Strategies for International Students Applying to U.S. Medical Schools



It is no secret that American medical schools are highly competitive. Applicants are expected to have stellar GPA’s, high MCAT scores, and various extracurricular activities just to be considered for an interview. According to the AAMC, the average GPA of accepted applicants for the 2017-2018 cycle was 3.71 (3.64 science, 3.79 non-science); the average MCAT score was 510.4.

These numbers highlight how competitive the application process has become. For international students (those who are not US citizens) seeking acceptance at a US medical school, the challenge is greater.

It is crucial to note that international students are divided into those who completed undergrad in the US and those who completed it abroad. These two subsets of international applicants will have to approach the academic portion of the application slightly differently. Stay tuned for more on this below.

The Numbers

According to the AAMC, in 2014  409 of 1901 foreign applicants were accepted to US medical schools. Of those accepted, 300 matriculated into a US medical school. 

This translates to an acceptance rate of 21% for foreign applicants, compared to the overall acceptance rate of 40% for all applicants. It is about twice as hard to get accepted, but still 1 in 5 international applicants is able to do so. These are not the worst odds. It is certainly possible. 

So how do you ensure you are that 1 in 5? Here are the key tips and strategies for international students to achieve success when applying to US medical schools. 

1 | Complete Premedical Coursework at a US Institution

As mentioned above, some international applicants will have completed undergrad in the US, but others may have attended college abroad. AMCAS allows applicants to enter international coursework, with the caveat that it will not be verified by AMCAS and the applicant will not have a GPA calculated based on those grades.

Almost all medical schools that admit international students require at least one year of completed coursework at an accredited U.S. institution. Many schools require completion of all premed prerequisites in the US.

If possible, complete some coursework in the sciences at a US undergraduate institution prior to application. This will significantly strengthen your application and go a long way for your chances. 

2 | Consider Additional Research

Some international students will not have as much US coursework as students who completed undergrad in the states. This is a reality they cannot escape. One way to overcome this possible disadvantage is to strengthen the non-academic parts of the application.

A great strategy for achieving this is completing more research. Consider taking a year to work in a lab and perform additional research. This inherently strengthens your experience and therefore your application. It can also yield publications, which are additional, objective metrics of quality as an applicant. They could potentially outweigh some deficiencies in undergraduate coursework.

3 | Research Schools and Plan Accordingly

Not all US medical schools accept international students. Therefore, at the outset there is a shorter list of potential schools to apply to. Again according to the AAMC, in 2014 62 MD schools reported that they accept international applications. Each school is different and it is imperative that you check individual admissions websites to view policies regarding international applicants, coursework requirements, etc. 

AAMC quote schools accepting international applications

4 | Sell Your Uniqueness

Medical school admissions officers look for well-rounded applicants who will contribute to their school’s diversity. Remember that you do have a unique story and background which can make you stand out from the rest of the crowd.

In your application and personal statement, focus on these aspects of your background and the unique experiences you have from living in another country. Weave a story about how these experiences set you apart from the everyday applicant and make you a stronger candidate for medical school. The Med School Insiders personal statement editing services can help you effectively create this narrative and fine-tune your essay. 

5 | Create a Financial Plan for Medical School

Medical school is an expensive endeavor. The average cost of attending a 4 year program can range from $160,000 to $240,000. One of the biggest challenges for international students is that they generally do not qualify for US financial aid.

It is imperative to take into account long term goals after medical school, as many students pay off their debt while in residency and beyond. Consider alternate options. For instance, some institutions offer school-specific loan programs. Additionally, some major banks offer private student loans to international applicants, generally if they have an American co-signer.

The key is to intelligently evaluate the available options and have a plan in place prior to starting school.

6 | Consider MD/PhD Programs

Some medical schools offer combined MD/PhD programs. These are often fully funded. The general consensus is that this is a great option for international students as it makes paying for school much more feasible. It should be noted that these programs are highly competitive and will certainly require the applicant to have significant research experience.

A list of institutions offering these programs can be accessed via the Medical Scientist Training Program website sponsored by the National Institutes of Health.

7 | Above All, Make Yourself a Competitive Applicant

This is very obvious, but it really is the key to the whole process.

Achieve high grades in your premedical coursework. Study diligently for the MCAT and secure a competitive score. You may need to score higher than the normal matriculant average of 510, as the process is more competitive for international applicants. Perform research, work at a hospital or clinic, and pursue other volunteer and extracurricular opportunities. Make sure that there are no gaps in your application.

The Med School Insiders general advising service can be particularly useful to international applicants for strategically planning the experiences necessary for a strong application. Our team of experts can also help you with in-depth application review to provide edits, feedback, and guidance which will maximize the quality of your application. 

For the international student, the medical school application process can be daunting. Understand that the process is a bit more difficult than for international students, but success is certainly possible. Work diligently, stay pro-active, have fun, and trust the process!


This Post Has One Comment

  1. Tarak

    Having a bachelors from India, if one completes all the premed courseware from the US, will she/he be allowed to take mcat and apply to med schools?

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