If you are interested in going to medical school, you probably know that getting in is extremely competitive. Tens of thousands of applicants apply every cycle to secure one of a limited number of spots.
Admissions committees want to make sure that whoever they accept has both the qualities and passion needed to complete their program and become a great physician. To do this, they closely look at several components such as personal statements, clinical experience, MCAT score, letters of reference, and more.
Based on the most recent data, there were 165,887 applicants from 2020 to 2023. Out of these applicants, 68,309 were accepted into a medical school. This comes out to a 41.2% acceptance rate.
Despite the competition, getting into a medical school is an attainable goal if you work hard. However, if you have your eyes set on a top-tier medical school, the chances of getting in are much lower than the overall acceptance rate.
This guide will go over everything you need to know about how hard it is to get into medical school, why it is so competitive, and targets you should aim for to boost your chances of getting accepted to med school.
Medical School Acceptance Rates
According to AMCAS data, 55,188 applicants applied during the 2022-2023 cycle. On average, each applicant submitted 18 applications, which comes out to a grand total of 990,790 total applications.
For top-tier schools, you can expect the acceptance rate to be around 1%. For example, the acceptance rate for Stanford Medicine during the 2022-2023 application cycle was about 1.07%. There were 8,407 applicants competing for one of 90 spots in the class.
Middle-tier schools have slightly higher acceptance rates, typically around 3%. For example, the acceptance rate for the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine was about 3.1% during the 2022-2023 application cycle.
Lower-tier schools have higher acceptance rates, typically around 5% or higher. For example, Mercer University School of Medicine had an acceptance rate of 8.7% during the 2022-2023 application cycle.
MD programs, as a whole, had an overall acceptance rate of 41.2%. Compared to DO programs, MD programs tend to accept applicants with higher GPAs and MCAT scores.
Osteopathic (DO) programs had an overall acceptance rate of about 36% in 2020, according to AACOMAS data. Although DO schools tend to accept med school applicants with lower average GPAs and MCAT scores than MD programs, getting into a DO program is comparable in difficulty. This is mostly due to there being less DO programs than MD programs.
For example, one of the more selective DO programs, the Chicago College of Osteopathic Medicine at Midwestern University, had an acceptance rate of 15%.
Caribbean medical schools tend to be less selective, with an average acceptance rate of about 9.5%. They can be a good option if your MCAT and GPA are on the lower side. For example, the University of Puerto Rico School of Medicine had an acceptance rate of 14% during the 2022-2023 application cycle.
Why It Can Be Difficult to Get Into Medical School
Medical school admissions committees are faced with the daunting task of evaluating thousands of applications to find out who has the best shot of succeeding in their programs.
This, in addition to the high applicant volume and limited number of seats, makes getting into medical school very competitive.
Here are some more reasons why getting into medical school can be hard:
High GPA Requirements
Generally, you will want to keep your GPA above 3.0 to have your application considered at all. Though, to be on the safe side, you should aim to have a GPA of 3.5 or above. The most competitive programs accept applicants with average GPAs closer to 4.0.
As a result, it is important to take your studies seriously starting with your first year of undergrad. Try to do especially well in classes that are worth a lot of credits. Developing strong study habits early will pay off when you start applying to med school.
>> Learn More: How to Get Into Med School With a Low GPA
High MCAT Score Requirements
The MCAT is an objective way to evaluate an applicant’s knowledge and critical thinking skills. You will usually need an excellent MCAT score to get accepted into one of the top-tier medical schools.
To put this into context, an average MCAT score is 500, while a good MCAT score is 511. For the top medical programs, the average score of admitted applicants tends to be even higher than this at around 520.
Note that there are some med schools that don't require the MCAT but most of these are special early admissions programs or joint bachelor's degree/MD programs.
Clinical Experience Requirements
If you want to be a competitive applicant, having a significant amount of meaningful clinical experience is a must. Many medical schools do not state an explicit number of hours needed. However, the rule of thumb is that you should have enough to develop a strong understanding of what being a physician is like.
You can get clinical experience for med school by working a paid job, volunteering, or shadowing. Paid work is the best option for gaining experience working directly with patients. For example, you can work as a phlebotomist or medical assistant before med school.
>> Learn More: Best Jobs for Premed & Med School Gap Year
Being involved in a variety of organizations is expected. Competitive applicants usually have held one or more leadership positions during college.
Quality of experiences is emphasized over quantity. It is often more meaningful to devote time and effort to a few extracurriculars, instead of trying out a lot of activities without committing to them.
Some examples of extracurriculars include on-campus clubs, honor societies, research, mission trips, athletics, and more. Admissions committees want to see well-rounded applicants who have proven that they can excel beyond the classroom.
Like with other things in this section, it is best to start getting involved early during your first year of undergrad.
For some applicants, the harsh reality is that they have an extremely low chance of getting into their dream school. They may lack the stats (GPA, MCAT scores), have little clinical experience, or may not be able to convincingly articulate their desire to become a physician.
If one or more of these describes you, you may need to temper your expectations. You may not be a strong enough applicant to get into your school of choice. However, your application may still be strong enough to give you a chance at getting into a medical school.
If you are still set on a particular program, you may need to take some time to strengthen your application. This typically means taking a gap year or more to get clinical experience or improve your MCAT score.
Length of Application
It takes time to complete the AMCAS, which is the main application for MD programs. You will need to provide detailed information about your academic history, write personal statements, select programs to apply to, get letters of recommendation, and much more.
Although the application opens in the first week of May, you should start preparing everything you need ahead of time. For example, you can start writing rough drafts for your personal statement. This will help you stay organized and will make your life much easier.
>> Learn More: Med School Application Timeline
Once you complete the primary application, schools will often send you a secondary application where you will have to provide additional information or write more essays. These can be more difficult because the questions are usually more specific, in-depth, and require deeper reflection.
Secondary applications are extremely important because they are one of your biggest chances to really stand out amongst the other applicants and show the school why you would be a great addition to their program.
Getting Letters of Recommendation
Letters of recommendation give admissions committees important insights about your personality, work ethic, and skills. Some good people to ask for a letter include supervisors, professors, and doctors you have shadowed.
When deciding who exactly you should ask to write your letter, you should ask yourself several questions. How well do they know me? Do they have a good understanding of my skills and work ethic? Will they be able to write a strong letter that helps me stand out?
Writing a Personal Statement
For many prospective medical students, writing is not their strength. Not to mention, just having to write about yourself can be especially challenging. The personal statement is one of your chances to really show admissions committees why you are a great fit for their program.
You should start writing rough drafts early, ideally before the AMCAS opens in May. Spend adequate time asking others for feedback and revising. A great personal statement answers all parts of the prompt, showcases your personal attributes, and leaves a lasting impression on the reader.
Acing the Interview
For many applicants, interviews are perhaps the most stressful part of the entire process. It can be a high-stakes type of situation where your nerves can quickly take over.
Fortunately, interviewing is a skill that can be practiced. The best applicants take sufficient time to work on their interviewing skills and prepare for each school individually. One great way to prepare is to do mock interviews with a friend or mentor.
Limited Number of Spots
Most medical schools have a class size of about 100-200 students. This means that for every school, there are a couple thousand applicants competing for a very limited number of spots.
FAQs About Getting Into Medical School
What is the average GPA to get accepted to med school? According to AAMC data, the average total GPA for matriculants in the 2022-2023 cycle was 3.75.
What is the minimum GPA to get accepted to med school? Many schools do not explicitly state their GPA cutoffs. However, typically you want to keep your GPA above 3.0. Ideally, you should have a GPA above 3.5.
What is the average MCAT to get accepted to med school? According to AAMC data, the average total MCAT score for matriculants in the 2022-2023 cycle was 511.9.
Why is med school so difficult to get into? Getting into med school is difficult because admissions committees want to accept applicants who they are confident will succeed in their programs and become successful physicians. In addition, for each med school, there are several thousand applicants competing for around 100-200 spots in the class.
What are the hardest med schools to get into? According to the U.S. News and World Report, some of the hardest med schools to get into are NYU Grossman School of Medicine, Florida State University School of Medicine, and Stanford Medicine.
What are the easiest med schools to get into? According to Best Colleges, the easiest med schools to get into are University of North Dakota, University of Massachusetts, and University of Missouri Kansas City. In addition, the Caribbean med schools tend to be less selective.
Can I get into med school as an international student? Some medical schools accept international students as long as they fulfill certain requirements. You will need to double check with each school to see what their specific policies are.
Can I get into med school with a low GPA? It is very difficult, but still possible to get into med school with a low GPA. Every now and then, you may hear stories of applicants who get into med school with a low GPA. But this is not the norm. If your GPA is low, you will need to make up for that with the rest of your application. For example, you may need to have an exceptional personal statement, an excellent background of clinical experience, or difficult life circumstances that may explain your low GPA.
What jobs are best for helping me get into med school? The best jobs provide you with meaningful clinical experience for med school. These kinds of jobs involve numerous opportunities to work directly with patients in providing care. Some great jobs that can help you get into med school include clinical medical assistant, phlebotomist, and medical laboratory technician.
Can I reapply to med school if I’m not accepted? Yes, you can apply during the next cycle. To reduce the chances of this happening, you should apply to a wide variety of med schools and not just top-tier programs.