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Tips for Deciding Which Medical Schools You’ll Apply To


Your GPA is on point and your MCAT score is strong. You’ve got your extracurriculars nailed—maybe you’ve even completed a post-bacc to give your record that extra oomph. You’re ready to apply to medical school. But which ones?

Building a list of schools to apply to takes strategy. This article walks you through the basics of how many medical schools to apply to, how to research medical schools, and how to be intentional about choosing your options.

How Many Medical Schools Should You Apply To?

This has a short, strong answer backed by research: you should apply to about 20 schools. The American Association of Medical Colleges (AAMC) reports that aspiring medical students sent an average of 19 applications out in 2023-24.

However, more isn’t better. It’s essential to strike a balance between applying to enough schools to maximize your chances of acceptance and not overwhelming yourself with too many applications. Applying to about 20 schools allows you to cast a wide net while focusing on institutions that align with your preferences and strengths.

Narrow Down What You Want

First, what do you want from your medical education? Consider the following factors.

Location: Do you need to live close to where you are currently because of family or other responsibilities, or can you move? Do you prefer an urban, suburban, or rural setting? Do you prefer a warm or variable climate? Having location preferences like these isn’t selfish or self-indulgent—being somewhere you feel comfortable can help you cope with the rigors of medical school. 

Another factor to consider with location is the fact that some schools—particularly public schools—prefer to admit in-state students who may be more likely to stay in the area to work after completing their studies. Make sure there are some schools in your current state on your list.

Curriculum Format: Different medical schools take different approaches to teaching skills. Are you interested in a traditional lecture format, problem-based learning, or a technologically enhanced “flipped-classroom” approach? Choose schools with an educational approach that resonates with your learning preferences.

Specialty Programs: While some premeds may not know where they want to specialize just yet, if you have an idea of what interests you, look for schools that cater to those interests. If you’re interested in global health, for example, it’s probably not wise to apply to a school known for its primary care emphasis even if your academic qualifications fit perfectly.

Where can you find this type of information? The National Center for Education Statistics has a College Navigator website that lets you search for schools based on their location and setting (urban, suburban, or rural). Make sure you use the “Browse for Programs” option to select “medicine” and click the “advanced” box as part of your search. This can give you a rough list of schools to investigate further.

Find Schools that Fit Your Academic Profile

Next, you need to narrow down your options based on your own academic performance. You’ll need to compare your academic achievements, GPA, and MCAT scores with each school’s average statistics to determine if you meet or exceed their admission criteria.

Fortunately, if you can afford a $28 subscription (as of 2024), the AAMC makes this very easy for you. They maintain a Medical School Admission Requirements (MSAR) database that gives details about what each school expects from applicants. This makes it quick and easy to find out whether the schools that fit your preferences also fit your academic achievements.

Many medical schools also publish details about their most recent medical student intake on their websites, so it’s worth looking up each school individually to learn more.

Look for Schools That Fit Your Values

This is a trickier factor to evaluate—at least at first glance. Different medical schools are known for producing different kinds of doctors. Some produce doctors who focus more on administrative leadership than clinical practice. Some are more involved with research—either biomedical science or public health. Others still are dedicated to reducing healthcare disparities within specific populations.

Taking the time to look up each school’s mission and values statements will help you understand whether your future career goals—and current academic record—match up with the kinds of doctors they want to produce. This article from offers a handy “translation” of the common types of language you may see in a medical school mission statement, and what that means for how you should tailor your application. 

Pick a Range of Safety, Target, and Reach Schools

As you narrow down your list, spread your bets by choosing a mix of safety, target, and reach schools. If you’re unclear about what that means, here’s a rough guide:

  • Safety: Your GPA and/or MCAT are about 0.3 (GPA) or 3 points (MCAT) higher than the median for the school’s most recent MD class.
  • Target: Your GPA and MCAT both basically match the median scores for the school’s most recent MD class.
  • Reach: Your GPA and/or MCAT are about 0.3 (GPA) or 3 points (MCAT) lower than the median scores for the school’s most recent MD class. 

Choose mostly target schools. If you were applying to 20 schools, for example, you might choose five safety schools, 10 target schools, and five reach schools.

Seek Outside Advice

Picking schools is tough. If you get stuck, don’t hesitate to seek guidance from mentors, advisors, and current medical students, if possible. They may have a better understanding of what each school is like and will be happy to help guide you toward a list of schools that fit your achievements and goals.

If you’re not currently in college, this is another place where a post-bacc program can come in handy. Formal post-bacc programs will offer advising services throughout the duration of the program to help you tailor your list. And, because post-bacc programs tend to have smaller class sizes than general pre-health advising teams, you may be able to receive more detailed feedback and support. Good luck!

In conclusion, choosing the right medical schools to apply to requires thoughtful research, self-assessment, and strategic planning. By considering factors such as location, curriculum, fit, and personal aspirations, you can identify institutions that align with your goals and increase your chances of securing acceptance. Remember to seek guidance, stay organized, and approach the process with confidence and determination. Best of luck on your journey to medical school!

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