How Hard Is It To Get Into Harvard Medical School? (Explained!) [2021 Update]

Looking to go to one of the most famous med schools on the planet? You probably want to know…

How Hard Is It To Get Into Harvard Medical School?

Harvard Medical School (HMS) is definitely hard to get into. 2020’s data shows that 6,708 applicants applied and only 234 got accepted (with 798 interviews). But this 3.35% admission rate doesn’t show the full picture. Getting in is supposedly easier if you have exceptional extracurriculars.

Of course, any medical school is hard to get into but HMS is something of an interesting topic. Its Ivy League status makes it hugely desirable but also puts a lot of people off from applying!

So in this article, we’ll go deep on what makes getting into HMS hard and whether or not it’s worth your time applying.

Here’s what else you’ll learn:

  • If Harvard Medical School is actually hard to get into
  • What people say about the process
  • If it’s easier for males, females, or students from underrepresented backgrounds
  • If it’s worth your time applying

As a med student who didn’t get into a top-tier school, I understand how tough it is to pursue the dream of becoming a doctor. So I hope to add some interesting discussion to the topic!

Ready to get started? Let’s go.

Is Harvard Medical School (Actually) That Hard To Get Into?

Harvard’s 3.35% acceptance rate is nowhere near the lowest rate in the U.S. (Florida State University’s College of Medicine is, at 2.1%). In fact, HMS is not even in the top 10! (Source).

So does that mean that Harvard is actually easier to get in to compared to other med schools?

Unfortunately not.

Acceptance rates only reflect the number of admissions compared to the number of available places (FSU has fewer applicants but also fewer places!).

That’s why in Harvards’ case, despite the ratio looking better than many other med schools, it’s no indicator that it’s any “easier” to get into. It just means that fewer people apply.

Just as a rock-solid GPA (HMS’ average being 3.9) and a high MCAT offer no guarantee of getting in either, Harvard’s acceptance rate doesn’t tell the full story about the difficulty of its admissions process.

The truth is how “hard” it actually is, is something of a mystery.

On the one hand, we have the data and prerequisites given by the school (more on this later). On the other, we have invisible criteria set by their admissions committee.

It’s only the actual testimony and examples of HMS’s current (and previous) medical students that can really help answer the question.

Why Harvard Medical School Is Hard To Get Into (What Harvard Med Students Tell Us)

Here’s what international medical student (and YouTuber) Crazy Medusa says about the process…

To summarize, here’s what she suggests can make getting into Harvard Medical School hard:

  1. NOT having an undergraduate degree from a U.S. College
  2. Having no guaranteed GPA score (or a defined minimum cut-off)
  3. Having no guaranteed MCAT score (or a defined minimum cut-off)
  4. Attempting to afford the big tuition fee
  5. Not clearly knowing “how to stand out” on an application
  6. Not fully understanding what extracurriculars (hours, types etc.) you need

As you can see, there are far more unknowns than knowns when it comes to understanding what you have to do to get in.

I’d argue that makes it very hard indeed!

What Can Make Getting Into Harvard Medical School Easier?

Besides scoring as high as you can on the MCAT and at undergrad, then meeting all the course prereqs (we cover all of these at the end), what else can you do to make getting into HMS easier?

The information Harvard actually gives is pretty generic (and the same for most med schools).

Here are a few snippets…

  1. Harvard Medical School looks for demonstrated academic rigor, excellence, and achievement.
  2. Harvard Medical School looks for commitment to altruism.
  3. Harvard looks for leadership.
  4. Harvard looks for specialized clinical and research experience.

Note: these are all listed as “selection factors” on Harvard’s main website (Source).

Any pre-med applicant will already be aware that they’ll have to satisfy all of these factors, but that last point is considered (by many) to be strongly weighted by Harvard’s admissions committee.

One theory on why many applications go wrong? They focus too much on meeting grade expectations and common extracurriculars, and not enough on published research.

Because Harvard Medical School is #1 ranked in the country for its research (8 places above its primary care ranking (Source)), there could be potential favoritism at stake.

Students with exceptional research credentials, with work published in reputable journals, may stand a better chance.

So perhaps don’t squander an application targeting it to primary care only.

How You Can Improve Your Chance of Making it into Harvard Medicine

Here’s another take on how “hard” it is to get into Harvard Med (and what you can do to make things easier). This time from an American student!

There are several good pointers here that can help you think about what you can do to improve your chances…

In brief, here are Daniel Gabriel’s tips:

  1. Reach out to current Harvard Medical students and ask them what they did to get in (then emulate them)
  2. Focus on only one or two things you’re truly passionate about (rather than a bunch of superficial ones)
  3. Build your application around what makes you unique and special
  4. Put yourself in the shoes of the admissions team, ask yourself what you’d like to see from an applicant

One of the big things Daniel mentions is community leadership. One of the big ways pre-meds can get involved in projects like this is through volunteering.

But I’d argue letters of recommendation (LOR’s) can also make a big difference.

If you can get one from an esteemed and well-known individual, it could definitely help catch the eye.

Pathways Track Vs Health Sciences & Technology (HST) Track

Understanding the application process, and exactly what HMS offers, is another way prospective students can help make things a little easier.

The Pathways Track has more spaces (135) for students than HST (33), with the former also being more clinically focused.

As we’ve already mentioned, HMS is a research-heavy school. For that reason, even if you only intend on applying for Pathways, it might not be a bad idea to still try and get some research experience.

Knowing you can offer something in that area, on top of having a depth of clinical experience, is something that could potentially appeal.

Either way, make sure you understand both of these tracks and exactly what it is they offer.

Don’t get caught out right away because of your failure to pay attention to detail.

Will It Help If I’m From A Background Underrepresented in Medicine?

21% of Harvard’s 2020 admissions came from backgrounds underrepresented in medicine. That’s a large proportion!

As to whether being in this situation can make getting into the school any easier? It’s complicated to say.

You’ll still have to match all the prereqs and get killer grades to even be considered, but it’s also good to know that the school is actively looking to help students that many other schools may overlook.

Is It Easier If You’re Female?

Curiously, 60% of 2020’s admissions to Harvard Med were female. That’s 4% above the national average gender ratio for U.S. Colleges (Source).

As for whether this means it’s easier to get into HMS if you’re a female, it’s really hard to say.

4% above the normal average is too close to make that assumption.

So, Is It Worth Applying?

Clearly, this decision will be entirely down to you and whether you feel you can overcome the difficulties (and uncertainties) of applying.

If you’ve got your heart set on Harvard Medical School then you better make sure you match all the prereqs, and do your utmost to push that GPA and MCAT score as high as you can.

Doing so opens the first door to getting in; impressing enough with your academic record so that HMS’s admissions will take a further look at everything else.

If you fail that first part, the energy you spend working hard on leveling up other aspects of your application just might not be worth it.

Either way, before applying, you absolutely need to familiarize yourself with every inch of the application process.

Final Thoughts

Based on my research and the points in this discussion, here’s what I feel is the takeaway summary.

Getting into Harvard Medical School is exceptionally hard. While you obviously have to be academically excellent, you also need something unique and special to help you stand out. Because it’s not clear exactly what that is; the process is only even harder!

Something that influences this viewpoint is reading several personal accounts from applicants who seemingly do everything right (even completing published research at the school itself) and still don’t get in.

I went to MIT and graduated in 3.5 years. I had research done at Harvard Medical School and published with me as the primary researcher. My GPA was 3.87, with recommendations from the Chairman of the Massachusetts medical society, my research adviser, my guidance counselor, and professors in chemistry and physiology. My MCAT’s were near perfect… I was not accepted. I was accepted at multiple medical schools but not the one where I had done 750 hours of research.

(Source)

To them, the mystery of exactly what it is you need to do is even more frustrating!

But although I don’t know the exact reasons why HMS is so hard to get admitted to – but am pretty sure it’s not things like the school favoring its own undergrads, or being biased towards “more diverse” students, or accepting admissions based on the sizeable donations of parents, etc – I do understand any reason they have for making it so.

At the end of the day, the school wants exceptional students to train to become doctors.

And it’s up to them to define that.

Any confusion over what you should or shouldn’t do (in your attempt to get in) should simply be treated like another test.

Yes, it might be the “hardest” one of all (because it’s so unclear). But it’s also not impossible.

The successful students in this discussion are a case in point!

Related Questions

Many of these questions are answered in accordance to the data published by Admissions at a Glance, Harvard Medical School’s Class of 2024.

What Prerequisites Do I Have To Meet To Get Into Harvard Medical School?

HMS’s course prerequisites are made clear on this page.

You’ll need:

  • Behavioral Sciences
  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Physics
  • Math
  • Writing

What Undergraduate Degree Does Harvard Medical School Prefer?

Harvard Medical School states no preference. 70% of the class of 2024 are science degree majors.

What is the Average GPA of Harvard Medical School?

3.9

What is the Average MCAT of Harvard Medical School?

  1. BBFL 130.22
  2. CARS 128.9
  3. CPBS 130.29
  4. PSBB 130.41

Total: 519.82

What is the Age Range of Accepted Students to Harvard Medical School?

20-34

What is the Acceptance Rate at Harvard Medical School for International Students?

Harvard Medical School hasn’t released the actual data here. But here’s what their official line is on their website…

While we do accept applications from students with international educational backgrounds, candidates with degrees from accredited institutions in the US and Canada are strongly preferred. Students are required to complete at least three years of college work and a baccalaureate degree prior to matriculation.

It’s probably sensible to assume, based on that, it’s less than the 3.35% acceptance rate given for all admissions.

Only 6 countries other than the U.S. made up admissions for 2020.