Choosing Where to Apply

Deciding where to apply to medical school is an extremely important and challenging part of the application process. The challenge is selecting schools that will be the best fit for you. Using the strategies below will help you develop a solid list of schools to which you will apply.

A great place to start is Where to Apply? Factors to Consider when Making Your School List by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC). According to the AAMC, “Deciding where to apply goes beyond just a medical school’s GPA, MCAT scores, and course requirements. As you create the list of schools where you’re planning to apply, think about where you see yourself being most successful. Remember, this will be your home for at least four years! We’ve put together five questions for you to keep in mind as you compile your list of schools.”

To how many schools should I apply?

As a general rule, it is good to aim for between 15 to 20 schools unless there are some good reasons for applying to fewer. When an applicant applies to more than 25 schools, it implies that the schools have not been well researched and there was little to no strategy behind school selections.

How does my state of residency impact where I should apply?

Applying to schools as an in-state candidate usually puts you at an advantage in the admissions process. Many state schools have less than 15% of their class come from outside of their state and some only admit out-of-state candidates in the single digits. In-state tuition also tends to be lower. Given these facts, it is a good idea to apply to the state schools that you feel would be a good fit.

However, many state schools admit over 20–25% of their students from out-of-state. These are schools that make considerable sense to investigate. Don’t be afraid to look at medical schools in states that, upon first glance, you would not consider!

How do I determine my state of residence? Can I switch my state of residence?

We receive many questions concerning state residency, and the first thing to let sink in is, in terms of residency rules, states differ. In fact, public medical schools within the same state sometimes vary in terms of these rules. Your first step when considering a change in residency is to contact a residency official at the medical schools in question. Sometimes these officers are found in the Registrar’s office, sometimes the Admissions office, sometimes in a “residency” office all by themselves; usually the Admissions office can direct you. Other things to remember:

  • You can only be a resident of one state. The state you list as your home state on your AMCAS application is the state that medical schools will consider your choice.
  • If you are included as a dependent on either parent’s tax return, then you are a resident of their state. If you are considering switching states and you’re still enrolled as a college student, then most likely it is because one or both parents are moving. If this is the case, then make sure you change your driver’s license and voter registration on your own, to match your parents’ address.
  • If you have graduated and are claiming residency in a new state, then you should not only have a permanent address, driver’s license, and voter registration card in that state, but you should also plan to work in that state and file state taxes. Some public medical schools require this last item.
  • In the Medical School Admissions Requirements (MSAR) each school’s listing includes the numbers of “resident” and “non-resident” applicants, interviewees, and matriculants. You’d be wise to look at this data for your schools in States X and Y before making your decision.
  • A great website to learn more about a) residency issues in California, b) how to keep your in-state status, c) when to consider applying to public medical schools that are out-of-state, and d) when it is advised to change you state residency, is the Princeton Health Professions Advising website.
  • Lastly, let us emphasize again that residency rules vary from state to state, and how residents and non-residents are defined by an Admissions committee varies from school to school.

Are there new medical schools I should consider applying?

The AAMC has added new medical schools to its membership, following the recent decisions by the Liaison Committee on Medical Education (LCME) to grant these schools preliminary accreditation. The recently accredited and new schools are overviewed in A Snapshot of the New and Developing Medical Schools in the U.S. and Canada and include:

  • University of California-Riverside School of Medicine (CA)
  • Frank H. Netter, M.D., School of Medicine at Quinnipiac University (CN)
  • Charles E. Schmidt College of Medicine at Florida Atlantic University (FL)
  • Florida International University Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine (FL)
  • Florida State University College of Medicine (FL)
  • University of Central Florida College of Medicine (FL)
  • Central Michigan University College of Medicine (MI)
  • Oakland University William Beaumont School of Medicine (MI)
  • Western Michigan University School of Medicine (MI)
  • Cooper Medical School of Rowan University (NJ)
  • Hofstra North Shore-LIJ School of Medicine (NY)
  • Northern Ontario School of Medicine (CANADA)
  • The Commonwealth Medical College (PA)
  • University of South Carolina School of Medicine Greenville (SC)
  • Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center Paul L. Foster School of Medicine (TX)
  • Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine (VA)

In addition, there are recently accredited and new osteopathic schools that include:

  • A.T. Still University of Health Sciences College of Osteopathic Medicine-Mesa (Mesa, Ariz.)
  • Lincoln Memorial University-DeBusk College of Osteopathic Medicine (Harrogate, Tenn.)
  • Pacific Northwest University of Health Sciences, College of Osteopathic Medicine (Yakima, Wash.)
  • Rocky Vista University College of Osteopathic Medicine (Parker, Colo.)
  • Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine (New York, N.Y.)
  • Alabama College of Osteopathic Medicine (Dothan, AL)
  • Campbell University School of Osteopathic Medicine (Buies Creek, NC)
  • Marian University College of Osteopathic Medicine (Indianapolis, IN)
  • We strongly encourage you to visit the websites of these new schools and consider expanding your school list!

Are there special interstate agreements?

Yes, some states that either do not have medical schools or who have very few have created special interstate agreements so that their residents still have in-state privileges. These include:

Should I consider applying to public medical schools that are out-of-state for me?

That really depends on which public medical schools you’re talking about. In general, public schools do prefer applicants from the states in which they’re located. Many public medical schools with class sizes between 100 and 200 have less than 10 entering students who are out-of-state. If you are out-of-state, these schools would be a waste of your time, energy, and money. However, there are many public medical schools who accept a reasonable number of out-of-state students. It is important that you consult the Medical School Admissions Requirements (MSAR) and the chart titled “Acceptance & Matriculation Data.” When a public school has over 25% of its class from out-of-state, there is a reasonable chance of qualified out-of-staters being considered. The percentage of in-state versus out-of-state residents is also available on the AAMC website.

How should my GPA and MCAT score affect where I apply?

Each year, the Association of American Medical Colleges publishes the Medical School Admission Requirements (MSAR). The MSAR Online contains admissions statistics including the school’s mean MCAT and the ranges of overall and science GPAs they accept, including the 10th percentile, average, and 90th percentile. Using this data, you can assess whether or not you will be a competitive candidate at a specific school. Some schools have a very tight range of GPAs (for overall GPA, Johns Hopkins has 3.7 as the 10th percentile, 3.9 as the average, and 4.0 as the 90th percentile) whereas others will have a wider range (for overall GPA, Boston University has a 3.3 as the 10th percentile, 3.7 as the average, and 4.0 as the 90th percentile). Again, you want to make sure you select a mix of schools where you are at or close to the average GPA and some schools where you may be above the average. You should take a similar approach for the MCAT. A 30-32 is a competitive score for a fair amount of schools but scores at highly selective schools are often 37 or above.

How important should rankings be as I decide where to apply?

Every year, there are several Johns Hopkins students who only apply to top-ranked schools, do not gain acceptance, and then end up having to reapply to a more diverse group of schools during the next cycle. Be careful about putting too much emphasis on rankings. The U.S. News and World Report ranking uses a methodology that may change year to year and may emphasize qualities that are not as important to you. You will be able to get a solid education at many medical schools so you need to think more about which schools will be the best fit for you. What is most important is not the “prestige” of the medical school you attend. Rather, it is selecting a school where you can thrive and be a leader.

I have heard medical school admissions deans refer to their mission statement. Aren’t they all about the same?

While you may think that all medical schools have the same basic mission of helping training compassionate physicians who are able to care for patients, mission statements can vary dramatically between schools. Some schools, like Loma Linda (owned and operated by the Seventh-day Adventist Church), emphasize Christian principles whereas others, like University of Chicago’s Pritzker School of Medicine, emphasize interdisciplinary scholarship and innovation for the betterment of humanity. While you can read each schools mission statement in the MSAR, you should also explore the websites of your schools of interest. They often feature more in-depth information about the school’s philosophy. You want to identify schools whose mission parallels your professional goals and personal values.

What should I look for as I examine a schools curriculum?

In looking at curriculums, you need to consider your learning style. In college, which classes did you learn best in? Were they lecture-based or more hands-on and interactive? Did you like group work or did you prefer to work on your own? These types of questions can help you establish whether medical schools with a more traditional, lecture format, a problem-based learning approach, or a combination of the two styles would be best for you.

You should also take the grading policy of the school into account. Some schools rely entirely on a Pass/No Pass grading system because they feel it fosters a spirit of cooperation rather than competition between their students. Other schools use a letter grading system (A, B, etc.) beginning in your first year and continuing throughout your time in medical school.

Dual Degree Programs

If you are interested in knowing which medical schools have dual programs (e.g., MD/PhD; MD/MPH), helpful articles can be found in the US News Education Series and the Princeton Review. Specific to MD/MPH, see the Directory of MD-PhD Programs on the AAMC website.

Dual degree programs at US osteopathic schools is published by AACOM.

Should cost be a factor in my decision of where to apply?

Medical school tuition varies greatly based on factors including residency, availability of scholarships, and others. While nearly all medical students graduate with some debt, the amount of that debt can range between a few thousand to upwards of $200,000. You have to consider what amount of debt you are willing to take on and where you might be able to get at least some scholarship money. The MSAR includes information on financial aid and you can also check directly with schools to see what their policies are. If you are fortunate enough to qualify for a scholarship to a medical school, you will need to weigh carefully the financial benefits against how well that school matches your needs.

What other factors should I consider?

Location. You will be spending four years of your life at medical school so you want to make sure it is in an environment you like. Where have you lived before and what did you like about those places? Are you a city person or do you prefer a more rural setting? What climate do you prefer? What is the cost of living like?

Composition of Student Body. Do you prefer a smaller or a larger class? How diverse is the class? What is the male/female ratio? Think about your preferences in these areas when selecting schools.

Personal Factors. Are you close to your family and want to be at a school near them? Do you have a significant other who needs to stay in a specific location? You will probably be too busy to travel great distances to be with loved ones and friends. You should consider whether any of these factors will shape your choice of schools.

I want to apply to MD/PhD programs. How do I decide where to apply?

First, you should consider what type of research you are hoping to do and which faculty members you would like to work with. You should also look at the structure of the program. Do you do 3 years of your MD and then do your PhD and finish your last year of medical school after that or do you do your PhD first and then your MD? In the MSAR, you can see the number of MD/PhDs that matriculated to each school. Schools like Washington University in St. Louis have over 20 MD/PhDs matriculate each year whereas many schools will have no MD/PhDs. Make sure to apply to at least a few schools that have 5 or more MD/PhDs per year.

I want to apply to osteopathic medical schools. How do I decide where to apply?

When applying to osteopathic medical schools, you can utilize many of the same strategies as when applying to allopathic medical schools. You need to ask yourself similar questions about your background, the school’s mission statement and curriculum, cost, location, and others. Your best source of information about osteopathic medical schools is on the site of the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine. They also publish the Osteopathic Medical College Information Book, available in our library or for purchase on their website.


The Medical School Admission Requirements is a top source for:

  • Application procedures and deadlines
  • Selection factors such as MCAT & GPA data
  • Medical school class profiles
  • Costs and financial aid packages
  • MD/PhD and other combined degrees
  • Graduates’ specialty choices
  • Updated USMLE Policies

Princeton Review’s Searchable Medical School Database allows you to search for schools based on your GPA and MCAT score, geographic location, class size, and other factors. Please note that we do not endorse Princeton Review but we recognize this may be a useful tool for you.