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Choosing A Medical School

Choosing which medical schools to apply to can be a difficult process - you’ll be spending at least the next three years of your life here, so making the right decisions is crucial.

Home to some of the best medical schools in the world, and over 140 programs to choose from, where do you begin? Our guide will help you narrow down your choices.

1. Create a spreadsheet

It’s likely there will be large number of medical schools that will originally interest you, so a good way of sorting out which ones appeal most is to create a spreadsheet.

This allows you to compare each school across different aspects that are important to you in a program, e.g. location, cost, quality of faculty, academic facilities, etc.

This task will take a bit of time, but is worth it in the end, as you may find that some schools slip down your list and others appear much more attractive and move up your list.

If you have questions that are not answered on the university's website, then contact them via phone or email to ask for more information.

Making contact with institutions before making an application will make a better impression than just applying cold.

2. Divide medical schools into categories

Being realistic about your applications will ensure you will be accepted on to at least one or two medical school programs.

It’s fine to start with a wide net with a dozen or more schools that you like the look of, but putting schools into one of several categories is an efficient way of whittling down the list to a smaller number.

First, take a careful look at all the schools that interest you most, and pick a couple of “safety” choices that you know you have a high chance of being accepted to. This way, you will have somewhere to go if your other program applications don’t work out.

Next, choose two or three schools that you feel you have a fairly good chance of being offered a place at based on your current college performance. Consider these “insurance” choices, but don’t beat yourself up if not all of them decide to accept you.

Finally, think about one or two schools that are more of a gamble - while you may only dream of attending Harvard or Johns Hopkins, it’s no reason not to apply. If you put all the effort you can into your application, who knows what might happen?

If your medical school applications are to have the best chance of success, try to follow these tips and narrow down your choices to just five or six.

You are more likely to produce a quality application if you have fewer to concentrate on, and there will be minimal deadlines to worry about.

 Applying to lots of different programs is also costly in both time and money. So save yourself the hassle and limit your options.

3. State residency and academic scores

You may be able to rule out some medical schools by looking at their rules on state residency, and the average GPA and MCAT scores of accepted students.

Some schools will only allow you to apply if you are already a resident within that state. If you are applying to private medical schools, this won't matter as everyone pays the same tuition fees and there are no rules on being in-state or out-of-state.

While the GPA and MCAT scores of recent current students are only averages, they may help you decide whether you want to apply to a particular school or not.

Please bear in mind that even if you hold high GPA and MCAT scores, these are likely to make you avoid the rejection pile, but it will be other factors that will decide whether you are admitted or not.

You can check out the Medical School Admission Requirements database for more information about academic scores for various schools.

4. Curriculum

The medical schools you choose to apply to should provide an academic experience that reflects the career path you are looking for.

If  If you want to undertake a PhD program and go into research, it might be better to leave out any medical schools that focus on primary care.

If this is the case, apply to medical schools where there are at least several professors carrying out research in your field, and would be able to form a close working relationship with.

Don't forget, it might not always be the top ranking schools that are working on the most cutting-edge advances, so make sure you shop around to see who's doing what.

5. Preview days

Don’t forget you will be on campus every day for several years, so it’s vital to try and visit the medical schools you are interested in applying to if you can.

Many institutions hold visit days specifically for prospective medical students, and it’s a great way of finding out more about the school first-hand.

You will often be given a guided tour, allowing you to check out the quality of important facilities such as research labs, libraries, IT rooms, gyms and sports grounds.

You should also get the chance to speak to the medicine faculty, allowing you to find out more about the program and how the department functions. Introducing yourself and building a rapport with professors at this stage will only help your application.

Make time to talk to current students on the program and find out what their experience has been like so far. Questions to ask might include:

  • Do they enjoy the program and working with their professors?
  • Is the pressure intense and do they feel there is a high level of competition?
  • Have they been given enough support and guidance with their research?
  • Do they receive encouragement to pursue new methodologies or are they pressured into doing things a certain way?
  • Do they feel there are any negative aspects of studying at the school?
  • Are they generally happy there?

Remember that there’s nothing like first-hand experience of a school to help you decide if it’s right for you, so check the university websites for upcoming preview days, make enquiries and try to go along.

6. Alumni

As well as speaking to current students at a preview day, ask for the contact details of some recent graduates from your chosen medical programs.

Let them know you wish to find out more about first hand experiences of the school, and could they give their honest views. You may learn some surprising feedback (both positive and negative).

7. Facilities and resources

Look carefully at each university’s website to find out what facilities and other resources they have on campus to support you through your medical school studies. Make sure they are comfortable and up-to-date. Think about the following as you do your research:

  • Libraries - how many do they have? Are they large or small? What about online materials?
  • Computer labs - how many computers are available to students, and can you access them 24/7?
  • Research labs - do they contain the latest technologies? If not, do they at least have all the equipment necessary to help you complete your program?
  • Sports - do they have a decent sports ground? What gym facilities are there? Do they have a swimming pool (this factor may not be so important to those who are not interested in sports/keeping fit, etc.)
  • Food - although you should be more concerned about the academic resources, it’s worth looking at the canteen facilities and what food is usually available. You’ll need to be fed well over the next few years to get you through your program!

8. Location

Think about how far you want to be from your family and friends - if you want to be able to visit home frequently, then you may want to apply to medical schools that aren't a huge distance away.

Take a look at the culture and climate of the area - what is it like, and does it appeal to you?

Do some research into transportation, cost of living, entertainment and accommodation, and check it ticks all the right boxes. There's no point spending three years of your life somewhere you don't particularly enjoy.

9. Funding

Medical school is expensive, so find out what kind of financial aid is available to help you get through your studies.

This is another reason to find out the cost of living in the area, and whether you would be able to comfortably afford living there for the next few years.

There are many avenues of funding open to you, including loans, scholarships and grants from a number of organisations, so make sure you research these thoroughly to check you would receive sufficient financial support.

Money is not something you will want to spend your time at medical school worrying about, especially with all the studying and socialising you'll be doing!

10. Rankings

While these are worth a look, they are not the be all and end all. Although rankings can be useful to compare figures such as tuition fees and student numbers, they should not be a deciding factor over your own research, and how you felt about a school after attending a visit day.

USnews.com shares its 2019 Medical School Rankings if you're interested in knowing which medical schools are best.

With all these points in mind, you’ll find it’s best to starting thinking about your medical school choices as early as possible. Don’t leave it until a month before the application deadline to begin your research - give yourself a minimum of six months.

This timeframe will allow to attend those all-important preview days, as well as ensuring you don’t put yourself under pressure to get your applications submitted.

It also means you can make informed decisions about where you want to apply, and which medical schools are likely to be best for you.

Our graduate school application timeline provides more detailed information on what to do and when, and can help you be as organised as possible during the application process.

Further information

For more tips and advice on applying to medical school in the U.S, please see: