How to choose a medical school? How you approach this difficult selection process will inevitably affect your professional and personal life. While many students wonder about how many medical schools to apply to, the more relevant question should be what schools are right for you. Whether you are still deciding between applying to some of the top schools in the country or easiest medical schools to get into, or choosing one of the schools that sent you offers of admission, having the right selection process can make your 4 years of medical school a joyful and fulfilling experience. In today’s article, we will go over a step-by-step process of choosing the right medical school for you before applications and after you receive your admissions letters.
>>Want us to help you get accepted? Schedule a free strategy call here.<<
Listen to the blog!
Before we go over our step-by-step guide that will help you choose which medical schools to apply to and attend, it’s good to discuss where you can find the information we outline below. Firstly, most medical schools include a lot of information about their mission, values, and student life on their website. You should feel safe checking out the website for anything to do with the school’s culture, goals, and educational plans. Most schools are also quite prompt in updating their websites regarding matriculating class profiles, but this is not always the case. Furthermore, some MD and DO do not reveal vital information about the incoming class on their websites, such as their admissions rates, GPA means, and MCAT averages. To find out the most up-to-date information regarding these statistics for US and Canadian medical schools, you should use the MSAR database which will help you choose the right school for you. Please use our MSAR guide to learn how to use this portal for creating a school list. We give a detailed outline of which functions and features of MSAR to use to maximize your success.
If you are looking for the best osteopathic medical schools for you, remember to use Choose DO database to review the most recent information on DO schools.
Now, let's go over our step-by-step guide on how to choose a medical school that will be the right fit for you.
Want more tips for creating a medical school list?
Do Your Research
Applying to schools without research is one of the most common mistakes students make when deciding how to choose a medical school. Sending out applications blindly, based on reputation or prestige, is highly inadvisable. The first step in your medical school application timeline should be dedicated research of the schools you are interested in. Why? Because choosing the right fit for you is a crucial element of increasing your chances of acceptance.
Choosing to attend a medical school is a huge commitment and this is why you must carefully choose where you will be spending the next 3-4 years of your life. Each MD and DO program have their own mission, goals, and opportunities. Every school is different and not all of them will fit your needs, learning style, and ambitions. So, what criteria should you consider when choosing medical schools to apply to?
The answer will depend on what you want to get out of your medical school education, but here are some of the criteria worth looking at:
Mission and Values
As I already mentioned earlier, each school’s mission statement and values will be different, and you must carefully study the school’s mottos before you apply. These often-short statements can quickly reveal to you whether the school is the right choice for you. How? Because they reveal what kind of skills and talents they value, and what kind of abilities will be expected of you. For example, if you are considering applying to medical schools in New York, Albert Einstein College of Medicine might be an attractive option. However, if you do not enjoy research and have little to no research experience, then this school is not for you since the first line of their mission statement is:
“Albert Einstein College of Medicine is a research-intensive medical school.”
And while this school may be great in many other aspects of medical education, its focus on research is clearly and blatantly indicated in its statement.
Compare the previous mission statement to that of the University of Mississippi School of Medicine:
“The University of Mississippi School of Medicine is committed to training skilled and compassionate physicians to provide high-quality and equitable health care particularly to the state’s residents, including diverse and underserved populations.”
This school is more geared towards physicians who want to work in underserved, underprivileged communities within the state of Mississippi. So, if your goal is to become a practicing physician in rural or disadvantaged areas within this state, this school will be a much better fit for your needs and goals.
Researching your schools' background, mission, and values can truly help you make the right choice. Not only will this increase your chances of acceptance because you will know if your goals, experiences, and profile are a good fit there, but it will also help you determine whether you will enjoy your 4 years at this institution.
What is the teaching style and curriculum of the school?
Medical schools in Canada and the US use two main types of instructional methods that may be more or less in tandem with your own. Some use traditional structure, which typically strictly divides the 4 years of medical school into 2 years of pre-clinical work and 2 years of clinical practice. In this approach, you get a solid theoretical base before moving into clinical practice. Your classroom learning may be more inquiry-based, which means that instead of being presented with real patient cases, you will be presented with scenarios and hypothetical cases that will help you learn.
Most medical schools are moving towards an integrated teaching structure, which combines class learning and clinical exposure from the onset of your medical school education. You are presented with real problems and cases that help you digest theoretical learning. These programs expect their applicants to have great problem-solving and critical thinking skills to begin clinical practice within weeks of starting medical school.
Also, make sure to check out the curriculum to make note of any classes, seminars, or rotations you would be interested in and where the rotations and electives could take place.
Based on this information, you can gauge what kind of clinical and elective opportunities you will get, what kind of valuable knowledge you will receive, and what your prospects after medical school are like.
Check out this infographic for more info on how to use the MSAR to help you select the best school for you:
You are going to be spending 4 years of your life in this institution, and while academics will be the most important part of your time there, you must also consider some other aspects of your life in medical school. Is this school famous for its diversity and inclusion programs? Or maybe the medical school housing options are some of the best in the country? Perhaps they have great student support structures that can help you through the difficult stretches of classwork or rotations? Or maybe you can continue with your favorite extracurricular when you begin your medical school education because they have facilities that support your interests? All this will make attending medical school a fulfilling and enjoyable experience.
Be Realistic About Your Profile
As you are reviewing schools’ profiles, keep in mind your own. You have to be realistic about whether you would be a good fit for the schools to which you apply. The second step of how to choose a medical school is reflecting on your own background and experiences in comparison to the schools’ you are interested in. Pay attention to the following as you create your school list:
GPA and MCAT
Meeting the minimum GPA and MCAT requirements set by the school is not enough. To have a chance for acceptance, your GPA and MCAT score must at least match the GPA and MCAT set by the previous matriculating class. While most medical schools claim a holistic review of your application, GPA and MCAT are still viewed as first indicators of your academic abilities. Furthermore, you should know that due to the extraordinary competition for medical school spots, many schools use GPA and MCAT to weed out applicants at the early stages of application review. This means that if your GPA and MCAT are not on par with the school's expectations, the committee might not even look at the rest of your application. This is why meeting these standards is essential.
As we already discussed, you can use the MSAR database and the school’s websites to find the latest statistics. Note down any schools where your GPA and MCAT meet or exceed the standards set by the latest matriculants. But you might be wondering “Can I apply to schools where I do not quite meet the GPA and MCAT standards?” Yes, you can, but do not put down more than 2 or 3 of such schools on your list. If you decide to apply to such med programs, make sure that the rest of your application is a perfect fit for them – emphasize the experiences that fit their mission and values, indicate which aspects of their curriculum you are most excited about, and make sure that your secondaries (if you receive them) clearly demonstrate why you are the perfect fit for this school.
Keep in mind that if your MCAT score is not competitive and you do not have time to retake the MCAT, you might want to consider applying to medical schools that do not require the MCAT.
Most schools do not have any strict requirements when it comes to your major in undergrad, but most programs will have a list of medical school prerequisites that you must complete to be an eligible candidate. Make sure to check the school’s website or MSAR for required and recommended coursework. If you are missing some of the recommended courses, it’s not the end of the world as your application will still be considered. However, if you are missing any of the required courses listed on the school’s profile, you might want to avoid applying to this school. Required coursework is mandatory, so if you have not had the chance to complete this or a similar course, then your chances of acceptance are almost non-existent.
If you're wondering why med school prerequisites are important, take a look at this infographic:
In addition to meeting the stats set by your peers, you must also look at their experiences and background. In MSAR, this information is clearly indicated in a chart. You can see what kind of activities are most valued by your schools of choice because you will see what kind of candidates tend to be accepted. Let's say you do not have quality premed research experience. In this case, you should pay attention to whether the previous matriculants had a lot of research experience. For example, compared to Ivy League Medical Schools, which are research-intensive institutions, Medical College of Georgia Augusta University or the University of South Alabama College of Medicine have relatively low percentages of matriculants with research and lab experience. This would mean that these schools would be a better fit for your profile.
Or another example: if you want to become a military doctor and are looking to apply to schools other than USUHS, you will need to find schools that tend to accept students with your background. For example, the Medical College of Georgia Augusta University accepts around 1% of candidates with this background, while the University of North Dakota School of Medicine and Health Sciences has an acceptance rate of 5% for such students. Between the two, the choice for students with a military background is clear.
In addition to the mission statements and values you already researched, the premed background of most recent matriculants can really help you identify whether you will be a good fit for the schools of your choice.
Overall, In-state, and Out-of-state Admissions Rate
While low medical school acceptance rates should not determine whether you choose to apply to schools or not, you should know what kind of competition you’re up against. A low admissions rate signals that the school is competitive and gives you an idea of your own chances for acceptance.
More importantly, pay attention to whether the school’s in-state and out-of-state acceptance rates are roughly the same or if there is a significant difference between them. We will talk about this in more detail later in this blog, but some medical schools give preference to in-state applicants. While there are many out-of-state friendly medical schools in the US, keep in mind that if a school gives unprecedented preference to in-state applicants and you are not a resident of that state, your chances for acceptance decrease significantly.
The school websites and MSAR might not give you the admissions rate directly, but you can calculate the admissions rate by dividing the number of students accepted by the total number of applicants and multiplying it by 100%. Most schools release this data via official class profile pages and MSAR.
Location and Residency Status
In a recent AAMC poll, 44% of polled students indicated that whether the school is in-state or out-of-state is the most important consideration when it comes to the school’s location. This distinction determines both the medical school tuition you will be paying and your admissions chances.
Most public medical schools give preference to in-state/in-province applicants, and this is why the rate of acceptance of local residents is higher. Residents are more likely to stay to practice within the state, thus further serving the healthcare needs of the local population whose taxes subsidize in-state students' tuition. It’s also worth mentioning that private schools in the United States make no distinctions between in-state and out-of-state applicants, so the admissions rates for both are pretty much the same.
Residency status is not the only determining factor when it comes to location. Some medical schools in Canada give preference not based on your provincial identity but on what kind of environment you come from and what background you have. For example, the Northern Ontario School of Medicine welcomes applicants from rural and northern parts of Canada no matter what province they come from. So, knowing schools’ preferences can help you choose the right school and create an application that properly highlights elements of your background that will help your candidacy.
But it’s not impossible to get into public schools as an out-of-state/out-of-province applicant. First things first, find schools where acceptance rates of out-of-state/out-of-province students are fairly high, or schools that make no great distinction between the two student categories. Secondly, make sure that your application demonstrates why the location of the school is attractive for you. Some schools ask you to submit additional application components that would demonstrate why you are choosing to attend a school in this location. For example, Dalhousie University Faculty of Medicine requires out-of-province applicants to submit an additional essay that outlines why they want to attend a school in the Maritimes. In the United States, this kind of essay can easily be part of your medical school secondary essay prompts. Your essays or activities section can demonstrate that the school’s location (city/town/state/province) is the perfect fit for your professional and personal goals. It would be even better if you can demonstrate some kind of tie with the school’s location, such as family connections, childhood activities, work experience, and so on.
So, when it comes to how to choose a medical school that’s a good fit for you, do not forget to make sure that your chosen medical schools accept out-of-state applicants if this is your residency status. On the other hand, if you are applying to an in-state school as a local, check out if your chosen schools have higher acceptance rates for their own residents. This may help your admissions chances.
Cost and Financial Aid
This next consideration in choosing a medical school is closely connected to our previous section. Public schools are some of the cheapest medical schools for in-state students, but tuition fees for out-of-state students in public schools are comparable to private schools’ tuition. So, if you want to keep the cost of tuition down, you should consider attending a medical school in-state. This can be difficult for some medical school hopefuls, as some US states and Canadian provinces simply do not have any medical schools within their borders. If you do not have any schools located in your state/province, or if your chosen schools are located outside of your state/province, what can you do to keep the costs down? How to pay for medical school? Let’s examine your options.
Are you wondering how much medical school actually costs? This video will help you break down and better understand the expenses you will have to cover:
In addition to finding public schools within your state that would be a great fit for you, look for medical schools with the best financial aid. Some medical schools cancel tuition for incoming matriculants altogether. Many medical schools in the US and Canada offer a variety of merit and need-based scholarships. Additionally, there are many private awards and medical school scholarships that can help you cover medical school expenses. Some scholarships can be of very substantial amounts, while others may not be as large but if added together can help you bring down your expenses. When you search for medical schools, look at what kind of financial support they can provide for you specifically. If they offer merit scholarships, check if you meet the requirements. If they offer need-based awards, make sure you can prove your need according to their conditions.
Important note: Whatever the tuition cost may be, you must plan your budget. You must face the fact that attending medical school is going to cost a lot of money, so you must plan your expenditures very carefully. In addition to the tuition you will pay, you will also spend a substantial amount of money on application fees, MCAT cost, CASPer costs, interview expenses, and so on.
According to the latest NRMP statistics, 80.8% of applicants matched PGY-1 positions, while 94.5% of Canadian medical graduates matched in Canada via CaRMS in the first iteration. It is worth looking into medical schools with the best match rates to determine if the school does a good job of preparing its graduates for residency. This information is often included on the schools’ websites. Additionally, you can find information on what kind of USMLE Step 1 and USMLE Step 2 CK (or MCCQE Part 1) score their applicants get. However, keep in mind that your success in exams depends on how hard you study. Even if your medical school does a great job providing you with all the necessary information to ace USMLE and MCCQE, only you can prepare yourself for the exams.
And while the information about match rates and scores can be useful in helping you choose medical schools to apply to, do not give it too much weight. Your chances for matching via ERAS or CaRMS to your top-choice residency are mostly in your hands. The program directors review not your school’s profile or reputation, but how well you performed in medical school and your exams, your references and MSPE, your residency personal statement and CV, and so on. All these components rely solely on your performance in class and rotations, on your relationships with mentors and peers, and your activities outside of academia. Going to a renowned school like Stanford medical school is certainly impressive, but the school’s name and prestige will not help you match if you have poor recommendations, scarce extracurriculars, and low scores.
Interested in a quick recap? This infographic is for you:
Whether you are still looking for schools to apply to or choosing between several acceptance letters, how to choose a medical school is no easy task. Firstly, it requires a lot of self-reflection. You must have a clear vision of what you want from your medical education. This is easier said than done, as many medical school hopefuls do not know which specialty they will pursue or where they want to practice. Secondly, you must dedicate a lot of time to researching available schools and creating a list of programs that will meet your expectations and where you will be the perfect candidate. Thirdly, you must remember that there is life outside of academia and that the school you attend should be a welcoming and comfortable place for you for the foreseeable future. Fourthly, you should have at least some knowledge of what to expect for your future after medical school. What kind of opportunities do you have as a graduate of this medical school? What are its graduates doing now?
All this makes the responsibility of how to choose a medical school very intimidating. But try to think of this as an investment into your future! The earlier you start your research and the more time you dedicate to this decision, the easier this choice will be when the time comes to pick your one and only home for the next 4 years!
1. How should I choose a medical school?
Before you apply, make sure to look for schools that would be a great fit for you academically and socially. To increase your chances of acceptance, choose schools where you meet the GPA and MCAT averages and where your extracurricular and academic experiences will be valued.
Once you receive letters of acceptance, take some time to determine which school would fit your needs. Try to choose a school that can offer you some financial aid to alleviate your expenses. Also, look into the kind of residency prep you can expect from the institution.
2. How many schools should I apply to?
You should aim to apply to 10-15 medical schools.
3. Where can I find schools’ admissions information?
You can use their official websites or the MSAR database for MD schools and Choose DO portal for osteopathic schools.
4. Should I choose medical schools in my own state/province?
Attending in-state has a lot of advantages. Firstly, many public med schools give preference to residents and set lower tuition fees for in-state students. However, if your dream school is out-of-state and accepts non-residents, you should definitely apply and attend if accepted.
5. Should cost determine my choice of medical school?
Attending medical school is going to be expensive no matter which school you choose. For out-of-state applicants, tuition in private and public schools is comparable. If possible, try to attend an in-state public school to keep the costs down. However, no matter what kind of school you choose, expect to pay off educational debt for the foreseeable future.
6. Should residency prospects determine my choice of school?
Not necessarily. While it’s great if a school has high matching rates, your own performance in medical school and your own experiences have more influence on your chances to match.
Like our blog? Write for us! >>
Have a question? Ask our admissions experts below and we'll answer your questions!