Outdoor corridor at Stanford University, near Stanford Medical School

How to Get Into Stanford Medical School: An Applicant's Guide

April 5, 2021

Introduction

Every year, Stanford draws thousands of applicants looking to study medicine under the warm California sun. What could be better than doing your homework just a train ride away from the Golden Gate Bridge, the Redwood Forest, and the beach? Acquiring world-class education at one of the country’s top medical research institutions is the cherry on top. Located right in-between San Francisco and San Jose, Stanford is one of the country’s most prestigious medical schools. They pride themselves on their commitment to diversity and act as a leader in the field of medical discovery. At Stanford, students personalize their academic tracks in a way that will work best for them, taking extra time to pursue research projects or two degrees in order to fully enrich their academic experience. It will take work and dedication to put together a competitive application. However, with this guide, you will know exactly how to get into Stanford Medical School.

What You Should Know Before Applying

About the school

Stanford Medical School seeks to admit students who will make significant contributions to the field of medicine by thinking creatively and in innovative ways. Students at Stanford are regularly confronted with real-world cases, and it is important to be able to put the issue you are facing with a patient in a larger, real-world context. “By creating a more inclusive Stanford Medicine community and working to eliminate health and educational inequalities everywhere, we act not only on the side of justice, we fulfill our vision of bringing hope and healing to all people around the world,” writes Dean Lloyd Minor on the school website.

If you’re not a fan of predetermined schedules or curriculums, Stanford might be the breath of fresh air you’re looking for. The school recently switched to an educational program they call the Discovery Curriculum, which was created with the intent of allowing flexibility and personalization in your academic journey. The school does not believe in a one size fits all model, and allows students to determine the pace at which they want to complete their education, as well as joint degrees or specific concentrations. Additionally, to support this discovery they use what is known as the flipped classroom model, in which students consume lectures outside of the classroom. This leaves classroom time for discussion, problem- solving, and other interactive learning.  

A key feature of the curriculum is the required clinical clerkship, which can also be personalized. For those looking to immerse themselves in a clinical experience, the clerkship can be completed within one year. Alternatively, if you’re the type of student that learns best with a mix of classroom and hands-on experience, the clerkship can be completed over the course of two years, in conjunction with the classroom experience. There is also a more competitive three-year option, which opens up more time for independent research or a dual degree. When it comes to degree personalization, you won’t be disappointed at Stanford.

What Programs are Offered?

Head with question marks pointing to different program streams at Stanford Medical School

Students at Stanford are able to specialize their degrees in a variety of ways. Do you want to spend your career working on health-related laws? Consider the joint MD and Masters in Public Policy degree. Do you want to develop your managerial skills and work in healthcare administration? Look towards the joint MD and MBA program. No matter what your career objectives are, Stanford’s array of programs offer students the opportunity to personalize their experience accordingly. 

Stanford offers a number of dual degree programs which allow students to obtain multiple degrees on one track. These include the following:

- MD/PhD: For students who already know they want to further their education beyond an MD, selecting this program allows you to hop on the PhD. The program lasts 7-8 years, and allows time for students to complete their PhD thesis in the fourth, fifth or sixth year. 

- MSM: A Master’s of Science in Medicine will allow you to pursue a career in translational research. Students admitted into the PhD program have the opportunity to pursue this degree in conjunction with their other degree. 

- MD/MPH: For those interested in larger trends in medicine and how they impact communities around the globe, the MPH might be the right degree. While Stanford does not offer an on-site MPH, many students choose to take a year off after their first clinical rotation year to complete MPH programs at other schools. 

- MD/MS: A Masters in Science allows students to specialize even further, through pursuing a degree in a variety of specialized sciences. 

- MD/MBA: If you are interested in health care management or business administration, a Masters in Business Administration is right for you.The program lasts five years, and allows students to take advantage of Stanford’s world-class business school. 

- MD/JD: Combining your degree with a degree in law will allow you to pursue careers in government regulation, law firms, and a variety of other legal fields. Although the program allows students to obtain both degrees in six years, students are required to apply to each program separately and then work with an advisor to plan a schedule that will work for them. 

- MD/MPP: A degree in public policy allows students to apply legal information in a very real world way. Students who are looking to go into medical policy should consider this joint degree. 

Additionally, for students who are looking to specialize their degrees in other ways, Stanford offers the following departmental dual degrees. If you want to be a doctor who also serves in local government, or a researcher who teaches community classes on the side, Stanford can help prepare you for pretty much anything. 

- School of Public Policy: The Masters in Public Policy lasts two years, and can be taken in conjunction with an MD. The program is perfect for anyone interested in medical and health policy development and implementation. 

- School of Education: Specifically for students in the doctoral program, the joint MA in education is an individually designed degree. 

- Program in Environment and Resources: This program allows students to connect what they are learning in their medical classes to science, technology, and environmental problems. Students choose from nine unique specializations within the program, and are required to complete a capstone at the end of it.

Those looking to enhance their academic experience can also apply to the Knight Hennesy Scholars program, which in addition to being a scholarship program, also allows for academic and community enrichment. The program offers both leadership development classes and core seminars which encourage you to think critically about the field of medicine. 

Admissions Process

Stanford emphasizes their holistic application process, meaning that they do not focus on a single aspect of your application, but in each applicant as a multi-faceted person. They aim to take into account parts of your experience not typically conventional in the medical school application process, such as caring for a sick family member. With this process, they recognize that not all students have had the same work or educational opportunities. 

Applying and Getting Admitted

The first step of the application process is to complete the AMCAS (American Medical College Application Service), an online portal that allows applicants to apply to multiple medical colleges at once. This is similar to the Common App, which you most likely used to apply to undergrad. The AMCAS opens in May. Letters of recommendation and MCAT scores are also due with this portion of the application, through the AMCAS portal.

The second step is to submit the Stanford Supplemental Application, which consists of an application fee and personal essays. The AAMC does offer a fee assistance program, for those who cannot afford application fees. 

The third step is interviews, which occur on a rolling basis from September through March. 

Final decisions are released between January and March. It is a good idea to remember that Stanford allows students to defer up to two years. 

Acceptance Rate 

As one of the top medical schools in the country, it comes as no surprise that Stanford’s admission rate is extremely low. In the last admissions cycle, the school’s acceptance rate was 2.3%. While this number is undoubtedly low, do not be discouraged. Your application can be as strong as the 90 individuals accepted in this cycle, with a little work. The school looks to build a diverse student body, as serving a diverse patient population is one of their priorities. 

Tuition & Scholarships

Tuition for Stanford is approximately  $60,000 per year. While certainly pricey, Stanford does its best to be accessible to students through a variety of financial aid and scholarship programs. The school does not offer merit-based scholarships, but it does offer aid based on financial need. This is determined by looking at income, assets, age, dependents, and more. The school also has a comprehensive list of outside funding options on its website. 

Stanford also has a unique scholarship, the Knight Hennesy Scholars program. This program not only gives participants full funding to attend Stanford Medical School but also offers leadership classes and academic seminars. It is open to students from all over the globe who are applying to any of Stanford’s graduate programs. Eligible students will receive stipends for travel to and from Stanford, a stipend for living and academic expenses such as school books and lab equipment, and may receive additional funding for other academic experiences such as conferences. This is an excellent opportunity for enrichment, and it’s definitely a good idea to research if this program is right for you. 

Just how Important is Your MCAT score? 

Unsurprisingly, the average MCAT score at Stanford is 519. If your score is lower than this, do not let this dissuade you. Stanford’s holistic admissions process means that if you don’t exceed in one category, you can still show your strengths in other aspects of your application. Stanford accepts multiple MCAT scores but does not combine them to increase your cumulative score. 

The MCAT score is optional for those applying during the pandemic, and Stanford will not count it against you if you do not submit a score due to the pandemic. However, due to the competitive nature of the program, it is safe to assume that most applicants will submit a score. 

How to get into Stanford Medical School

The Years Before Applying

Required coursework

Stanford does not have course requirements for admission; however, they do have recommendations. If you want to be a strong candidate, it is a good idea to follow their suggestions. Stanford recommends that students have a strong knowledge base in the following areas: 

Take a look at your academic record and make sure it demonstrates your mastery of these concepts. To learn more about the specifics of Stanford’s academic preparation recommendations, go here.  

For classes on your transcript taken during the COVID-19 pandemic, Stanford accepts pass/fail grades. These grades do not affect your consideration as a candidate. 

Extracurricular activities 

Extracurriculars are also a great way to demonstrate your understanding of and experience in the above fields. No experience can be discounted, as it might reveal communication development, leadership, or a unique passion. Stanford says they look for students whose “personal journey and accomplishments show strong evidence for originality, creativity, and a capacity for independent critical thinking.” When thinking about your experience, think about how your activities emphasize these elements. Make sure to include research you feel is innovative and original, growth experiences, and other opportunities you feel demonstrate your unique personal journey towards becoming a medical student. 

Research 

Stanford is a world-class research institution and is looking for students who can hold their own once on campus. They encourage independent research projects and are looking for students who have previously shown a passion for research. Students participate in everything from COVID-19 research to clinic trials on an incredibly wide variety of conditions. 

Because research is so valued at Stanford, you will have a hard time getting admitted to the school without it. This is especially the case if you are interested in the joint MD/PhD program. Participate in summer research programs for undergraduates, or connect with professors at your school and ask about research opportunities with them. Many study abroad programs also offer research opportunities, and some students even take gap years to get research experience. 

It’s important that your research stands out. The type of research that will impress the admissions board is research that has been conducted out of sincere interest in innovation and creativity in the field of medicine, not just an attempt to brighten up an application. Research that you are passionate about and that you intend to continue in the future will serve you better than experiences that just look good on paper. 

Patient Exposure

Working well with patients isn’t a skill that can be taught in the classroom. The ability to connect with patients and provide not only knowledge but also comfort and sympathy is a valuable skill in the medical field. Students at Stanford get early clinical experience, making it all the more vital  that you are prepared.  

There are a variety of ways to gain patient exposure; from shadowing, to working as a medical scribe, to volunteering in a nursing home. This experience demonstrates to schools that you both have a good idea of what you signed up for, and that you know how to maintain a professional but trusting relationship with patients.

Leadership Experience

Stanford is looking for students who are independent, creative, and think critically on their own. They hope to graduate students who will go on to be leaders in the field of medicine and want to admit students who have demonstrated their potential. An excellent way to demonstrate this is through research experience. This might mean leading a research project, having managerial experience at a job, or starting a student club in undergrad. 

Recommendation Letter

Stanford asks for a minimum of three and a maximum of six letters of recommendation. These letters are an important part of the school’s holistic application process and allows the admissions committee to view you through the eyes of someone who knows you well. When thinking about who should write your letters, think of professionals or professors you have worked closely with, who can speak to your medical knowledge, ability to learn, leadership skills, and any other strengths you have. A supervisor  in the medical field, academic advisor, professor, or a volunteer coordinator are all good places to start. When asking for a recommendation, give your contact plenty of time to write a thoughtful letter. 

Essays

AMCAS asks for essays from all students, which features a Personal Comments section, also known as the personal statement essay. The AAMC considers your personal statement as an excellent opportunity to demonstrate who you really are and show yourself off.It is a good idea to write about your personal motivations and passion for medicine, as well as any unique hardships you may have experienced in your path towards your goals. 

The supplemental section of the Stanford application includes secondary prompts from all applicants. Stanford sends this section of the application to all eligible students after they have completed the primary portion. There are generally several, which ask students to write about their professional goals, experience, and background. Most recently, they included questions about the applicant’s publication experience, goals, and personal background. These prompts are broad, and allow you to talk about yourself in whatever way you believe will effectively demonstrate your experience and passion. Medical schools are not only looking for intelligent and experienced candidates, but also those who are thoughtful and effective communicators. 

The secondary prompts generally include a question about why you feel that Stanford is the best place for you to pursue your goals. Demonstrating why Stanford is right for you, perhaps specifically thinking about why The Discovery Curriculum is right for you, is a good jumping off point for your essay. How will you utilize the unique opportunity to personalize your academic experience? What is your dream and do you have a specific plan to achieve it? Stanford is looking for students who know what they want and will thrive at their school. 

For the most recent application cycle, the questions were:

- The Committee on Admissions regards the diversity (broadly defined) of an entering class as an important factor in serving the educational mission of the school. The Committee on Admissions strongly encourages you to share unique, personally important and/or challenging factors in your background which may include such discussions as the quality of your early education, gender, sexual orientation, any physical challenges, and life or work experiences. Please describe how these factors have influenced your goals and preparation for a career in medicine and may help you to uniquely contribute to the Stanford learning environment. (2,000 characters including spaces)

- Choose the single answer that best describes your career goals and clinical practice setting: Academic Medicine (Clinical), Academic Medicine (Physician Scientist), Non-Academic Clinical Practice, Health Policy, Health Administration, Primary Care, Public Health/Community Health, Global Health. Why do you feel you are particularly suited for this practice scenario? What knowledge, skills and attitudes have you developed that have prepared you for this career path? (1,000 characters including spaces.)

- How will you take advantage of the Stanford Medicine Discovery Curriculum and scholarly concentration requirement to achieve your personal career goals? (1,000 characters including spaces)

- Please describe any lessons, hardships, challenges, or opportunities that resulted from the global COVID-19 pandemic. Include any impact on your medical school application preparation in the areas of academics, research, employment, volunteer service, and/or clinical experiences. (1,000 characters including spaces)

- Optional: Please include anything else that will help us understand better how you may uniquely contribute to Stanford Medicine? (1,000 characters including spaces)

Writing is a skill that more medical schools are beginning to value as communication becomes an essential tool for innovation. The secondary prompt lengths are generally 1000-2000 characters, which does not leave a lot of room for embellishment. Make sure that you write concisely and communicate points efficiently. Writing a couple of drafts of your essay will help get it to an optimal final form. Plus, it’s always a good idea to have a few people read over your essays critically before submitting them.

Interviews 

Given Stanford’s holistic admission process, they are looking for students who can communicate well, not only through the written word as demonstrated in the essay, but also one-on-one. No one wants a doctor who stumbles through the diagnosis, or a co-worker who can’t explain how they reached their conclusions on a research project. The interview is an excellent opportunity to display your interpersonal skills. 

Stanford uses the MMI, or multiple mini-interview format, which breaks down a larger interview into a series of unrelated questions. These questions come in the format of scenarios, personal questions, or policy questions that you must discuss how you would respond, or role-play situations. To prepare, look through common MMI prompts, which can give you an idea of what you might expect come interview day. Check out our guide on how to prepare for a medical school interview.

Interview invitations begin in August and interviews occur on a rolling basis from September through March. 

Conclusion

Stanford is looking for students who are creative, innovative, and passionate about improving the medical world. They value students who are able to place their individual experiences with patients and research in a larger world context, understanding how the patient sitting before them with a cough is impacted by environmental and systemic factors. Stanford is an extremely prestigious organization, and thousands of other applicants are vying to obtain this excellent opportunity. If you take the time to submit a well-thought-out and thorough application, you will be a competitive applicant. 

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