1. Allopathic Medical Schools
Where should you apply? Medical schools differ in several respects. For example, some emphasize clinical practice; others emphasize research, teaching, and academic medicine, although all will give you an excellent foundation for wherever your future career leads you. Curricula differ a great deal also. Some schools will give you exposure to patients very early; others will wait until the third year. Some have mostly lecture-based courses in the first years while others use case studies and problem-based learning. Some have an extensive required curriculum, while others offer room for many electives. Consult their Websites and the MSAR for this information.
The "personalities" of medical schools also vary, but most try hard to create a supportive community where all students will succeed. Some are fairly relaxed; others are more intense. Most are urban. You can get some feeling for these things as you visit schools on interview day and talk to the students there.
First, you should apply to the medical schools within your state. Most medical schools receive financial support from the states in which they are located and legislatures demand that they serve their own residents first. If the state in which you reside does not have a medical school, other medical schools may save places in the class for its residents. For example, Sidney Kimmel College (Jefferson) saves places for Delaware residents, and the University of Vermont and Dartmouth for Maine residents. The University of Washington in Seattle, Washington saves places for residents of Wyoming, Alaska, Montana and Idaho. If you have some question about whether you qualify as a state resident, call and ask the medical school admissions office how residency is determined.
Second, read about each medical school in the on-line MSAR paying particular attention to the median Overall GPA and the median Science GPA. If the median for students entering the first year class is 3.7, you should have no less than 3.5 to apply; in other words, if your GPA is more than 2/10th less than the median, you probably will not be invited for an interview. The median GPA of students matriculating last year at Penn, Baylor and Chicago was about 3.9; at University of Iowa, University of Connecticut and Indiana University both the overall and science median GPAs were 3.8. Some schools are less numbers-driven and are willing to interview applicants with GPAs somewhat lower than their norm.
Third, look at the tuition (for both a resident and a non-resident) for each school and notice how many out-of-state students they accepted. Many state institutions' tuition for in-state students is significantly lower, sometimes as low as 25% of out-of-state charges. You should be aware that some states tie scholarship support during medical school to commitments to serve in the state that educates them. These schools sometimes accept very low numbers of out-of-state students, or none at all. Don't apply to schools that will not even consider you!
You may also want to look at the number of applicants, the number interviewed and the number matriculating. For example, George Washington University in Washington, D.C. had 14,004 applicants and interviewed 1,132 (about 8%) and matriculated 180 (1%), 171 of whom were not residents of the District of Columbia. On the other hand, University of Mississippi had only 445 applicants who were Mississippi residents, interviewed 227 (62%) and matriculated 165 (37%), all from Mississippi. Obviously, a student from the state of Mississippi would stand a much better chance of receiving an interview and being accepted at University of Mississippi than at another medical school. Even some private schools accept a larger percentage of in-state students.
You may want to purchase the most recent edition of the MSAR Online which has the most accurate and authoritative information on individual medical schools. The 2019-2020 edition should be out in April.
How many applications should you file? There is no single, correct number. The national average seems to be about 16 per person, but you have to estimate your own chances. Even if you are very confident, you should apply to about 15-20 schools, representing a range of selectivity. More than 20 is unnecessary and expensive, and could be counterproductive if it becomes difficult for you to complete and keep track of your applications. Check the MSAR now and start refining your list. If your Swarthmore GPA (and MCAT scores) are very high and you have had strong health care related experiences, you could consider applying to about 15 carefully chosen medical schools as long as they represent a range of selectivity.
Don't waste your time and money applying to schools that will not accept you, either because their average GPA and MCAT scores are far above yours, or because they restrict admission to residents of a state where you do not have residency. For example, at the most elite medical schools, applicants who were accepted last year had a mean GPA of 3.8 and a mean MCAT in the 95th percentile. If you don't have at least a 3.7+ GPA, it makes sense to focus your efforts (and money) on other places.
2. Osteopathic Medical Schools
Some of you may be interested in investigating osteopathic medical schools. Osteopathic medicine is quite similar to allopathic medicine, with an added emphasis on manipulative therapy and palpatory diagnosis. Their philosophical focus is on treating the "whole person," and on preventive care. Osteopathic medical school is a four-year curriculum similar to an allopathic medical school's, leading to a DO degree, followed by residency. Although it is possible to pursue any specialty, most DOs pursue primary care. There are more than 100,000 practicing osteopathic physicians in the U.S., and they are growing greatly in acceptance throughout the country and the health care profession
Osteopathic medical schools tend to be somewhat easier to get into than allopathic schools, and are a particularly good match for those students who know that they are interested in primary care. Last year, there were roughly 21,500 applicants for approximately 7,600 seats at 40 colleges and branch campuses. (They do not publish acceptance statistics.) They have a separate application process, which is described below.