Medical school applicants sometimes have difficulty figuring out where to apply to medical school. It’s challenging for premeds to parse out the real differences between schools and much of what they know is based on hearsay. Rankings, while sometimes helpful, can be flawed. As a medical school admission consultant, I help applicants develop a comprehensive list of medical schools to apply to, with the goals of maximizing their chance of admission and assessing what would be the best fit based on their preferences and future goals. When considering where to apply in assembling a list of schools, applicants should consider several factors, as follows:
1. State Residence: An applicant’s state of residence is a factor in a medical school application. By default, applicants should apply to schools in their state.
State schools, as public institutions, give preferential treatment to its residents, making it easier to get in than at private schools. State schools should be first on your list, even if you believe you have the credentials to be admitted to a top-ranked private institution.
2. Curriculum: While what you learn in med school is similar from place to place, each school presents the material in different ways. Some schools have a block system (one subject at a time) while others are systems-based; most have small group problem-based learning but some use this as a major component. Applicants should understand how they learn and then figure out which type of curriculum will best suit their learning style. Do you prefer a traditional format (lecture style) or a problem-based learning scenario with small groups? When are you first introduced to clinical work? Find out the curriculum offered at the schools you’re considering, then assemble a list of schools that will give you a learning environment conducive to your preferences, and one in which you will do well.
3. Grading System: By the time students get into medical school many of them are tired of grades, and understandably so. Most medical schools have some grading scheme for the clinical years–which helps residency program directors assess your work–but most have a Pass/Fail system for the first two years of med school. If the grading system is important to you make your list accordingly.
4. Status and ranking: Rankings are important to some people, as is prestige. If rankings matter to you, acknowledge this and plan accordingly if you have the credentials to be admitted to a top-ranked school. But be sure you understand what criteria are used to rank schools. Do the elements that factor into the rankings (research dollars in the research rankings, for example) have an impact on the education you would receive? Dig under the rankings to figure out if (and why) they are important. Keep in mind that nearly all US medical schools are good; you will get a solid education no matter where you go.
5. Location, environment, and support network: For some applicants, the location of a school is of prime importance. They may want a ready support network of friends and family. Or they may have a partner or spouse who needs to be in a particular location. Acknowledge these factors and create your list of schools accordingly. Applicants should also try to assess the atmosphere and environment at the schools they consider. Are students competitive or collegial? Are students supportive of one another and is teamwork encouraged? Does the size of the student body (small or large) affect the atmosphere? All of these factors should be considered.
6. Chances of Admission. Any good list of schools will take into account your chances of being admitted. Based on your numbers, your GPA and MCAT, and your clinical and extracurricular experiences, you should be able to estimate your chance of admission. Of course, at the top-ranked schools nobody can count on being admitted. That’s why it’s crucial to spread out your risk and include a wide range of schools to be on the safe side. Depending on your circumstances your list should have anywhere from about 15-30 schools on it.
For help putting together a comprehensive list of schools feel free to contact me with questions and/or advice.
–Liza Thompson, Expert Medical School Admissions Consulting