How do I decide what schools to apply to?

There are many factors you should consider when deciding what schools to apply for. Here is a list roughly in order of importance:

1. Would you be a competitive applicant at that school?
This is by far the most important thing to consider. It is common practice to look at the median GPA and MCAT of the matriculants of the school you want to apply to and see how you compare to them. Generally, you want to either be just below, right at, or above the median. You can use the chance predictor, US News medical school guide or AAMC’s MSAR to look at the statistics of different medical school.

2. Where would you want to live?
Four years may not be that long but it is still a significant amount of time. Where you live can play a big factor on your quality of life and happiness. Keep in mind that many students do their residencies in the state in which they went to medical school.

3. Financial considerations
Medical school is very expensive. If you don’t get any financial aid, you may be in tremendous debt when you graduate. Therefore, the price of the school’s tuition and the cost of living is very important. Do you go to a cheaper state school over a more prestigious private school? Are the schools you are applying to incredibly expensive? The tuition differences may not seem too big but they add up after four years and interest.

4. How do the medical school’s students match?
As a medical school applicant, you may not really know how the match system works. However, you do know that you want to go to a school in which the students match well. Schools give statistics about their match rates. Although they are somewhat biased, the match rate statistics are worth taking a look at. Also, if you want to do your residency in a certain city or state, take a look at each school’s match list and see if students match to those areas. If there is a specific specialty you want to go to, perhaps the medical school you want to apply to matches a lot of students into that specialty. You want to make sure that you are putting yourself into a position of getting into a residency that you want.

5. How do you learn best?
Although there is a national standard that all medical schools near to adhere to, every school teaches differently. Look at each school’s curriculum and see how they teach. Some schools may emphasize small group learning. Other schools may be more focused on lectures. There are differences in the quality of facilities that may affect your education. If you know how you learn best, it is good to apply to schools that play to your strengths.

6. What is the school’s grading system?
Medical schools have different grading systems. Some are true pass/fail for the first two years, others are honors, high pass, pass, low pass (essentially a letter grade system), while others use letter grade systems. Some schools have internal rankings. Others don’t. Schools that are true pass/fail tend to be less competitive. This means that students are more collaborative (less cutthroat). If all this is important to you, make sure you have a good idea of the different grading systems each school has.

7. What are your special interests?
Schools have different strengths. Some are better at research while others focus more on primary care. Schools have various programs that enable you to pursue special interests such as global medicine, primary care, specific research, academic medicine and so forth. If you want to do primary care, you would want to look at schools that have a strong emphasis on primary care. If you are interested in research, look at schools that have programs that empower students to pursue research endeavors.

8. What is the school’s vision and mission?
Schools generally have similar vision and mission statements. Nevertheless, there are subtle differences between each school that may make a difference. Carefully read what each school is about and see if they resonate with you.

Where can I find more information?
If you have any other questions, you can go directly to AAMC. If you have any school-specific questions, it is highly suggested that you contact medical school admissions offices directly.

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