Choosing where to apply for medical school is a source of angst for most future physicians. There are nearly 200 accredited medical schools in the United States. The good news is there are many options for a student seeking to become a physician. However, although it may be tempting, applying to all of the schools is simply not a practical strategy.
Here is a secret- It really doesn’t matter
Although this may be a difficult truth to accept, for the majority of people it really doesn’t matter what school you attend. Many students feel that they will not have any career prospects unless they attend a top tier school. All accredited medical schools in the United States will provide you with the opportunity to earn an MD or DO degree. Fortunately, medicine is a profession that is always in demand. Although it may boost your ego to tell your friends and family that you were accepted to a top ranked medical school, you can receive a quality education from a lesser known school. Unless you are planning on entering a highly competitive subspecialty, it is a good idea to ignore school rankings. Your ability to obtain the residency program of your choice is determined much more by your performance in medical school than the school itself.
If it doesn’t matter, how do I choose?
This article will guide you through a strategy to apply for medical school. Your goal should be to gain acceptance to a medical school where you will excel and be happy. Although medical training is a rigorous process, it need not be an unpleasant experience. Most unhappy medical students are enrolled in a school that is not well suited to their personality, lifestyle, career goals, or learning style. By carefully planning your application, you can ensure that you attend a school that meets your needs. In addition, you will likely save money by not submitting unnecessary applications.
Step 1: Location, Location, Location
Most people have a strong opinion about where they would like to live. Since you will be spending four years of your life in medical school, location should be a factor in considering which schools to which you will apply. Remaining close to family is a priority for some students. For others, climate is extremely important. Regardless of your motivation, think about what geographical regions would be acceptable for you. Choose your ideal geographical location and make a list of the schools in that area. It may be helpful to refer to the map below to determine the number of schools in your preferred location. You should not make your preferred region too small, or you will not have enough schools to choose from. Conversely, if your target region is too large, you may be overwhelmed with options.
Step 2: Research and Self-Assessment
Next, you will need to do some research on the schools in your target area. Write down the average mcat score and gpa of students accepted to each school. AAMC is a great source for applicant data. In addition, several websites publish school specific data. Next, compare these numbers with your own scores. Do not become discouraged if your scores are somewhat below the numbers published. Remember that these are average scores. There will be students admitted to the school with lower and higher scores than the average. However, if your scores are significantly below the average score, you will have some work to do to convince the admissions committee that you belong at their school.
Next, you should separate your schools into three categories. Category 1 are the schools whose mean mcat and gpa are similar to your scores. Category 2 are the schools that have average mcat and gpa scores significantly higher than yours. Place schools in category 3 if they have scores significantly lower than yours. The majority of your applications should be to schools in category 1. However, you should not discount schools in category 2 if you feel that you would be a good match to their program. In addition, it is wise to apply to a few schools in category 3 as you are very likely to be accepted there.
Step 3: Determine your goals
The next step of choosing where to apply for medical school is determining your goals. Although many prospective medical students do not have specific career goals yet, it is very helpful if you have some idea about what interests you. What specialties interest you? Do you want to pursue academic medicine? Are you interested in primary care? These questions will help you determine which schools are best suited for you. Most schools excel in training students for a specific type of career. If you envision yourself as a community physician, you may not be happy at a school who focuses on training students interested in academic medicine. Read carefully about each school on your list. How well does their philosophy align with your own? Note any school that seems to be an especially good fit for you.
Step 4: Narrow your list
Finally, it is time to determine your final list of schools. In general, you should aim to have 10-12 schools on your final list. Go through your schools in category 2 first and delete any school that does not strongly match your career goals. (It is ok if you end up removing every school in this category.) Next, review the schools in category 3. Once again delete anything that does not match your career goals. However, make sure to leave at least 2 schools in this category. Finally, go through your list in category 1 and see how well their program matches your goals. Do not delete many of these schools unless you know that you would be unhappy there, or if you have many more than 12 schools on your list.
Choosing where to apply for medical school is one of the most important things that you will do in your career. It is very wise to have a strategy to ensure success. If you follow the above method, you will to apply to schools where you are likely to be accepted and thrive.