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How to Get into US Medical Schools?

ACAlpina ChariJan 30, 2024

US medical schools are among the most prestigious and sought-after institutions in the world. They have a long history of excellence, innovation, and diversity in medical education and research. According to the 2023 FACTS report, there were 154 accredited MD-granting institutions in the US, with a total of 94,243 enrolled students and 19,866 graduates. US medical schools offer a wide range of programs and specialties, from primary care to surgery, from pediatrics to geriatrics, and from public health to biomedical engineering. The most common specialties chosen by US medical school graduates in 2023 were internal medicine (23.4%), family medicine (12.5%), and pediatrics (10.6%). US medical schools attract thousands of international students annually, bringing their unique perspectives, experiences, and talents to enrich the learning environment and the health care system. In 2023, there were 1,975 international applicants and 484 international matriculants to US medical schools, representing 2.1% and 2.4% of the total applicant and matriculant pools, respectively. US medical schools also provide ample opportunities for graduates to pursue rewarding careers in various fields and settings, such as academia, industry, government, and non-profit organizations. The median annual salary for physicians and surgeons in the US was 208,000 USD in 2020, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The projected job growth for physicians and surgeons from 2020 to 2030 was 4%, faster than the average for all occupations.

However, getting into US medical schools is not easy. It requires a lot of preparation, dedication, and perseverance. The competition is fierce, the demand is high, and the quality of applicants is impressive. US medical schools have rigorous admission and eligibility requirements, which vary by school and program. Applicants need to demonstrate academic excellence, strong test scores, relevant extracurricular activities, research experience, letters of recommendation, and personal statements. Applicants also need to prepare for interviews, secondary applications, and other aspects of the application process. Applicants need to be aware of the different application systems, deadlines, and policies of each school they apply to.  Therefore, applying to US medical schools is a complex and challenging endeavor, but also a rewarding and fulfilling one. It requires careful planning, research, and self-reflection. 

In this article, we will provide a comprehensive guide on how to get into US medical schools, including eligibility requirements, documents required, tuition fees, and more. 

Medical Degree in the US

A medical degree in the US is a postgraduate qualification that allows one to practice medicine as a physician or surgeon. To pursue a medical degree in the US, one must first complete a four-year undergraduate degree, preferably with a major in a science-related field. The undergraduate degree should also include the required pre-medical courses, such as biology, chemistry, physics, and mathematics. 

There are two types of medical degrees in the US: the Doctor of Medicine (MD) and the Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO). Both degrees require four years of medical school, which consists of two years of basic sciences and two years of clinical rotations. The MD degree follows the allopathic approach to medicine, which focuses on the diagnosis and treatment of diseases using drugs, surgery, and other interventions. The DO degree follows the osteopathic approach to medicine, which emphasizes the holistic care of the patient and the role of the musculoskeletal system in health and disease. Both MDs and DOs can practice in any specialty and have similar rights and responsibilities.  After graduating from medical school, one must complete a residency program, which is a supervised training in a specific medical specialty. Residency programs vary in length and competitiveness, depending on the specialty. For example, family medicine requires three years of residency, while neurosurgery requires seven years. During residency, one must also pass the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) for MDs or the Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Examination (COMLEX) for DOs, which are the national exams that grant the license to practice medicine in the US. After residency, one may choose to pursue further training in a subspecialty through a fellowship program, which usually lasts one to three years. Alternatively, one may start working as an attending physician, which is the highest level of medical practice in the US.

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Top US Medical Schools 

The United States of America is home to some of the best medical schools in the world, offering quality education and cutting-edge research opportunities for aspiring doctors. According to various rankings, the top medical universities in the USA are   

Harvard University: Harvard Medical School is the oldest and most prestigious medical school in the country, founded in 1782. It has a reputation for excellence in biomedical research, clinical care, and medical education. Harvard Medical School has produced many Nobel laureates, MacArthur fellows, and leaders in medicine and science. It offers MD, PhD, and MD-PhD programs.

Johns Hopkins University: Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine is the first research-oriented medical school in the USA, established in 1893. It is known for its innovations in medical science, such as the discovery of restriction enzymes, the development of genetic engineering, and the creation of the first artificial human chromosome. It also has a strong tradition of clinical excellence, especially in fields such as neurology, oncology, and surgery. It offers MD, PhD, and MD-PhD programs.  

Stanford University: Stanford University School of Medicine is one of the leading medical schools in the world, founded in 1908. It is renowned for its interdisciplinary and translational research, which aims to bridge the gap between basic science and clinical practice. Stanford Medicine has made significant contributions to fields such as immunology, genetics, stem cell biology, and bioengineering.

University of Pennsylvania: University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine is the oldest medical school in the USA, founded in 1765. It is a pioneer in medical education, research, and innovation, with a focus on integrating knowledge across disciplines and domains. Penn Medicine has been at the forefront of discoveries such as the first successful heart-lung transplant, the first gene therapy trial, and the first CAR T-cell therapy for cancer. 

Columbia University: Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons is one of the top medical schools in the USA, founded in 1767. It is a leader in biomedical research, education, and patient care, with a mission to improve health and well-being locally and globally. Columbia Medicine has made breakthroughs in fields such as neuroscience, cardiology, infectious diseases, and precision medicine. 

These are some of the top medical universities in the USA, which offer world-class training and opportunities for aspiring doctors. They have a competitive admission process, which requires high academic performance, standardized test scores, letters of recommendation, personal statements, and interviews. They also have a high tuition cost, which can be offset by scholarships, grants, loans, and work-study programs. However, the benefits of attending these schools are immense, as they prepare students for successful careers in medicine and science.

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Eligibility for US Medical Schools 

The eligibility requirements for US medical schools vary depending on the specific school and program, but generally, they include the following:

  • A four-year bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution, preferably with a strong academic performance in the biological and physical sciences, as well as the humanities and social sciences.
  • A competitive score on the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT), which tests the applicant’s knowledge of basic science concepts, critical thinking skills, and problem-solving abilities.
  • Letters of recommendation from professors, mentors, or supervisors who can attest to the applicant’s academic potential, personal qualities, and suitability for medicine.
  • Relevant extracurricular activities, such as volunteer work, research experience, leadership roles, or clinical exposure, that demonstrate the applicant’s interest in medicine, commitment to service, and potential for contribution to the medical field.
  • A personal statement that reflects the applicants’ motivation for pursuing medicine, their personal background, their goals and aspirations, and their fit for the chosen medical school and program.
  • A secondary application that may include additional essays, short answer questions, or other information specific to the medical school and program.
  • An interview that evaluates the applicants’ communication skills, interpersonal skills, ethical reasoning, and readiness for the challenges and opportunities of medical school and medicine.

Some medical schools may have additional or different requirements, such as competency-based admissions, coursework prerequisites, or special programs for international students. Therefore, it is important to research the requirements of each medical school and program before applying.

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What is the MCAT?

The MCAT (Medical College Admission Test) is a standardized exam used for medical school admissions in the United States and Canada. It evaluates applicants’ understanding of natural, behavioral, and social sciences concepts and their critical thinking and scientific problem-solving skills required to begin the study of medicine.  The MCAT exam is a computer-based, multiple-choice test that consists of four sections: Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems; Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems; Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior; and Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills. The total testing time is about 6 hours and 15 minutes, and the exam is scored on a scale of 472 to 528.  The MCAT exam is offered multiple times a year, from January through March and again in September, at hundreds of test sites in the United States, Canada, and around the world. Candidates must register and schedule their MCAT exam on the official website of the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), which also provides various resources and practice products to help candidates prepare for the exam.

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Application and Admission Process for US Medical Schools

The application and admission process for US medical schools can be complex and lengthy. Here are some of the main steps involved:

Primary Application: The primary application is the first step in applying to medical schools. You can use the American Medical College Application Service (AMCAS) to apply to most US medical schools, except for public schools in Texas, which use the Texas Medical and Dental Schools Application Service (TMDSAS). The primary application consists of your personal information, academic record, MCAT score, work and activity experiences, letters of recommendation, and a personal statement. You should submit your primary application as early as possible, preferably in June or July of the year before you want to start medical school. 

Secondary Application: The secondary application is an additional school-specific application that you will receive after submitting your primary application. It usually includes more essays and questions that are tailored to the mission and goals of each medical school. You should complete and submit the secondary applications as soon as you receive them, usually within two weeks. The secondary application also requires an application fee, which varies by school. You can apply for fee assistance from the AAMC if you have financial need.

Interview: The interview is the final stage of the application process, where you will meet with faculty, students, and/or alumni of the medical schools that invite you. The interview can take place on or off campus and can be conducted in different formats, such as one-on-one, panel, or multiple mini-interview (MMI). The interview is an opportunity for you to demonstrate your interest, motivation, and fit for the medical school, as well as to learn more about the program and the campus. You should prepare for the interview by researching the school, reviewing your application, practicing common questions, and dressing professionally. 

Admission Decision: The admission decision is the outcome of your application process, which can be acceptance, rejection, or waitlist. You will receive the admission decision from each medical school between October and March of the year you plan to start medical school. If you are accepted to more than one school, you will have to choose one and withdraw your applications from the others by April 30. If you are waitlisted, you will have to wait until a spot becomes available, which can happen anytime until the start of the school year. You should keep in touch with the schools where you are waitlisted and update them on any changes in your application. 

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Documents Required 

The documents required for US medical schools vary depending on the specific school and program, but in general, international students need to provide the following:  

  • A statement of purpose that explains why they want to study medicine in the US and what their career goals are. 
  • Letters of recommendation from professors, mentors, or employers who can attest to their academic and personal qualities.
  • A criminal background verification that shows they have no history of misconduct or legal issues. 
  • A curriculum vitae (CV) that highlights their education, achievements, research, publications, extracurricular activities, and work experience. 
  • AMCAS/AACOMAS Application 
  • Secondary Applications
  • An evaluation of foreign transcripts by an accredited agency that verifies their academic credentials and converts their grades to the US system. 
  • A high school certificate that proves they have completed their secondary education. 
  • A TOEFL or IELTS score that demonstrates their proficiency in English. The minimum score required may vary by school but typically ranges from 90 to 100 for TOEFL, and 6.0 to 7.5 for IELTS. 
  • An undergraduate degree in the science stream with a minimum 3.0 GPA that covers the prerequisite courses for medical school, such as biology, chemistry, physics, and mathematics. 
  • An MCAT score that reflects their aptitude and knowledge for medical studies. 

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Application Deadlines and Fees

Application deadlines vary by individual medical school, but most of them use one of the following centralized application services:  

AMCAS: This is the primary application service for most medical schools in the United States, except for public medical schools in Texas. Applicants can use the AMCAS Medical Schools and Deadlines search tool to find the deadlines for each participating school. The AMCAS application typically opens in early May and closes in late October or early November, depending on the school. However, applicants are advised to submit their application as early as possible, as many schools have rolling admissions. The primary application fee is 175 USD, which includes one medical school designation. Each additional school designation is 45 USD. If you qualify for the AAMC Fee Assistance Program, you will receive a waiver for up to 16 medical schools, reduced MCAT registration fees, and other benefits.

TMDSAS (Texas Medical and Dental Schools Application Service): This is the primary application service for public medical schools in Texas. The TMDSAS application opens in early May and closes in late September or early October, depending on the school. The primary application fee is 215 USD, regardless of the number of schools you apply to. 14 public medical schools in Texas participate in TMDSAS. 

Some medical schools may not participate in any centralized application service, and applicants will need to apply directly to them. The list of non-participating schools can be found on the AMCAS website.  After submitting your primary application, you may receive secondary applications from individual medical schools. These are school-specific applications that ask you to provide more information about your interest in that particular school, your goals, experiences, and plans. Secondary applications usually have their own deadlines, which vary by school. The fees for secondary applications vary by school, but they usually range from 50 USD to 150 USD. The average fee is 85 USD, according to the AAMC.

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In conclusion, getting into US medical schools is quite tough since the competition is fierce for some of the best medical education in the world. To succeed in this process, you need to properly evaluate all the requirements and thoroughly complete the admission procedures for each medical school you apply to. This involves researching the specific criteria and expectations of each school, such as the minimum GPA, MCAT score, letters of recommendation, essays, and interviews. You should also be aware of the application timeline and deadlines and plan ahead to submit your materials on time. Additionally, you need to demonstrate your interest and fit for each school, by highlighting your relevant experiences, achievements, and goals, and by expressing your enthusiasm and commitment to medicine. By doing so, you can increase your chances of getting accepted into your desired medical schools and pursuing your dream careers. For more information regarding how to get into US medical schools, contact our admission experts at Gyanberry. Book your free video call appointment now! 

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Frequently Asked Questions

Generally, applicants need a bachelor’s degree with prerequisite coursework in sciences, along with a competitive GPA and MCAT scores. Additionally, extracurricular activities, clinical experience, letters of recommendation, and a personal statement are crucial components. 

GPA and MCAT scores are crucial factors considered by admissions committees. While a high GPA demonstrates academic capability, a competitive MCAT score indicates proficiency in scientific concepts. However, these are just two aspects of a holistic application.

The interview process typically includes traditional one-on-one interviews, multiple-mini interviews (MMIs), or a combination of both. Be prepared to discuss your experiences, motivations, ethical dilemmas, and your understanding of current healthcare issues.

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