Applying to Medical School

How To Decide The Right Medical Schools to Apply To

Applying to the right medical schools will have a direct impact on whether you get accepted into any school at all. You’ll need to strike a balance between your wants and needs. While only one acceptance from an admissions committee is required, you likely have an idea of a specific school you’d prefer over others.

So how do you decide?

In this guide, we cover the factors you’ll need to consider when faced with the ultimate question: How do I choose which medical schools to apply to?

To find out the answer, just keep reading. 

Recommended: Medical School Application Consultant

How many medical schools should I apply to?

Deciding how many medical schools to apply to depends on a number of factors, like your financial situation and competitive standing. Typically we recommend students apply to 20 to 30 schools, but for some students it may even extend beyond that number. 

Is applying to 25 medical schools enough? Applying to 25 medical schools is right in the middle of our recommended 20 to 30 schools range; it’s likely to be enough if you follow our advice on how to select the right schools.

Let’s dive in.

Consideration Factors When Creating a Medical School List

Deciding which medical school to attend is one of the most important decisions of your early career. But you don’t need to go into the application process blindly. 

How do medical schools choose applicants? Medical schools choose applicants by first assessing if the medical student has the hard skills and qualifications necessary to matriculate, like high a GPA and MCAT score, appropriate undergraduate coursework, and extracurricular activities. Once a premed candidate meets that criteria, they’re invited to a medical school interview to assess for personality and character fit aligned with the school.

How do you choose which medical schools to apply to? To choose which medical schools to apply to, you’ll need to consider a number of factors like location, financial aid, your competitive standing, interests and learning preferences. But that’s not all — find out more in the details below. 

Read Next: A Guide To Medical Schools That Don’t Require The MCAT

Competitive Standing

Competitiveness is by far the most important aspect to consider when creating your medical school list. Look at the median GPA and MCAT score of the matriculants of the school you want to apply to and see how you compare to them. Note that MCAT score percentile ranks change every year, so it’s worth finding out where you stand among other potential applicants.

One of the best ways to do that is by using ProspectiveDoctor’s Chance Predictor. Our chance predictor will help you decide whether certain schools are far reach, reach, target, undershoot, or far undershoot. Consult our Chance Predictor FAQ to learn more.

The Association of American Medical College’s (AAMC) Medical School Admission Requirements (MSAR) tool is also a great way to learn about each school.

You’ll also want to look at the acceptance rates when assessing whether you’ll be able to get into medical school there. But don’t be afraid to apply to a few reach schools!

|| Read more: Med School Admissions Consulting


Four years may not seem like a significant amount of time, but when it comes to your quality of life and happiness, where you live really makes a difference. Keep in mind — many students do their residencies in the same state they went to medical school. Also note that out-of-state applicants may find it tough to get into some schools.

||Read: Top 10 Out-of-State Friendly Public Medical Schools||


Medical school is expensive. If you don’t get any financial aid, you may be in tremendous debt when you graduate. The price of each school’s tuition and the related cost of living is very important.

Should you go to a less expensive state school over a more prestigious private school? Are you opting for in-state tuition where you’re a state resident? Are the schools you are applying to incredibly expensive?

The tuition differences may not seem too big, but they add up after four years (plus interest).

||Read: Private Medical Schools That Offer the Most Financial Aid||

Medical School Matching

Medical school applicants should aim to go to a school where students match well. And schools give statistics about their match rates. Although they are somewhat biased, the match rate statistics are worth checking. 

If you want to do your residency program in a certain city or state, take a look at each school’s match list and see if students match to those areas. If there is a specialty you want to study, look for medical schools that match a lot of students into that specialty. Put yourself in the best position to get the residency you want. 

Learning Preferences

Although all medical schools have to adhere to a national standard, every school teaches differently. Look at each school’s curriculum and see how they teach. Some schools may emphasize small group learning. Other schools may be more focused on lectures. Differences in the quality of facilities may affect your education. If you know how you learn best, it is good to apply to schools that play to your strengths.

Grading System

Medical schools have different grading systems. Some are true pass/fail for the first two years, others are honors, high pass, pass, low pass (essentially a letter grade system), while others use letter grade systems. Some schools have internal rankings. Others don’t publish them, but they do have a general understanding of where you fall in the overall class. 

Deciding what is important to you can help you determine which medical school is best for you. Are you someone who thrives in an environment that doesn’t have grades? Or do you need to drive yourself to study by being held more accountable. While some schools have P/F in years 1 and 2, most schools have some distinction system in the clinical years. It’s what helps schools differentiate applicants in the Dean’s Letter and, eventually, for residency slots. A school with a pass/fail system can be less cutthroat, but not always. Some of the best schools in the country (ie most competitive) are pass/fail in their first year because they know they’ve admitted a student of high enough caliber that they shouldn’t be overwhelmed by the coursework.

Do medical schools accept previous pass/fail coursework? If you’re concerned about whether medical schools will accept your previous pass/fail coursework, the AMCAS has us resting assured. Premed students complete their prerequisite coursework over multiple years so medical schools can obtain a nearly clear picture of an applicant’s capabilities despite one or two COVID inspired pass-fail semesters. Your letter-graded coursework will prevail and be calculated in your AMCAS GPA.

Special Interests

Schools have different strengths. Some, like Harvard, may have more research funding and resources, while others focus more on primary care. Various programs will enable you to pursue special interests such as global medicine, primary care, research in a particular area, business interests, specific medical specialities and more.

If you want to pursue primary care, look at schools that have a strong emphasis on primary care clinical rotations. If you are interested in a research career, you may want to look at schools that offer MD/PhD dual degrees or schools that have programs to empower students to pursue research endeavors alongside their MD programming. If business and medical administration is your thing, consider programs that have MD/MBAs.

Note: You may not want to disclose exactly the speciality you want to go into, unless you are very sure and have good reason to. Shadowing specific specialties before medical school can give you an idea of the kind of work you want to do, but be aware that you’ll learn a lot more in med school — it can be a turn-off for admissions teams if you’re unwilling to consider more than one specialty as most pre-medical students don’t have an in-depth understanding before medical school.

School Vision and Mission

Schools generally have similar vision and mission statements. Nevertheless, there are subtle differences between each school that may make a difference. Carefully read what each school is about and see if they resonate with you and your health care stance. As a bonus, knowing each school’s mission can inform your approach to essays in secondary applications.

Get Help From the Experts

If you’re looking for more medical school admission’s help, take advantage of our free advising consultations with our expert staff. 

Edward Chang

Edward Chang is the Co-founder and Director of Operations of He graduated from the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and is currently a urology resident at the University of Washington. He also attended UCLA as an undergraduate, graduating with a major in Molecular, Cell, and Developmental Biology. If you are interested in contributing to, please contact him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @EdwardChangMD and Prospective Doctor @ProspectiveDr.

Related Articles

Back to top button