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How Hard Is It To Get Into Medical School? An In-Depth Look

June 22, 2022
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How Hard Is It to Get Into Med School: Considerations4 Med School Application Mistakes to Avoid Tips to RememberFAQs: Med School Admission Difficulty

”Jonathan

Reviewed by:

Jonathan Preminger

Former Admissions Committee Member, Hofstra-Northwell School of Medicine

Reviewed: 6/22/22

If you want to become a doctor, you’ll need to fulfill numerous requirements to claim your seat at one of the nation’s med schools. Read on to learn more and boost your chances of getting into medical school! 

Just how hard is it to get into med school? The short answer is it's pretty hard. 

The long answer is more complicated and depends on various factors, such as how ready you are and how long you have been preparing. Getting accepted into med school is highly competitive and requires a stellar application.

Many candidates will have a similar mixture of skills, experiences, high scores, and talents. To answer the question “how hard is it to get into a medical school?” we must analyze the different parts of the application process. 

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How Hard Is It to Get Into Med School: Considerations

To see the big picture, let's look at some of the data. According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, or AAMC: 53,370 individuals applied to the medical school during the previous admissions cycle. 

Of these applicants, only 21,869 (41%) were accepted. Looking at these numbers tells us that, out of all the people who applied, more than half did not get into a single school. Ten years ago, the acceptance rate was 44%. 

Chart showing the total number of medical school applicants, first-time applicants , and reapplicants

Looking at this chart, we can gain a clearer picture of the applicants – there are more than ever. So why is medical school so hard to get into? Simply put, the applicant pool has grown 25% in the last decade, and the number of available spots has not grown with it. 

In other words, more people are trying to get in, and fewer seats are available. So, how hard is it to get into a medical school with more applicants than ever?

Level of Competition 

You must have heard of the doctor shortages on the news. This may lead you to believe that med schools are welcoming more applicants than ever with open arms. However, that is not the case. Even with new med schools opening up, there are not enough seats available for all qualified applicants. 

The doctor shortage is happening in the less popular areas and specialties of medicine. In other words, it's not that we need more doctors in general, but we need more doctors in often overlooked or disregarded areas: rural areas, underserved urban areas, and in specialties such as primary care and geriatrics.

GPA and MCAT Score Data of Medical School Applicants

GPA and MCAT score data can help you analyze the level of competition. According to the AAMC: among last year’s applicants, the average cumulative GPA was 3.58, and the average MCAT score was 506.1. These scores were slightly higher than the applicants from two years ago, with a GPA and MCAT score of 3.57 and 505.6, respectively. 

Looking at the data, we can see that students earn high grades and MCAT scores, making the competition fierce. 

GPA

Is it hard to get into med school with lower grades? Yes: your GPA  plays a vital role in your application. GPA is a good representation of your time as an undergraduate student: your dedication, effort, and work ethic. 

Medical schools use your GPA to gauge if you will study hard and can handle the academic pressure. They will also look at your year-by-year averages and the types of courses you took. 

Just because your grades in science courses are more impactful doesn't mean your other classes don't matter. Med schools will analyze your schoolwork in its entirety to obtain a clearer picture of you as a student - one that goes beyond a single numerical average. 

MCAT Scores

Getting accepted into med school is hard, but a  high MCAT score can make it easier. 

The MCAT is difficult and requires a lot of preparation. It’s harder than your average exam: it covers multiple subjects like physics, biology, and chemistry. It also requires good reading comprehension as you read social sciences and humanities materials. 

The passage-based exam takes over seven and a half hours to complete, including breaks. All questions will be linked to a six to seven-paragraph passage. 

The test requires that you understand the concepts you learned in your premed courses and use them to solve problems. There are a lot of questions to answer, and it can be difficult to finish each section in the allotted time. 

Table showing the mean MCAT scores and GPAs of applicants and matriculants to US medical schools between 2017 and 2021

Obviously, the higher your MCAT score, the better your chances of admission, but how hard is it to get into medical school with low grades or test scores? While lower grades and test scores don’t make you a competitive applicant, you can take steps like retaking the MCAT or enrolling in a post-bacc program to raise your grades. 

 If you have a low GPA or MCAT score, it will be much more difficult for you to gain admission as you will not be as competitive. That doesn't mean it's impossible, though. Getting into med school with a low GPA has been done.

Essays

Your personal statement is a critical part of your application. If neglected or underestimated, your chances of impressing the committee are low. How hard it will be to get into med school will be determined, in part, by the quality of your personal statement. This is your chance to let medical schools know who you are and why you want to pursue medicine. 

The application process can seem cold and impersonal. Personal statements are a way to show the humanity behind the stats. Med schools want to admit students who show: 

Use your personal statement to show that you possess some of these qualities. The more compelling your statement is, the better your chances. 

There are many themes you can write about, including: 

What’s most important is that your statement addresses the question, “Why do you want to be a doctor?”

After completing your primary application, you may need to write additional essays in secondary applications. These essays often require you to answer more specific questions. If you want a robust application, ensure your secondary essays complement your primary application.

Interviews

Most schools interview a tiny portion of applicants. If you have landed an interview, it means that admissions committees were impressed by your application. This is a chance to showcase your personality and your eagerness. But how hard is the interview? It depends on the type.

MMI Interviews

While there are a few different interview formats, one of the most common formats is the MMI (Multiple Mini Interview). An MMI involves multiple stations. You will be given a scenario and time to answer at each station. The MMI tests your communication skills, ability to apply general knowledge, and fitness for a medical career.

Traditional Interviews

The traditional interview is a one-on-one interview and involves a conversation between you and the interviewer. The interviewer will try to gain a sense of who you are as a person and why you want to be a doctor. 

Some people find these interviews much more comfortable and straightforward than the MMI format. It depends on you. In either case, preparation is essential. If you have practiced with mock interviews and put serious thought into your answers, the interview process will be more painless. 

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4 Med School Application Mistakes to Avoid 

As hard as it is to get into med school, there are steps that you can take to make it easier on yourself. In the quest to be as competitive as possible, there are mistakes that you can avoid making to save yourself from regret. 

Mistake #1 – Being Hasty In Taking The MCAT

Medical schools will know how many times you attempted the MCAT and what you scored each time. With that in mind, you should only take the MCAT when you know you’re ready. Some people may cave into peer pressure and follow what their peers are doing. 

If you don’t feel ready for the MCAT or feel you could benefit from taking a gap year, then it's a path worth considering. Getting your applications in early and taking the MCAT before you’re ready may sound like a good idea, given that schools grant admission on a rolling basis. 

The earlier you apply, the higher your chances of being accepted. Getting into medical school is difficult with low MCAT scores, even if you submit your application early.  

Mistake #2 - Neglecting Academics And Focusing Too Much On Extracurriculars 

Your GPA holds a lot of weight in the admissions process, and it can be easy to spread yourself too thin. You want to avoid becoming distracted by so many activities outside the classroom if it means your grades suffer. While extracurriculars are essential, your academics should be your top priority.

According to AAMC data, the average GPA requirements have increased in the last ten years. That is why you should aim for the highest GPA you can get. The higher your GPA, the higher your chance of getting into med school. 

When it comes to extracurriculars, don't jump from one activity to another, thinking that it will look good on your application. It's about quality over quantity. You should consider these questions if you’re adding another extracurricular to the mix: 

You can participate in hundreds of different activities, but if you only scraped the surface of each experience, it won't impress the admission committee. It's better to select a few activities to put your time into and from which you can gain valuable experience. 

Mistake #3 – Rushing The Application Process

Applying to med school is arguably one of the most significant decisions you will make. So what sense does it make to rush it? Why not take your time and go at your own pace if the end result of becoming a doctor will be more attainable? 

Use your time wisely and decide if you need to wait until the next cycle: 

In the end, it's about making your application as competitive as possible. If you decide your application is ready for this cycle, take your time to edit it to perfection. 

Mistake #4 – Not Applying To The Right Schools

Is getting into med school difficult? It can be, especially if you only choose schools out of your reach. It's important to look at your stats objectively and make realistic choices. These schools have slightly higher GPA and MCAT score requirements than what you may have. Most schools you apply to should fall within your range. 

You should apply to a mix of safety, target, and reach schools: objectively evaluate your GPA and MCAT scores to see how you compare to admitted students. 

All students should apply to schools that fall in each of these categories.

Some schools that you apply to should be "safe" schools – ones that you have a higher chance of being accepted into. And of course, a few can be those out-of-reach schools as well. Applying to too many out-of-reach schools will limit your chances of being accepted, as the odds are very slim.

It's better to take an objective approach to your application and focus on the schools where your chances of acceptance are the highest.


Tips to Remember

Getting into med school is difficult. So, we’ve outlined several tips to help you understand what is required to get into med school and how to ace the application process. 

Pursue Useful Extracurricular Activities 

It’s better to gain valuable experience from a few activities than to stretch yourself too thin. Med school admissions committees evaluate your activities, so it’s best to seek valuable experiences to strengthen your application. 

For example, Dr. Sarah Carlson, a Vascular Surgery Resident at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center, explains that “med school admissions committees want students to have realistic expectations for what a career in medicine will be like.” So, many prospective MDs shadow physicians or pursue voluntary experience in healthcare settings to understand what a medical career entails. 

Choose the Right Undergraduate Major 

Your grades are important, and GPA requirements are one of the chief reasons why getting into med school is so hard. If you pursue a major that doesn’t interest you, obtaining the recommended GPAs of 3.7 and 3.5 for MDs and DOs, respectively, will be more difficult. 

While studying a subject like Biology or Chemistry is useful since curriculums fulfill several med school coursework requirements, they are not for everyone. Remember, you can pursue any major you like and complete the med school prerequisites independently.  

FAQs: Med School Admission Difficulty

Now that you know how hard it is to get into med school, you may have a few questions about the application process. So, we’ve listed several questions and answers below to help you. 

1. What Type of Applicants Are Med Schools Looking for?

Med schools are looking for applicants with various skills and experiences. They want applicants with strong academic abilities, good communication and leadership skills, a keen interest in medicine, and demonstrated empathy. 

2. When Should I Apply to Medical School? 

You should apply when you feel you have a competitive application. As mentioned before, do not rush your application.  Getting accepted into med school is hard: it’s perfectly reasonable to take time after graduation to strengthen any weak aspects of your application. 

Ideally, you should submit your application ASAP once AMCAS opens (end of May to the start of June) to ensure that you have the best chances of acceptance.

Is getting into med school hard if you apply at the wrong time? The short answer is yes, it's pretty hard, so try to stick to submit your application between the end of May and the start of June. 

3. Why Is Medical School So Hard to Get Into?

Medical schools purposefully design their application processes to be vigorous to ensure admitted students can cope with the vast quantities of information, training, and clinical experiences needed to become an MD: that’s why getting into medical school is so hard. 

4. What Are the Hardest Medical Schools to Get Into? 

According to U.S. News and World Report, the medical schools with the lowest acceptance rates are:

table showing the acceptance rates of the hardest medical schools to get into
Source: U.S. News and World Report

5. How Hard Is It to Get Into Medical School as an International Student? 

According to the AAMC, of the 1,890 international applicants in the 2019 application cycle, only 325 were accepted by MD programs in the U.S. This translates to an acceptance rate of around 17%. 

One factor that adds to how hard it is to get into medical school as an international student is fulfilling the academic requirements of your chosen program. Many M.D. programs require applicants to complete a bachelor’s before enrolling, and some only accept degrees from an American or Canadian institution. 

6. How Hard Is it to Get into Med School With a Non-Science Major? 

If you complete a non-science major, you will need to take additional classes to satisfy the med school coursework prereqs. While this may mean spending long hours studying, choosing a major that interests you can positively impact your grades. 

7. Is It Hard to Get Into Medical School With a Low GPA? 

Getting into medical school with a low GPA can be challenging as admissions committees use your grades to judge your ability to cope with the program’s difficulty. However, if you have a low GPA, achieving stellar MCAT scores, obtaining clinical experience, and practicing for your admissions interviews will improve your chances of admission.

Getting Into Med School: Hard But Possible

Applying to med school is a stressful process—so many parts and pieces have to fit together in harmonious union. It is stressful and anxiety-inducing. So, back to that question. How hard is it to get into med school? Based on stats and competition, it’s relatively difficult.  But it also depends on you. One thing that is for sure is that it's not easy. 

Several factors play a role in getting into med school: your GPA, MCAT score, extracurriculars, the schools you apply to, and much more. If you avoid common mistakes and fulfill all medical school requirements, then getting into med school is certainly an attainable goal. 




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