If you’re wondering how to get into Harvard Medical School you’ve come to the right place.
Since the competition is so intense it’s smart to have an idea of how hard it is to get accepted, and what’s expected of each applicant.
It’s surprisingly common for students to get caught up in the details and miss the 30,000ft view of the process. In our experience, the students who have this high-level perspective are the ones with the best chance of getting in.
This guide will show you how to get into Harvard Medical School and what you can expect from the process. By the time you’re done reading it, you’ll be ready to go!
Table of Contents
- Meet The Course Requirements
- Have A High GPA & MCAT Score
- Acquire Solid Research & Clinical Experience
- Demonstrate Leadership Experience
- Get Recommendation Letters From Respected Professors & Doctors
- Show A Selfless Outlook On Practicing Medicine
- Build Strong Communication Skills
- What’s Next?
Meet The Course Requirements
As do all medical schools, Harvard requires you to complete certain base prerequisites before you enroll. These include:
One year of biology with lab. Some cellular and molecular biology and genetics study with an emphasis on human biology is recommended.
Two years, or four courses, of chemistry with lab. The study should include biochemistry and both organic and inorganic chemistry. An upper-level advanced placement course will meet one semester’s worth of this requirement.
One year of math. The study must include a one-year sequence of calculus and statistics, preferably biostatistics. You can use advanced placement credits from Calculus AB and/or BC with an exam score of 4 or 5 to meet the calculus requirement.
However, you can’t apply any advanced placement statistics credits to meet the statistics requirement. If you plan to enroll in the joint Health Sciences and Technology, or HST, program between Harvard and MIT, you need additional math courses, such as linear algebra and differential equations.
One year of physics, preferably with lab. Potential HST students are encouraged to take additional calculus-based physics courses.
One year of intensive writing, including analytical and writing skills and expository writing. Most humanities and social science courses that involve substantial expository writing will fulfill this requirement. Advanced placement credits aren’t accepted for the writing requirement.
Harvard encourages potential students to complete courses in the arts, humanities, language, literature and social sciences (such as anthropology, ethics, psychology, and sociology) to increase their competitive edge when applying for admission.
Such courses help you to increase your cultural awareness, appreciate societal structure and function, and more greatly understand human behavior. These are all skills that you’ll need when working with your future patients.
The school doesn’t require you to major in any particular area during your undergraduate years. You can choose to major in either in a physical science or a non-physical science area, such as the arts or humanities. If you choose a physical science major for your undergraduate studies, many course requirements will overlap with those of medical school and will allow you to explore other activities later on.
If, however, you elect to pursue an undergraduate major in a non-physical science area, you’ll broaden your educational experience, which will help you to stand out among medical school applicants.
Have A High GPA & MCAT Score
For most of the students wondering how to get into Harvard Medical School, this is the area that causes the most stress.
To even be considered for entrance in their medical school, Harvard requires you to have both a high GPA and MCAT score. Remember, accepted students have an amazing 3.9 GPA average and a 519.06 MCAT average.
Don’t worry though, because among the total accepted students the total GPA can actually range from 3.74 to 4.0 with an MCAT score from 513 to 525.
Breaking down the MCAT into its four sections, the Harvard Medical School class of 2022 had an average score of 130.10 in the Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems section, 128.84 in Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems, 129.90 in Psychological, Social and Biological Foundations of Behavior and 129.99 in Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills.
The school looks for candidates who can do well in all areas and doesn’t prefer that students be better qualified in one particular section. Your overall test score matters most.
Study Note: Make sure to check out our library of MCAT tips to help you crush the test and get into the school of your choice!
Acquire Solid Research & Clinical Experience
Harvard Medical School more than “prefers” its applicants have accomplished research. As 99 percent of Harvard’s students had already completed some research, it’s understood that research experience is a virtual requirement for admission.
It’s not sufficient to have simply conducted research, however. You must have accomplished something that makes you stand out among the crowd. For example, you could have authored a published research journal or have been involved in an original research project during your undergraduate years.
When you apply for admission to Harvard Medical School, you’ll choose either the traditional Pathways track or the HST track, or maybe even both. Pathways focuses more on clinical studies, while HST focuses on academic medicine and research in addition to the clinical core.
Eighty percent of Harvard medical students choose the Pathways program, which involves case-based study, advanced science courses, clinical experiences beginning the first few weeks of the first semester, and a research project.
Only about 20 percent of Harvard medical students select the HST program, which involves the study of basic sciences and biotechnology, consistent biomedical research, later clinical experiences beginning around the second semester of the second year, and a required thesis prior to graduation.
Whichever path you choose, it’s recommended that you participate in some clinical experience during your undergraduate years, either by volunteering or by applying for clinical jobs.
If Pathways is your choice, now is the time to concentrate on clinical experience, focusing on whatever specialty interests you. Some experience in research is also helpful.
If you choose the HST track you should focus on research and begin to develop a working relationship with a Principal Investigator (or PI) of a lab. Then, publish research papers and obtain a recommendation letter from that PI. Don’t however, neglect clinical experience because that’s an essential part of your medical training, as well.
Demonstrate Leadership Experience
If you want to learn how to get into Harvard Medical School you should try to adopt the mindset of a physician who will be a respected leader among their peers. This means it’s best to prove your leadership skills before you’re even admitted to Harvard since those skills will help your chances of being accepted.
While you’re an undergraduate or even a high school student, you should try to run for a student office. Aim high, and run for president of your class.
You could also join an academic club and run for an office within that club. Just be ready to show proof that you’ve actually accomplished a worthy goal while in that office. Be innovative. Organize a medical or mission trip to another country or create your own nonprofit charitable group.
You can also demonstrate leadership through academic accomplishments, such as authoring a research paper and proving your dedication to the project by significantly contributing to the experiments and conclusions.
However you choose to demonstrate your leadership skills, though, you’ll need to prove you’re capable of achieving lofty goals.
Get Recommendation Letters From Respected Professors & Doctors
Having the right letters of recommendation can be the difference-maker when it comes to getting accepted to Harvard Medical School.
You can submit up to six letters of recommendation, including at least two letters from science professors and at least one from a non-science professor with whom you took courses for a letter grade. You may also submit a committee letter or a packet from your school for one letter requirement.
It’s better that your letters of recommendation are from respected faculty with whom you’ve had a strong academic relationship. Studies show that students who have a close relationship with their professors are more successful because the mentor-student relationship leads to greater motivation and accountability.
These professors will eagerly provide enthusiastic, yet honest, recommendation letters, whereas professors who are only distantly connected to their students tend to submit impersonal, mediocre letters that don’t meet the high recommendation standards required at Harvard.
The same can be said for physicians with whom you work during your undergraduate years. Working closely with doctors in the capacity of volunteering or student employment is a great way to have them vouch for you in their recommendation letters.
Show A Selfless Outlook On Practicing Medicine
You, like every other medical school applicant, can think of many reasons for pursuing a career in health care. Sure, the salary is enticing, especially if you enter a specialty field, and the status is appealing, as well.
However, you know those aren’t the main reasons.
Yours is a lifelong ambition, and you certainly don’t want Harvard to think your reasons for becoming a physician are selfish. You have a much higher calling, and you need to sincerely convey that when you apply for admission to medical school.
While demonstrating this dedication is important for entrance into any medical school, it’s essential when you apply at Harvard. Harvard stresses that the purpose of medical and scientific knowledge is to better the world by “alleviating suffering and improving health and well-being for all.”
Although your purpose in pursuing a medical degree must be comprehensive, viewing the “big picture.”
It’s not sufficient to simply state you “want to help people.”
You need to discuss specifically whom you want to help and how you could help them. Elaborate on some specific policies or reforms you might have in mind.
Maybe you have a family member or a close friend who has been affected by a certain disease, such as cancer, and your goal is to find a more palliative therapy or even a cure for that cancer.
Be specific. If your passion is researching bone cancer, state that and why. The better you can communicate your selfless purpose for pursuing a medical career, the greater the chance you’ll be considered a worthy candidate to be selected as a Harvard student.
You can further demonstrate your dedication to a specific area of medicine by volunteering at a specialty clinic throughout your undergraduate years. As you gain experience, you’ll feel more comfortable about suggesting ways to improve care. Hopefully, your supervisors will then discuss your enthusiastic dedication in their letters of recommendation.
Build Strong Communication Skills
You’re hoping for a career in the medical field, perhaps as a physician or as a researcher. You’re not going to school to become a television journalist, an attorney, or even an elementary school teacher, so why should you even worry about honing your communication skills?
Think about it the following:
The best doctors are those who not only have acquired knowledge but can effectively communicate that knowledge to their patients. As a physician, you’ll work with patients on a daily basis and will need to be able to both communicate and empathize with them, and good communication involves listening, as well as conversing.
When trying to get into Harvard Medical School, one of the best times to demonstrate your communication skills is during the interview (widely considered the most important step in the application process).
So how can you prepare for this vital step?
Make room for a communications course or two, such as both interpersonal and public communications, during your undergraduate years or consider joining a speech or debate team.
Before your actual medical school entrance interview, take part in mock interviews for practice, preferably with an academic advisor, a member of your premed school committee, or a friend who has successfully been admitted to a medical school.
Don’t forget to consider your own family physician as a potential interviewer. You can be certain that he/she successfully experienced the entire application process, including the interview!
Be ready to answer questions about yourself during the interview. Students often find this part of the application process to be the most difficult. We sometimes tend to hesitate to discuss our positive traits or accomplishments out of fear we might sound boastful!
Remember, communication is not only verbal but includes behaviors like eye contact, emotions, natural flow, confidence and other forms of body language. Have your mock interviewers comment on these skills, as well.
In addition, your attire is another form of communication. Dress professionally for your mock interviews, and ask your interviewers if your appearance conveys a positive message.
Harvard’s interview format is traditional, and you’ll likely meet with at least two interviewers. You’ll be relieved to know that interviewees, in general, feel little stress during their interviews and believe they performed well throughout the process.
This doesn’t mean, however, that you won’t experience some degree of stress during your own interview. You can prepare for this by practicing a couple of your interviews under stress; for example, by wearing uncomfortable clothing.
By the way, you still might wonder why public speaking is important for someone with a medical degree. You’ll one day be a Harvard graduate, and as a result of your status, the public will look up to you as a respected leader in your field.
You may someday need to speak publicly about a successful research project, and you’ll certainly need strong public speaking skills when you accept your Nobel prize!
Now that you know how to get into Harvard Medical School, it’s time to get to work!
Even though the task ahead is obviously challenging you shouldn’t feel overwhelmed or discouraged. Each and every year this school admits students who were unsure if they were going to get accepted or not.
Why not you?