Harvard Medical School – Acceptance Rate, Ranking, and More

Harvard Medical School sets the standard for medical research programs. Its curriculum for primary care also provides outstanding training and experience for future doctors in almost every branch of medicine. 

Yes, it’s notoriously selective, but accepted applicants gain access to a host of program offerings, covering careers in research, medical practice, education, and global health.

Nine PhD programs and several MD paths, including a combined MD in Health Sciences and Technology offered in collaboration with MIT, furnish Harvard Medical School candidates with multiple avenues toward careers in medical practice, research, and education.

Masters programs in related academic disciplines like bioethics and clinical service operations, as well as Masters of Medical Science degree programs in areas like immunology and global health, give students ways to enhance their MD or PhD program.

Combined degree programs with other Harvard professional schools include an MD-MBA, MD-MPH through the Harvard Chan School of Public Health, and an MD-MPP through Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.

The prosperous research environment at Harvard provides an ideal location for students to become involved in groundbreaking projects while still in medical school. Many students find funding for their studies through the excellent research opportunities at Harvard.

Harvard Medical School sometimes funds student research projects, community service, conference attendance, study abroad options, and a fifth year of medical school dedicated to research. 

These scholarships involve application and review processes, but the opportunities demonstrate the many ways in which Harvard medical students view the calling of medicine as a public vocation, with a facet of widespread responsibility and service.

Located in Boston, Massachusetts’ Mission Hill neighborhood just across the river from Harvard’s main campus in Cambridge, Harvard Medical School has trained doctors since 1782. 

The program includes almost 12,000 total faculty (that’s faculty, not students) on campus and among its many affiliate hospitals, centers, and clinics. The faculty consists of 160 members of the National Academy of Medicine, 83 National Academy of Science members, and 16 Nobel recipients.

Harvard Medical School Acceptance Rate

Harvard Medical School
Németh Dezső, Harvard Medical School, Boston, CC BY-SA 3.0

From 6,708 applicants for 2020 admission, Harvard accepted 168 for MD and MD-PhD programs, along with 161 for PhD programs, giving the school around a 3.5% admissions rate. With so small a window, applicants must examine Harvard Medical’s admissions criteria carefully.

Coursework demonstrating the candidate’s mastery of critical and analytical reasoning, as well as quantitative assessment, enhance a student’s appeal. Mastery of a foreign language is considered a beneficial aspect.

Admissions reports academic record and applicant essays as the first two determining factors in the application process, followed by MCAT scores. Harvard encourages students to apply even if their MCAT doesn’t meet the reported 520 MCAT median of its recently accepted class; other factors are part of the evaluation.

Life experience, summer work or programs, extracurricular activities, and any experiences related particularly to health work and community service enhance a candidate’s profile. Letters of evaluation hold a particular value, and Harvard requires at least one letter from an instructor outside the sciences.

Successful applicants to the program comprehend the societal structure and maintain cultural awareness. Harvard looks for coursework in the Humanities in the student’s transcript to establish these qualities, as well as evidence of these habits in their interests and activities.

The admissions recommendations information refers students to an article in the New England Journal of Medicine for a detailed presentation of their views on premedical education. Students with Harvard Medical as a goal can use this information as a guide to selecting coursework, planning activities, and strategizing their applications.

Harvard Medical School Tuition

Harvard Medical School breaks down its cost of attendance by year and by track; while there’s a little variance between program paths, each year’s cost comes in right around $100,000. That number can be misleading, though, unless candidates consider that Harvard Medical School offers extensive financial packets to students at a variety of levels.

The program’s Middle Income Financial Aid Initiative adjusts the expectation for parent contribution based on income, scaled so that families with a combined income under $100k per year incur no expectation of contribution.

At increased income levels, the expectation of contribution increases, but even at a combined income of $150k, parent contribution reduces by 25% of the program’s standard.

Several scholarship opportunities exist within the university and within the medical school itself, including the Dean’s REACH Scholarship Award Program. REACH offers a four-year need-based scholarship to a few incoming MD students who demonstrate a commitment to helping underserved populations.

The Harvard Financial Aid office administers additional general scholarships. Medical students can also serve as Resident Tutors in the Harvard College housing system, for which they can receive free housing and a meal plan.

The Harvard Medical MD-PhD program is fully funded; candidates accepted to this program usually do not need to apply for additional financial aid. Research assistantships and Federal Work-Study opportunities offer more ways for students to offset the cost of medical school at Harvard.

Upon graduation, the average debt for Harvard Medical students is lower than the national average for both private and public medical school attendees. As of 2020, Harvard Medical graduates left with about $107k in student debt.

Harvard Medical School Requirements

Harvard Medical School
SBAmin, Harvard Medical School, CC BY-SA 3.0

Harvard Medical School requires specific undergraduate coursework as a prerequisite to admission, along with a demonstrated interest and aptitude in the biological and physical sciences.

While required coursework in biology and chemistry, including labs, wouldn’t surprise most applicants, Harvard also requires at least one year of writing courses, for which AP credit cannot be used. Harvard also encourages coursework of some kind in the behavioral sciences, including psychology or sociology.

Other requirements and recommendations follow mostly expected trajectories. Strong computer skills, recommendations letters (at least one from an instructor outside the sciences), MCAT scores within three years are required. While Harvard reports no minimum MCAT score is required, Harvard’s median MCAT score for accepted candidates is 520.

Candidates must be fluent in English and, if they completed their undergraduate work outside the United States or Canada, they must have completed at least one year of training in within one of those countries. Harvard reports that students without an advanced degree from a North American institution rarely gain admission to the program.

Students who have attended other medical schools are not eligible for admission. Harvard Medical does not accept transfer students.

Harvard Medical School Notable Alumni

Graduates of Harvard Medical School excel in practice, research, administration, and education. Bernadine Healy, former director of the National Institutes of Health and CEO of the American Red Cross and former president of the American Heart Association and Dean of Johns Hopkins Richard S. Ross are alumni.

Other graduates include public and cultural figures like activist Jill Stein, writer Charles Krauthammer, author Atul Gawande, and author Michael Crichton.

Poet Raphael Campo and authors Ethan Canin and Mark Vonnegut are also Harvard Medical alumni, along with astronaut and Navy SEAL Jonny Kim. Member of the U.S. House of Representatives David Wu and All-American linebacker and professional football player Patrick Tyrance both make their mark with multiple illustrious careers as well.

Pioneering pediatric surgeons, cardiologists, and neurologists number among alumni. Researchers in transplant science, cancer care, infectious disease, genetics, and biological anthropology got their training at Harvard Medical.

Global leaders in all fields, including Laurie H. Glimcher, president and CEO of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute; Jim Kim, President of the World Bank; and Patrisha Zóbel de Ayala, Chairman of the World Medical Association, all come out of Harvard’s Medical program.

Harvard Medical School Ranking

Harvard Medical School tops most ranking lists among research-based medical school programs. U.S. News ranks Harvard at #8 for primary care programs. Many of its specialty areas, including anesthesiology, psychiatry, surgery, and pediatrics, rank among the top three.

In 2020, QS ranked Harvard Medical School the top medical program in the world, ahead of Oxford and Cambridge.

Rankings create a chicken-and-egg situation, according to some educators and medical professionals. High-level research attracts top caliber faculty. Those faculty bring award-winning, newsworthy projects, enhancing a program’s reputation. A glowing reputation draws the top students, establishing a vibrant, intelligent classroom environment.

Many excellent medical programs out there provide every aspect of necessary training for medical professionals. If new doctors choose to participate in the National Resident Matching Program, the ranking of their medical school matters less than their own class rank in the program.

Letters of recommendation from physicians in the candidates’ areas of specialty rank highly among the residency programs’ considerations. Those letters might come from practitioners within the students’ medical school program, in which case, studying a prestigious, highly-ranked school could be a benefit.

For official ranking from multiple organizations in media and medicine, no school outranks Harvard Medical’s ongoing reputation as a leader in medical education.

Should You Attend Harvard Medical School?

Most people would say the only reason not to attend Harvard Medical School would be a declined application. But medical school candidates all have different reasons for attending medical school, and some goals may be less directly addressed by Harvard’s structure and focus areas.

Students hoping to find new treatments and cures for disease, those candidates who dream of working on a Nobel-level research team—for those applicants, Harvard training provides an ideal next step. But some students’ dreams lead in a different direction.

For students interested in practicing as quickly as possible in medically underserved areas, programs exist across the country that focuses directly on that aspect of the field. 

Many metropolitan medical schools partner with public hospital systems in order to place medical students in shadowing, mentorship, or even guided patient care situations as soon as their first weeks of medical school.

Many medical schools located in the middle and far west offer programs dedicated to the practice of rural medicine. Some maintain scholarships and paths of study dedicated to serving the Native American community or remote farm communities with no other access to medical care. These programs also often give students the opportunity to work in clinical environments during their first year of medical school.

Harvard Medical’s Pathways track does place students in clinical rotations sooner than many programs do; students can get that experience at Harvard. 

If an applicant can achieve acceptance and earn scholarship money to graduate without a lot of debt, a Harvard Medical School diploma could never be a wrong answer.

Medical school candidates—or any candidate for graduate or professional schools in any field—should envision their future career goals without forgetting their quality of life during the program itself. 

While Harvard represents the elite of the medical school world, hundreds of other medical programs provide quality, even elite, training programs. There’s a program to fit every medical school candidate, and not everyone’s number one rank will be the same.