Getting into medical school is extremely competitive. In 2021, the average medical school acceptance rate was only 6.8% across MD programs in the United States. If you’re wondering why it’s so hard to get into medical school, there are several factors at play that contribute to incredibly low acceptance rates.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer: Medical school acceptance rates are so low because there are far more applicants than available seats, and schools can be very selective. Pre-med students need near perfect GPAs, high MCAT scores, extensive healthcare experiences, strong personal statements, glowing letters of recommendation, and more to be competitive applicants.

Limited Seats and Growing Applicant Pools

Medical schools have a limited number of seats

There are only 141 accredited MD-granting medical schools in the United States, and they have a finite number of seats in each entering class. On average, medical schools have about 145 seats per class.

With over 53,000 applicants vying for around 21,000 seats, acceptance rates have plummeted below 7% at some top schools.

Medical schools carefully consider their class size based on the number of residency positions available after graduation. Expanding class size without expanding residency spots would lead to a bottleneck. The number of federally funded residency positions has been capped by Congress since 1997.

Lifting this cap could allow medical schools to increase class sizes and improve access to medical education.

The number of applicants continues to increase

While medical school seats have remained steady, the applicant pool has exploded over the past decades. In 1970, there were only around 17,000 applicants. By 2019, over 52,000 people applied to medical school, over triple the 1970 figure!

Several factors contribute to rising applicant numbers:

  • Population growth – More college grads seeking medical careers
  • Pre-med culture becoming more popular
  • Advances in medicine make it an attractive field
  • International students coming to US for med school

With applicant numbers ballooning while seats remain fixed, acceptance rates have dropped dramatically. In 1996, acceptance rates exceeded 50% at half of US med schools. By 2019, rates dropped below 10% at over one-third of schools.

Lower acceptance rates make med school incredibly competitive. Applicants pursue every advantage – high test scores, research, clinical experience, etc. But limited seats mean many qualified applicants inevitably get rejected, driving down acceptance rates further.

Academic Requirements are High

One of the reasons why medical school acceptance rates are so low is because of the high academic requirements. Medical schools have strict standards in terms of GPA and MCAT scores, which can make it challenging for many applicants to meet the criteria.

High GPA expectations

Medical schools typically expect applicants to have a high GPA, as it serves as an indicator of academic excellence and the ability to handle the rigorous coursework in medical school. While each school may have different requirements, a GPA of 3.7 or higher is generally considered competitive for medical school admissions.

This high expectation for GPA can be a significant barrier for many aspiring medical students.

Top MCAT score expectations

The Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) is another crucial factor in medical school admissions. Medical schools place great importance on the MCAT scores as they assess an applicant’s knowledge and critical thinking skills in various science-related subjects.

A high MCAT score demonstrates a strong foundation in the sciences and increases the likelihood of being accepted into medical school. However, achieving a top MCAT score can be challenging, requiring extensive preparation and study.

In recent years, the competition for medical school acceptance has become even more fierce. The average MCAT score of accepted applicants has been steadily increasing, making it even more difficult for aspiring medical students to secure a spot in medical school.

According to data from the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), the average MCAT score for matriculants in 2020 was 511.5 out of 528.

Extensive Extracurricular Requirements

One of the reasons why medical school acceptance rates are so low is due to the extensive extracurricular requirements that applicants are expected to fulfill. These requirements are designed to ensure that aspiring medical students have gained valuable experiences and skills outside of the classroom, which are important for a career in medicine.

Clinical and volunteering experience

Medical schools highly value clinical and volunteering experience as it demonstrates an applicant’s commitment to serving others and their ability to work in a healthcare setting. Many medical schools require applicants to have a certain number of hours of hands-on patient care experience, such as volunteering at hospitals or clinics, shadowing doctors, or working as a medical assistant.

This experience allows applicants to gain a better understanding of the healthcare field and helps them develop important skills, such as communication and empathy, which are essential for being a successful doctor.

Research experience

Research experience is another important extracurricular requirement for medical school applicants. Medical schools value applicants who have participated in research projects as it demonstrates their ability to think critically, analyze data, and contribute to the advancement of medical knowledge.

Research experience can be gained through working in a laboratory, conducting independent research, or participating in research programs at universities or hospitals. Having research experience not only enhances an applicant’s chances of getting into medical school but also provides them with valuable skills that can be applied in a medical career.

Leadership experience

Medical schools also place a strong emphasis on leadership experience. They want to see that applicants have taken on leadership roles and have demonstrated the ability to effectively lead and collaborate with others.

This can be achieved through involvement in student organizations, clubs, or community service activities where applicants have had the opportunity to take charge, organize events, and work as part of a team.

Leadership experience showcases an applicant’s ability to take initiative, make decisions, and work well with others, all of which are important qualities for a future healthcare professional.

Subjective Factors Like Interviews and Essays

Competitive personal statements and essays

One of the subjective factors that contribute to the low acceptance rates in medical schools is the competitive nature of personal statements and essays. These written components are crucial in the application process as they give applicants the opportunity to showcase their unique qualities, experiences, and motivations for pursuing a career in medicine.

Medical schools receive an overwhelming number of applications each year, and the admissions committees have the challenging task of selecting the most qualified candidates. Therefore, it is essential for applicants to craft compelling and well-written personal statements and essays that stand out from the rest.

Applicants should take the time to reflect on their experiences and articulate how they have shaped their passion for medicine. A great personal statement not only demonstrates the applicant’s academic achievements and extracurricular activities but also reveals their personal growth, resilience, and compassion.

It should be a captivating story that captures the reader’s attention and leaves a lasting impression. The competition for limited spots in medical schools makes it necessary for applicants to put their best foot forward in their written materials.

Challenging medical school interviews

Another subjective factor that plays a significant role in the low acceptance rates is the challenging nature of medical school interviews. Once an applicant has successfully passed the initial screening based on their academic credentials and written materials, they are invited for an interview.

These interviews serve as an opportunity for the admissions committee to assess the applicant’s communication skills, critical thinking abilities, and overall suitability for a career in medicine.

Medical school interviews can take different formats, including traditional panel interviews, multiple mini-interviews (MMIs), or virtual interviews. Regardless of the format, the interviews can be intense and nerve-wracking for applicants.

They may be asked a variety of questions, ranging from situational and ethical dilemmas to their motivations for pursuing medicine and their strengths and weaknesses. The purpose of these interviews is to evaluate the applicant’s interpersonal skills, professionalism, and ability to handle high-pressure situations.

Applicants must prepare extensively for these interviews by researching common medical school interview questions, practicing their responses, and participating in mock interviews. Developing strong communication skills and demonstrating a genuine passion for medicine can significantly increase an applicant’s chances of success.

How to Improve Your Chances

Achieve a high GPA in a rigorous pre-med curriculum

One of the most important factors in getting accepted to medical school is maintaining a high GPA in a rigorous pre-med curriculum. Admissions committees place a strong emphasis on academic performance, as it demonstrates the ability to handle the challenging coursework of medical school.

To improve your chances, make sure to prioritize your studies, seek help when needed, and stay dedicated to your academic goals.

Score very competitively on the MCAT

The Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) is a standardized exam that assesses your knowledge of scientific concepts, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills. A high MCAT score can significantly improve your chances of getting accepted.

To achieve a competitive score, consider enrolling in a comprehensive MCAT preparation course, utilizing study resources, and practicing with sample exams. It’s also important to allocate enough time for studying and to maintain a consistent study schedule.

Obtain extensive clinical experience

Medical schools highly value applicants who have gained extensive clinical experience. This can be achieved through volunteering at hospitals or clinics, shadowing physicians, or working as a medical scribe.

Such experiences not only demonstrate your commitment to the field but also provide you with valuable insights into the medical profession. Additionally, they can help you develop important skills, such as patient interaction and teamwork.

Secure strong letters of recommendation

Letters of recommendation play a crucial role in the medical school application process as they provide insights into your character, work ethic, and potential as a future physician. Seek out recommenders who know you well and can speak to your abilities and qualities that make you a strong candidate for medical school.

It’s important to build strong relationships with professors, healthcare professionals, or supervisors who can vouch for your skills and dedication.

Write stellar application essays and secondaries

The application essays and secondary essays are your opportunity to showcase your unique experiences, motivations, and personal qualities. Take the time to reflect on your journey to medicine and craft compelling narratives that highlight your passion for healthcare and your potential contributions to the field.

Consider seeking feedback from trusted mentors, writing centers, or online resources to ensure your essays are well-written and impactful.

Prepare thoroughly for interviews

Medical school interviews are designed to assess your communication skills, professionalism, and fit for the institution. To prepare, practice common interview questions and formulate thoughtful responses.

Consider scheduling mock interviews with mentors or using online resources to simulate the interview experience. Additionally, research the school’s mission, curriculum, and extracurricular opportunities to demonstrate your interest and preparedness during the interview.

Apply broadly to increase your odds

Given the low acceptance rates at medical schools, it’s important to cast a wide net and apply to a range of programs. Consider applying to both allopathic (MD) and osteopathic (DO) medical schools, as well as schools with different selection criteria and geographic locations.

However, it’s crucial to ensure that the schools you apply to align with your personal and academic goals.


The bottom line is that medical school acceptance rates are incredibly low because of the combination of limited seats and skyrocketing numbers of highly competitive applicants. Admissions committees can afford to be extremely selective.

As a pre-med student, you need to go above and beyond in every aspect of your application to even have a chance at getting into medical school. Focus on stellar academics, MCAT performance, healthcare experiences, essays, interview skills, and more.

It’s challenging, but with dedication and perseverance, you can overcome the long odds and achieve your dream of becoming a doctor.

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