Competition for Medical School Stiffens

Crimson Graphic

National medical school application numbers

The number of students nation-wide applying to medical school increased last year after six years of decline, intensifying admissions competition at Harvard Medical School (HMS) and other highly-selective institutions.

About 35,000 people applied to American medical schools last year, an increase of 3.4 percent over the previous year, according to data released recently by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC). Within that pool, both females and certain minority groups comprised record-high percentages.

For the 2003 entering class at HMS, 4,523 students applied for a spot, and 165 accepted an offer of admission. The previous year, despite problems with the newly-implemented Web-based system for reporting MCAT scores—prompting HMS to relax its application deadline—about 100 fewer people applied to the school. Speaking of the change in the number of applicants from 2002 to 2003, HMS’ Director of Admissions and Financial Aid Mohan D. Boodram said, “In my mind, that was a significant increase, although it looks like a slight increase” because of the deadline extension.

Following the national trend, officials at HMS and the Office of Career Services (OCS) said they observed a slight increase in the number of students seeking admission to the class of 2004 at HMS and other schools.

“As of the beginning of November, our application volume was comparable to Nov. 1 of last year, perhaps slightly larger,” Boodram wrote in an e-mail. The final application deadline at HMS was Nov. 15.

OCS Director of Premedical and Health Career Advising Lee Ann Michelson ’77 said premedical tutors have suggested that more Harvard students are applying to medical schools this year than in years past.

“Last year, eight percent of the senior class applied. Five years ago, 12 to 15 percent applied, but I think the numbers are going to go up for us,” Michelson said.

Michelson said a slow economy and the associated scarcity of jobs may be a reason for the expected surge.

“People think that med school applications sometimes parallel the economy,” she said.

Boodram said his office has made a change to accommodate more applications.

“We have pushed our decision letter mailing date out to early March in order to ensure that we have adequate time to consider each application carefully,” he wrote.

As for the application evaluation process, Boodram said it has not been altered.

“We will continue our long-standing practice of reading each and every application from cover to cover as we select candidates for on-campus interviews,” he wrote.

Applicants who are not contacted for an interview will not be given an offer of admission, Boodram said.

Despite the increase, Boodram said, “We have no plans to increase the number of applicants invited for interviews. So far the credentials of this year’s interviewing candidates remain indistinguishable from those of the interviewees of past years.”

Some said they thought the increase held little overall significance for Harvard students facing the medical school application process. Consistently, 94 percent of Harvard students who apply to medical school have received an offer of admission from at least one school, according to Michelson.