It is more difficult than ever before to get into medical school. Every year, more and more premeds apply to medical school, yet the number of first-year positions stays relatively the same. If your dream is to become a doctor, you will have to avoid the pitfalls that so many premeds fall into—and the first step is understanding what those pitfalls are. So, how hard is it to get into medical school?
According to the AAMC, over 55,000 applicants applied during the 2022-2023 application cycle and only 22,000 matriculated. That’s an acceptance rate of only 40%, which is an increase from the previous cycle but still less than favorable odds. If you’re a premed just starting your future doctor journey, these are worrisome statistics.
There is a silver lining though. Getting into medical school isn’t like winning the lottery. There are steps you can take and mistakes you can avoid that will help ensure acceptance, even when the odds seem stacked against you.
Here are 5 reasons why premeds fail to get into medical school and what you can do to avoid them.
1 | Suboptimal Hard Components (GPA and MCAT)
Let’s start by addressing the elephant in the room. The number one reason why most premeds fail to get into medical school is suboptimal hard components. This means a low GPA and/or a low MCAT score.
Now I already know what some of you are going to say in the comments. If you browse premed Reddit or Student Doctor Network long enough, you are bound to come across a post that says, “I got into medical school with a 2.0 GPA and a 495 MCAT,” or maybe one that says, “I have a 4.0 GPA and a 528 MCAT and didn’t get into any medical schools.”
After reading a few of these, you might start to think that having a good GPA and MCAT are not that important to your medical school admissions. Not quite.
It’s true that some premeds get into medical school with low GPAs and low MCAT scores. The converse is true too. A killer GPA and MCAT is no guarantee of acceptance either.
These individuals are the exception, not the rule, and there are other factors at play that determine one’s competitiveness as an applicant.
The reality is that if you have a high GPA and a high MCAT, objectively, you are more likely to get into medical school than if you have a low GPA and a low MCAT.
This isn’t just my opinion either.
If you look at the data from the AAMC, higher GPA and MCAT scores are correlated with higher medical school acceptance rates. To convince yourself otherwise is foolish and will only hurt your chances of getting into medical school.
If you find yourself in a situation where you have a low GPA or MCAT score, the good news is there is still hope. You don’t have to give up on your dreams of becoming a doctor. There are students who have been in your exact situation who have still gotten into excellent medical schools and gone on to become wonderful doctors.
You do have to be realistic about your chances though. Realize that if you have low numbers, you are going to have to work hard to compensate. You’ll either have to improve these metrics or shine in other aspects of your application to have a realistic chance of a medical school acceptance.
2 | Having a Checkbox Mentality
The next reason that premeds fail to get into medical school is that they adopt a checkbox mentality. They google medical school application requirements and use the search results as a sort of checklist.
Okay, I need a 3.7 GPA—check. I need a 511 MCAT score—check. I need 200 hours of volunteer work—check. And I need 200 hours of research experience—check.
These premeds believe that if they can just complete every item on the checklist, then they’ll be guaranteed acceptance. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case.
Although there are certainly worse ways to approach getting into medical school, the problem with the checkbox approach is that you don’t end up pushing yourself beyond the typical medical school applicant. As a result, you become the typical, cookie-cutter applicant who is indistinguishable from the tens of thousands of other premeds whose applications look nearly identical.
If you set your sights on completing the bare minimum, then that’s all you’ll ever achieve.
To truly maximize your chances, you need to push yourself beyond the typical medical school applicant.
Instead of checking boxes, you need to craft a compelling narrative. You do this by pursuing opportunities you are passionate about, which can sometimes mean diving deep into your interests outside of medicine.
If you’re passionate about a hobby like cycling or swimming, for instance, lean into that. If you’re interested in making a meaningful change toward a social cause you care deeply about, lean into that. Medical schools don’t just want applicants that excel academically and clinically; they want well-rounded applicants who can bring a new and interesting perspective to their medical school.
Deeper experiences also show commitment and perseverance—two qualities that are necessary for any successful medical student.
Becoming a doctor is a long, arduous road, and admissions committees need to see that you have the capacity to follow through on longer-term goals.
3 | Not Choosing the Right Schools
Reason three that premeds fail to get into medical school is they either don’t apply to the right schools or they don’t apply to enough schools.
When choosing where to apply, there are a variety of factors you need to consider.
There are the obvious ones, like average GPA and MCAT of matriculants, but also things like location, class size, and mission statement you need to consider as well.
Take location, for instance. Many medical schools receive funding from the state government and tend to heavily favor in-state applicants. If you apply mainly to out-of-state schools with low out-of-state acceptance rates, you are setting yourself up for failure. By prioritizing and applying to your in-state schools, you can sometimes improve your odds by orders of magnitude.
Next is class size. A school that has fifty spots available is often going to be a lot more selective than a school that has two hundred and fifty spots available.
Also, consider the mission statement of the schools you’re applying to. If a particular program heavily prioritizes research and you have little to no research experience, it may not be worthwhile to apply to that school. Conversely, if they’re heavily focused on primary care and you’re leaning towards neurosurgery, it might not be the best possible fit.
Learn more from our guide: How to Decide Which Medical Schools to Apply to (12 Important Factors).
In addition to applying to the right schools, you also need to make sure you’re applying to the right number of schools.
There is an asymmetric risk associated with the number of schools you apply to.
The main risk of applying to too many schools is losing money, whereas the main risk of not applying to enough schools is not getting into medical school that year.
Even if you look at things strictly from a financial perspective, you’re still likely to come out ahead by applying to more schools. Each application cycle is an expensive ordeal, and you only want to apply once.
Additionally, every year you don’t get into medical school is not just another year spent in training—it’s also another year that you miss out on receiving an attending’s salary. So, spending an extra thousand dollars now can end up saving you hundreds of thousands of dollars in missed salary down the road.
Even if you’re a strong applicant, it’s still in your best interest to apply to a large number of schools because it puts you in a position of optionality and power.
I sent out applications to close to 40 medical schools, had over 20 interview invites, and was able to gain multiple acceptances. This gave me the power to choose between schools, pick the one that was the best fit, and leverage my multiple acceptances to get almost all the cost of medical school covered for free.
4 | Failing to Prepare for Medical School Interviews
The fourth reason that premeds fail to get into medical school is that they don’t prepare enough for their interviews.
It doesn’t matter if you have a 4.0 GPA, a perfect 528 MCAT score, and glowing letters of recommendation. A bad interview can make or break your entire application.
Remember, interviews are one of the last obstacles standing between you and medical school acceptance, so it’s vital that you take the time to adequately prepare.
Start by familiarizing yourself with the most common interview questions. Plan out what you’re going to say and how you’re going to say it, but keep in mind you want your responses to be well thought out while still sounding conversational. You don’t want to come off like you’re just reciting a canned response.
Next, know your application inside and out. Everything you put on your application is fair game for an interviewer to ask about. This is especially important if you’re applying to a highly ranked research institution. Trust me, they will ask you about your research extensively, and not being an expert on it will land your application in the rejection pile.
Next, learn about the schools that you are interviewing at. Read about their curriculum, their research interests, their student groups, and what other opportunities they offer. If possible, try to pick out one or two unique aspects about each program, then sell these aspects as reasons why that program is a great fit for you. You want to be able to show that you’ve done your homework and are interested in the unique things their program has to offer.
Now all there is left to do is practice. It’s one thing to plan out what you’re going to say and do during your interviews, but it’s an entirely different thing to do it. Start by reciting answers to common questions to yourself, then move on to practicing with others and participating in mock interviews.
The best mock interviews are done with doctors or instructors who have served on medical school admissions committees. They will know first-hand what interviewers are looking for and what you can do to present the best version of yourself. While your friends or family or premed advisor can help you sound good, they won’t have the nuanced understanding of what medical school admissions committees want to hear.
For your medical school mock interview, be sure to check out our interview preparation services. In a Med School Insiders mock interview, you’ll work with a former admissions committee physician. Together, our team has conducted thousands of interviews, and we know the process inside and out.
5 | Following Bad Advice
The last reason premeds fail to get into medical school is they listen to bad advice.
When trying to figure out how to get into medical school, many premeds use online forums like Reddit or Student Doctor Network as their primary source of information. Although these forums may contain some solid advice from time to time, it’s often buried under a ton of questionable and even harmful advice. As someone lacking expertise in medical school admissions, it’s near impossible to sift through and separate the signal from the noise.
Posts on these forums also tend to focus on individual cases instead of overall trends. What worked for one student may not work for another, so you need to find someone who understands the overall trends but can also make adjustments on an individual level.
For a more tailored approach, many students will turn to premed advisors at their university for assistance. Although this may seem to be a step up from online forums, these advisors usually still lack the knowledge and expertise to maximize your chances of getting into medical school.
Remember, premed advisors never went to medical school. As such, they are not the best people to be giving out advice on how to maximize your chances of medical school acceptance.
When applying to medical school, you want help from trusted experts who can elevate your application, help you get into your dream school, and make you so compelling as an applicant that schools fight over you and try to win you over by covering your tuition and living expenses.
As you look at resources and companies to work with, seek out those who are actual M.D. physicians, not Ph.D. or others who didn’t go to medical school. Look for those who have achieved stellar results themselves, have a track record of success with glowing reviews from customers, and a systematic approach so that you know you’ll always receive high-quality service.
If you decide on Med School Insiders, we’d love to be a part of your journey in becoming a future physician.