How Many Medical Schools Should I Apply To?

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On average, students submit applications to 16 medical schools, but the "right" number of submissions varies greatly depending on your interests, goals, options, and qualifications. The decision is very personal, and you may decide to apply to more or less than the average. Other factors that may influence your decision include cost, competitiveness, and geography.

Key Takeaways: How Many Medical Schools Should I Apply To?

  • AMCAS is a centralized application service that allows students to submit one application and apply to several medical schools.
  • The current fee for AMCAS is $170 for an application to one medical school and $40 for each additional school. Consider also the cost of attending the interviews required during the selection process.
  • Limit your applications only to schools you would be happy attending.

One Application, Many Schools

Most U.S. medical schools use the American Medical College Application Service (AMCAS), a centralized application processing service that allows students to submit one application and apply to any number of medical schools. Utilizing AMCAS, the average student submits applications to 16 schools.

When deciding how many schools to include on your list, making an informed decision is paramount. One useful resource is the Medical School Admission Requirements (MSAR), an online database maintained by the American Association of Medical Colleges (AAMC). The MSAR contains mission statements, information on prerequisite coursework, required recommendation letters, and median GPA and MCAT scores of incoming classes. You can use the MSAR to compare schools side-by-side and make a list of the ones that interest you most. Information on the MSAR is authoritative and current. An annual subscription costs $28.

Another useful resource is your pre-health advisor. An experienced advisor can look at your application and goals and suggest an appropriate number of medical schools to consider. Healthcare advisors are often available at your university. If not, you can partner with an advisor through the National Association of Advisors to the Health Professions.

Cost

The current fee for AMCAS is $170 for an application to one medical school. Each additional school will cost another $40. Once interview invitations start coming in, you will have to factor in the price of travel and lodging, and costs can quickly add up. Though AMCAS makes it relatively easy to apply to a large number of schools, you should not submit applications to schools you have no plan to attend.

But the cost of application ends up being trivial when compared to the total cost of a four-year medical education. The MSAR allows you to compare the annual cost for each medical school. Think about how you will pay for medical school. Will you use loans, financial aid, or scholarships? Do you already have significant debt from your undergraduate education? Many schools (especially public ones) have significantly lower tuition rates for in-state students. If cost is a priority, it may be a good strategy to apply to every school for which you will qualify for in-state tuition.

Competitiveness

It may be tempting to let your list be determined by numbers alone (national rankings, median GPA, and median MCAT), but don’t succumb. Each medical school and each applicant is unique, and numbers alone cannot determine whether a particular school is right for you.

Look at the median GPA and MCAT numbers for each school and be realistic. If your numbers are far off, think about other ways you can make your application more competitive. Consider applying to more schools whose median numbers are closer to your own.

Many medical schools are adopting a more holistic approach to evaluating applicants, looking beyond numbers and considering whether you have acquired the competencies required to succeed in medicine. You may find that you can never tell exactly what an admissions committee will find attractive in your application. If you are convinced you will thrive at a particular school, you should not let your GPA and MCAT score keep you from submitting an application. 

Geography

Do you want to stay in a certain part of the country? Remember that many schools have lower tuition rates for state residents, and you may want to find out how a particular school establishes state residency. Another geographic consideration is whether a school is located in an urban, suburban, or rural area. The distinction is significant, as it may determine patient demographics and the types of illnesses you will encounter on your clinical rotations. 

Mission Statement and Special Programs

Every medical school is different with respect to its mission statement, the community it serves, the opportunities for research, and specific educational tracks or programs. Take a look at each school’s mission statement and whether there are special programs that interest you. A particular school may offer programs in business, ethics, leadership, or integrative medicine, to name a few. Find schools with programs that align with your interest and make sure to apply.

Conclusion

No medical school can be reduced to numbers, programs, and stats. You may simply feel like you “fit in” at a school you’ve visited. You may like their gym, their campus, or the demographics of their students. Remember that medical school is four years of your life, not four years out of your life. Limit your applications only to schools you would be happy attending.