MSD Timeline The Complete Guide to Medical School Admissions

  • General Prerequisites: Every medical school will have some type of requirements in the following disciplines. These prerequisites will generally need to be either completed or in-progress by the time that you submit your application. Courses taken at community colleges will count toward these requirements. However, most schools require that the prerequisite courses are taken on a numerical grading system and not a pass/fail system. 

    • Biology – 1 year with Lab

    • General Chemistry – 1 year with Lab

    • Organic Chemistry – 1 year with Lab

    • Physics – 1 year with Lab

    • English – 1 year

    • Math (Calculus, Statistics, etc) – 1 year

    Recommended Prerequisites: There are a handful of medical schools that acknowledge some of the following courses as strict requirements; however, the majority of other schools will categorize them as ‘recommended’, or ‘highly recommended’. Biochemistry is one topic that’s quickly becoming an unspoken prerequisite, not only for its relevance but also because it’s heavily tested on the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT). As a premed student, it’s generally a good idea to get your bases covered and to take a semester/quarter of each. Note that psychology and sociology are both new topics that have also been incorporated into the revamped 2015 MCAT. 

    • Biochemistry
    • Psychology
    • Sociology
    • Genetics/Genomics
    • Inorganic Chemistry
    • Microbiology

    Undergraduate Major: Does it matter what you choose? No. Medical schools have no preference over what you decide to pursue for your undergraduate major. A majority of premed students tend to fall into the majors of biology, biochemistry, or physiology, but this is by no means a requirement. No matter what you declare as your major, as long as you fulfill their course requirements, you will be considered for admission. Just remember that different medical schools will have slightly different requirements in their prerequisite undergraduate coursework. 

  • Overview: The MCAT (Medical College Admissions Test) is a standardized test administered by the AAMC. Taking the MCAT is required for all applicants who wish to apply to medical schools within the US. There are no limits surrounding the number of re-takes; however, most schools generally frown upon applicants who take it more than 3 times. Every MCAT score that you get will also be on file for medical schools to see. The MCAT exam is administered electronically via third party testing centers, runs approximately 7 hours and 30 minutes, and consists of 4 different sections:

    1. Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems (Chem/Phys) covers Physics and Chemistry
      • 59 multiple-choice questions
      • 95-minute section
    2. Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills (CARS) covers reading comprehension and logical reasoning
      • 53 multiple-choice questions
      • 90-minute section
    3. Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems (Bio/Bioc) covers Biology and Biochemistry
      • 59 multiple-choice questions
      • 95-minute section
    4. Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior (Psyc/Soc) covers Psychology and Sociology
      • 59 multiple-choice questions
      • 95-minute section

    Cost: Taking the MCAT exam costs $310 (or $120 if you qualify for Fee Assistance Program).

    Scheduling: AAMC holds 25 different test dates spread throughout the year from January to September. You can find the exact dates here. Note that it takes around 4 weeks for your MCAT score to be released. 

    Studying: The average student dedicates around 2 months to prepare for the MCAT. Your most valuable study resources will be review books and practice exams. A good benchmark is to take 5-6 full-length exams before your test date. 

    Voiding: You are given the option to void your MCAT exam right after completing it, meaning that your exam will not get graded and you will not receive a score. This is only a good option if are unable to reschedule your test date and still feel vastly underprepared. 

    Scoring: The MCAT is graded from a range of 482 – 528, with the score of 500 set at the median 50 percentile mark. Aside from your cumulative score, you will also receive a breakdown of your subsection scores that each range from 118 – 132, with 125 set as the average. 

    • Competitive scores for Allopathic MD: 508-515
    • Competitive score for Osteopathic DO: 501-510

    Keep in mind that these are generalizations, and that the MCAT is only one component of your overall application. However, due to fluctuations in rigor between different universities as well as grade inflation, the MCAT remains one of the best ways of comparing different applicants on an equal level playing field. Detailed below are the admission percentages and GPA/MCAT statistics from the 2016/17 cycle for all allopathic applicants. 



    (AAMC, 2015)
  • Extracurriculars Overview

    Grades and MCAT speak to a candidate’s academic threshold, but it’s a poor indicator for assessing an individual’s character or passion. Medical schools aim to gauge an applicant’s personality and “humanism” based on their extracurricular involvement during undergrad and/or after graduation. A fine nugget of SDN wisdom states that ‘Numbers get you to the door, but ECs get you through the door.’ Your extracurriculars will therefore help admission committees develop a comprehensive image of who you are, and more importantly how these individual qualities might make you a good doctor. Pulled directly from the AMCAS application, extracurricular activities can range from any of the categories below:

    • Artistic Endeavor
    • Community Service – Nonclinical
    • Community service – Clinical
    • Conferences Attended
    • Extracurricular Activities
    • Hobbies
    • Honors Awards Recognition
    • Intercollegiate Athletics
    • Leadership – Not listed elsewhere
    • Other
    • Paid Employment – clinical
    • Paid Employment – nonclinical
    • Physician Shadowing
    • Presentations/Posters
    • Publications
    • Research
    • Teaching/ Tutor/ Teaching Assistant

    Out of everything listed above, clinical volunteering and physician shadowing hold the highest priority. Not only are they invaluable opportunities to validate your motivations in pursuing medicine, obtaining this clinical exposure has also morphed into an invisible barrier of entry for medical school admissions. It doesn’t matter if you have a 4.0 GPA and a 528 MCAT, schools want to see that you have demonstrated commitment toward exploring the healthcare profession. From volunteering on the hospital floor to working as a certified nurses assistant, there are many ways to reflect this initiative, but the underlying principle is that you’re able to gain direct patient contact and to become more familiar with the healthcare delivery process. 

    Undergraduate research can also be an important extracurricular endeavor, especially if you’re applying to a research-intensive medical school. This will be covered in extensive detail down below. Otherwise, non-academic endeavors such as collegiate athletics, military service, musical performance, or artistic pursuits are also great ways to demonstrate your qualifications, work ethic, and personal achievements. It’s important to note that medical schools are looking for well-rounded candidates who have shown strong dedication and service beyond simply meeting their academic requirements. *Click on the subsections below for further details regarding the importance of each activity and how you can leverage them to strengthen your application.

    Logistics For Writing About Activities

    On your primary AMCAS application (MD), you will have up to 700 characters for each activity to explain what you did, and what you’ve gained from the experience. You can also label 3 of your activities as “meaningful”. For these meaningful activities, you get an additional 1325 characters to elaborate in more detail. This is an optimal space to write about any personal growth or adversities you have faced, and convey how it has either shaped your decision to pursue medicine or has made you a more qualified candidate.

    AACOMAS (DO) differ slightly in their activities section. Although the extracurricular categories remain generally the same, AACOMAS instead poses a 600 character limit for each activity. Additional, you will not have the option to categorize any “meaningful” activities.


Clinical Exposure
  • Overview

    Letters of Recommendations are letters drafted by professors, principal investigators, supervisors, volunteer coordinators or anyone in a position that can speak to your abilities as a student, assistant, or employee. LORs are used to gain an outside perspective into an applicant’s work ethic, professionalism, reliability, and other factors that are not predictable by GPA/MCAT alone. LORs should never come from family or friends. Although every medical school requires the submission of LORs, the specific requirements for who can qualify as a letter writer will differ between schools.

    • Most schools will require letters from 2 science professors and 1 non-science professor
    • Most schools accept additional letters from PIs, bosses, volunteer coordinators, or managers
    • For non-traditional students who are switching careers, LORs from previous employers are almost always required
    • Most DO schools require a LOR from a physician that you have shadowed or worked with (DO preferred, sometimes required)
    How to ask for a letter?

    The first and most important step is to build rapport with your letter writer. Depending on who it is, this could come from attending their office hours or working in their lab. Although this may sometimes seem superficial, remember that you are looking for people who will vouch for you as a medical school candidate. After you have built rapport, the best way is to ask in person, and ask early. If you have already graduated or moved away, then an email also works. The key is making sure that your letter writer knows you well enough as an individual to endorse your strengths with specific details and accomplishments, rather than generic statements such as ‘John is a hard worker’. To avoid generic letters, ask them upfront “do you know me well enough to write a strong letter of recommendation?”

    Where to keep your letters?

    The most effective way is through Interfolio, a website that allows you to manage a dossier of all your different letters and keeps it for 5 years within their database. The other option is to have your letters requested and uploaded through the designated application portal (AMCAS or AACOMAS); however, this method will not allow you to save your letters if you need to use them again as a reapplicant.

    Can you read your letters? 

    This is up to you. You can either waive your rights to see what the letter write wrote about you or not. Note that by waiving your rights, your letter will hold a lot more credibility and weight than otherwise. It is recommended that you do not read your letters.

    How to send letters to schools? 

    When working on your application, you have the option of either uploading your letters directly to the application portal or through Interfolio. If you’re using interfolio, there will be a code attached to each letter which you copy/paste onto AMCAS/AACOMAS. Once it is uploaded onto the portal, these letters are then sent directly to the schools that you’re applying to.

    Difference between AMCAS and AACOMAS LORs
    • AMCAS allows you to pick and choose which letters to send out to each MD school that you apply to. AACOMAS doesn’t allow you to pick and choose. The letters that you upload on AACOMAS will be sent out to every DO school that you select.
    • AMCAS generally allows more leeway regarding non-academic letters from supervisors or PIs, whereas AACOMAS are more stringent on letters coming directly from academic faculty as well as one from a physician.
    • The maximum amount of letters that MD schools accept typically range from 5-7, whereas for DO schools it’s usually between 3-4. 
  • Overview

    In order to become a licensed physician in the United States, one must first acquire a professional degree in either Doctor of Medicine (MD), or Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO). There are a total of 144 accredited allopathic medical schools awarding MD degrees, and a total of 33 osteopathic medical schools awarding DO degrees. Both degrees grant full medical practice rights and responsibilities throughout the country, such as the capacity to offer medical advice to patients or the ability to legally prescribe medications.  


    • Both MD and DO physicians are licensed to practice medicine in all 50 states.
    • Both have identical admissions requirements, including prerequisite courses, MCAT score, clinical exposure experience, letters of recommendations, etc.
    • Both require the completion of a residency program before they’re able to practice independently  
    • Both employ a standard 4 year curriculum that usually entails 2 years of classroom learning and 2 years of clinical rotations
    • Both can practice in any medical specialty or sub-specialty with completion of the necessary residency and/or fellowship training 
    • Both receive equal compensation, as salaries are determined by specialty choice, not the degree title
    • Both are licensed by the same state licensing boards once they are in active practice.  


    • Higher percentage of DO graduates go into primary care specialties (internal medicine, pediatrics, OB/GYN, and family medicine) than MD graduates – 60% for DO compared to 40% of MD
    • Application Portal: AMCAS for MD applicants, AACOMAS for DO applicants
    • Average GPA and MCAT for MD matriculants are higher than that of DO matriculants
    • Board Exams: USMLE for MD students, COMLEX for DO students
    • Out of the current 860,917 physicians in active practice in the US, 7.6% are DOs, 67,1% are MDs granted in the US, and 24.3% are international MD graduates 
    • MD students are thought to have a better chance when applying to highly competitive residency programs (ie. orthopedic surgery, dermatology) compared to DO students
    • MDs have higher international recognition and is able to practice in more countries overseas compared to DOs
    • DO philosophy centers around “holistic care”, where each patient is seen as an individual as opposed to a collection of symptoms or diseases
    • Enrollment of new DO students have been rising at a far higher rate than MD students. Between 1980s and 2005, the number of new DOs have increased by more than 200% (from about 1,150 to about 2,800) while new MD enrollment have remained the same
    • DO candidates now make up 25% of all medical students. (21,032 MD matriculants vs 6,592 DO matriculants in 2016)


    What is Osteopathic Manipulative Treatment?

    Per American Osteopathic Association, DO students “receive extra training in the musculoskeletal system… to perform osteopathic manipulative treatment (OMT), a series of hands-on techniques used to help diagnose illness or injury and facilitate the body’s natural tendency toward self-healing.” One misconception about the practice of OMT is that it is a replacement for standard treatments or best-care practices, when in fact it should be considered more so a supplemental tool in a doctor’s toolkit that allows for the treatment of musculoskeletal pain instead of prescribing opiates or other pharmacological interventions.


    In the end, no matter which degree you decide to pursue, you will ultimately be entrusted with the same responsibility to help other human beings who are in need of your services, expertise, and compassion. To that end, I will leave you with a few quotes regarding the differences between MDs and DOs from people far more credible than myself.

    “In actual practice, the variations between the two types of physicians are often so slight as to be unnoticeable to patients, and a day in the life of each can appear indistinguishable. But the differences are there, subtle but deep.” – Avery Hurt

    “At the end of the day, when you walk into the patient room, and close the door, you are a physician. It does not matter what letters are after your name. All your patient cares about is if you care about them”. – Ryan Gray, MD

Application Timeline 


  • General Statistics

    • Number of Applicants: 53,042 (2016)
    • Total Matriculants: 21,030 (2016)
    • Average applications per applicant: 15.6
    • Average GPA/MCAT of matriculants: 3.70/31.4 (509-510)

MD Overview 2016

Total Number of Applications

Total MD Applicants 2016


Total MD Matriculants 2016


Average GPA of MD Matriculant: 3.7

Average MCAT of MD Matriculant: 509

  • General Statistics

    • Number of Applicants: 20,720 (2016)
    • Total Matriculants: 6,592 (2016)
    • Average applications per applicant: 8.96
    • Average GPA of matriculants: 3.55
    • Average MCAT of matriculants: 27.33 old, 503-504 new

DO Overview 2016

Total Number of Applications

Total DO Applicants 2016


Total DO Matriculants 2016


Average GPA of DO Matriculant: 3.55

Average MCAT of DO Matriculant: 504

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