How to Get Into Harvard Medical School in 2020

BeMo Med School Spotlight™

Updated: August 6, 2020

If you want to know how to get into Harvard Medical School, you've come to the right place. With an acceptance rate of less than 2.5%, it's not easy to get accepted to one of the most prestigious medical schools in the world. Each year, one hundred and sixty-five students overcome the odds to land a place at their dream school. While getting into Harvard Medical School (HMS) is certainly difficult, it's not impossible. This blog will cover all admissions requirements and will tell you exactly how to get into Harvard Medical School.

Click the links below to navigate to the sections of interest: 

Mission Statement

Available Programs

Academic Curriculum

Application Timeline

Admissions Statistics

Required & Recommended Courses

Tuition & Debt

Selection Factors

Contact information

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Mission Statement

“To create and nurture a diverse community of the best people committed to leadership in alleviating human suffering caused by disease”

Available Programs 

MD

With two different curricular tracks: 

"Pathways incorporates pedagogical approaches that foster active learning and critical thinking, earlier clinical experience, advanced clinical and basic/population science experiences, and a scholarly project that will allow every student to plan an individual pathway to the MD degree."

"HST is offered jointly by HMS and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and is oriented toward students with a declared interest in a career in biomedical research or a strong interest and background in physical or molecular science."        

MD-PhD

The Harvard-MIT MD-PhD Program provides fellowship support for selected and highly qualified students who have elected to pursue both the MD and PhD degrees. Check out our blog for information on applying to MD-PhD programs

MD-MBA

 A joint 5-year MD-MBA program allowing for skilled graduates in both medicine and management.

MD-MAD

Harvard medical students have the opportunity to complete a Master of Academic Discipline (MAD) degree between the third and fourth years of medical school.

MD-MMSc

Medical students will have the opportunity to complete a Master of Medical Science (MMSc) degree between the third and fourth years of medical school. The dual MD-MMSc degree is offered in clinical investigation, global health delivery, immunology, and medical education. 

MD-MPH

Medical students will have the opportunity to complete a Master of Public Health (MPH) degree between the third and fourth years of the MD program.  

MD-MPP

This combined program is for those who wish to contribute to the field of medicine by helping to set policy or administer programs involving health care issues of public concern. Graduates of the combined program will receive a Master’s in Public Policy (MPP) degree.

Academic Curriculum

  • Years I & II: Foundational Pathways
  • Years III & IV: Advanced, Tailored Pathways 
  • Every student in the Pathways MD track is required to complete a scholarly project whereby students complete an independent investigation with the supervision of a faculty member. 

Admission Timeline

Early May: AMCAS application opens

End of May/ Early June: AMCAS application available for submission

Early July: HMS secondary opens and becomes available for submission

September: Interviews begin

Mid-October: Final deadline for AMCAS application

Mid-October: Final deadline for HMS secondary application and all materials (letters, MCAT scores, etc.)

End of October: AMCAS transcript deadline. All transcripts must be received before this date.

Start of December: AMCAS verification deadline. You must become verified before this date.

January: Interviews finish

Early March: All admissions decisions are sent out via email on the same date, whether candidates are accepted, declined, or on a medical school waitlist.

Mid to Late March: Deadline for submission of all financial aid application materials including tax returns. Evaluation of completed files and email notification of financial aid award letters begins on a rolling basis.

Mid-April: Revisit

Mid-April: Admitted students should narrow their acceptance offers down to three schools.

End of April: Admitted students planning to enroll at HMS must select the "Plan to Enroll" option on the Choose your Medical School tool in their AMCAS application.

Start of June: Admitted students planning to enroll at HMS must select the "Commit to Enroll” option on the Choose Your Medical School tool in their AMCAS application.

Mid-June: Immunization and health forms deadline

July: Email notification of fall term bill sent to students

Start of July: Deadline to submit all transcripts to the admissions office

Early August: Matriculation & White Coat Ceremony

Admissions Statistics

  • Success rate (Overall): 2.40%
  • Success rate (In-State): 4.01%
  • Success rate (Out-of-State): 2.34%
  • Success rate (International): 0.44%
  • Average Accepted GPA: 3.9
  • Average Accepted MCAT Scores: 519

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Medical School Prerequisites 

  • Biology, 1 year with lab 
  • Chemistry, 2 years that covers inorganic, organic, and biochemistry. Lab required.
  • Physics, 1 year, lab not required but strongly recommended.
  • Mathematics, 1 year that includes one semester of calculus and statistics. Biostatistics is preferred for the statistics portion of course requirement.
  • Writing, 1 year, intensive courses are preferred.

Recommended Courses

  • Literature
  • Languages
  • The arts
  • Humanities
  • Social sciences (e.g., psychology, sociology, anthropology, and ethics)

Tuition & Debt

  • Harvard Medical School tuition, fees, and health insurance: In-state/out of state: $70,743
  • Students receiving financial aid: 70%
  • Average graduating debt at HMS: $111,823
  • National average graduating debt at public medical schools: $175,607
  • National average graduating debt at private medical schools: $184,892

Selection Factors  

Harvard Medical School aims to review applicants holistically and is very selective when sending interview and acceptance invitations. Desirable candidates will possess maturity, commitment to helping others, leadership skills, and the ability to work with others. In addition, the following factors are used to evaluate applicants:

1. Academic Records

GPA & MCAT

Last year, Harvard Medical School (HMS) had roughly 6800 applicants competing for 950 interviews and 165 positions in its entering class. Of the 165, 135 enrolled in Pathways, 30 in HST and 14 in the MD-PhD program. Matriculants came from 74 different colleges, across 33 states, from 7 countries. Overall, 24% of all matriculants are underrepresented in medicine. Roughly 70% possess science majors, though Harvard specifically states that they do not give preference to those with science backgrounds over those with other backgrounds. HMS matriculants have extremely competitive grades and test scores. In order for you to be competitive, you need to have near-perfect statistics, ensuring that you meet or are very close to the statistics of matriculants. So, what are you aiming for? Well, the average MCAT score of accepted individuals is 519, with applicants scoring between 128-130 in each section. The average GPA of accepted individuals is 3.9. This is tough to achieve, but not impossible. It's true that in some cases you can still get into medical school with a low GPA, but Harvard is an exception to this rule. If you're thinking of applying to HMS with less than perfect grades and scores, I'm here to tell you, think again. 

Harvard will only consider applicants for admission a maximum of two times. Now, this isn't two times in a two-year period, it's two times in a lifetime. For this reason, you have to make sure that your first application will count and be seen as competitive, as you only have one attempt to re-apply. If your GPA isn't competitive, work on improving it. If that means re-taking courses or enrolling in a post-baccalaureate program, do so. If you didn't score well on the MCAT, you'll also need to re-take it. Keep in mind that 24% of all test-takers re-take the MCAT, likely to try and improve their scores, so you won't be alone in your venture. If you're reading this and you haven't taken the MCAT yet, be sure that you know when to start studying for the MCAT so you can begin preparing a study schedule at least six months in advance of MCAT test dates. In addition, it's important to devote time to mastering the difficult CARS section, where you'll need to score around a 128 to be seen as competitive. Use MCAT CARS practice resources and take practice tests to ensure you are well prepared for the MCAT. Above all, only take the MCAT when you are scoring consistently well. If you find your scores bouncing around between different practice tests, you're not ready to take the test yet. Lastly, if you have taken the MCAT but it was years ago, you'll need to re-take it as Harvard only accepts scores within the last three years.

2. Applicant Essays

Harvard places high importance on applicant essays in determining which applicants will be selected for both interview and admission. It is therefore essential that your medical school personal statement and medical school secondary essays are not just good, but phenomenal. With no room for errors or an average application, it's a good idea to consult a professional medical school advisor to ensure your application highlights the absolute best version of yourself. Unlike some medical schools, Harvard sends secondary applications to all applicants who apply, which must be sent back with a $100 filing fee. You'll notice that the AMCAS deadline and the secondary application deadline are both in mid-October, meaning if you send in your primary application too late, you'll be unable to receive the secondary application and complete it before the deadline. So, it's essential to start working on your primary and secondary application right away. Be sure to review our medical school personal statement examples blog to learn how to craft an effective, stand-out statement that will captivate Harvard's admission committee. Lastly, review medical school secondary essay examples to learn about common prompts and the best strategies for addressing these prompts appropriately.

Check out our video for Harvard Medical School personal statement examples:

Harvard Medical School secondary application prompts are as follows:

1. If you have already graduated, briefly (4000 characters max) summarize your activities since graduation.

2. If there is an important aspect of your personal background or identity, not addressed elsewhere in the application, that you would like to share with the Committee, we invite you to do so here. Many applicants will not need to answer this question. Examples might include significant challenges in access to education, unusual socioeconomic factors, identification with a minority culture, religion, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation or gender identity. Briefly explain how such factors have influenced your motivation for a career in medicine. (4000 character maximum)

ESSAY FOR APPLICATIONS TO THE HARVARD-MIT DIVISION OF HEALTH SCIENCES AND TECHNOLOGY (HST)

Instructions: The HST MD program draws on the combined resources of Harvard and MIT to provide a distinct preclinical education tailored to preparing students for careers as physician-scientists across the full spectrum of disciplines including biological, physical and engineering sciences. HST classes are small, commonly include graduate students and have an emphasis on quantitative and analytic approaches, centered on understanding disease mechanisms and preparing students to solve unmet needs in medicine ranging from novel diagnostics and therapeutics to applications of ‘big data’ and systems engineering as they relate to healthcare. Please focus on how your interests, experiences and aspirations have prepared you for HST (rather than identifying specific HST faculty or research opportunities). Limit your comments to the equivalent of one page of single spaced text with a font size of 10 or 12. (4000 Char)

Harvard Medical School secondary essay example

I was raised in a small, rural community in an underprivileged and underserved area. Only 18% of people have a four-year degree or higher in all of my County. Many students enter the workforce or attend small, local universities upon graduation and do not pursue their dreams because they are unaware of the educational and financial options available to them because their parents do not have the experience to guide them. Furthermore, there is the mindset that students from a small, country high school are not capable of attending larger universities, and the sentiment was shared by my school’s administration. How can students have high aspirations when the administration does not believe in them? Even if students did understand their education options, they often did not attend college because they could not afford it. The median household income in my County is $52,000, which is over $10,000 below that of the U.S. median, and 13% of the population lives in poverty. Many of my peers worked part-time jobs in high school because they had to help their parents pay bills, so they did not even consider attending an expensive university.

As an adolescent growing up in this County, I did not have access to many educational resources, such as numerous teachers, electives, advanced placement classes, and counselors for college preparation. For instance, the lack of teachers and the resulting scheduling conflict restricted the number of advanced courses I could take, so I studied for several subjects on my own in the library. One other classmate and I were the first students ever from my high school to take the SAT Subject tests. When I applied to college, I conducted my own research regarding universities and their requirements as well as how to fill out applications and write a personal statement because my school did not expect many of its students to attend four-year universities and did not provide resources. I am pursuing a career in medicine not only because of my commitment to improving the health and well-being of others, but also to serve as a role model for students in rural, underprivileged areas and to show them they are capable of pursuing their dreams just as I have.

Growing up in a medically underserved community, I have experienced and witnessed the effects of inadequate access to healthcare. When my mother experienced breathing issues which required her back to be evaluated, there were no doctors in the area who would accept her as a patient or could refer us to someone who could. My mother was scared, and I was terrified. I could not believe I was at risk of losing my mother from lack of access to care. She eventually received the referral she needed from a doctor in Philadelphia, five hours away from where we live. We had to make multiple trips to Philadelphia for consultations, the surgery, and check-ups, which required me to miss multiple days of school. The people in my community often have to travel long distances for care, like my mother, if they have anything more severe than a common injury or illness.

I realized cases such as my mother’s posed a major health concern for two reasons. First, not all people had the means to leave town, especially the elderly with no family nearby. For instance, my father drove one family friend to Baltimore, five hours away, for his doctor appointments and surgery and another family friend to Binghamton, two hours away, several times per week for in-center hemodialysis until he was able to do it at home. Second, many people could not access well-established health systems in more populated areas because their health insurance plans restrict them to the limited number of doctors in the local area and going out of network was significantly more expensive or not covered at all. As a result, I developed a strong desire to become a doctor and work in underserved areas to provide more accessible health care for people.

3. Letters of Recommendation

  • Up to 6 Letters of Recommendation are allowed
  • At least 2 letters should be from student's professors in the sciences
  • At least 1 letter should be written by a professor who is not in the sciences.
  • We should receive letters from all research supervisors for applicants to both the MD-PhD program the MD program.
  • Applicants are allowed to exceed the 6 letter maximum if the additional letters are from research supervisors.

4. Extracurriculars

Extracurriculars for medical school are essential for admission at any institution, and Harvard is no different. According to MSAR, approximately 92% of Harvard matriculants have medical or clinical related community service and volunteer experience. 80% of Harvard matriculants have community service and volunteering experience not related to medicine. 82% have shadowing experience and 98% have research and lab experience. For this reason, to get into Harvard Medical School, you need to have stand out experiences that can demonstrate the steps you've taken to solidify your decision to become a doctor. You must learn how to ask to shadow a doctor and understand how many hours of shadowing are required for medical school, as this hands-on clinical experience will be essential proof that you have put yourself in the shoes of a physician. To show your selflessness, you should have meaningful community and volunteer experiences and you must have research experience to demonstrate your curiosity for the unknown and dedication to understanding the mechanisms behind disease. 

All of these experiences will be entered into the AMCAS work and activities section of your application, where your goal will be to prove not only that you want to be a doctor, but that you possess essential non-cognitive skills, maturity, and emotional intelligence to become the best doctor. Each of your experiences will help set you apart from other candidates and just like a diversity essay for medical school, they will showcase what aspects of diversity you can bring to Harvard's medical school class. Harvard will be looking closely at your summer occupations as well, to see whether or not your dedication for medicine is evident throughout your studies. If you've gained shadowing and research experience during your studies but you take every summer off to hang out with friends, you're not going to convince the admissions committee that you're taking a career in medicine seriously and that you're preparing as best as you can. Overall, your life experiences need to show a pattern. Your desire, passion, and motivation towards pursuing medicine should be undeniable. 

Contact information

Main site:  https://hms.harvard.edu/

Admissions: https://hms.harvard.edu/departments/admissions

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Disclaimer: BeMo does not endorse or affiliate with any universities, colleges, or official test administrators. The content has been developed based on the most recent publically available data provided from the official university website. However, you should always check the statistics/requirements with the official school website for the most up to date information. You are responsible for your own results.