistry courses.
Physics One year of physics is required, and lab experience is recommended.
For Pathways applicants: Upper-level courses enabled by AP credits meet one semester.
For HST applicants: You must complete one year at the college level. HMS encourages applicants to take at least one year of calculus-based physics.
Math For Pathways applicants: You’re encouraged to complete one year of math, including one semester of calculus and statistics. HMS prefers biostatistics.
For HST applicants: HMS encourages upper-level mathematics coursework, although analytic and computational skills exhibited in other ways are considered. Statistics (preferably biostatistics) is also encouraged.
Writing One year is required, and AP credits can’t be used. Writing intensive courses are preferred, and courses involving substantial expository writing (humanities or social sciences) can satisfy this prerequisite.

Source: Harvard Medical School

Ensure you fulfill all Harvard Medical School requirements before applying. 

HMS looks for students with diverse academic backgrounds. While most of the incoming class are science majors, 24% of matriculants held an undergraduate degree in another field.  

HMS Class profile
Source: Harvard Medical School

Harvard Med MCAT Requirements

Because Harvard Med’s acceptance rate is low, it’s no surprise matriculants report high MCAT scores. The average reported MCAT score is 520. 

However, HMS reviews all applications holistically, meaning a lower MCAT score won’t necessarily spell automatic rejection. A strong GPA and well-rounded profile may offset a lower score. HMS considers all valid MCAT scores. You can submit all scores if you've taken the MCAT multiple times with varying section scores.

Harvard Medical School Letters of Recommendation

Submitting letters of recommendation is crucial to your application. The admissions committee learns more about your strengths and fit for HMS from other perspectives. You can submit up to six recommendation letters, but HMS asks you to note that: 

  • At least two letters should come from professors in sciences
  • At least one letter should come from a professor not in the sciences
  • MD and MD-PhD applicants should request recommendations from all their research supervisors (you can exceed the six-letter limit to meet this requirement) 
  • A pre-health committee letter packet counts as one recommendation letter
  • You don’t need to ask your employer for a recommendation, but if you’re a non-traditional applicant who has been out of school for some time, you should ask for one 
Letter of Recommendation requirements for Harvard Medical School

You must submit at least three recommendation letters to apply to HMS. 

Harvard Medical School Interview

HMS describes your ability to communicate effectively as “crucial to the delivery of care.” Effective communication in your interview is integral to your acceptance. Harvard Medical School interviewed 857 candidates out of 7.796 applications; if you get to this step, you’re almost there! 

All HMS interviews are virtual for the foreseeable future. If you’re selected for an interview, be honest, confident, and show how your acceptance will contribute to HMS. Applicants who are selected for an interview are notified by mid-January. 

Extracurricular Activities 

Harvard Medical School considers your extracurricular activities for admission, including healthcare-related experiences, research, and community service work. While there are no extracurricular requirements, varied activities strengthen your application. 

What Do I Need to Do to Get Into Harvard Medical School? (3 Extracurriculars That Stand Out)

Stellar extracurriculars to help you get into HMS

Team captain in college? Volunteer at your local nursing home? Spent a summer in the lab? These experiences were not in vain! Extracurricular experiences are an excellent way to demonstrate your passions and commitment to medicine.

Your activities show the unique knowledge, leadership skills, and experience you can bring to the classroom. These three types of extracurriculars can help you stand out at HMS. 

Research

Since HMS values innovation, research is crucial to students’ educational experiences. Most applicants have some research experience, so yours must stand out. The admissions board values the depth of research projects over time commitment.

Therefore, research conducted out of sincere interest in improving medicine is more impressive. Research you’re passionate about and intend to continue serves you better than experiences you think will look good on paper. 

Patient Exposure

Connecting with patients and providing knowledge, comfort, and sympathy are valuable skills. Knowing how to maintain a professional but trusting relationship with patients is key. Working well with patients isn’t a skill that can be taught in the classroom. 

Hands-on experience, especially through shadowing, is essential to preparing for the HMS experience. Admissions officers look for patient exposure, whether it’s through shadowing, volunteering, scribing, or other opportunities.

Leadership Experience

Leadership is a cornerstone of the education you’ll receive at HMS. Harvard graduates often hold leadership positions due to the school’s reputation and commitment to high-quality education.

Therefore, you should emphasize leadership experience in your application. Some examples of leadership experience include: 

  • Holding a student government position
  • Starting a club or organization
  • Leading a research project 
  • Organizing a charity event or spearheading a community service project 

Demonstrated leadership isn’t limited to these examples. Consider times you’ve taken the initiative to make positive changes in your surroundings. 

Harvard Medical School Personal Statement (Example With Feedback) 

All candidates submit Harvard Medical School personal statements through AMCAS. Although it can be tough to outline your passion for medicine in 5,300 characters, this HMS personal statement excerpt and feedback can help you structure your own narrative. 

“When I first joined the Marines at 17, I wanted to ‘fight for freedom’ and give back to my country. I joined the infantry because I wanted to be where the fight was, and that was the surest way to end up in Iraq or Afghanistan. Three years later, I finally found myself in Afghanistan, leading a 3-man fire team. When I first arrived in May 2011, I felt as if we were going to make the region, if not the whole world, a better place by removing some of the evil from it. My experience over the next 7 months, however, proved to be more nuanced than anticipated. 
When I arrived in Marjah, almost a year after the initial invasion to oust the Taliban from the city, most of the large-scale fighting had ceased. Most of the ‘good’ I thought I would be doing had already been done, and the Taliban that survived had either fled or hid among the populace using guerrilla tactics. The city was in the early stages of rebuilding and a sense of normalcy had returned…
What ended up remaining with me after my return from Afghanistan was…the good we were able to do by taking small actions to help the locals. This ranged from actions as simple as providing locals with water, to actions as complex as rendering medical care to those in need. While I never actively participated in providing treatment to locals, I was struck by how large an impact these treatments could have on an individual. In one particular instance, while on patrol, I approached a man who had been kicked by his cow and had a severe infection on his arm…Having spent the majority of my life in the United States, I had always taken modest medicine, particularly antibiotics, for granted. In Afghanistan, however, where there was little to no access to modern medicine, I was able to appreciate just how beneficial it truly is. 
When I got out of the military the following summer and prepared to attend college, I wanted to contribute to a career where I was able to benefit others. My experience in Afghanistan, witnessing the power of medicine, combined with the interest I gained in medicine following my trauma training, drove me towards health care. I entered Cape Fear Community College with the intention of joining their highly competitive nursing program…I was completely fascinated by the material and, following completion of the class, wanted to learn more. This captivation continued as I progressed through my science classes. 
I became fascinated in infectious disease following a class in microbiology…This interest prompted me to transfer to UNCW, instead of continuing into the nursing program, where I could continue to study the subject more in-depth. While at UNCW, the majority of my biology coursework, as well as my two research projects, focused on infectious diseases, cementing my interest in the subject. While I briefly considered pursuing a PhD in microbiology, my desire to work closely with, and treat, patients led me to apply to medical school. 
Following medical school, I intend on training in an infectious disease fellowship, where I will be able to combine my interest in microbiology with my desire to help others…
While I am certainly interested in practicing medicine within the United States, after the completion of my training I am also highly interested in working with an organization like Doctors Without Borders, enabling me to once again be part of a team bringing healthcare to underserved individuals around the globe. After my experience in Afghanistan, and making the decision to work in medicine, this is an opportunity I’ve been highly interested in, particularly with my desire to work in infectious disease, as many of the regions this organization operates in are still burdened with endemic diseases, such as tuberculosis and malaria, as well as emerging diseases, such as Ebola. 
For the aforementioned reasons, I would like to attend medical school and pursue a career in medicine…Finally, I believe my prior leadership experience and ability to operate under stress will allow me to thrive.”

Harvard Medical School Personal Statement Feedback 

The author’s honesty and insight into their thought process make the introduction more impactful. They don’t leave the reader hanging or wondering what their intentions were. 

The author’s ability to realize the nuance of their situation and impact in Afghanistan shows critical thinking skills and the ability to shift perspectives in light of new information. Leading a squad also shows their leadership capability. 

Overall, it’s easy for the reader to follow their discovery and passion for medicine as it unfolds. We understand the initial event and how the author pursued education and experiences to further cultivate their interests. However, this essay could improve in the following ways: 

  • Editing for concision: There is a lot of wordiness here that could be eliminated by editing for concision. They could have also eliminated redundancies, such as describing they’re “highly interested” in something more than once. 
  • Sentence structure/flow: Many sentences are long and complex. Interspersed shorter sentences could have improved flow. 
  • More imagery: There are many concrete facts here about the author’s experience that feel more like “telling” instead of “showing.” We would have loved to see more detailed descriptions, thoughts, feelings, and reactions. 

The concluding paragraphs preserve the narrative thread by referring back to the author’s experiences, skills, and desire to “do good” from their time in Afghanistan. While this personal statement worked at Harvard Medical School, don’t be afraid to show your creativity and writing skills. 

How to Tackle the Harvard Med School Secondary Essays

We’ll outline each Harvard Medical School secondary essay prompt and how to approach each one. 

1. “The interview season for the 2023-2024 cycle will be held virtually and is anticipated to run from mid-September through January 2024. Please indicate any significant (three or more weeks) restriction on your availability for interviews during this period. If none, please leave this section blank.”

This prompt is informing you of the interview cycles and is asking if you have any restrictions to your availability. 

2. “If you have already graduated, briefly summarize your activities since graduation. (4000 characters maximum).” 

If this HMS secondary essay prompt applies to you, you don’t want to approach this as an itemized list. Instead, approach it as an essay and explain: 

  • Why did you pursue a particular activity or activities (what was your goal?)
  • What experiences or new skills did you gain? 
  • How did these activities give you the tools to become a better doctor? How did they prepare you for medical school? 

Treat this prompt like a mini personal statement. Give enough detailed description and narrative flow to your writing that it comes across as a story rather than a collection of briefly summarized experiences. 

3. “If there is an important aspect of your personal background or identity, not addressed elsewhere in the application, that you would like to share with the Committee, we invite you to do so here. Many applicants will not need to answer this question. Examples might include significant challenges in access to education, unusual socioeconomic factors, identification with a minority culture, religion, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation or gender identity. Briefly explain how such factors have influenced your motivation for a career in medicine. (4000 character maximum)

You could answer this prompt if you didn't write about your background/identity at length in your personal statement. This is a classic diversity essay prompt; if you feel a deep dive into your identity and related experiences are relevant to your medical school journey, you should consider writing this essay. 

If you already have a diversity essay ready, you can take it one step further by tailoring it toward Harvard’s mission or connecting it to your desire to attend the school. 

4. “The Committee on Admissions understands that the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted applicants in various ways. If you wish to inform the Committee as to how these events have affected you and have not already done so elsewhere in your application, please use this space to do so.” (OPTIONAL) 

This HMS secondary essay prompt is optional. If the COVID-19 pandemic greatly impacted you or your trajectory, writing a response may be in your best interest. If there was no great impact on you or your journey, you might want to skip this one. After all, no response to an optional essay is much better than a weak one. 

Harvard Med School Application Deadline and Timeline

These are the important dates you should know, including the Harvard Medical School application deadline

Date Description
Early May AMCAS opens
Early June You can submit AMCAS applications
Early July HMS secondary application opens, and you can submit it at any time now
October 15 AMCAS deadline
October 22 HMS secondary application deadline
October 31 AMCAS transcript deadline
January Interview season wraps up
Early March You’ll receive your admissions decision

All admissions decisions are sent out on the same day, whether you’re accepted, rejected, or waitlisted.

Harvard Medical School Tuition & Scholarships

Tuition at Harvard Medical School costs $69,300, not including other expenses. Here’s a breakdown of first-year tuition for Pathways students: 

Fee Cost
Tuition $69,300
Mandatory Fees $2,005
Health Insurance Fees $4,120
Loan Fees $220
Living Expenses $28,555
Total $104,200

Source: Harvard Medical School 

The total cost of attending Harvard Medical School is over $100,000 annually. However, HMS offers significant financial aid. Harvard aims to ensure student financial needs are met: 75% of the entering class received financial aid. The average annual scholarship students receive is $56,716.

Graphic comparing the average debt of Harvard med school grads with the average for public and private schools
Source: Harvard Medical School

The average student debt of Harvard grads is approximately $108,382 compared to the national average of $179,679 at public medical schools and $187,229 at private medical schools. Beyond this, HMS has an extensive list of outside scholarship opportunities.

Getting Into Harvard FAQs

If you have questions about getting into Harvard Medical School, check out these FAQs. 

1. What Are the Harvard Medical School Requirements for International Students?

Additional Harvard Med School requirements for international students include: 

  • You must have studied for at least one year in the U.S. or Canada 
  • You must have completed three years of college work and hold a baccalaureate degree
  • Be fluent in English 

You don’t need to prove your English fluency (although expected), so you don’t need to take the TOEFL.

2. How Do I Get Into Harvard Med School With a Low GPA? 

If you have a lower GPA than you’d like, you can enroll in a post-bacc program to boost your GPA, ace the MCAT, or ensure the rest of your application is well-rounded and stellar. However, it’s in your best interest to attain a GPA of 3.9 or higher to reflect the average of admitted students. 

3. What Is Harvard Medical School’s Acceptance Rate? 

HMS’ acceptance rate is approximately 2.1%, making it one of the most challenging medical schools to get into. 

4. What MCAT Score Do You Need for HMS? 

You should strive for an MCAT score of 520 or higher to be a more competitive applicant. 

5. How Many Shadowing Hours Do You Need for Harvard Medical School? 

While Harvard doesn’t state a shadowing requirement, you should aim for at least 100 shadowing hours to apply to medical school. 

Getting Into Harvard Is Easy with Inspira Advantage

Now that you know how to get into Harvard Medical School, you can demonstrate your fit and show the admissions committee why you’re an excellent candidate. 

While there is no one tried and true method of getting into HMS, you have the best shot at acceptance with a polished application. Whether you need help with your application narrative or putting the finishing touches on your secondaries, our expert team at Inspira Advantage is here to make getting into Harvard easier! 

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