How International Premeds Can Find a Med School
APPLICANTS TO U.S. medical schools who aren’t U.S. citizens or permanent residents face significant obstacles to acceptance.
Many U.S. medical schools do not consider applications from international premeds, no matter how impressive their credentials are, since they reserve all the seats in their medical school class for domestic students, according to admissions experts. Even schools with admissions policies that allow international students to attend rarely accept these students.
Nevertheless, international students do occasionally attend U.S. medical schools, so premeds applying from outside of the U.S. should do careful research to find out which schools are open to international students and have a long history of admitting these students, experts suggest.
Dr. Sahil Mehta, founder of the MedSchoolCoach admissions consulting firm based in Massachusetts, says the “absolute best place to start” the search for international-friendly institutions is by looking at the Medical School Admission Requirements database on the Association of American Medical Colleges website.
Mehta says premeds should check to see how many international students the school interviewed in the last admissions cycle. “What they’ll find unfortunately is that even some of those schools which say they accept international candidates haven’t interviewed an international candidate or accepted an international candidate in many years,” says Mehta, a radiologist and radiology instructor at Harvard Medical School who received his medical degree from the University of Chicago’s Pritzker School of Medicine.
He says international students are more likely to get into a U.S. med school if they have a bachelor’s degree from a U.S. undergraduate institution.
“You have two groups of (international) students. You have a group of students who have completed their undergraduate degree internationally and then are looking to come to the States. That group of students is pretty much nonexistent at U.S. medical schools. You almost will never see an example of that,” Mehta says. “Then there’s a group of international students who have completed their undergrad training … in the U.S., so (for example), they have come from India and they’ve done undergrad at UCLA.”
Mehta says that the latter group of international students, those who have taken the majority or entirety of their medical school prerequisite courses at U.S. undergraduate institutions, are the ones with the best chance of getting into U.S. med schools.
Challenges for International Applicants
One of the reasons it is so difficult for international premeds who have undergraduate degrees from outside the U.S. to get admitted into U.S. medical schools, according to admissions experts, is that these students’ transcripts are hard for admissions officers to assess.
A common problem for all international premeds is that they are not eligible for federal financial aid programs, so if they require subsidies to pay for the cost of their education, they will need to focus on schools that provide institutional, nongovernmental financing, admissions experts warn.
“International students do not qualify for most financial aid options, including any government loans,” Denis Larochelle, an associate professor of biology and chair of the prehealth advisory committee at Clark University in Massachusetts, wrote in an email. “Loans from private banks are difficult to procure and typically have high interest rates. International students often have to demonstrate they can pay for four years of medical school upon admission and this can be prohibitive.”
Marek Svoboda, an international M.D.-Ph.D. student at Dartmouth College’s Geisel School of Medicine who was raised in the Czech Republic, says when he was applying to U.S. medical schools, he often called schools to check if funding and scholarships are available to international students. Svoboda says the scarcity of financial support for international medical students at U.S. med schools is one of the most significant barriers to entry for these students, who could conceivably get accepted to a med school they are unable to afford.
One workaround, Svoboda says, is to pursue a dual-degree program that merges a traditional medical education with a Ph.D. degree in science, since students in that type of program typically receive an annual stipend and are not charged tuition, which minimizes the cost.
However, admissions experts warn against international students pursuing M.D.-Ph.D. or D.O.-Ph.D. degrees if they are not genuinely interested in conducting research and completing a Ph.D. dissertation, since an academic doctorate is a time-consuming and labor-intensive endeavor. Larochelle suggests that dual degree programs that grant both a Ph.D. degree and a medical degree “should only be pursued when there is a bona fide desire to earn both degrees.”
Svoboda says it is important for medical school hopefuls to recognize that it is exceedingly difficult to get admitted to U.S. medical schools, even if they have strong grades and test scores.
“The most important thing is to be aware (of) how hard it is, and many students won’t realize that until the last minute or ever really, so be informed and then … be realistic about this,” he says.
Svoboda adds that though he was able to gain admission to a U.S. medical school as an international student, that is not the case for most international premeds, so it’s important for them to have a backup plan. He says non-U.S. medical schools may be viable options for international premeds who are rejected from U.S. schools.
Mehta urges international premeds not to be discouraged, because even if they don’t get accepted into a U.S. medical school, they can eventually pursue a U.S. medical residency and become a U.S. physician.
“Even if you don’t get into medical school in the United States, know that the odds were unfortunately extremely stacked against you from the start,” Mehta says. “So the likelihood is you’re not going to get in and that’s OK, because if you want to practice in the United States, there are still pathways to get here at the end of the day.”
Here are 10 top medical schools that accept applications from international students, according to both the MSAR database and their institutional websites. Each of these schools is highly rated for either research or primary care in the latest U.S. News Best Medical Schools rankings.
MEDICAL SCHOOL (NAME) (STATE) U.S. NEWS RESEARCH RANK U.S. NEWS PRIMARY CARE RANK
Harvard University (MA) 1 17
Johns Hopkins University (MD) 2 26 (tie)
Stanford University (CA) 3 (tie) 48 (tie)
University of Pennsylvania (Perelman) 3 (tie) 10 (tie)
University of California—Los Angeles (Geffen) 6 (tie) 5
Columbia University (Vagelos) (NY) 6 (tie) 39 (tie)
Washington University in St. Louis 8 12 (tie)
Cornell University (Weill) (NY) 9 (tie) 48 (tie)
University of North Carolina—Chapel Hill 23 1
University of California—Davis 30 (tie) 9