Stanford Medical School is one of the top medical schools in the country. In the 2019 U.S. News & World Report medical school rankings Stanford was listed third after Harvard Medical School and Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. It was tied with the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania.

What Makes Stanford Unique

Stanford is not just a great medical school, it is also one of the top research facilities in the world. Since 1960, it’s been home to eight Nobel Prize winners among its faculty. It also currently has four MacArthur Foundation “geniuses” as well as many National Academy of Science members and other top notch innovators and award winners. 

In addition to its place in the overall medical school rankings, Stanford Medical School was considered #1 in research in the areas of genetics, genomics, bioinformatics, biochemistry, biophysics, structural biology, neuroscience and neurobiology by U.S. News & World Report. Its Biosciences PhD program is ranked at the top among such graduate programs.

It’s “flipped classroom” teaching style exemplifies this focus on research. Problem solving exercises are incorporated into class time. The goal is to force students to overcome a reliance on rote memorization in favor of critical thinking skills, as this will impact innovation in both the laboratory and when treating patients. Patient interaction is provided via Stanford Health Care and the Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital. Stanford’s emphasis on both research and patient interaction influences how the administration evaluates applicants. 

How Selective is Stanford?

Given how prestigious and innovative it is, it’s no wonder that Stanford is extremely competitive. In 2016, of the 7,512 people that applied, only 516 were interviewed and 183 accepted. This works out to a 2.4% acceptance rate, which is actually lower than the 4.5% acceptance rate at Johns Hopkins and the 3.7% acceptance rate for Harvard Medical School that year. Stanford is only becoming more competitive – in 2019, the acceptance rate was only 1.2%. 

How to Apply to Stanford

You can apply using the American Medical College Application Service, or AMCAS. The deadline for your application is October 1 and secondary essays are due by October 21. We strongly encourage, however, that you apply early. Due to the competitive nature of the Stanford medical program, we suggest you finalize everything including your pre-written essays by no later than July. 

Stanford Medical School Requirements

According to their website, Stanford Medical School requirements are, on the surface, less stringent than those of some other programs. The requirements outlined include taking the MCAT within 4 years of matriculation and graduating from an accredited degree program. For foreign applicants, at least one year must have been spent at an accredited institution located in the United States, Canada or the United Kingdom. Stanford Medical school requirements regarding coursework are more flexible than those of some other programs. This is not due to Stanford being less stringent, but instead provides students a chance to showcase expertise in various research fields. Mastery in certain areas is still required of the prospective student. 

These include biology, chemistry, physics, mathematics, and English. More specifically, applicants should have a knowledge of cellular biology, an understanding of evolution by natural selection and an understanding of how organisms carry out biological functions. They must understand basic concepts of chemistry and physics vis-à-vis their application to living systems. They must understand the principles of statistics and be able to apply quantitative reasoning to both their own experiments and in evaluating published literature. They must have some hands-on laboratory experience and some exposure to the behavioral and social sciences. Most importantly, they must be able to communicate clearly and fluently. 

Actual Student Body Standards at Stanford

A look at the actual student body gives a picture of just how top notch an applicant must be in order to be accepted by Stanford. While no minimum MCAT score is listed as a requirement, the average score for the most recent class was 520, which puts them in the top 2% of all medical school students. The median GPA for incoming students was 3.93. Note that students who entered with an undergraduate degree in the hard sciences or engineering had a lower GPA than students who had undergraduate degrees in other areas. 

Due to its research focus, Stanford might admit a student with slightly less stellar MCAT scores or a lower GPA if he or she spent several years in a promising research area and published several papers in reputable journals such as JAMA or PNAS. In fact, a look at the student body will show that many published first author peer-reviewed articles prior to entering Stanford. Also, due to Stanford’s emphasis on diversity, a candidate that speaks several foreign languages or that is part of a historically disadvantaged group may have an advantage in the application process. 

Other Areas That Will Be Evaluated

During the candidate evaluation process, there will be multiple non-academic areas that will also be considered. These include, but are not limited to:

  1. Effectiveness of Communication: Because there is a focus on research and patient interaction, candidates must have a fluent command of the English language. They must be able to publish clearly stated articles and they must be able to communicate effectively with peers and patients. 
  2. Ability to Observe and Evaluate: Again, due to the emphasis on lab work, the ability to, say, accurately observe the effects of a drug on micro-organisms will be considered. There is also the aspect of patient histories to consider – a student must be able to reliably discern relevant data regarding his or her patients. 
  3. Logical Thinking Skills: Can a candidate analyze data as well as memorize it? Can he or she perform statistical analysis of said data?
  4. Social Skills and Maturity: The ideal Stanford medical student is not just blessed with a high I.Q., he or she is possessed of a good E.Q. Evaluators will examine candidates to make sure that they are emotionally mature, stable and capable of working as part of a team. 

In addition to these 4 key areas, candidates must also be physically capable of managing the rigorous schedule they will endure during their time at the medical school. Heavy workloads, stressful situations and long hours are part of the regimen. They are expected to meet the highest ethical standards and must understand the legal ramifications of both patient treatment and laboratory research. Finally, they must not have any substance abuse issues. 

Letters of Recommendation and Essays

Stanford requires a minimum of 3 letters of recommendation and allows up to 6. These may be submitted through AMCAS and must be on official letterhead. It’s a good idea for candidates to not only get professors to write letters, but also supervisors in fields of research that the student has worked in. 

The essays required are one long one of less than 2000 words and two shorter ones of less than 1000 words. The first essay is a chance to share unique experiences, including those related to things like gender, race and socioeconomic status, and how these impacted goals and preparation for a career in medicine. The other two essays relate to future goals. In these essays, emphasizing enthusiasm and a broad, optimistic outlook will help. Make sure that the essays are beautifully written, as well, with no typos or grammar errors. 

Interview Process

Candidates who make it to the interview must be prepared to show how they will make an impact on the medical field in general. They must show they are eloquent and reflective about the future of the medicine. Because Stanford uses a Multiple Mini Interview (MMI) format, critical thinking and decision-making processes are emphasized. It’s impossible to memorize medical or scientific data to pass these interviews. The best way, therefore to prepare for the rigors of a Stanford Medical School application is to focus on not just scoring well on the MCAT and getting perfect grades, but to also focus on research that will get you published, and to keep your critical thinking skills sharp. 


As you can see, Stanford Medical School is one of the most competitive and challenging schools to get into. It has earned its place in the medical school rankings by being a premier research institution as well as having high academic standards. The best way to prepare yourself to apply is to start early in your academic career so that you can spend time to accomplish research goals and get published, as well as to meet stated requirements. Consider completing a Pre-Medicine Internship Abroad to increase your clinical exposure and advance your cultural competency. While a top MCAT score and perfect GPA will serve you well, don’t forget that if you come from a unique background that will provide diversity, this may also be an important factor. While the hurdles are high, they are worth the effort for those who want to study at this elite institution.