faq for potential penn mstp applicants

What does the Penn MSTP value and how does the program select candidates?

We are fully committed to a holistic approach to admissions, selecting MD-PhD candidates who show outstanding potential as future physician-investigators. Here are some of the things that we value and look for when the admissions committee makes decisions. We want to be as transparent as possible, so we hope that you will find the information useful when you consider applying to Penn. For context, this past year we received 789 applications (nearly half of the national MD-PhD applicant pool), interviewed 120 candidates, and ended with an entering class of 30, one of whom deferred until next year. This year there are 218 MD/PhD trainees in Penn MSTP.

Well-articulated goals that are a good match for our program's mission to train successful physician-scientists.

Research experience. Sustained research experience and a passion for investigation and medicine. “Sustained” typically includes at least 1 year of research in the same laboratory or with the same research mentor during college or after (usually more).

Academic excellence including, but not limited to excellent grades in challenging courses. We view the MCAT as only one factor among many. Successful applicants in the past 5 years have had an average GPA of 3.90 (range 3.51 to 4.00) and an average MCAT score of 521 (range 506-528).

Outstanding letters of recommendation, particularly from the faculty with whom you did research and who can speak knowledgeably about your potential as a physician and an investigator.

Gap years after college are OK, but also not required. We get asked about this a lot. One or more years between college and medical school may be helpful for those with limited research experience during college or who want to take a break before plunging into an MD-PhD program. Note, however, that although we recognize that there has been a nationwide trend in which prospective MD-PhD applicants have been encouraged to postpone applying until after college we do not require it. This is particularly true for applicants who have done meaningful research in college and are otherwise ready to apply. The training path for physician-scientists is rewarding, but long. For many applicants, the right answer is to dive in and get started.

Publications are OK, but not required. The need to have publications prior to applying has become another popular question. Many of our successful candidates have authored or co-authored manuscripts and conference abstracts. However, publications are not required, especially for candidates who are applying after their junior year in college.

• Emotional intelligence, leadership potential and clinical experience. Most of our graduates go on to become physician-scientists who take care of patients and conduct research.  They typically become leaders of teams in both the clinical and the research setting. Therefore, we value the ability to work well with others, and look for evidence of leadership potential.

Diversity of culture, perspective and identity. We believe strongly that greater diversity leads to better discoveries and better clinical care. Our goal is to be inclusive. We welcome applicants of diverse backgrounds, including diversity of work and life experiences, culture, religion, creed, national or ethnic origin, citizenship status, socioeconomic status, race, ethnicity, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, and disability, whether they have a longstanding family tradition of becoming physician-investigators or, like many of us, are members of the first generation to complete college. In the 2021 entering class, 50% of the entering students identify as women and 27% as members of groups underrepresented in medicine.

Diversity of interests. Penn MSTP takes advantage of belonging to a unified campus that includes the School of Arts and Sciences, the School of Engineering, the Wharton School of Economics and the School of Veterinary Medicine, as well as the School of Medicine. We are a joint program with the VMD-PhD program, and, in addition to traditional biomedical research disciplines, current students and graduates of Penn MSTP are in PhD programs in bioengineering, medical anthropology, healthcare economics, history and sociology of medicine, physics and chemistry.

Skip Brass, MD PhD
Penn MSTP Director and Admissions Co-Chair

Aimee Payne, MD PhD
Penn MSTP Associate Director and Admissions Co-Chair

colleaguesThe preliminary application must be submitted via AMCAS by the standard deadlines. Upon receipt of the completed AMCAS application, eligible applicants will receive an e-mail from Penn which provides access information for our online supplemental application. It does not need to be sent separately to the MD-PhD office. Info on the application process and deadlines, which apply to both MD-PhD and MD applicants, appears on the PSOM Admissions website.

Most applicants apply for the MD-PhD program when initially applying for Medical School via AMCAS. However, some decide to apply to join the MD-PhD program after matriculating as an MD or PhD student. We strongly advise any candidate who is uncertain of his or her career goals to delay applying to the MD-PhD program. We recommend that these individuals spend additional time exploring their career goals before applying, or apply to the appropriate single degree program first.

Yes. The Perelman School of Medicine, the School of Veterinary Medicine, and the Medical Scientist Training Program seek students from diverse backgrounds, including diversity of work and life experiences, interests, culture, religion, creed, national or ethnic origin, citizenship status, socioeconomic status, race, ethnicity, sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity. This includes welcoming applicants with disabilities and providing an accessible and inclusive environment in which all learners have access to our programs. Information about academic accommodations, technical standards for admission, auxiliary services and technology is made available to applicants as well as students. Since we recognize that potential applicants may wish to inquire about disability services before deciding to apply, we encourage you to do so confidentially by contacting Aaron Spector, Office of Student Disabilities Services (VPUL-SDSmail@pobox.upenn.edu, 215-573-9235, https://www.vpul.upenn.edu/lrc/sds/). Information provided by applicants to Student Disabilities Services is not made available to the admissions committee unless the applicant chooses to share it.

We welcome the applications of Penn medical students in the fall semester of their first or second year. (The deadline for 1st years to apply is typically early January. The deadline for 2nd years to apply is typically mid-October.) In a typical year we receive 0-3 applications through this avenue, and we currently have several students who were admitted through this pathway. Penn medical students applying to join the program in Biomedical Graduate Studies programs will complete our internal application forms. Applicants to the program in other graduate groups may be asked to complete a standard PhD application, in addition to our internal application. The admissions process is competitive and acceptance decisions are made collaboratively by the MD-PhD program and the relevant PhD program. The curriculum plan for candidates admitted through this mechanism is very similar to that of students who matriculated in the MD-PhD program initially in that students are primarily focused on the MD during years 1-2, then switch to focus primarily on the PhD starting in year 3, and eventually return to the MD curriculum after completing their graduate degree.

The MD-PhD program is open to considering applications from students entering the first or second year of the PhD, if the faculty in the PhD program are supportive of the student’s application to the MD-PhD program. In broad strokes, the curriculum plan for a student through this pathway would be: 1-2 years of the PhD program, then 2 years in the MD curriculum, then returning to the PhD program to complete the dissertation, and ultimately returning to the MD curriculum after completion of the graduate degree. During the first two years of the MD curriculum, the student would be able to continue some involvement in the PhD program as follows: 1) during fall and spring of MD year 1, they would be able to continue in research part time, 2) during the summer between year 1 and year 2 of the MD curriculum the student would conduct full time research, 3) during the fall semester (only) of MD year 2, they could again continue research part time. It is essential that students considering this pathway discuss their interests and goals with their Graduate Group Chair (and/or Track Chair if in CAMB) and other relevant faculty advisors, in addition to contacting the MD-PhD program. Penn graduate students who have the support of the PhD program to pursue this would then apply through AMCAS and complete the MD-PhD supplemental application. MCATs are required, and students must meet all the relevant external application deadlines in summer/fall at the start of their first or second year. We have had a very small number of students in the program who entered via this pathway.

Generally, the School of Medicine does not consider applications for admission with advanced standing. Exceptions are made very, very rarely, and only if we anticipate having space in the clinical courses.

Selected candidates will be invited to interview. Our interview visit takes place over a day and a half and consists of opportunities to learn about the program, meet with students, and see Philadelphia, in addition to interviewing individually with 4 to 6 faculty members.

Penn has an integrated admissions process and the MD-PhD program works closely with the MD admissions committee and the graduate groups to make joint decisions about admission. Offers of admission typically go out in March.

Offers of admission come with full funding which consists of tuition, health insurance, most fees, and a stipend ($32,000 for 2017-18). This funding support remains in effect for the entire duration of the program, as long as the student remains in good standing. Financial support for these funding packages is derived from the Medical Scientist Training Program grant funded by the National Institute of General Medical Sciences of the NIH, the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, private foundation funds, faculty research grants and other sources.

In some cases, candidates for graduate programs outside of Biomedical Graduate Studies and Bioengineering may receive an offer of admission with a less comprehensive funding package. In extremely rare situations, it is also possible that a candidate to one of the programs above would receive an alternative funding offer.

We currently have students enrolled in the following 12 programs: the 7 groups in Biomedical Graduate Studies (traditional basic science groups, as well as computational biology and epidemiology), Bioengineering, Anthropology, Chemistry, History & Sociology of Science, and Health Care Management & Economics.

Absolutely! The MSTP is open to considering applications for any PhD program at Penn. Our supplemental application allows candidates to designate most of the active programs listed above, or to check “other” and list the PhD program that is of interest to them. When an applicant applies and lists a program under “other” that is not currently active, the first step (as with all applications here) is review by the MD-PhD admissions committee. If the MD-PhD committee believes that the candidate may be competitive for admission and a good fit for the program, the application will be forwarded to the relevant Graduate Group for additional review. At that point, faculty members in the MD-PhD program and the chosen PhD program will discuss the specific application under consideration and also broader issues, such as a potential joint curriculum plan. If the leadership of the MD-PhD program and the chosen PhD program reach a shared vision of a training plan, and believe the candidate could be competitive for admission, he or she will be invited to interview and may be asked to provide additional application materials that are required by the chosen PhD program (such as GRE scores, additional application forms, or a writing sample).

All applicants must take the MCAT. Each School/Graduate Program has its own policy regarding whether the GRE is also required.

  • Biomedical Graduate Studies graduate groups and the Bioengineering graduate group are not required to take the GRE, because MCAT scores are considered an acceptable alternative.
  • History and Sociology of Science - GRE optional/not required
  • Health Care Management & Economics (Wharton) - GRE or GMAT required
  • Anthropology - GRE optional/not required
  • Other PhD disciplines not listed above - Refer to the requirements listed on the admissions page of your discipline of interest and/or contact krall@pennmedicine.upenn.edu

As noted above, applicants to graduate groups outside of biomedical science are strongly encouraged to take the GRE, and in some cases this will be required. In addition, for candidates for Anthropology and History and Sociology there is one additional application essay about their interest in the Graduate Group at Penn. Those selected for interview may also be asked for other additional materials.

Yes, we do accept applications from candidates who are not U.S. citizens or permanent residents, and these candidates are eligible for consideration for fully funded offers of acceptance. To be considered, candidates must have a minimum of one year of course work in the sciences at a U.S. institution, as described on the PSOM Admissions website. (An exception to the one year of US course work policy applies for certain Canadian institutions that are similar to US Schools. Please contact the Admissions Office directly if you are at a Canadian institution and have a question about this). Approximately 10% of our students are individuals who earned their Bachelor’s degrees (or equivalents) from a US or Canadian institution, but are not US citizens or permanent residents.

No. AMCAS requires applicants to indicate a program choice of MD or MD-PhD, and this is also true for Penn.

No, as noted above, you must choose either MD-PhD or MD and will only be considered for the program that you select.

If you are committed to a career as a physician investigator and plan to spend the majority of your time conducting research, you should apply MD-PhD. If you are not sure of your career goals, or do not intend to have a primary research focus, you should apply for the MD program. (If you are undecided, you will have the opportunity to apply to enter the MD-PhD program during the first or second year of medical school if you later decide this is the best path for you).

No. Both applicant pools are extremely competitive and have very similar average grade point averages and MCAT scores. There is no strategic advantage to choosing one program over the other, and we strongly encourage applicants to choose a program based on their interests and goals.

Applicants are strongly encouraged to carefully consider their choice before designating MD or MD-PhD. However, it is possible to change the program designation up until October 15th. No changes are permitted after October 15th. Applicants who wish to make a change prior to October 15th must make the change through AMCAS, and must also contact the Penn School of Medicine Office of Admissions directly.

The Penn MSTP does NOT participate the NIH / MD-PhD Partnership Training Program (with one exception, noted below). Students who are currently in the NIH GPP program (track 3) are welcome to apply to Perelman, but should designate MD (rather than MD-PhD) on their applications and will not be considered for funding through the Penn MSTP. It is possible that students in this situation may continue to receive some funding via the MD-PhD Partnership Training Program, and they should consult their Partnership program leaders for information about financial support. (The Penn MSTP participates fully in only one aspect of the Partnership program, and this is limited to our Immunology students in the full time PhD phase of the program. Our Immunology Graduate Group faculty includes a limited number of investigators with labs at NIH. MD-PhD students in Immunology may consider these labs for thesis work).

Do you have a question that wasn’t answered above or in our other Applicant Info pages?

If so, please email the MD-PhD program office at PennMSTP@pennmedicine.upenn.edu and someone will get back to you as soon as possible.