Boston is one of the most sought-after cities in the U.S. — and the world — to pursue a medical degree.
The city is a healthcare leader, with over 20 hospitals fulfilling a variety of medical needs, including Arbour Hospital for psychiatric care, Beth-Israel Deaconess Medical Center for teaching, and Jewish Memorial Hospital for long-term care.
Plus, three of the country’s most prestigious medical schools are located within a 5-mile radius of the historic city. These schools are highly selective, drawing from increasingly talented candidate pools every year.
In this guide, we’ll tell you about these three med schools as well as special pre-med programs offered at other colleges in the city. Then we’ll go through what makes a med school application most likely to get accepted.
All three of the following med schools offer degrees only in allopathic medicine (MD), the traditional approach to diagnosing and treating diseases. Doctors of osteopathic medicine (DO), on the other hand, are taught to examine and treat patients holistically.
Here are Boston’s three med schools and finest pre-med programs.
Medical Schools in Boston
Boston University School of Medicine (Boston, MA)
The Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) started as the New England Female Medical College, the first institution in the country to teach medicine to women. In 1864, Rebecca Lee Crumpler beat the odds and became the first African American woman to earn an MD in the U.S. from New England Female Medical College.
Today, this med school continues to break down barriers, recruiting a diverse student body and treating underserved patient populations.
The first two pre-clinical years of med school at BU are mostly lecture-based. In the first year, subject blocks include anatomy, physiology, genetics, neuroscience, immunology, and human behavior in medicine. Second-year shifts focus to pathologies: infectious diseases, oncology, and more.
Then comes two years of clinical rotations, each one lasting between four to eight weeks. Third-year rotations include family medicine, pediatrics, OB-GYN, and neurology. Fourth-year students do advanced courses in geriatrics and home care, a sub-internship in their chosen specialty, and one selective rotation (ambulatory or surgical subspecialty).
In addition to the regular curriculum, BU med students have the opportunity to participate in programs with local impact, such as the Outreach Van Project, which provides health services to low-income and homeless communities in the greater Boston area.
Tufts University School of Medicine (Medford, MA)
Tufts offers three distinguished doctorate programs at their school of medicine.
One is the traditional MD: two years of pre-clinical classes followed by two years of rotation, similar to BU’s med program. Advanced rotations begin late in the third year instead of the fourth year.
Another is the Maine Track MD, offered in conjunction with the Maine Medical Center. This program utilizes a community-based curriculum in the state of Maine to prepare students for the unique challenges of rural medicine.
And then there’s the Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT), an accelerated two-year program that combines online learning and intensive lab sessions, the most accessible program to anyone living in the U.S. Most classroom learning is virtual, and the only on-campus requirement is eight hands-on clinical training labs.
Like BU, Tufts offers a plethora of community service opportunities so students experience the type of local impact they will have as future doctors.
Harvard Medical School (Cambridge, MA)
At Harvard, the #1 medical school for research according to U.S. News, students are at the forefront of technological and biomedical research. Past alumni include Harvey Cushing, a pioneering neurosurgeon who first described Cushing’s disease in 1912.
Harvard’s exhaustive list of medical innovations includes the introduction of the smallpox vaccine to the U.S., the first use of anesthesia during surgery, the first successful heart valve surgery, and the discovery of the cause of preeclampsia.
The MD program has two tracks: Pathways or Health Sciences and Technology (HST). Pathways resembles the traditional four-year track described above, with all the rigor of a Harvard education. HST is a joint approach between Harvard and MIT that integrates the latest in technology and engineering to inform medical practices.
Pre-Med Programs in the Boston Area
Pre-med programs are the general curricula of anyone — usually undergrads — planning to go to med school. Pre-med students include biology, chemistry, physiology, and other majors in related STEM fields.
In addition to the above med programs, the following schools have excellent pre-med programs.
Boston College (Newton, MA)
The pre-health program at Boston College helps undergrads plan their courses, major, and preferred career specialization. Whether they intend to go into medical, dental, veterinary, physical therapy, or nursing school, students can find ample guidance at BC for the specific health career they want.
BC advisors hold annual application meetings to help pre-med and pre-dental students through the long application process. They are paired with a committee advisor who helps them keep track of their letters of recommendation and required pre-health courses.
BC grads have gone on to successful careers in health and research. Neurosurgeon Kevin J. Tracey, a BC grad himself, was cited in 2019 as one of the world’s most-cited researchers.
Brandeis University (Waltham, MA)
Likewise, pre-med undergrads at Brandeis receive plenty of guidance and preparation for med school. In addition to traditional pre-med advising, Brandeis is home to a unique undergrad program that provides a more holistic approach to studying medicine.
The Health: Science, Society, and Policy Program (HSSP) is an interdisciplinary program that educates students on health from biological, social, economic, and policy standpoints. It is available as either a major or minor for those interested in medicine as well as any other health-related career.
Brandeis alumni have attracted renown in all fields of academia, STEM research in particular. Susan Band Horowitz earned her biochemistry PhD from Brandeis and received international acclaim when she co-discovered Taxol, a cancer-fighting drug.
MCPHS: Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Science (Boston, MA)
Students at MCPHS have over 100 different health programs to choose from, starting early in their college career. By the time they get to advanced degree programs, they are often more prepared than their peers.
Acupuncture, dental hygiene, pharmacy, nursing, premedical and health studies — within each track, there are further specializations for specific careers. For example, the premedical and health studies pathway includes majors in physician assistantship, medicine, dental medicine, optometry, and veterinary medicine.
MCPHS’s Boston campus is centrally located near the city’s top hospitals — Boston Children’s Hospital, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute — and Harvard Medical School. Proximity to so many different institutions gives MCPHS students unparalleled access to learning with world-class physicians.
How to Get Accepted
Getting into a top-tier med school, like those described in this article, is challenging to say the least. Each of the three med schools we highlighted has an acceptance rate below the national average of 7%.
But don’t let that deter you, especially if you have an exceptional application.
GPA, MCAT, and Required Classes
How do you stand out from the crowd? To start, make sure your GPA and MCAT scores are competitive. Most Harvard applicants have an average GPA of 3.92 and MCAT score of 519, and BU applicants earn around 3.83 and 518. Tufts hopefuls average a tad lower, with a GPA of 3.73 and MCAT score of 514.
Successful candidates excel in their pre-med requirements, which include the following (generally one year each unless otherwise specified and depending on program).
● Biology with lab
● Inorganic chemistry with lab
● Organic chemistry with lab
● Physics with lab
● Biochemistry (one semester)
● Statistics (one semester)
● Calculus/higher level math (one semester)
Grades and classes are important. However, they’re not everything. If your application is particularly strong in other areas, admissions officers will take notice.
Letters of Recommendation
In addition to solid grades, strong letters of recommendation will help you get ahead. Generally, aim for at least two letters from faculty whose science classes you’ve taken, and one additional reference (academic or non-academic). BU, Tufts, and Harvard’s requirements vary slightly, so it’s a good idea to check their specific guidelines.
Furthermore, these letters should highlight your personality and passion for healthcare through specific anecdotes, rather than generic comments about your good grades and attendance.
So when asking your references for letters of rec, give them your resume and personal statement — these materials will help them write a more compelling endorsement.
Extracurriculars and Research/Work Experience
References should come from in and out of the classroom. Extracurriculars and work experience reveals yet another side of the applicant.
Highlight your science and health experience: shadowing physicians, volunteering at clinics, researching in the lab. These are the minimum expectations. But you should also show off leadership and interpersonal skills.
Demonstrating your leadership in a school or community organization, where you work with others to solve problems, helps med schools see you as a future champion for patients’ wellbeing.
You can even underscore the summer jobs in retail or afterschool tutoring you might have had. These positions, too, help build the interpersonal skills that are vital to doctor-patient relationships.
Those who get into top med schools like Harvard have also published research in peer-reviewed journals, proving scientific literacy and an ability to contribute to the field.
While there’s no official checklist, having some combination of the above that demonstrates both scientific knowledge and an indomitable desire to help others will make your application highly competitive.
Interviews at BU, Tufts, and Harvard are all traditional (one-on-one) and open-file, meaning your interviewer(s) will have your application in front of them during the interview.
Despite the low acceptance rate of these prestigious med schools, students reported low to moderate stress during the interview process. According to self-reports on The Student Doctor Network, questions were mostly standard: why choose medicine, elaborate on your experiences, and talk about any research you’ve done.
By all means, prepare as much as possible, but relax enough that you can be yourself and confirm their good impression of your application.