Getting Into Med School: How to Create a School List for AMCAS
As you start thinking about getting into med school and you prepare for the upcoming medical school application cycle, you should be thinking about which schools you will apply to. There are well over 100 accredited medical schools in the U.S. and Canada, but the average applicant applies to just 16 schools. How do you narrow down such a large potential list into one that is manageable and reflects your unique combination of strengths and interests? Here we will explain criteria to consider, resources for researching schools, and special considerations such as application fees and plummeting acceptance rates. Use this information to create your school list for the AMCAS as early as possible so that you know exactly which schools will be the audience for your applications.
Subscribe to MSAR
The Medical School Admission Requirements (MSAR) is a tool that the AAMC offers to help applicants navigate the complex world of medical school admissions. Specifically, it lists every LCME accredited U.S. and Canadian medical school and includes key data such as MCAT and GPA score averages and ranges, as well as information provided by the schools’ admissions offices. The MSAR costs only $28 for a one-year subscription and $38 for a two-year subscription. The two-year subscription is worth it if you are starting to create your school list early (highly recommended).
Calculate Your Budget
The application process for applying to and getting into med school is costly when considering primary and secondary application fees. The 2022 AMCAS fee is $170 for the first school and $42 for each subsequent school. Each school’s secondary application fee differs, but the average is approximately $100. Finally, most colleges charge a small fee to request an official transcript and transmit it to your AMCAS. Use your budget to determine the maximum number of schools you are comfortable selecting in your AMCAS. For many this number will be higher than 20, so remember that just because you can afford to apply to 40 schools, that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea.
Determine Your Ideal Number of Applications
After creating your budget, you should then determine how many schools you actually want to apply to. Getting into your dream med school is great, but you need to consider applying to more than one school and not put all of your eggs into one basket. This can be an expensive process. Start with the average of 16 and adjust from there as you see fit. Consider all of the secondary applications you will need to write and the potential number of interview invites you could receive. Given the competitiveness of today’s application climate, applying to fewer than ten schools is generally not recommended because this significantly lowers your odds of receiving at least one acceptance. However, submitting more than 20 is also discouraged for a few reasons. First, you will be burdened with secondary applications, most of which will come within a relatively short span of a few weeks. Submitting these in a timely fashion (typically within two weeks) is very important, so receiving too many risks either wasting some that you cannot complete or worse writing quality across all of them. Second, if you are thinking of applying to 40 schools, it is unlikely that you are passionate about all of them. It is far better to focus your efforts on your favorite schools that are likely the best fits rather than padding your list with “safety” schools that are not as exciting to you. Finally, submitting too many applications contributes to the arms race wherein all schools’ acceptance rates continue to decrease each year as the number of applications rises, creating a vicious cycle. Be respectful to your fellow applicants by applying to a reasonable number of schools that you would love to attend.
Develop Your Selection Criteria
Once you have taken these preliminary steps, it is time to develop the criteria you will use to select your schools. First, however, you must disregard the idea of “safety” and “reach” schools. These concepts may have applied to college applications, but this is no longer the case for getting into med school. The review process is more holistic and rigorous now; there are far fewer people applying to medical school than to college, so admissions committees have more time to carefully evaluate each applicant and their potential fit within your program. This fit is indeed where you should focus your efforts in researching schools and creating your selection criteria. Here is a suggested list of criteria to consider (prioritize each item as you see fit):
- Mission: do you agree with the medical, academic, and interpersonal goals set forth by the medical school?
- In-state vs. out-of-state acceptances: certain states and regions are heavily biased toward in-state students, whereas others recruit from across the country.
- Are the preclinical years graded or pass/fail?
- Are the preclinical years (including USMLE Step 1) a traditional full two years, or are they shortened to 18 months? Some accelerated programs do not include a summer break in between the first and second years.
- Is the basic science curriculum case-based, or centered on lectures?
- How much clinical exposure do you get during the preclinical years?
- What local hospitals are affiliated with the medical school and available to rotate with during clerkships?
- Are away rotations supported or encouraged?
- Cost of living
- Do you want to live there for four (or more) years?
- Your Competitiveness
- MCAT & GPA
- These scores are crucial and for many schools are the very first criteria they use to narrow down their applicant pool. Use the MSAR to assess your competitiveness and fit for schools based on measures of central tendency (mean & median) as well as the 10th and 25th percentile ranges.
- Community service
- Other accomplishments or experiences
- MCAT & GPA
Realize also that it is possible to be too competitive for a school. That is to say that schools strive for a high acceptance rate for their offers because this signals likeability to potential applicants. Therefore, schools typically only extend interview invites and acceptance offers to students whom they think are likely to accept. If your experiences and scores are far more impressive than those of the average current student or applicant, a school may think that you are likely to receive offers from more competitive programs and thus not extend an offer.
Our final piece of advice is to first look at the full list of schools on MSAR before deciding on a preliminary list that you will then be biased towards moving forward. There are so many medical schools graduating incredible doctors each year, and not all of them have the visibility or reputation they deserve based on the quality of the education they offer. Rankings matter to an extent, but they do not capture everything about a school. Do not prematurely discount certain schools only because they are not well known or highly regarded in your eyes; you might just discover a school in MSAR that you never considered before but could be an excellent fit for you. And there it is! Follow these steps, and with some diligent research, you will have a solid list of schools for the AMCAS that makes you excited to apply and learn more about them.