May 3, 2021

What It Takes to Get into a California Medical School

The Savvy Premed

By: Savvy Pre-Med Staff

Beautiful weather, sunny beaches, great food, vibrant culture - who wouldn’t want to spend 4+ years living and training in California?

Whether you’re an in-state applicant who’s desperate to say close to home or an out-of-state applicant looking for a new adventure during medical school, the 16 California medical schools draw a lot of attention and receive a bevy of applicants every year.

So, how exactly do you get into a California medical school? Well, it’s not that simple of an answer, mainly because the 16 schools are so different.

But we’re here to offer a general breakdown of what it takes to get into a California medical school, with relevant data and key information about each institution!

What It Takes to Get into a California Medical School

First of all, you should know that it’s incredibly difficult to get into California medical schools, compared to many other states:

Let’s start with the obvious - your MCAT and GPA - there’s an equation to find your “index score” (you’ve probably heard of that before):

Overall GPA _____ x 10 = ________

MCAT - 500 = ________

(add together) = 30-60

60 - Average for top ten medical schools

51 - Average for all US allopathic medical schools

45 - Lowest Average for most US allopathic medical schools

39 - Average for osteopathic medical schools

36 - Average for Caribbean medical schools

Okay, got your scores handy? Let’s see how they stack up against the averages for the California schools:

It’s also important to consider the different schools’ preferences for in-state applicants. You can always check out our Savvy PreMed Search Tool for this rating:

Another important factor to consider is whether you meet the different schools’ prerequisite course requirements:

Course requirement takeaways:

  • Must take courses by the time medical school starts, not by time you apply
  • If it’s optional, so is your acceptance
  • AP Credit = usually okay

Don't forget that the California schools also have different requirements for their letters of recommendation:

Letters of recommendation takeaways:

  • Get best set of letters you can
  • Get to know science professors early on
  • Letters due by July, not May 31
  • More is not always better

OK - so if you meet the MCAT, GPA, coursework, and letter of recommendation requirements, you can submit your primary application with a degree of confidence. BUT then you must complete each schools’ secondary essays:

When you're completing secondaries, it will be crucial for you to heavily research each schools' mission statements, opportunities, curricula, and unique features so that you can effectively tailor your essays to what they're looking for.

We've provided a very basic rundown of each of the schools below to give you a feel for their differences:


Selection factors:

  • Research-intensive
  • Scholarly Concentrations program
  • MMI interview format


Selection factors:

  • Research-focus AND primary-care focus
  • Encourages non-science majors
  • Average age = 25
  • PRIME programs

UCLA (Geffen):

Selection factors:

  • Specifically seeks Spanish-speakers
  • 20% of students get merit scholarships
  • Entire separate campus - Drew

UCLA (Drew):

Selection factors:

  • Historically black college
  • Separate application from UCLA
  • 3rd and 4th years at MLK hospital (Compton)


Selection factors:

  • Research-focused
  • PRIME - Health Equity
  • Secondary essay - compelling stories


Selection factors:

  • Research-intensive
  • No “required” courses
  • Scholarly project required
  • Seeking personality

UC Irvine:

Selection factors:

  • Recently started accepting out-of-state
  • PRIME - Latino communities
  • Traditional (read: boring) - curriculum, secondaries, interview

UC Davis:

Selection factors:

  • Multiple PRIME tracks
  • Plenty of research
  • California-only

UC Riverside:

Selection factors:

  • Mission: serve inland California
  • 3-year clinic commitment
  • Half the class - UCR undergrads

Loma Linda:

Selection factors:

  • Christian med school
  • Preference given to Christians
  • Does take non-Christians
  • Student code of conduct
  • Secondaries

Cal Northstate:

Selection factors:

  • For profit
  • Donors: Sacramento-based
  • Community service emphasis

California University of Science and Medicine (CUSM):

Selection factors:

  • “Disadvantaged and Inland Empire”
  • Does take out-of-state
  • Screens secondaries
  • 60 spots in class

Kaiser Permanente:

Selection factors:

  • 48 incoming students
  • Free tuition, first five classes
  • Not connected to a larger university
  • Otherwise: “qualified applicants who want to become outstanding physicians” or “Your thirst for knowledge and capacity for compassion”


Selection factors:

  • Judaic principles (but not religious)
  • Focus: primary care
  • Requires letter from a physician
  • Some research $


Selection factors:

  • Stresses inter-professional cooperation
  • Focus: primary care
  • Recommends letter from DO
  • Return secondary quickly!


Selection factors:

  • Focus: Central Valley Underserved
  • Interest in osteopathic medicine
  • Augmented reality anatomy

If you do a good enough job of showing your "fit" with the schools, you might be one of the few chosen for an interview. Schools either use traditional formats (one-on-one, panel, or group), the MMI format, or a hybrid of the traditional and MMI:

PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE! Our blog has a slew of articles about interview tips, including approaches to common questions and sample answers.

How to Improve Your Chances of Getting into a California Medical School (the obvious stuff)

  • Raise your GPA
  • Raise your MCAT score
  • Get excellent letters of recommendation
  • Get quality research experience
  • Get exposure to underserved communities
  • Get a leadership position

How to Improve Your Chances of Getting into a California Medical School (the slightly-less long-term stuff)

  • Learn Spanish
  • Demonstrate commitment to serving an underserved part of California
  • Get California residency
  • Open your mind to DO schools
  • Ace the application process

Stay tuned for next week's post, where we'll break down profiles, stats, experiences, and characteristics of actual applicants who were accepted into the different California schools, so that we can find some concrete trends in past candidates' success!

Have any questions about writing about getting into a California medical school? Let us know in the comments below, and we’ll respond to you personally!

Learn to be Savvy! Get creative pre-med strategies delivered right to your inbox.
FREE Medical School Application Timeline when you subscribe.

We follow the email Golden Rule: we will never send you anything without your permission.