Should I Apply to Osteopathic (DO) Med Schools as a Backup?


Are you worried you don’t have a high enough GPA or MCAT score to get into the medical schools you applied to? Have you heard people talk about it being easier to get into osteopathic (DO) schools? Should you include some DO schools as a backup plan?

The answer isn’t as cut and dried as you may think. Applying to become a DO could be looked at as a backup option in certain cases, but certainly not all. Becoming a DO is definitely not an “easy” option, and it shouldn’t be a backup option if you’re not interested in becoming an osteopathic doctor.

In this post, we break down all sides of this debate—when DO could be a backup option, the challenges of applying to DO schools, and when applying to DO schools is not a good fit for you.


1 | Do You Believe in Osteopathic Principles?

Two types of doctors practicing medicine - DO vs. MD

While allopathic doctors (MDs) and osteopathic doctors (DOs) are both in the business of healing people, they have a different philosophy surrounding medicine.

MDs take a more science-based (also called evidence-based) approach to medicine, using modern and mainstream strategies like surgery, radiation, and drugs. DOs, on the other hand, differentiate themselves by focusing on the person, not just their symptoms. Osteopathic medicine is about preventing illness and understanding the many connections between the different systems and organs in the body, as well as how they influence each other.

Osteopaths look beyond the physical symptoms of an illness or injury by considering the overall health of their patients. They are generally more proactive than MDs when it comes to the health of their patients, suggesting lifestyle changes and other preventative measures. They utilize a number of different hands-on techniques and manual medicine therapies, known as osteopathic manipulative medicine (OMM), to encourage healing and relieve pain.

There are four principles of osteopathic training and practice, also known as the tenets of osteopathic medicine. They have been approved as policy by the American Osteopathic Association House of Delegates.

  1. The body is a unit; the person is a unit of body, mind, and spirit.
  2. The body is capable of self-regulation, self-healing, and health maintenance.
  3. Structure and function are reciprocally interrelated.
  4. Rational treatment is based upon an understanding of the basic principles of body unity, self-regulation, and the interrelationship of structure and function.

If you agree with the above principles, like the sound of a more personalized and holistic approach to healthcare, and are already thinking about a future in primary care, becoming an osteopath may be right for you.

However, if you don’t agree with osteopathy, aren’t passionate about it, or have always dreamed of becoming a surgeon, osteopathy is not the right call. Your lack of interest or dislike for the profession will show throughout your essays and interviews, which means earning an acceptance will be difficult.

If you don’t agree with the tenets of osteopathy, you are better off taking another year or more to improve your MD application. What could you do in a year or more to enhance your research skills, extracurricular experience, MCAT score, or letters of recommendation?

This is a much better option than pursuing a path of medicine you don’t fully support or want to be a part of.

To learn more about the differences between these two paths, read our guide: MD vs. DO: Allopathic/Osteopathic Doctor and Med School Comparison.


2 | DO Schools Aren’t “Easy” to Get Into

While it’s true that DO schools have slightly lower GPA and MCAT cutoffs than MD schools, it does not mean they’re easy to get into. Do not think you’ll be able to slide right into an osteopathic school if you’re not accepted to MD schools.

DO schools are still very competitive and feature a similarly rigorous application process. They have personal statements, letters of recommendation, and a work and activities section called Experiences and Achievements. You’ll still need to put in all of that work.

Plus, in certain aspects of the application, you’ll have more to do. Osteopathic schools expect you to gain osteopathic experience and build relationships with osteopathic doctors and mentors for letters of recommendation, as at least one of your letters must be written by an osteopath.

You also have to craft a personal statement tailored to why you want to become an osteopathic doctor specifically. If you’re focusing on applying to MD schools and keeping DO schools as a backup, you won’t be able to use the same personal statement.

For more information, read our AACOMAS Personal Statement Guide.


3 | DO Schools Use a Different Application System

AACOMAS - doctor hands helping a patient

To apply to DO schools in addition to MD schools, you’ll have to use two separate application systems—AMCAS and AACOMAS. You’ll also need to pay the application fees for both of these services.

AACOMAS (The American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine Application Service) is the centralized online application service for colleges of osteopathic medicine in the United States and the primary application method for students pursuing osteopathic medicine.

Just like AMCAS, AACOMAS streamlines the process of applying to osteopathic medical schools, as students only have to submit one set of application materials, which AACOMAS verifies, processes, and submits to the osteopathic schools you choose. And just like AMCAS can’t send your application to osteopathic schools, AACOMAS can’t send your application to allopathic schools.

Because of the extra work and extra fees you’ll face applying through both services, it’s important to think long and hard about whether you want to become a medical doctor (MD) or an osteopath (DO)—especially if you’re treating osteopathy as your backup.

Trying to juggle both could make the quality of each of your applications suffer, reducing your chances of acceptance to both allopathic and osteopathic schools.


4 | DO Schools Can Put You at a Disadvantage for Residency Placements

If you are hoping to be accepted into a competitive residency, it will be harder as a DO.

This is partly because earning a DO isn’t as respected as earning an MD. It’s a frustrating reality for osteopaths, as osteopathic programs are just as rigorous and cover the same content as allopathic medical schools.

While unfortunate and potentially unfair, it still means your options will be more limited when it’s time to apply to residency. In some specialties, such as neurology or plastic surgery, it is near-impossible for DO students to successfully match.

However, if you are passionate about primary care and aren’t aiming for one of the top internal medicine programs, which are very competitive, being a DO as opposed to an MD will make less of a difference.


5 | In Certain Circumstances, DO Could Be a Backup Option

AACOMAS Osteopathic doctor holding patient hand

DO could be a backup in certain circumstances. For example, if your hard scores like GPA and MCAT are lacking and can’t be improved. Osteopathic schools have lower averages overall when it comes to these scores, but only by a few points. If your MCAT score is below 500, your chances at all schools, MD and DO, are going to be slim.

Average GPA and MCAT score for AACOMAS Matriculants:

AACOMAS Overall GPA Average: 3.54

AACOMAS MCAT Score Average: 504.31

Average GPA and MCAT score for AMCAS Matriculants:

AMCAS Overall GPA Average: 3.75

AMCAS MCAT Score Average: 511.90

However, if the problem is with your interview skills, DO interviewers will have the same issues with your performance as MD interviewers. If you interview poorly, even when it’s for something you are very passionate about, how will you convince the DO interviewing you that becoming an osteopath is your first and only choice?

Becoming a DO is a long and challenging process. Only choose to pursue this option if you are confident you’ll be happy at a DO school and with becoming an osteopath. In order to find this out, you need to do your research. Deeply consider the principles of osteopathy and the type of specialty you hope to pursue.

You must ask yourself if it’s better to become an osteopath as soon as possible or to take another year or more to improve your primary application and apply to MD schools.


6 | Pinpoint WHY You’re Looking for Backup Options

It’s important to ask yourself why you are looking for a backup option.

Is a low GPA or MCAT score making you nervous? In this case, a DO school could be a good fit; however, you also need to believe in the four tenets of osteopathy.

Are you thinking of applying to DO schools because you’re concerned your application isn’t ready, or are you worried you don’t have enough experience? If this is the case, using DO schools as a backup option is not a good choice. If you’re unprepared to apply to allopathic medical schools, you’re just as unprepared to apply to DO schools.

Is it a lack of confidence or imposter syndrome that’s making you second guess your already very solid application? If this is you, it’s important to seek out mentorship and unbiased feedback to get assurance and peace of mind.

Becoming an osteopathic doctor (DO) is not an easier path, but it may be a better path for you if you are interested in osteopathic medicine and concerned about the competitiveness of your GPA and MCAT scores. However, if you’re not interested in osteopathy and simply looking for an easier path into medicine, becoming a DO likely isn’t right for you.


Becoming an MD or DO

Whether you decide you want to pursue becoming an MD or a DO, know that both are extremely long and difficult journeys—but you don’t have to make them alone.

Our team of one-on-one advisers can help you determine the best path for you and help you get accepted at both allopathic and osteopathic medical schools, depending on what’s the best fit for you.

Our team is made up of DOs and MDs who have years of experience serving on both admissions committees, so you’ll receive key insights into the selection process. We can help with every aspect of your application, from MCAT tutoring to mock interviews to essay editing and everything in between.


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