High on your list when choosing a medical school (specifically which ones to apply to) should be an emphasis on any specialty you intend to pursue. If you’re not sure about the area of medicine you want to practice, start with your top tier requests, then add to your list other schools you’d be interested in, including a few you consider safe bets. Here are a few pretty important considerations:
Where do you want to live?
File this one under the first rule of buying a home: Location, location, location. Because the school you choose will be your home for the next three or four years. Do you want to live close to family and loved ones? What kind of climate makes you happy? Do you like city living, or are you more comfortable in a rural setting? Do you want to live in a college town, or go to school at a campus that’s assimilated into the cityscape?
How much debt do you want to accrue? It’s all but impossible to graduate from medical school without debt. But whether you owe $80,000 or $450,000 will have a long-term impact on yours and your family’s future. It’s a pretty sure thing that going to an in-state school gives you a huge financial advantage, vs. going out of state. Choosing a Top Ten school will mean significantly higher tuition rates. Is the extra cost worth any difference in education? That’s for you to answer. You’ll probably get a great education at any school you attend. If you have aspirations of teaching or policy making or hospital administration, that Top Ten pedigree might matter.
Before you spend the time and money to send applications everywhere, check the rankings to find out where you stand. You can refer to the Association of American Medical Colleges MSAR (Medical School Admissions Requirements) online resource that gives the acceptable range of MCAT scores, overall GPA and science GPA for all medical schools. It costs only $25 to buy your own membership. If you send 15 out of 20 of your applications to schools out of your range, you’ve wasted a whole lot of time and money. That said, apply to enough schools that you can fall back on the “safe” ones.
There’s a trend among some schools to transform from a more traditional lecture-based curriculum to one that is more hands-on and interactive. Would you rather work on your own, or do you enjoy working with others? Once you decide your best learning style, it may rule out some schools.
The look of the campus has lured many a med student to choose a school like Dartmouth or Harvard. Do you care if the campus is beautiful, if there are more student services like on-campus restaurants and a student health club, if there are lots of student activities and events, if classes are small or large, if there’s an emphasis on religion, if there are plenty of affordable housing options nearby. Make a list of these and other items important to you, and start checking them off.
Other considerations to apply when choosing a medical school include whether a campus has a strong faculty and research arm if you’re interested in research, the services in the city in which you’d be living, the match rates for residencies, the quality of rotations and internships, and finally the ranking of the school when compared to your other potential top choices.
The Princeton Review’s “The Best 167 Medical Schools, 2016 Edition,” gives you facts about admissions to the top U.S., Canadian and Puerto Rican medical schools, including some osteopathic and naturopathic schools. These may or not be on your list of preferred medical schools, but this guide will give you a look at some top tier schools.
Choosing a medical school: the interview
Visiting the campus for your interview will answer many of these burning questions, while giving you a flavor of the campus overall. You’ll meet some faculty members and perhaps some students, so ready some questions that will help you make your decision. When everything else is equal, go with your heart, since this is a decision you’ll be living with for a very long time!