How Many Medical Schools Should You Apply To?

Renee Marinelli, M.D.

You've entered your work and activities, and the personal statement has been perfected; however, one of the last and possibly one of the most important parts of your medical school application has to be completed: the school list.

With more than 150 accredited allopathic medical schools in the U.S., applicants have to make the difficult decision on how many schools to apply to while also considering where they would be the best fit. According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, there was an average of 16 applications per applicant for the 2018-2019 cycle.

In addition, if an applicant doesn't apply to the right schools, then the chances for acceptance can significantly decrease. Unlike applying to undergraduate institutions, the overall acceptance rate for medical school is about 40%, with some schools accepting only about 1% of those who apply.

[Read: 10 Medical Schools With the Lowest Acceptance Rates.]

Instead of choosing where they want to go, applicants are often at the whim of the strength of their application and where they subsequently get accepted. Given the excessive competitiveness of medical school admissions, a common answer among applicants when asked what school they would like to attend is, "Wherever will take me!"

Here are key factors that applicants should consider when drafting their list and considering how many medical schools to apply to:

-- Competitiveness.

-- State of residence.

-- Costs and secondary applications.

Competitiveness. Likely the most important factor to consider is whether you are competitive at a particular medical school.

There are several variables to consider here, but the most relevant is your MCAT score and GPA. Each school produces statistics regarding their median accepted MCAT and GPA, which can be found in the MSAR, or Medical School Admission Requirements online database.

[Read: 5 Factors to Build a Medical School Application List.]

Where do your MCAT and GPA fit with their median numbers? Your numbers should be considered across a continuum of their averages, and to be truly successful, you should aim for schools where you are within a couple of points of their averages.

Although there is no perfect cutoff, if you apply to a medical school with a median MCAT of 520 and your score is a 510, you are putting yourself against difficult odds for acceptance.

The bottom line: Construct your school list with most schools being right in the range of your MCAT score and GPA.

State of residence. Many medical schools give admission preference for residents of their state, mostly because these schools receive state education funding and thus seek to train future physicians who will practice and serve the area.

The number of out-of-state students varies by each medical school, but in general, an applicant should apply to all of the schools in their home state and begin selecting other schools with a strong consideration of their acceptance rate for out-of-state students.

Similar to the average GPA and MCAT, there is no perfect number, but you want to select schools that take a significant amount of out-of-state students.

The bottom line: Apply to your state schools, and then add others that accept a large amount of out-of-state students.


[Read: What to Consider Before Applying to Medical School.]

Costs and secondary applications. Applicants often ask why they can't apply to every school, and the reasons include costs and secondary applications.

For example, submitting a primary application via the American Medical College Application Service, or AMCAS, costs $170, which includes one medical school designation. Each additional school costs $40 each. Following this, most schools require a secondary application that usually costs an additional $50 to 100 per school.

And if the cost is not a concern, the secondary applications contain a varying amount of essays requirements that can be difficult and significantly time-consuming to complete.

Realistically, an applicant can't feasibly apply to every medical school, and usually the maximum amount of schools for which an applicant can still complete secondaries in a meaningful manner is about 50. However, the median number of secondary applications completed is 15, according to the AAMC. But again, with the competitiveness of admissions, you should consider increasing this number to raise your chances. Depending on how strong your application is, you can apply to more or fewer schools to appropriately position yourself for an acceptance.

The bottom line: Make sure you apply to schools for which you will realistically be able to complete secondaries.

Determining how many medical schools to apply to is a very big factor in your overall success as an applicant. Take some time to critically analyze your competitiveness and how you truly fit at a school. Doing this will ensure that you maximize your chances while feasibly completing the others aspects of the application.