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How To Get Into UCSF Medical School: A Guide For Applicants

July 10, 2021
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Part 1. IntroductionPart 2. Programs Offered at UCSF School of MedicinePart 3. Application Process at UCSF School of MedicinePart 4. Transcripts and Required CourseworkPart 5. MCAT ScoresPart 6. Letters of RecommendationPart 7. Work ExperiencesPart 8. Secondary Application for UCSF School of MedicinePart 9. Interview Process at the UCSF School of MedicinePart 10. Tuition and Scholarships at the UCSF School of MedicinePart 11. UCSF Medical School Acceptance Rates and TimelinePart 12. Conclusion


The University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) School of Medicine is one of the best medical schools in the United States. In recent rankings, U.S. News reports the school as #2 in primary care and #4 in research.

UCSF Medical School is ranked in the top 10 for specialized programs such as Obstetrics and Gynecology (#1) and Internal Medicine (#1). With such high rankings, prospective medical students swarm to get into UCSF Medical School, making it one of the more difficult medical schools to enter.

Applying to medical school can seem daunting, especially to a school with such high rankings and standards, but we are here to put you at ease. This guide will provide you with the information you need to get you into UCSF Medical School.

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Programs Offered at UCSF School of Medicine

UCSF Medical School offers nine programs in total, and each one specializes in a different field of medicine.

MD Curriculum

The general MD program at UCSF Medical School is known as the Bridges Curriculum. This program steps away from the traditional MD program model of two years of basic science, followed by two years of clinical application.

Instead, students receive zero hands-on experience as they learn about foundational science while strengthening their clinical skills throughout all four years in the program. The goal is to prepare students for the rapidly changing world of medicine, science, and innovative technologies.

MD/Masters in Advanced Studies (MD/MAS)

The combined MD and Masters in Advanced Studies degree takes approximately six years to complete. The goal is for students to master clinical research methods and pursue independent research careers.

The MD/MAS program requires independent research, and students are required to give a presentation of original work at a national scientific meeting and publish peer-reviewed manuscripts.

MD with Distinction

UCSF Medical School offers distinction in yearlong research for students who pursue research or scholarship projects in 12 months. Grants are available to support living expenses; some include project and education expenses. To receive an MD with Distinction, you are required to complete the following: 

Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP)

The Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP) is for students who wish to pursue a career as a physician-scientist. This program takes approximately five years to complete. The U.S. National Institutes of Health fund the combined MD/PhD program; therefore, all trainees receive full tuition support and a stipend.

This MSTP route is more challenging to enter, and only 12 students are accepted each year. Students who graduate from this program are often accepted into top-ranked residencies and fellowships with the end goal of pursuing a career in academic medicine and biomedical research.

The MSTP will follow a similar application process as all other programs at UCSF Medical School; however, its admissions deadlines will vary. 

UC Berkeley - UCSF Joint Medical Program (MD, MS)

The UC Berkeley - UCSF Joint Medical Program (JMP) is a five-year graduate program. Students complete their re-clerkship years at UC Berkeley. Students will partake in Problem Based Learning Medical Curriculum while earning a Master’s degree in the Health and Medical Sciences at UC Berkeley’s School of Public Health.

After two years, JMP students will move to UCSF Medical School to finish their medical education and receive their MD. Students interested in applying to the Joint Medical Program will do so through the regular admissions process.

Those who pass the preliminary review will receive a secondary application from UCSF specific to the Joint Medical Program. Only 16 students are accepted each year, and the committee selects these students based on their motivation, background, and aptitude for an in-depth research experience. 

MD/Masters of Public Health (MPH) Program

The joint UCSF/UC Berkeley MD/MPH program allows students to earn a Master’s degree in Public Health at UC Berkeley. Unlike the five-year JMP program, the MD/MPH program takes approximately six years to complete, with two semesters required at UC Berkeley.

Coursework is conducted between the third and fourth medical school years or after students have completed their MD degree. Students who go down this path go on to a clinical residency or clinical practice. Many graduates go on to become full-time clinicians.

Program in Medical Education for the Urban Underserved (PRIME-US)

UCSF Medical School offers a Program in Medical Education for the Urban Underserved (PRIME-US). This unique five-year program is for medical students interested in working with underserved urban populations.

PRIME-US only accepts 11 new students from the entering class at UCSF each year and four students from the JMP at UC Berkeley. The goals of PRIME-US are to: 

UCSF San Joaquin Valley Program in Medical Education (SJV PRIME)

The San Joaquin Valley Program in Medical Education (SJV PRIME) is similar to the PRIME-US program. It is designed for medical students who are committed to providing high-quality healthcare to underserved populations.

The program length is also five years, like PRIME-US. However, SJV PRIME focuses specifically on the San Joaquin Valley in California. Students will conduct the first two years of their studies at UCSF main campus before spending the remainder of their time at the UCSF Fresno campus. 

MD-PhD in History of Health Sciences

This MD-PhD program offers students a chance to earn a PhD in History of Health Sciences with an MD degree. Students must apply to both the UCSF School of Medicine and the History program, and if they are accepted, they receive full payment of all tuition and fees plus an annual stipend for living expenses.

Note, this only covers four years of graduate study and does not cover medical school costs. 

MD-PhD students will complete the first 2-3 years of medical school before joining the PhD program in History of Health Sciences. The PhD program consists of two years of coursework followed by the qualifying exam.

Once a student has passed the qualifying exams, they will work independently on researching and writing their dissertations. Once the dissertation is complete, students will resume medical school to complete the curriculum required for their MD degree.

Students will need to apply separately to the two programs and alert each school of interest in a combined MD-PhD. The admissions committees of both programs will work together in reviewing the applications.

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Application Process at UCSF School of Medicine

Applying to the UCSF School of Medicine is a similar process to any other medical school. Applicants must apply through the American Medical College Association Services (AMCAS).

The website will provide you with instructions on how to apply to medical school, along with a list of required application materials. UCSF Medical School does not offer deadline extensions for any reason, so submit your application as early as possible.

Once AMCAS verifies the application, they will send it to UCSF School of Medicine, and the admissions committee will conduct a preliminary review. The admissions committee will ask selected candidates to complete a supplemental application. The secondary applications vary from program to program at UCSF.

Applicants have approximately three to 10 weeks to complete the secondary application, but they will want to finish it as soon as possible. After UCSF receives your AMCAS application, secondary application, and letters of recommendation, the admissions committee will review the general application. Chosen candidates are invited for interviews.

Transcripts and Required Coursework

Prospective students are required to complete a four-year undergraduate degree before applying to UCSF School of Medicine. Students from all disciplines are welcome to apply to med school, but they must meet the minimum science coursework.

Students must complete at least one year of biology and chemistry, both of which must include a laboratory component. They must also complete one semester in physics and one course in biochemistry.

These are the basic course requirements; however, successful applicants go beyond the bare minimum coursework. Courses in the humanities and a foreign language are also highly recommended. The admissions committee wants students who can demonstrate their ability to perform at a higher level academically. 

MCAT Scores

The Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) is required for all med school applicants. The purpose of the multiple-choice exam is to assess your problem solving, critical thinking, and knowledge of biological, behavioral, and social science. Prospective students are allowed to take the MCAT multiple times.

However, UCSF Medical School will look at the most recent scores. The MCAT must be taken within three years from the date you plan to enter med school. 

Letters of Recommendation

Letters of recommendation are sent to UCSF Medical School in the secondary application. Applicants are required to submit 3-5 letters of recommendation, two of which must come from previous instructors.

UCSF will accept only one set of letters no matter how many programs an applicant is applying for, and these letters are completed through AMCAS. The letters of recommendation should discuss you, your contributions, and your passions.

Any achievements in the science field are of particular interest to the admissions committee and should be included in the letters. Sending writers a short synopsis about yourself and your achievements will point them in the direction of what you are looking to have included in the recommendation letters.

Character references and recommendations from family and friends are generally not considered valid, so focus on getting letters of recommendation from previous instructors, mentors, and coworkers.

Work Experiences

Work experiences are vital in the application process for the UCSF School of Medicine; it is the defining factor of your application because the admissions committee sees that you are applying your knowledge in real situations.

Demonstrating interest in patient care reiterates UCSF’s mission statement, and it will appeal to the admissions committee if shown in your application. Shadowing a physician or volunteering at a clinic are just some beneficial experiences to include in your application. 

Research experience is also great to have before med school. Med school students participate in research projects throughout the MD program, so having previous experience can help move your application forward in the review process. Check local colleges and universities for research opportunities near you. 

What you need to know about UCSF Medical School

Secondary Application for UCSF School of Medicine

Compared to other top medical schools like Harvard Medical School and Perelman School of Medicine, UCSF Medical School’s supplemental application is short. There are two essay questions, and each must be no more than 500 words. Your responses must be short and concise but include as much detail as possible.

This seems tricky, but preparing for the essays ahead of time will give you an advantage when it comes time to complete them. You will need to submit your supplemental application, along with the application fee (anywhere from $80 or $100), to UCSF before moving to the next phase in the review process.

The admissions committee reviews secondary applications on a first-come basis, so completing your essays as quickly as possible–without losing the integrity of your writing–is highly recommended.

These are the previous prompts used by the UCSF School of Medicine and some helpful tips on how you could answer each one:

1. If you wish to update or expand upon your activities, you may provide additional information below. (500 words)

Tip: While this may seem like an optional prompt to answer, it is not. Even though you have discussed activities (work and research experiences) earlier in your AMCAS application and med school personal statement, this is another chance for you to further expand upon them.

If possible, discuss an experience you did not focus on in your primary application. If you’re struggling to find a new experience to discuss, it’s ok to reuse an experience from your primary application if you focus on a different aspect of that experience.

For example, if you discussed the success of a research project in your primary application, in your secondary application, you could discuss the challenges of that project, what you learned from the experience, and how you were able to overcome the obstacles you faced.

Always ensure to keep content original yet straightforward and remember to reiterate the qualities that UCSF desires in their students.

2. If you are a 2021 or earlier college graduate, please use the space below to tell us what you have done since completing your undergraduate degree. (350 words)

Tip: If you took a gap year, this question aims to find out how you spent this period of time. To answer this question effectively, you’ll need to prove to the admissions committee at UCSF that you used this time wisely to strengthen your application.

Showing your continuous pursuits reveals your passion for medicine and dedication to joining the medical field–-a quality UCSF loves to see in their candidates. What’s important here is that you only include relevant experiences.

UCSF isn’t going to be impressed to learn that you took a year off to learn to skateboard. Instead, discuss what you pursued to make yourself a stronger applicant. Research, shadowing, clinical experience and volunteer work all count as time well spent. 

3. Applicants are interviewed by invitation only. Please note that we do not conduct regional interviews. Interviews are scheduled from September to February (days vary). Please let us know if you will be out of the country during the interview season. (300 words)

Tip: Even if you are not going out of the country during the interview session, you will still need to write that down. Make it short and straightforward. If you are out of the country for the interview process, you must state the dates you will be gone and provide a reason for the absence. 

The best way to answer the secondary essay prompts is to be straightforward and convincing. Highlight your qualities and tie the answer back into your passion for medicine and how you are an excellent UCSF candidate.

Interview Process at the UCSF School of Medicine

If you are selected to interview, it means admissions at UCSF Medical School sees great potential in you, and it is your time to show them that potential. There are two 40-minute interviews with two interviewers per session. UCSF interviews are closed-file, meaning the interviewer comes into the interview knowing only your name.

They will ask standard interview questions, and you will answer by highlighting the key aspects of your application. Do not regurgitate what you mentioned in your primary and secondary applications. Instead, convey yourself naturally.

It will interest admissions more than a prepared speech. Be sure to discuss your achievements, work experiences, why you want to study medicine, and why you want to go to UCSF Medical School. 

Tuition and Scholarships at the UCSF School of Medicine

Medical school is not cheap. However, UCSF Medical School offers scholarships and financial aid to its students, making it a little easier to cover the costs. But how much does UCSF Medical School cost? Here is a breakdown of the current tuition fees and expenses for UCSF School of Medicine:

UCSF Medical School Tuition and Costs

The tuition at UCSF Medical School seems daunting. However, with careful planning, it can be affordable. Select programs offer half to full tuition coverage based on a student’s academic standing. Apart from student loans, there are also scholarships available to all entering and continuing MD students.

According to David Wofsy, MD, increasing scholarship support has been provided to medical students since 2008: “Scholarship awards to medical students have increased by more than 50%.” UCSF also offers financial aid for entering students apart from Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

The UCSF Finaid/Cost of Living Supplement (COLS) Application is another opportunity for incoming students to receive basic, full, or COLS funding. College Scholarship Service (CSS) Financial Aid is also available for students who require full funding. So UCSF Medical School provides multiple ways to pay their tuition, and students can feel a little more at ease. 

UCSF Medical School Acceptance Rates and Timeline

UCSF Medical School has a 2.2% acceptance rate. Out of the 7,345 applications received, 507 applicants made it to the interview process. Therefore, 93.1% of applications received did not make it past the secondary application.

Of those who interviewed, only 161 enrolled. That means that 31.8% of the interviewees ended up enrolling at the school. These statistics reveal the highly selective process at UCSF.

While each program has different deadlines, there is a general timeline prospective students should follow when applying to UCSF Medical School. Please be aware that the following deadlines are subject to change by admissions at any given time:

UCSF Medical School Application Timeline


UCSF Medical School may not be the easiest school to receive admission to; however, going into the application process prepared gives you an advantage over other candidates. By going beyond the expectations and requirements set, you are one step ahead in the competition.

By reviewing this guide, you should now understand exactly what you need to be one of the 2.2% that get into UCSF School of Medicine.

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