Applying to Medical School

Weekly Weigh-in: Which Medical Schools Should I Apply To?

Welcome to PDr’s Weekly Weigh-in! Each week, we ask medical students and physicians to weigh in on some of our most frequently asked pre-med questions.
This week’s question: What was your process in selecting which/how many medical schools to apply to?

Brandon Brown, UCSF MS1
I started by creating an excel document to list the schools I was planning to apply to. I remember I used the LizzyM score spreadsheet that is floating around the internet to give me a rough idea of my competitiveness (although I really wish the PDr Chance Predictor was around when I was applying!). I eliminated schools that highly favored in-state students and then eliminated some schools I knew I did not want to attend, largely based on geographic location. From there, I assigned each school left in my excel sheet a 1-5 competitiveness score (i.e. 5 is a far reach) and tried to cut down my list so that I was left with about 20% reach schools, 20% safe schools, and 60% somewhere in the middle. I also found a spreadsheet online that included the application requirements for each medical school (e.g. letter of recommendation types and number) to verify that I met the basic application requirements for the remaining schools on my list. When it came to actually checking off which schools I was going to apply to on the AMCAS application, I ended up adding a few more schools since I had enough money. In retrospect, there were schools I applied to that I realistically couldn’t see myself going to and I wish I hadn’t applied to those schools as it ended up just being extra time and money wasted.

|| TRY: ProspectiveDoctor’s Chance Predictor ||

Edward Chang, DGSOM MS2
I used StudentDoctor’s LizzyM score spreadsheet (I don’t know if they have that available anymore) to see how competitive I was at certain schools. I created an excel spreadsheet to help me list what schools I wanted to apply to and each school’s information that I thought was relevant (cost of tuition, location, etc). I didn’t have an exact number I was shooting for but I ended up choosing 20 schools. About half of those schools had median GPAs and MCAT that matched mine. I ended up choosing around 5 reach schools and 5 “safety” schools.

Honestly I chose these schools mainly based on location and US News ranking. At the time, I thought that I wanted to stay in California so I applied to all the California schools, and if I didn’t go to a California school, I wanted to live a major city. So all of my out-of-state schools were in New York City, Boston, Chicago, Washington DC, and Philadelphia. In retrospective, I don’t think that was the best decision because not only am I starting to realize that I’m not really a city person but also the schools in major cities get a lot more applicants and therefore are much more selective. For example, Boston University, although it’s US News ranking is not so high, it gets tons of applications ever year. I added 3 more schools right before the primary application closed because I was worried that I wasn’t going to get in anywhere (not the best decision but the application season is a stressful time that makes you do random things).

All in all, it was a relatively random process that I wish I put more thought into. I think if I had to do it again, I would do more research about each individual school and have good reasons for why I want to apply there (I had a tough time answering the “why this school question” when applying to schools sometimes). Nevertheless, I realize that the whole process is unpredictable and I took solace in the fact that as much as I would’ve liked everything to be in my control, it simply wasn’t.

|| Read: Chance Predictor FAQs ||

Evan Shih, DGSOM MS2
Firstly, I entered my GPA and MCAT stats into the excel spreadsheet that’s circulating around the pre-medical community, and got an enormous list of schools that I didn’t know what to do with. I started with the California schools, since staying close to family was important to me. However, that came out to a total of nine schools which I added to my “Medical School” excel sheet. After California, I figured that if I couldn’t stay close to home, I’d at least treat medical school as an opportunity to explore another major metropolitan city. I added schools in other cities that I could see myself spending 4 years in: New York, Boston, Philadelphia, and Chicago being some of them. Location was fairly critical for me. I also added other schools that my stats made me a competitive candidate for. This brought me up to a grand total of 30 schools on my excel sheet, which I thought was a healthy number of schools. After all, I only wanted to apply once, so it was better to select too many than too few schools.

My selection process was fairly haphazard, and I’m not necessarily proud of how I went about it. Along the way, I added up adding 2 more schools that had relatively simple secondary applications, and didn’t complete the secondary application for one of my original schools – call it a mid-cycle burnout. However, I learned along the application cycle that I couldn’t predict how much I would enjoy a specific school until I visited, met the current students, and interviewed. Fairly little can be gained from an admissions website and pre-med forums. Some of the schools I considered most seriously at the end of the cycle were fairly low on my radar 9 months earlier when I first began applying. In the end, I was very happy with my interview invites and really want to stress the importance of applying widely and in the correct range of target schools.

|| Read: 5 Do’s of Primary Applications for Medical School ||

Evan Laveman, DGSOM MS2
I started by speaking to a lot of the students I knew who had applied the year before. I started to notice that the “competitive” students I talked to, on average, would usually not receive interview offers from more than 30% of the schools they applied to, and usually less. With that in mind, I tried to factor in the added competition of being a California resident and ultimately settled on applying to 30 total schools with the hopes of receiving roughly 6-8 interviews. That number was also strongly based on how many secondary applications I felt I could complete without starting to shortcut them. I think the most crucial part of school selection is making sure to apply to schools that are in the competitive range for. You do not have an advantage being “overqualified” for a school, this means that there are no safety schools. I would highly suggest reading through ProspectiveDoctor’s Medical School Chance Predictor FAQs to learn more about selecting the right schools to apply to.

|| TRY: ProspectiveDoctor’s Chance Predictor ||

Emily Singer, DGSOM MS2
I used the LizzyM workbook to determine where I was competitive (that was before ProspectiveDoctor’s Chance Predictor existed!). From the list of schools that was generated, I selected schools at which I was more and less competitive to spread out my probably of being accepted, and based my final list on school rank and where I could see myself living – worst and best case scenarios. I discussed my list with an advisor at MedSchoolCoach, and felt pretty good in the end with a list of 35 schools. I filled out about 30 secondaries, but elected to forego the last five after getting sufficient interview invitations and frankly feeling somewhat burnt out on filling out applications. In the end, my acceptance made the choice for me, and I was lucky enough to attend one of my top choice schools.

Emily Chiu

Emily Chiu is the Director of Logistics at She is currently a third-year undergraduate student at UCLA. If you have any questions about her work, or are interested in contributing to, please contact her at [email protected]. Follow ProspectiveDoctor on Twitter, @ProspectiveDr.

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