March 11, 2020
Choosing Medical Schools

How Many Medical Schools Should I Apply To? 3 Strategy Tips to Figure it Out

Ryan Karmouta MD, MBA

You need a strategy for how many and which medical schools schools you are going to apply to.

“How many medical schools should I apply to?” Short answer: 17 medical schools. According to the AAMC 2019-2020 data, there were 896,819 applications and 53,371 applicants, with an average of 17 applications per applicant. Long answer: The “right number” for you may be different. This article will give you 3 strategy tips you can use to help you figure out what number is the “right number” of medical schools you should apply to this medical school application cycle. 

Strategy Tip #1: Use a medical school chance predictor scoring system or calculator to give you a ballpark idea of your competitiveness compared to others applying to medical school.

Over the years, medical school chance predictor calculators and medical school chance predictor scoring systems have been developed for applicants that want to gauge their general competitiveness to get into medical school. Popular medical school chance predictor calculators include “The Lizzy M System” and the “WARS calculator.” These calculators are subjective and not perfect by any means. Still, these calculators may be a useful first step in figuring out how many medical schools you should apply to. The calculators are not meant to be the end all be all decider of your competitiveness to medical school. All of the different calculators are flawed in that it does not have a way of accounting for everything in your application, such as your personal statement or your letters of recommendation. These medical school chance predictor calculators are just some of the tools that you can use to get a sense of how you may be evaluated by medical school admissions committees. There are about 53,000 applicants every year, and medical school admissions committees have cut-offs and systems in place to filter out the applications. You can use these calculators to give you a subjective overview of your competitiveness compared to your peers and as an initial gauge of your overall competitiveness. You can later use this information and other resources such as the Medical School Admissions Requirements (MSAR) database to create an initial long list of medical schools to apply to. Once you have your long list of schools, you can eventually filter down to more relevant schools based on your competitiveness.

Strategy Tip #2: Using the information and categories from these medical school chance predictor scoring systems and calculators (and from your own experiences), create your own medical school chance predictor scoring system to evaluate yourself. 

It doesn’t have to be in the form of a super fancy calculator or formula. It can be as simple as writing down all the categories that medical school committees will most likely evaluate you on and jotting down notes about each category. Then based on what advice you’ve heard from your pre-health committee, general rules of thumb you’ve read,  blog articles you’ve come across online, and experiences you’ve heard from your peers,  give yourself a rating for each category. Your system and rating can be as simple or as complicated as you want it to be and there is no right number or answer for each category. As mentioned earlier, there is no perfect scoring system, including the one you are creating for yourself. 

The process of evaluating your competitiveness is more important than the actual number. You can do a worksheet like the one below by yourself or with a friend you trust to help you figure out your competitiveness. 


Again, the process is more important than the final number. Evaluating and thinking through each category, speaking what is on your mind out loud to a friend, and writing your evaluation down on paper can help you get clarity and think through your competitiveness for medical schools. Your system may look like the worksheet below. 


Strategy Tip #3: Now that you have a sense of your competitiveness as an applicant, you need to start creating and segmenting your medical school list based on the following categories: 

  1. Undershoot: Safety schools that have lower median accepted GPA and MCAT scores than your score 
  2. Target: Schools that have the same median accepted GPA and MCAT scores as yours
  3. Reach: Schools that have higher median accepted GPA and MCAT scores than your score 

According to AAMC and  US News, the average person who is accepted to an allopathic medical school has a 3.7 GPA and a 512 MCAT score. Let’s say we are creating a list of medical schools to apply to for our friend, Jonny Amcas. Jonny Amcas has a 3.5 GPA and a 512 MCAT. 

Jonny looked at the Medical School Admissions Requirements (MSAR) database and made a list of all the schools with the median accepted GPA and median accepted MCAT that matched his GPA and MCAT (target schools). Let’s say for example, from his MSAR research, he found 20 schools with median accepted 3.7 GPA and median accepted 512 MCAT. 

Then he made a list of schools with .2 points above and below his GPA (3.5 to 3.9 median accepted GPA) and a list of schools 3 MCAT points above and below his MCAT score (515 to 509 median accepted MCAT). Note that these suggested range of numbers are rules of thumb, and may vary based on different advisors, counselors, and committees, but these numbers are good starting points.

Jonny Amcas expanded his master medical school application list by 10 medical schools, so now he has 30 schools that meet his criteria: have 3.5 to 3.9 median accepted GPA and 509 to 515 median accepted MCAT. The average applicant applies to 17 medical schools. Jonny reasoned that since he is a little below average on his GPA and MCAT, he will apply to a little more than the average number of medical school, and he decides to apply to 25 schools from the list of 30. Again, this number is not a hard and fast number, and a rule of thumb and may vary depending on who you talk to. 

Taking into consideration Jonny’s overall competitiveness (from Strategy Tip #1 and #2), he narrowed his original list of 30 schools that met his criteria to 25 schools on his final list. He will apply to some undershoot, mostly target, and some reach schools. Different advisors have different opinion and rule of thumb regarding how many undershoot, target, and reach schools you should apply to but a reasonable breakdown can be as follows:

  1. Undershoot 25%
  2. Target 50%
  3. Reach 25%

For Jonny Amcas he figured that the “right number” of schools for him to apply to is 25 schools total. Using this rule of thumb, he would apply to 7 undershoot schools, 12 target schools, and 6 reach schools. 

Key Take-away Points: 

  1. Whether you use an established medical school chance predictor scoring system or create one yourself, get a good understanding of your competitiveness. 
  2. Use MSAR for reference on what the median GPA and MCAT scores for accepted students have been and make a list of undershoot, target, and list schools.
  3. Use the average AAMC statistics as a benchmark (3.7 GPA, 512 MCAT, 17 medical school applications) to decide how many schools you should apply to
  4. Figure out a number you are comfortable applying to considering all the above factors (your subjective competitiveness, your objective GPA and MCAT, and how you measure against the average benchmarks based on MSAR and AAMC data)
  5. Consider professional assistance for creating your school list.  AcceptMed has a proprietary system for creating your own personalized school list.