At least on the surface, it would appear that medical school acceptance rates are far too low to keep up with the impending shortage of physicians due to The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), also referred to as "Obamacare". According to U.S. News, a renowned publisher of education rankings and statistics, medical schools accept less than 9 percent of applicants. In context, the article by U.S. News merely intended to highlight the competitiveness of medical school as compared to other professional graduate programs in the United States.
Medical school admissions is, and will be, extremely competitive. Medical schools evaluate students based on a variety of factors, including GPA, MCAT, and clinical experience. In fact, the quantitative data from the AAMC shows that premedical students that are accepted to medical school have higher GPAs and higher MCAT scores than those of their predecessors.
In 2001, the average GPA of premeds accepted to medical school was 3.6 overall. Over the next 11 years, this number increased significantly. The average GPA of students accepted to medical school in 2012 was a 3.68. This is nearly 1/10th of a point higher.
In 2001, the average MCAT score for students accepted to a med school was a mere 29.6. Today, an MCAT score of less than 30 isn't even considered competitive. In contrast, the average medical school matriculant received a 31.2 combined score on the MCAT in 2012. That's nearly a 2-point increase!
Acceptance Rates are only 9 percent
However, are medical schools actually accepting less than 9 percent of would-be physicians? The answer is simply, NO. The figures used by U.S. News to determine the rate of acceptance by medical schools are the number of applications to medical schools compared to the number of students who matriculated. When comparing the number of applications to the number of acceptances, multiple applications from only one applicant aren't considered.
In reality, any premed or medical school hopeful knows that most medical school applicants apply to more than one or two medical schools during the admissions process. Actually, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), the average applicant submits applications to approximately 14 different schools.
The Real Numbers
In 2012, there were approximately 636,309 applications submitted to the 141 medical schools recognized by the AAMC. Of the applications submitted, only 19,517 applicants were admitted to medical school. That is an acceptance rate of approximately 3 percent. The only problem is that this number is wrong!
In fact, there were only 45,266 applicants that submitted those 636,309 applications. Of the 45,266 applicants to medical school, 19,517 became medical school students. This means that approximately 43.11 percent of medical school applicants became medical school students.
The acceptance rate is probably higher than a mere 43% for several reasons. First, some students are accepted to multiple medical schools and, naturally, must chose a single program to attend. Secondly, some students choose not to attend medical school although they were offered admissions.
In short, your chances of becoming a medical school student may actually be greater than you think. Keep in mind that admissions are still really competitive and schools are very selective when choosing their future students. However, the doom and gloom of medical school admissions is beginning to look less grim.
Updates on Accuracy
The AAMC released the Applicants to U.S. Medical Schools by In or Out-of-State Matriculation Status, 2012, which provides clarification on medical school acceptance rates. Although this data is intended to focus on the matriculation of applicants by state of legal residence, the totals at the bottom of the chart provide clear numbers.
From the information provided, you can see that the percentage of medical school applicants NOT accepted to medical school is exactly 56.9 percent. Assuming that all applicants were either (1)accepted or (2)not accepted, we can calculate that exactly 43.1 percent of all medical school applicants get accepted to medical school.
Updates from U.S. News
Since the original publication of this article, U.S. News has replaced their previous review with another. The current article by U.S. news simply omits a collective medical school acceptance rate. Instead, the new article focuses on acceptance rates of schools individually, making the statistics valid, at the very least.
To validate these still very inaccurate percentages, the author of the U.S. News article uses the "average acceptance rate" of what they refer to as the medical schools that are the toughest to get into.
Hopkins, Katy. 10 Medical Schools With Lowest Acceptance Rates. U.S. News & World Report.
Table 1: U.S. Medical School Applications and Matriculants by School, State of Legal Residence, and Sex, 2012. The Association of American Medical Colleges.