How Many Medical Schools Should I Apply To? (Simple Guide)

Let’s not sugar coat it, getting into medical school is hard. According to the AAMC, during the 2020-2021 admission cycle there were 906,588 applicants and only 22,239 matriculates into medical school! Does this mean about 2.5% of students get in? Don’t worry, it’s not that bad. Most premed students apply to more than one school and these stats are showing the number of applicants per school. So how many Medical schools should you apply to give you some better odds? 

Let me start out by telling you this: There is no magic number of medical schools to apply to in order to get in. 

Okay, but it would stand to reason that the more schools you apply to the better chances you have of being accepted, right?

Well, not necessarily. You can hurt your applications overall by filling out too many applications. Not because medical schools can see how many schools you are applying to but because the more applications you submit the lower quality each one will be.

Nonetheless, you still want to know how many medical schools you should apply to. Don’t worry, I’ll still walk you through the steps to answering your question. But it’s not as simple as giving you a specific number. Your situation is unique so the number of schools you apply to is unique. 

Be Strategic When Deciding How Many Medical Schools To Apply To

chess checkmate

Many premed students are tempted to apply to as many schools as possible to maximize the chances of getting in somewhere. The age-old question: “Where do you want to go to medical school?” With the classic answer: “The school that accepts me.” 

We just want to get in somewhere so that we can one day become a physician. 

But be careful with how many medical schools you apply to. Medical school applications can not only become very expensive but they can suck up all your time. Trust me, medical school applications always take way more time than you think.

The result? Neglecting applications. Even the most hard working premed students fall victim to this. 

Therefore, it is better to apply to fewer schools with a much more strategic laser focus. 

Analyze what each school is looking for. What is the average GPA? What is the average MCAT? Do they prioritize research? Do they prioritize healthcare experience? These are the kinds of questions you should be asking in order to see how competitive you are for each school. Then you can focus on applying to fewer schools that you are really qualified for. 

The last thing you want to do is spend less time and effort writing a secondary essay to a school that you have a really good chance of getting into because you are trying to cram in as many schools as possible. 

How The Location Of A Medical School Impacts Your Odds of Getting In

Some areas are going to be harder to get into simply because they receive a proportionally higher amount of applications than others. Locations like California and New York receive the most applications so you really want to branch out. 

Medical Schools almost always prefer in-state applicants. This is primarily due to the fact that medical schools are trying to find students who are more likely to stay close by afterward and improve their healthcare. 

Not every state is equal when it comes to the number of medical schools available. Some states, like Texas and California, in particular, have a bunch of medical schools to apply to. Others might only have 1 or 2 and some might not have any! 

If you live in a state without any medical schools, look at bordering states. Usually, these states will include the state without a medical school into the in-state equation. 

Look At Each Medical School’s Mission Statement

Medical School Mission Statement

When trying to be strategic about where you apply to medical school instead of simply applying to as many as possible, we want to also limit ourselves to schools with mission statements that align with our strengths, values, and priorities. 

Is their mission to support rural areas or underserved areas? If so, does your application indicate that you want to ultimately practice in a rural area? Did you grow up somewhere rural or volunteer in rural communities?

Is the school you are applying to research focused? If so, how much research experience do you have? Are you part of any publications?

In general, does your extracurriculars line up with their mission statement? 

Make Sure You Consider Medical School Costs

It’s easy to disregard the cost of attending medical school. If you are making hundreds of thousands of dollars as a physician, why does it matter that you took out an extra $100K loan? 

Well, the reality is that debt can be crippling no matter what your income class is. Especially if things don’t pan out the way you think they will. Debt makes you a slave to the lender. 

Public Medical Schools have a much lower in-state vs out-of-state tuition. For example, Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center Medical School tuition cost for Texas residents is $17,421 vs $30,521 for out-of-state students. 

Tuition is not the only factor, some cities are much more expensive to live in than others. If you are going to medical school at UCLA you can expect to pay much more on living expenses than if you went to Texas Tech. 

So, How Many Medical Schools Should I Apply To?

The average number of medical schools that students apply to is 16. But keep in mind that everyone’s situation is different. 

Also, depending on the strength of your application, there will be schools which you have a realistic chance of getting into and then there are your reach schools which you are well below average for but want to consider anyway.

You want to make sure you are truly focused on your realistic schools instead of just your reach schools. 

I challenge you to reduce the number of schools you apply to below the average of 16. Shoot for 10-12. Instead of looking for medical schools to add, look for medical schools to cut from your application. 

You want to change your attitude from spray and pray to laser focused sniper. 

You see, when you are eliminating schools from your list, you are spending less time working on applications to medical schools you have a very little chance of getting into and more time figuring out which schools align better with your personality, application, and stats. 

When applying to fewer schools, you need to make sure you are hitting each application out of the park with quality. 

How Many Medical Schools Should I Apply To With A Low GPA or MCAT Score?

How Many Medical Schools Should I Apply To With A Low GPA or MCAT Score?

The general rule of thumb is that the lower your GPA or MCAT score you have, the more medical schools you want to apply to. 

Earlier I mentioned that the average number of medical schools a premed student applies to is 16. And we recommend you become a little more purposeful and shoot for 10-12. However, with a lower GPA or MCAT, you may want to consider increasing that number to at least the average of 16, maybe even 20.

It’s going to be very expensive to apply to that many medical schools but with lower stats, you need to increase the odds that your application is going to get noticed by the administration team. 

Keep in mind that if your GPA and MCAT are below average, you need to make sure your extracurriculars really shine. Applying to a ton of medical schools alone can’t compensate for a lousy application. 

If you feel that overall there is a lot of room for improvement, consider doing a gap year to boost your GPA, MCAT score, or extracurricular experiences

Step By Step Guide For Building Your List Of Medical Schools To Apply To

how many medical schools should i apply to

Step 1: Use MSAR data to come up with 20-40 schools based on GPA and MCAT

Find some reach schools, target schools, and safety schools. About 20% should be reach, 40% target, and 40% safety. Your reach schools will have a higher average than your GPA and MCAT, your target schools will more or less have the same median GPA and MCAT as you, and your safety schools will have a lower median GPA and MCAT than yours. 

Step 2: Eliminate medical schools based on their mission statement and the extracurriculars they favor

In step 2 we want to start eliminating schools in order to obtain a more practical number. Start by reviewing the extracurriculars each medical school tends to prefer using the MSAR’s data on extracurriculars. Does it more or less coincide with the kind of extracurriculars you have been doing?

Then analyze each school’s mission statement. Does it coincide with your situation, values, and application? For example, some medical school’s mission statement focuses on serving underserved hospitals in rural communities. This means that they will be partial to students who have grown up in rural communities, volunteered in rural communities, or have a very strong personal statement that outlines their desire to help out an underserved medical community. 

Step 3: Eliminate schools based on preference and location. 

Finally, if you still have too many schools (more than 10-12), eliminate schools based on your own preferences and location. Is it located somewhere you would want to live? What is the cost of attendance going to be? Do you like their program?

In general, if you aren’t excited to attend a specific medical school based on some kind of preference, your application will suffer because it’s hard to fake enthusiasm. 

How Many Osteopathic Medical Schools Should I Apply To?

If your GPA or MCAT scores are on the lower end, you should highly consider applying to DO (Doctor of Osteopathy) programs. Especially if the alternative is applying to 30+ MD programs so that you can get in.

If your mindset is to apply to an insane amount of MD medical schools to increase your odds of getting in with a subpar GPA or MCAT score, you probably won’t get in and you will waste a ton of money. 

It’s better to apply to fewer schools and adding DO. Schools into the mix. If you are avoiding applying to DO medical schools because someone told you that DO’s are seen as inferior doctors. Guess what, nobody in the real world cares at all if you are an MD doctor or a DO doctor. They just see you as “Doctor.”

Just get into medical school and begin an amazing career as a physician. Don’t let silly prejudices keep you from doing that!

I would recommend applying to roughly half DO and half MD schools and increasing the number of applications to about 16. 


After reading this article, I hope you can see that more medical school applications doesn’t necessarily mean better. In the past, I have been advised to apply to as many schools as possible, and I can tell you from personal experience that this was a bad idea! My secondaries suffered tremendously, I made the bold choice earlier on to cut schools out from my application mid-cycle and only focus on the schools I had done the proper research on. 

I believe this choice helped me ultimately get into medical school.

This doesn’t mean you should only apply to a few schools! You still want to apply to at least 10-12 and trust me this is still going to be a lot of work. This number is a very happy medium between too many schools and too few schools.  

Good luck out there! If you made it this far you should be congratulating yourself. Being a premed student is a difficult vocation. Most premeds give up early on. But if you have finally reached the application process, you are in a really good position for lifelong success!


Can Medical Schools See How Many Schools You Apply To?

No, they won’t. They only see that you applied to that specific school.

How Many Medical Schools Should I Apply To In California?

Medical schools in California have a very low acceptance rate due to the fact that California medical schools are very desirable and attract a lot of applicants. 

If you are a competitive application and your goal is to be in California, you should consider applying to all of them. If your application is not that competitive, I would only include California medical schools as reach schools. Be open to going elsewhere if becoming a physician is truly your goal. 

How Many Medical Schools Should I Apply To With A 520 MCAT?

A 520 MCAT score is great! I recommend sticking to the recommended 10-12 medical schools. 

What percentage of Premeds get into med school?

According to the AAMC, in 2020-2021 there were 53,030 applicants and 22,239 matriculants. This means roughly 42% of medical school applicants get in. But keep in mind, students reapply to medical school all the time. It is very difficult to know exactly how many premed students get into medical school eventually.

In my opinion, it is all up to you. How motivated are you to get in? Would you apply to medical school 4 times if it meant getting in? This is exactly what my good friend in my post bacc program did. He applied 4 times and finally got in. Now he’s studying to be a physician.

You can increase your chances of getting into medical schools to 100% with enough determination. 

Is It Bad To Apply To Medical School Twice?

Not at all! Re-applicants get in all the time. Heck, I applied to medical school twice before getting in. I made a lot of mistakes on my first application, but I fixed these mistakes and ultimately got in!

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