Choosing & Applying to Schools

Choosing the schools to which you will apply takes time and careful consideration. It is important to narrow your list of potential schools before looking at specific details of programs. Approach your research systematically by following these steps.

1.  Narrow Your List of Schools by Geography

Which regions/states of the United States are NOT willing to go?  Do you want to shy away from regions that have very cold, hot, or humid climates?  Would you prefer a more secluded, rural area or a metropolis?  Are you willing to travel far away, or do you prefer to stay in your home state?  Region is extremely important because it determines the conditions you will be living in for several years.  Of course, if there is a certain program that you have had your eye on from the start, it might be necessary to make an exception.

State Residency

State residency is an important determinant of your chances for admission to medical school.  Public medical schools give preferential treatment to residents of their own state; some do not even consider out-of-state candidates.  Private schools usually recruit from the national pool of applicants, but may also give preferential treatment to in-state residents for a percentage of the class.  Wherever you apply and to however many schools you apply, include the public schools in your state of legal residence in your application plans.  If you are genuinely interested in attending a public school outside of your own state, the Early Decision Program may be a good strategy.

If your state does not have a professional school in the health field of your choice, it has most likely contracted with schools in other states to accept a certain number of its resident students.  If your home state does not have the type of professional school you intend to apply to, contact prospective schools in other states to inquire about their specific contract arrangements.

2.  Consider Program Size and Program Type

Start with the size of the program.  Is it important to you that you attend a professional program with a small class size and smaller faculty/student ratio?  Then consider what type of program it is by addressing the following questions:

What is the academic focus?

Some medical programs emphasize research or specialty medicine, while others focus on primary care. If you’re interested in primary care, you may not be happy at a school that gives you little patient contact in the first two years. On the other hand, if you want to become a researcher or an academic, a school whose mission is to educate family practitioners may not be for you.

How much does the school emphasize and reward teaching?

Check the faculty to student ratio or consult the admissions office (although their response may be biased). The best way to determine teaching quality is to ask current students for their opinions.

How intense is the pressure?

The atmosphere at medical school can range from calm and collaborative to cut-throat and competitive. The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, for example, has a reputation of extreme competitiveness, while the Yale University School of Medicine has a unique evaluation system in which there are no grades. 

What kinds of research opportunities are available?

It isn't always the high-profile schools that are doing the most cutting-edge research. Different schools have different specialties, and some offer opportunities in partnership with affiliated schools of public health, business or law.

Once you have researched this kind of information, you can delve into the finer details by addressing the following questions:

What is student life like?

Remember, you’re choosing the place where—and the people with whom—you’ll spend at least four years of your life.  Your time will not be completely consumed by studying, and it will benefit you to have productive and fun ways to spend your leisure time. Talk to current students to find out if they are happy.

Where will you be living?

What is the climate and culture like in the area? How far will you be from friends and family? Are the clinical facilities close to the school and housing?

How much will you owe?

When comparing award offers, consider two factors: how much of your need is being met and how it is being met?  Also consider the cost of living in your school's city.

3.  Match Your Stats

Consider your GPA and test scores with the remaining schools and pick the following:

  • Two stretch schools
  • Two safety schools
  • Up to eight schools for which you soundly qualify

You may ask: Why apply to a stretch school, potentially waste time and money, and introduce myself into a program that is too rigorous for my capabilities?  Ivy League schools, for example, seem intimidating; they have the name, and so they can ask for the very best grades, tests scores, etc.  However, just because a school has a shining reputation does not mean that the program is over your head.  If you fall short academically, but have non-academic qualities that make you stand out, you may have a chance.  The admissions process is designed to form an entering class comprised of students that are most likely to succeed in their program.  As long as you are honest and open about what makes you a unique and capable candidate, you will not be introduced into an impossible program.