The process is long, expensive, and complicated. Here are some tips to help you avoid wasting time and money.
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I started this project to answer my own questions as I went through the medical school applicant process:
How can it be that schools like UCLA-Geffen, Harvard, and UMASS have acceptance rates of 1.5%, 2.15%, and 4.13%, but ~40% of all applicants nationwide get into at least one medical school each year?
25% of applicants applied to more than 25 schools. 36% of applicants spent more than $2000 on the application process. 45% of applicants spent more than $1000 on interview expenses. Are all those expenses really necessary? How many schools do I actually stand a chance of getting into?
Carle Illinois and Michigan both have out-of-state (OOS) acceptance rates around ~1.5%, but Carle takes ~28 OOS students and Michigan takes 104. How do I pick OOS schools to apply to?
I do my best to answer these through visualizations built with publically-available data from the AAMC. Disclaimer: I am not responsible for your success or rejection in the application process. Take what I say with a grain of salt, think critically, and send me questions.
Matriculants refers to students who were accepted to at least one medical school and chose to enroll. Matriculants is the term used in the FACTS reports from the AAMC.
No, it doesn’t seem to matter! Study what makes you happy as an undergrad. It’s more important to have a strong narrative (and a resume to back it) as to why medicine, and being an M.D. specifically, is the right and only choice for you. Source Data. Percentage represents how many students matriculate from these fields of study.
My med school classmates all have very different backgrounds. What they did as undergrads varied a lot. The 2020 Matriculating Student Questionnaire reflects some commonalities in accepted students. Source Data: 2020 Matriculating Student Questionnaire
There isn’t good data from the AAMC on these. Here is are my reflections after going through the process, and talking with classmates.
Your reason for becoming an M.D. and resume have to be organic, honest, reasonable, and credible. Scores will get your foot in the door, but you will always interview, and you are the reason a school accepts you.
Part of you in the admissions process is letters of recommendation (LOR) and the interview. For the former, make sure you have friendly relations with a few faculty who you can call on later. This might be a research or personal mentor, and a physician in the area with whom you’ve scribed or shadowed.
For the interview, be able to articulate why you want to be an M.D., besides just “helping people”. You can do that as a Nurse or Physicians Assistant; what is it about being an M.D.?
Interactive graphic: The AAMC collects information on what resources students use to study for the MCAT. Source data.
An average of 76.7 and 62% of students studied with practice tests and preperation books from the AAMC and commercial companies respectively.
The age of matriculating medical students is increasing. Most applicants take a year or more after their bachelors. Here is what students are doing betweeen med school and undergrad. Source Data: 2020 Matriculating Student Questionnaire
I’ve visualized data from the AAMC to help you understand the behavior of applicants in years prior, and get a better idea of what your decisions are.
Acceptance rates are inflated. How is it possible that a school like UCLA can have an acceptance rate around 1%, but just over 40% of applicants get into at least one medical school? My thinking is that candidates are applying to schools which they don’t stand a chance of getting into (I’m guilty of it too).
Applying to more schools doesn’t necessarily increase your chances of admission. You do not have the same likelihood to get into one school as another. Applying to your state school, you might have a 80% chance of acceptance. Then, you apply to an out-of-state (OOS) public school and your MCAT is below-average MCAT for that institution. Let’s say chance of acceptance is 1% at the OSS school. So your total likelihood of acceptance is 81%. Was the extra time and $100+ worth it for that 1% shot? The probabilities of acceptance to each school are independent and unequal.
Finally, what school would you actually go to? If you get into the all the schools you apply to, where would you actually go? For the few with multiple acceptances (52.8% of accepted students), would you consider a more expensive private school over a scholarship from a public school? These are decisions you can’t make until you have the offers in hand, but consciously making them is important. Otherwise, you spend mental energy wondering about what could do, rather than what you actually want to do.
When I was applying, I heard the term “OOS-friendly”. That is vague and not helpful. In the link below, I show how just looking at OOS acceptance rates is misleading, and that your focus should be on how total spots are filled by OOS students.
I think this is the most useful page on this site. Follow the instructions in the page in the link below to get an idea of what schools to apply to based on how competitive your application is.
The squeaky wheel gets the grease. Send a letter of continued interest if you haven’t heard anything in a couple months. Make sure that it’s concise (1 page including open, body, and closing), and packed with good, new information. Don’t be long-winded, and don’t do it if you have nothing to say.
Be you and think on why it is that being a medical doctor is the right choice for you. Not for your parents, teachers, friends, but for you. Study the things you want to study, do the clubs you want to do. Not everybody has to scribe. You need to have experiences in the broad boxes of strong academics, solid scores, volunteering, research, leadership, and clinical experience.
If you meet the benchmark scores for a school, think about early decision. Personally, I think for most students, the #1 priority is getting in to a medical school -- not a particular school. And if you're a student with stellar marks, what schools would you actually like to attend (over your in-state school, at which you may get a good scholarship)?
Interact with your professors and TA’s. Go to office hours. Get to know them. Remember their names. They’re the ones who help you understand material better, and bump a borderline letter grade. This was by far the biggest contributor to my success in undergrad, and I can correlate those good experiences with good scores on my MCAT, especially in physics/chemistry. Being proactive and “showing up” is a big part of success.
If you’re looking at this page as a college sophomore, you’re thinking more about the medical school admissions process than I did.
Don’t be obsessed. Be intentional. Work hard. Enjoy college. Help others. Be nice.