Medical school hopefuls often assume that med schools—especially public institutions—give preference to in-state applicants (those who are residents of the same state as the med school at the time they apply). At Collegiate Gateway, we like to look at the big picture as well as big data. So how true is this assumption?

The numbers suggest that for many public schools, this is true! For private schools, applicants’ state of residence plays less of a role. In this post, we’ll walk you through what we’ve gleaned about whether in-state preference plays a role in med school admissions, and how much.

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In-State Preference: Our Findings

Collegiate Gateway has developed an “in-state preference multiple” calculation, which consists of each school’s in-state acceptance rate divided by its out-of-state acceptance rate, to provide a proxy for the preference a school has for in-state applicants. A number above 1.0 suggests a preference for in-state applicants, while a number below 1.0 suggests a preference for out-of-state applicants. Our thinking here is that, if a higher percentage of in-state applicants are accepted than out-of-state applicants, the med school could reasonably be said to favor the former over the latter.

Based on this calculation, here’s what we’ve found using the most recent data available:

Overall, most of the 125 schools we looked at had in-state preferences to some degree, based on this calculation.

Public Med Schools

We reached out to several public medical schools to confirm whether our interpretation is valid, and those we heard back from confirmed that they do, indeed, strongly favor in-state applicants. Public schools get funding from their state governments, and so naturally often prefer medical students who will go on to serve as physicians in that same state. Schools may also give preference to applicants who don’t live in the state, but can demonstrate a very strong tie to the state or live in an adjacent state.

Doug Taylor, Associate Dean and Director of Admissions and Records at East Tennessee State University’s Quillen College of Medicine, said by email that there is “a strong preference for Tennesseans at this state supported institution. We also strongly discourage others from applying—except for those in our immediate area or honorably discharged veterans of US military service.” Similarly, those groups of applicants favored by the Oregon Health & Science University are Oregon residents and nonresidents with Oregon heritage.

FSU College of Medicine strongly favors in-state applicants as well. “For a long time we only admitted in-state students,” said Doug Carlson, Director of Public Affairs and Communications. Now, the school accepts out-of-state applicants, but only in very small numbers: for each of the past two years, only three out-of-state applicants were accepted, as compared to 176 in-state applicants. (The total number of completed applications was over 3,000 each year, with about a third of those from out-of-state applicants.)

Interestingly, this didn’t mean that accepted in-state applicants had lower stats, which you might assume was the case given the school’s strong preference. In fact, at FSU, the median undergraduate GPA for accepted in-state students was 3.83—much higher than the median undergraduate GPA for accepted out-of-state students, which was 3.59. The median MCAT scores for the two groups were comparable, just one point higher for accepted out-of-state students: 509, as compared to 508 for accepted in-state students. This pattern holds true for some other public schools, too: the stats for accepted in-state and out-of-state students at both Quillen and OHSU were comparable. At other schools, though, like the med schools at the University of Alabama and the University of Washington, accepted in-state applicants did have lower stats than accepted out-of-state applicants.

Dr. Eric Laywell, Assistant Dean for Admissions at FSU’s med school, explained that their admissions approach is aligned with the school’s priorities. While they want a student body whose stats suggest they will be successful in medical school and beyond, once applicants meet this threshold, admissions officers prioritize their fit with the school’s mission. That is, they’re not chasing higher MCAT scores and GPAs for their own sake: admissions officers want to know that they are a good fit for the school. And a big part of that involves wanting to practice in the state of Florida, which has a physician shortage. (Beyond this, Laywell noted that since they accept so few out-of-state students, the sample size is probably too small for any meaningful numerical comparison.)

Given the strong in-state bias of FSU’s med school selection committee, applicants must demonstrate that they have very strong ties to the state of Florida. “We’re as transparent as we can be that you have to make the case that you have significant ties, and that’s just a high bar for out-of-state applicants,” Laywell said. The best way to do this is by being a citizen of the state of Florida; out-of-state students can demonstrate significant ties in other ways, such as by owning property, having close family who live in Florida, and/or living in an adjacent county.

Private Med Schools

Unlike public med schools, private med schools do not have a strong tendency to favor in-state applicants. As noted above, the most selective private medical schools tend to have multiple ratios that hover around 1.0, meaning that the percentages of in-state and out-of-state applicants who are accepted is around equal. Predictably, at such schools, stats for both groups were generally analogous. At Columbia University, for example, the median GPA for accepted applicants was 3.91 for in-state applicants and 3.92 for out-of-state applicants. The median MCAT score, meanwhile, was 522 for both groups. Stats were similarly comparable at Weill Cornell and Stanford.

There are, however, a number of private med schools with multiple ratios over 1.0, meaning that a greater percentage of in-state applicants are accepted. For example, as noted above, based on the most recent stats, Brown University had an elevated multiple ratio compared to these other selective private schools. However, when we reached out to the admissions office at Brown’s medical school, a representative wrote back that state residence is “something we take into consideration but it is not a preference.” They elaborated: “We have a holistic review process. That is all the information that can be provided to prospective applicants.” (Stats for accepted in-state and out-of-state applicants to Brown’s med school were comparable.)

Similarly, although Saint Louis University School of Medicine had a multiple ratio of 4.33, the school’s Office of Admission stated that the school does not prefer in-state students. “Our Committee considers both in and out of state candidates in the same pool,” a representative wrote by email. “There is no difference in consideration based on state of residence, as we are a private university.” Stats for accepted in-state and out-of-state applicants were comparable: the median GPA for accepted applicants was 3.92 for in-state and 3.90 for out-of-state; and the median MCAT was 513 for in-state and 515 for out-of-state.

Why these and other private schools accept a higher percentage of in-state students when they state a lack of preference for such students remains open to interpretation.

The Upshot

Based on our investigation, many public med schools strongly prefer in-state applicants, while private med schools tend to place less (or no) emphasis on applicants’ state of residence. But even at public schools with such a preference, you must meet certain academic standards in order to be competitive. The other takeaway is that there are no hard and fast rules here: these preferences and patterns vary greatly, depending on the individual medical school. So make sure to do diligent research on all the schools you’re considering as you develop your med school list.

Applying to medical school is a complicated process. Feel free to contact Collegiate Gateway for guidance on any aspect of the med school application and admissions process. As always, we’re happy to help!