Applications to medical school are at an all-time high. In fact, the average rate of admissions for the 121 ranked medical schools (supplying data to U.S. News & World Report) was 6.5% over the last few years. One medical school – Kaiser Permanente’s Bernard J. Tyson School of Medicine in Pasadena – had an admit rate of 0.5%! Are you hoping to go to Harvard Med School? Only 3.3% were accepted for the 2021 – 2022 cycle.

These low admit rates often lead many prospective pre-meds to search for the best undergraduate college to provide the resources needed to be the most competitive applicant, but keep in mind that the rank and prestige of the university or college you attend is just one factor to consider. Instead, medical school admissions is comprised of many additional components:

  • required prerequisite courses (with a strong GPA)
  • MCAT score
  • research
  • clinical exposure
  • community involvement
  • letters of recommendation (LORs)
  • primary and secondary essays
  • interviews
  • CASPer/Computer-Based Assessment for Sampling Personal Characteristics

Consider the following advice to make a more informed decision about where to apply and ultimately enroll:

• Find a college or university that “fits” you. Don’t necessarily aim for the college with the highest-ranked biology department. Instead, find the learning environment that best suits you, as that will ultimately lead to a better GPA and stronger LORs.

Perhaps you thrive in smaller classes where you can interact regularly with the professors. Or maybe you will thrive in a large comprehensive research university with more course options and research labs in which to participate. In short, don’t pay too much attention to the rankings of individual departments, but instead find a school where you’ll thrive.

• Ensure you have access to the prerequisite courses. Med schools have set courses required for admission; therefore, if you are not selecting a traditional pre-med major, like biology, chemistry or bioengineering, ensure that you will have easy access to the required pre-med classes as an outside major.

Can you major in Linguistics, Near Eastern Studies or International Relations and still attend medical school? Absolutely. Just be sure to consult the college website or discuss with admissions officers prior to enrolling that you can take all the pre-med courses as your electives.

• Determine the access to clinical exposure. Selecting a college with a hospital system, or near a large system, is worth considering. Many med school applicants tell stories of being unable to find opportunities given the type or location of college attended. Browsing the pre-med websites of colleges will be a good indicator if that college offers a strong network for pre-meds.

• Seek out a supportive network. While many colleges have active pre-health communities, some colleges have stronger support networks than others. Look for colleges and universities with active Pre-Med clubs as well as chapters of AMSA/American Medical Student Association or Alpha Epsilon Delta, the Health Pre-Professional Honors Society. A vibrant pre-health community will ensure you are well connected to resources and peer support.

Human medicine, and similar health professions such as veterinary or dental medicine, is an exciting and rewarding field, but you’ll need to work hard and plan well in advance to achieve your goals.

About the author

Dani has a BA from University of California – Los Angeles, an MA from Columbia University, an MS from University of Pennsylvania and a D.Phil. from University of Cambridge. She has worked in graduate and/or medical admissions at Columbia University, University of Pennsylvania, University of Southern California, and University of California – Irvine.

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