Getting into med school: In search of the top 250 applicants

Despite mounting pressure from the medical community to expand in the face of a national physician shortage, the first-year class at what is arguably Yale’s most selective school — the School of Medicine — contains 100 and only 100 students. Staff reporters Raymond Carlson and Florence Dethy investigate.

More than 4,000 pre-meds applied to the Yale School of Medicine this year, but only about 250 of them will receive offers to join its incoming class. Yet even if their applications do not bear fruit, medical school applicants need not despair: Many other schools across the nation have expanded or plan to expand the size of their incoming classes.

Sterling Hall at the Yale Medical School.
Victor Alciquira
Sterling Hall at the Yale Medical School.

“If you’re thinking of applying to med school, now is a great time to do it,” said Amjed Mustafa, director of pre-health programs for Kaplan Inc., a company specializing in college and professional school admissions. “There are going to be class size increases and schools will be looking at more diverse groups of students and will perhaps consider different parameters.”

A recent Kaplan survey found that 44 percent of medical schools interviewed are considering increasing the size of their entering classes. Of them, more than a third said they would likely expand their class sizes as early as this upcoming fall.

But here at Yale, the medical school has no intention to grow its incoming class, Yale School of Medicine Dean Robert Alpern said.

“Our mission is to train individuals who will be leaders in the medical community,” he said in an interview. “Our ability to do that well would be hampered if we were to increase the size of the class.”


After this fall’s economic collapse, students fled the job market and sought the safety of graduate school in record numbers. But the School of Medicine did not see an uptick in applications similar to that of the University’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, as evidenced by the medical school’s relatively unchanged application total this year.

This may be in part due to medical schools’ early national application deadline of Oct. 15 and the hefty premed requirements, said Richard Silverman, the dean of admissions for the School of Medicine.

“Most people apply to med school in the summer,” he said. “I do believe there will be an impact [on application numbers], but there will be a little bit of a time lag for medical schools as opposed to business or law schools.”

The school’s application statistics are not unique. Admissions officials from four other top medical schools said in interviews that they too have not seen a major rise in applications. Across the nation, applications to medical schools have remained flat, seeing a 0.2 percent drop in the past year, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges.

At top medical schools, the standards for the applicant pool are so high that a major shift in application totals would be surprising, said Edwin Dodson, dean of admissions at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.

“We have a lot of self-selection in that we have a very academically talented applicant pool,” he said.

WashU medical school’s application numbers have been relatively stable in the past seven or eight years, he added.


It is common knowledge that getting into medical school is an ultracompetitive process. But over the past two years the AAMC and the American Medical Association have begun steadily applying pressure on medical schools throughout the United States to increase the size of their incoming classes and to expand their existing facilities.

However, since the goal of the effort is to increase the number of primary care physicians across the country, the School of Medicine has no plans to increase the size of its first-year class, as it does not recognize the recommendation as being in alignment with the school’s core values, Alpern said.

Indeed, though the issue of whether or not to expand the size of the school’s first-year class arises every year, Alpern said such a change would hamper the school’s ability to develop the future leaders of the medical community.

Silverman echoed Alpern’s sentiments, citing the disconnect between the medical school’s mission and that of the AAMC.

“Yale is not in the business of training large numbers of primary care physicians,” he said. “We see ourselves as educating leaders in medicine, public health … not producing gigantic numbers of folks to address the concerns of the AAMC or the American Medical Association.”

Indeed, it has been state medical schools that have been the main source of expansion in the two years following the AAMC’s 2006 call for medical schools to increase enrollment by 30 percent by the year 2015.

“Where you’re likely to see the biggest changes are in state schools or schools designed to serve certain populations,” Mustafa, of Kaplan Inc., said.

The University of California’s medical school system, which comprises five medical schools, has been expanding the size of its first-year class by 10 percent since 2007. The increase is part of a program aptly titled the Program in Medical Education. PRIME was created to increase the number of doctors in California and the amount of primary care available to its underserved populations, said Corrina Kaarlela, a spokeswoman for the University of California at San Francisco.

Additionally, the University of Washington School of Medicine increased the size of its incoming class by 20 students last year after opening a new site in Spokane, Dean of Admissions Patricia Fero said. The growth is meant to encourage future doctors to practice in rural areas, she said.

Still, both Dodson of WashU and an official from the Duke School of Medicine asserted that like Yale, their medical schools — both private — have no intention to expand their class sizes.


  • Recent Alum

    "the first-year class at what is arguably Yale’s most selective school — the School of Medicine"

    Is the School of Medicine really more selective than the Law School? That doesn't sound right.

  • Anonymous

    "Is the School of Medicine really more selective than the Law School? "

    Infinitely more competitive.

  • Yale 08

    In saying that 44% of med schools are considering increasing class sizes, is that Kaplan survey including Caribbean MD programs or does it only consider real medical schools?

  • Anonymous

    Acceptance rate 6.3%

    J.D. acceptance rate: 6.9 percent

  • Anonymous

    The acceptance rates are pretty close and so are the GPAs of accepted students. But this doesn't take into account that it's substantially more difficult to get good grades in science courses. One has to survive a very competitive premed curriculum just to be eligible to apply to medical school. There are no similar hurdles for law school.

  • Anonymous

    The requirements are not comparable, but with about 600 applicants and 16 slots, the acting MFA program at the Drama school admits about 2.7% of applicants. I don't know the #s for the whole school. Granted, its easier to believe you're good at acting when you aren't, than that you're good at science if you're not.

  • Anonymous

    I think that Yale Med could be as selective as Harvard Law, but Yale Law is a lot harder to get into than Harvard Law or Yale Med.

    #5: I agree that it is harder to get a high GPA in science classes, but the average Yale Law student has a much higher college GPA than the average Yale Med student (and also a LSAT score in the 99th percentile).

  • Anonymous

    You can literally fill up your pre-law curriculum with gut classes since they so persist in the humanities/history/political science departments. You can't do that for premed. Try taking orgo and you'll see that the high GPA of applicants for law schools compares not to med school applicants. The LSAT requires strong logic/reasoning skills, and can be prepared for like the SAT through practice. The MCAT demands knowing all of biology, physics, chemistry in addition to reading text and writing essays all timed and pressured. So you need to study a ton and practice. It's like studying for the final for all your premed classes at once albeit to a lesser degree since the material is easier than what is demanded at yale courses

    Premed is soo much harder.

  • Eponymous

    #7 - The difference between medical students and law students is what they do with data. Medical students understand data and act on it; law students try to keep on going as if the data didn't exist.

    The data says that Yale Med has a lower acceptance rate than Yale law. It has similar accepted GPAs. You even admit that those who entered Yale Med took tougher classes, while earning the same GPAs as those who entered Yale Law. It would be hard to imagine a more obvious QED situation.

    Your commentary on the LSAT is embarrassingly non sequitur.

  • Yale 2000

    #7: I think that Oranges are as delicious as Green Apples, but Red Apples are a lot more delicious than either Oranges or Red Apples.

  • Yale85

    The condescending attitude of Yale Med School administrators toward primary care physicians is appalling. These are the front line doctors who protect public health and have a real sense of the health issues facing the American public, and many are leaders in medicine. The implied assertion by Yale administrators that only ivory tower specialists are important reflects an attitude that is bankrupting the US medical system and contributing to health disparities.

  • Yale Med Student


    I can personally guarantee you that Yale Med and its top administrators do not feel that primary care doctors are inferior or less important than specialists. Some of our best alumns have gone on to found a hospital in Indonesia or to build and run community primary care clinics in underserved areas. Both of these people are clearly leaders in medicine and the types of doctors that Yale strives to educate. The quote in the article implies nothing about the specialty of primary care, which indeed represents the front line doctors who are of vital importance, it only disparages the idea of turning Yale into a clinician factory. This shift in focus would be to the detriment of Yale's stated goal to shape leaders. Leaders can be found in any specialty.