How to Build a College List with BSMD Programs - Cracking BSMD Admissions

How to Build a College List with BS/MD Programs

You have decided you want to be a doctor and that you’d like to apply to BS/MD programs plus strong pre-med universities. The question many students are scratching their heads and thinking about: how many BS/MD programs and colleges should I apply to?

You might also be wondering whether you should apply only to BS/MD programs (spoiler alert: you shouldn’t), as well as how BS/MD programs fit in the larger list of schools you might consider applying to. The process of choosing colleges along with BS/MD programs can feel overwhelming. Not only do students need to think about location, cost, and majors offered, but they also have to consider extracurricular activities and campus size. Especially for students who are applying to BS/MD programs, factors like location and school culture matter! You will be spending at least 7 years on the same campus! With so many choices, it is easy for an applicant to get overwhelmed.

This guide will discuss how to answer these questions and more.

How to Build a College List: Deciding Where to Apply

First, let’s examine a general approach to building a balanced college list.

Many students tend to be familiar with the “safety,” “match,” and “reach” framework.

For those you who are unfamiliar, here’s a refresher:

Safety schools are those that you will most likely receive admission to. Your grades and test scores are usually at least at the 75th percentile for the school (you can find these numbers by checking an undergraduate institution’s website or often by searching on Google). These schools generally have a higher acceptance rate (e.g. think 40%+). For many students, these schools tend to be the local or state colleges that many students at their high school apply to and get into (e.g. for Texas students, that might be Texas A&M or UT Dallas).

With college acceptances becoming more and more competitive each year, we generally recommend applicants to apply to at least 4-5 safety schools. Importantly, your safety schools should still be ones you would be comfortable with attending, in the unlikely event that you do not receive admission anywhere else.

Match schools (also referred to as “target schools”) are those that you fit the profile for. Academically, you should be approximately at or slightly above the median (50th percentile) for grades and test scores. You should also have a similar extracurricular profile as students who are normally accepted to the school. The acceptance rate of the school tends to range from 15% to 40%

The majority of schools you apply to should be in the match school category.

Also note that although you may have the admission statistics of a typical Ivy League applicant or BS/MD student, schools with a lower acceptance rate are never classified as “matches” but as reaches. See our college acceptance rate tip below for more details.

College Acceptance Rate Tip

Keep in mind out-of-state acceptance rates versus in-state acceptance rates (e.g. University of North Carolina has a notoriously low acceptance rate for out-of-state residents). If you are applying as an out-of-state student, then you have to look at the acceptance rate for out-of-state students. 

Reach schools are the most selective colleges. College applicants typically apply to less than 5 reach schools (though this can vary based on your academic strength  – with students who have stronger academic profiles applying to more reach schools). Acceptance rates are usually below 15%. Because these schools attract a great number of qualified and intelligent applicants, 10 points lower on the SAT can cause huge swings on percentile ranking. You may fall between the 10th percentile and 25th percentile of selective schools based on stats. But, that does not mean you should not apply.

BS/MD programs, Ivy Leagues, and other top 20 schools generally fall into the reach category. You dream school is typically included in the “reach school” category.

This categorization explains why you should not just apply to BS/MD programs. It’s too risky. Even the strongest applicants (e.g. multiple international debate awards, founded a revenue-generating company, valedictorian, etc.) cannot apply to Ivy Leagues only; similarly, even the most competitive applicants for BS/MD programs cannot just consider applying to those programs alone.

Given how competitive reach schools are, should you even apply to “reach” or “top-tier” universities?

Yes! Reach schools are tough to get accepted to but they are possible if you have a strong academic profile and adequate extracurricular activities. Each year, our Cracking BS MD Admissions team strongly recommends our students to include a number of reach schools. And each year, our students get into multiple selective colleges!

College Acceptance Rate Tip

Even if a reported average acceptance rate is 10%, that number takes into account both the early decision/action acceptance rate (which tends to be higher) and the regular decision acceptance rate (which tends to be lower). For instance, Brown’s reported acceptance rate was around 5% last year, but their Regular Decision acceptance rate was closer to 3.6%. If you are applying Regular Decision, for instance, keep in mind what the actual acceptance rate is for Regular Decision.

Factors to Consider when Choosing Colleges

How to build a school list: Determining the best fit

There are a variety of factors you can consider in choosing a college. The opportunities and culture of a university will affect your college experience. 

Here are some factors to consider when making your college list:

  • Undergraduate Overall Ranking
  • Acceptance Rate (reach / match / safety as we discussed above)
  • Academic program – Available Majors and Minors? Core curriculum? Breadth curriculum requirements?
  • Undergraduate Ranking in Area/major of Interest (this can be more important for fields like business, and less important for others)
  • Location
    • How far away from home do you want to be?
    • Urban/rural/suburban campus
  • Size of school (may influence the degree of attention, opportunities, resources)
  • Class sizes
  • School culture (Greek life, importance of college athletics)
  • Career-specific advising and opportunities

For pre-medical students and pre-health students, other things to consider are the following:

  • Location near a Medical School or Public Health school (the closer you are to a medical school, the more research opportunities and medical electives you can take)
  • Location near a Hospital (the closer you are to a Hospital, the more clinical opportunities you will have)
  • Premed school counselor to advise students to get into medical school
  • Premed and health-related clubs
  • Acceptance rate of premeds to colleges and where graduates from the college 
  • Research opportunities on-campus
  • Funding opportunities for research and extracurricular activities

Tip #1: You can rank these factors based on how important they are to you (ex: non-negotiable/critical, very important, somewhat important, not at all important). Your initial list might be 40-50 schools long, that is okay! Keep doing research on schools to refine your college list :).

Contact our team if you have questions about how to build a college list. 

Tip #2: Doing a comprehensive college search can be exhausting! However, we suggest that you have fun :). If you can, try to visit various colleges so that you can get a feel for what factors matter to you. Additionally, reach out to family and older friends who are current students at various universities to get perspective about college life and the school. 

Frequently Asked Question

Does the undergraduate college’s ranking matter for medical school acceptances in the future?

From our experience, we do see a correlation between college ranking and medical school acceptance rates. Generally speaking, the more academically reputable a college, the better your chances are for a) getting accepted to medical school and b) getting accepted to a top medical school. This does not mean, however, that if a school drops in college rankings from #5 to #10 that the college suddenly has worse medical school acceptance rates.

How Should I Factor In the cost of college When Building A College List?

We know college is expensive, especially for out-of-state universities and private colleges. However, our general philosophy is to not factor in the cost of college when you build a college list. Don’t be swayed away from applying to your dream schools by the sticker price shock.


From our 20 years of experience in college admissions, we have seen middle-income and high-middle-income families surprised at the financial aid packages they receive. Many universities want to recruit students from diverse backgrounds, and financial aid packages become more generous each year. You might be surprised at how many affordable colleges there are once you receive your financial aid packages! 

Furthermore, many students will receive merit or leadership scholarships at universities.

What was first thought of as, “I’m not sure if these universities are affordable colleges” surprisingly turned into “These private universities are more affordable than my local state universities.”

Our recommendation: Apply to as many colleges as you are interested in – of course, make sure you have reach, match, and safety schools that we mention above. Fill out the financial aid forms for all the prospective colleges. Apply to university-sponsored scholarships. And then, wait for all your financial aid packages before you start factoring in the cost of each university and make your final college decision.

How Many Colleges Should You Apply To?

One decision that you must decide when building a college list is how many colleges to apply to. The number of colleges you apply to depends on your personal goals of where you want to go to college, your family’s finances, and the strength of your application.

The Common Application now allows students to apply to 20 universities through the Common App portal.

The students our Cracking BS MD Admissions advise each year apply to around 20 colleges.

How many BS/MD programs should i include?

You may now be asking: How many BS/MD programs should I apply to?

So far, this guide has touched upon how to build a college list with four-year universities. But where do BS/MD programs come in? And how many should you apply to? That depends on your goals and the strength of your application.

For strong candidates who know they want to go the BS/MD Route

Some applicants know they want to go to a BS/MD program and would likely attend a BS/MD over almost all undergraduate institution choices. For these students, a slightly modified approach to the safety/match/reach framework can be followed.

The exact number of schools (and which schools) to apply to depends on your application’s strength, which is something the Cracking Admissions team can help with.

Let’s say your college list will consist of 20 schools. How should you approach building a college list with BS/MD programs?

2 of these schools should be “safeties,” meaning traditional undergraduate programs.

Another 2-3 should be undergraduate institutions that are a “matches” (e.g. UCLA, UMichigan) for a very strong applicant; these should be schools you’d be excited to attend.

Another 2-3 might be “reaches” that are not BS/MD programs (e.g. Yale, Harvard, Stanford).

That leaves 12-14 spots for BS/MD programs.

[ Read more: What is a BS MD program: Pros and Cons of BS MD programs from a Northwestern HPME Student ]

At first glance, this list might appear too “reach-heavy,” with many more “reaches,” than “matches” or “safeties.” However, there is a key pro tip to keep in mind when you are applying to BS/MD programs. Generally, with these programs, you are applying to both the undergraduate institution and to the BS/MD program. This means that you can double count the BS/MD and categorize the undergraduate institution within the “safety,” “match” and “reach” framework, and the BS/MD under “reach.”

For instance, when you apply to University of Pittsburgh’s GAP BS/MD, you can categorize the University of Pittsburgh as a “match,” and its BS/MD as a “reach.”

You should still have those aforementioned 2 “safeties,” and those 2-3 “matches,” independent of this BS/MD counting system.

Remember, not all BS/MD programs are equally as competitive – for instance, Case Western PPSP, University of Pittsburgh’s GAP program, and Brown’s PLME program are particularly difficult to receive admission to. So even if you are an extremely strong applicant who only wants to apply to the BS/MD programs with the most top-ranked medical schools, be sure to sprinkle in a few schools that are less competitive.

If you’re unsure of how to make a list of BS/MD programs that’s right for you, check out our blog post to help with your college search and decision, “How to Choose which BS/MD Programs to Apply To,” here.

How to Build a College List with BSMD Programs Tip

If you’re particularly set on the BS MD programs, you will need to include a sizable chunk of BS MD programs that have lower ranked medical schools, and are relatively less competitive.

For strong candidates who are considering BS/MDs but would be open to a traditional undergraduate experience

The approach here is very similar to the framework one uses in the traditional college application process, with a few more reaches.

For an applicant looking to apply to 20 schools who has a strong academic track record, one could consider the following:

  • 3 schools should be “safeties,” which are, again, traditional undergraduate institutions.
  • 8-9 schools are “matches,” which are also traditional undergraduate programs.
  • 7-8 schools are “reaches,” which are divided into BS/MD programs and Top 20-30 schools.

Again, similar to above, the BS/MD programs would double count as either a “safety” and “reach” (e.g. the Siena / Albany medical program), or a “match” and “reach” (e.g. UPitt’s GAP).


Final Thoughts


Congratulations! You’ve created a balanced list of colleges. Making a college list that fit your personal criteria is an important part of the application process, and we hope this “how to build a college list with and without BSMD programs” has been helpful! Fortunately, there are steps you can take in order to find the best possible schools for yourself. Identifying your goals and understanding what matters most will help narrow down your list and create an informed college selection plan. Remember, you do not have to build a perfect college list initially because you can always decide to add or subtract schools throughout the application cycle. 

If you are not yet a high school senior and you created a college list, that’s great! You can use your time throughout high school to visit the various college campuses on your college list. When you visit a school, you can take a school tour. Attend college fairs and talks given by various universities’ admissions offices. Read this blog post “how to build a college list with BSMD programs” every year to re-assess whether the college list still fits your needs. And, learn more about BS/MD programs here: BS MD Programs: Everything You Need To Know


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