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Which Medical Schools Should I Apply To? Narrowing Down Your Options

Dr. Lauryn Falcone and Dr. Taylor Purvis contributed to this post.

Applying to medical school can be an expensive and overwhelming process. With so many types of medical schools (MD, DO, state schools, private schools), how do you start to narrow down your options?

In order to make the process as straightforward and affordable as possible, it is important to consider where you will apply to medical school at the start of the application cycle. The following tips can help you get started with this process.

How many medical schools should I apply to?

In general, we recommend applying to 15-25 schools. It’s helpful to break these down into “target,” “safety,” and “reach” schools. It probably makes sense to you that the higher your MCAT score and grades, the fewer schools you need to apply to, and vice versa. It’s very important to have an appropriate balance of target, safety, and reach schools—applying to reach schools only can mean not matriculating and having to delay your cycle by another year.

As with anything, the number of schools that you should apply to differs for each applicant. Let’s assume that you apply to as many schools as possible. Some challenges with this approach are that it costs a lot of money, it takes substantial time and effort to return all of those secondary essays, and you will likely sacrifice the quality of your secondary essays by trying to churn out so many at once. But of course, it doesn’t help to apply to too few schools. Doing so makes it less likely that you’ll find and be admitted to an appropriate number of schools that are a good fit for you.

Can a med school see how many schools I’m applying to or where else I’ve applied?

The answer to both of these questions is no! Schools do not receive data regarding where else you apply.

How do I choose the med school programs that are best for me?

There are a number of important factors to consider when making your med school application list. We highly recommend making this list with the input of your undergraduate health career services advisor or a trusted faculty member. It can also help to run the list by older friends who have already matriculated at a medical school.

You’ll want to make a list that includes target, safety, and reach schools based on MSAR’s GPA and MCAT scores.

It is important to be realistic when applying to medical schools but also not sell yourself short. Students who fail to gain admission often are not realistic in their expectations.

Look at what the average MCAT and GPA scores are among matriculants at each institution. If your scores are below the statistics of matriculated students, consider that a reach school. It is okay to apply to a few reach schools, but students should be sure to apply to a sufficient number of schools where their scores are at least average to matriculants.

How do I narrow down my options?

Once you’ve made your long list of med school programs, narrow it down by thinking about the following:

Cost (include transportation, housing, tuition) & financial aid

State residency opportunities and restrictions

Location: Many students think that they should go to the “best” or highest-ranked school they can get into. But it is important to consider if you will be happy where you are living. For example, would you be okay with leaving your family and attending a school across the country, moving to a big city, or experiencing certain weather conditions? It is important to consider more than just school name when applying and interviewing at schools. Instead, make sure you apply to schools in areas you would actually enjoy living—you will be spending 4 years of your life there!

Extracurricular activities


Types of clinical settings you will be exposed to (rotations at multiple hospitals, community hospitals vs. academic hospitals)

Grading scheme (first two years graded vs. pass/fail, timing of Step exams)

In person vs. online lectures and school’s expectations for attendance


Research opportunities, NIH funding

Diversity of student population (percentage of underrepresented groups in medicine)


“Feel” of a school: At the end of the day, it’s important to find the place where you feel comfortable and friendly. Consider the environment of the school and if the current medical students seem happy. If you don’t feel like the school is a good fit at the interview, chances are you may be correct.

International clinical and research opportunities

Remember to involve your family in your med school application process. They will not only appreciate being included in your decisions, but they can offer you helpful insight into the process. Talking to those close to you can help you make decisions about where you want to go and may be happiest.

Additionally, many undergraduate colleges will have a database of alumni that you can contact to find out more about a particular medical school.

When should I start making my med school application list?

We recommend starting to make your first list of schools in March of your application year. Some of you may still be waiting to take your MCAT in April or May, which means you won’t have your MCAT score available to inform your application list. That’s okay—make a preliminary list and start gathering information. Once you have your MCAT score, add or delete schools as needed. You’ll want to have a good working list by the end of May.

We know that deciding where to apply for medical school is a stressful, intimidating process. We hope these tips help and remember: your tutor is always available to help you navigate this process!

Are there any online resources to help me make my med school application list?

Perhaps the most well known med school application resource that is offered through the AAMC is the Medical School Admission Requirements (MSAR) document. This is a product created by the AAMC available for purchase which contains information about medical schools in the U.S. and Canada that are accredited by the Liaison Committee on Medical Education.

Keep in mind that the MSAR publishes data for all accepted students, while some school websites might only publish data for matriculated students (hence there could be slight variation between these two sources). MSAR will allow you to compare up to 10 schools at a time, side-by-side.


In summary, applying to medical school can be a scary and daunting task. It is important to apply to a variety of schools, think about location, gather input from your family, and fit your fit. And always remember to always consider your happiness when making your final decision.