by Lauren DiProspero, former admissions officer at Columbia University
It can be daunting to figure out where to apply to medical school. Whether you are a few years from applying or are facing down those decisions for this application cycle, the best way to make an informed choice is to have access to high quality information and data. The only source authorized by every medical school is AMCAS’s Medical School Admissions Requirements (MSAR) and AACOM’s Osteopathic College Information Book (CIB). These guides are subscription based and can be an ideal place to start. Ultimately, this is a long, research-intensive process and each applicant’s medical school list will look different based on their priorities and experiences.
The number of schools to which you apply is entirely up to you but it is not uncommon for students to apply to twenty schools. Keep in mind that it can be very expensive to apply to medical school. You may need to take into account application fees and interview costs in determining how many programs you apply to. It is also a time consuming process. Applicants have to write many additional essays for each medical school and that can take hours of work to write (and rewrite).
As you begin this process, you will also want to consider what is most important to you for your medical school education. Beyond the question of “Can I get in?” (with admissibility being based mostly on your GPA and MCAT scores), you will want to consider what type of experience you want as a medical student. Below are just a few factors to consider.
Location is about more than just a place on the map. As you reflect on where you would be willing to go for your medical education, you will want to consider: Where are you most comfortable living; would you prefer an urban location, a rural area, or something in between? Would nearby family and friends be a support source or a distraction? Do you want to work with a specific population?
The cost of a medical school education, inclusive of tuition, fees, and cost of living, can vary. Some parts of the country are less expensive to live in than others and medical schools affiliated with state universities typically cost less. As you examine your financial reality, you will want to research the average aid package and debt for current students in MSAR and/or CIB.
Mission: A school’s mission can focus on anything from research to primary care. Understanding and finding a fit with the mission is important to the medical school and to most applicants. The medical school’s website and MSAR will both include missions or values statement.
Curriculum: Consider your learning style. Look at the teaching style, grading policy, hands-on patient care, and other curricular choices to see if a school fits with how you learn best. Speaking with current students can help you understand how that curriculum plays out in the lives of students.
Residency and Match Rate: Review the medical school’s residency match rate and board exam passing rate. The higher the match and board exam pass rate is, the more confident you can feel that they are preparing their students well.
Culture: Think about what type of school culture will help you thrive. Do you prefer collaboration? Do you need competition to drive you? Do you want your fellow students to be active in clubs and organizations? Medical school is hard so don’t underestimate the importance of finding an environment in which you feel supported!