Choosing a Medical School

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You’ve decided that you’re applying to medical school – congrats! But deciding which medical school to attend isn’t as straightforward as some might suggest. These are the considerations to determine which med school is best for you.

 

Where Should I Apply?

Before you can determine which medical school you want to attend, you need to determine which medical schools to apply to.

The average student applies to 15-20 schools, but I generally advise students to apply to too many schools rather than too few. Think of it from a risk assessment perspective. If you don’t apply to enough schools, there’s a higher risk you don’t get any acceptances, requiring you to reapply in a future cycle or reconsider another career path. That’s a huge downside.

If you apply to too many schools, on the other hand, the main downsides are cost and the time it takes to write additional secondaries. The cost can be mitigated through the fee assistance program, and writing secondaries gets easier the more you do, as you’re able to recycle similar essays between programs with only slight modifications. There’s an asymmetric upside to applying to more schools.

I personally applied to 40 schools which, in hindsight, was more than I needed to. But I received over 20 interview invitations, attended more than 10, and had several acceptances. It was far better to be in a position to decline an interview invitation rather than wishing for more. And with multiple acceptances, you’re in a stronger position to secure stronger financial aid packages and decrease your student loan burden.

When determining which schools to apply to, your stats should obviously guide you to a certain degree. But you should also consider how strong their in-state preferences are. Some public schools take a tiny percentage of out-of-state applicants, and if you’re out-of-state, that may change whether you think it’s worth it to apply there.

 

Which Medical School Should I Attend?

After applying broadly, hopefully, you have one or more acceptances to choose from. This is an excellent position to be in! Here are the most important considerations:

Location

First, prioritize the location. You’ll be in medical school for at least 4 years, and your location can play a huge part in your overall experience.

Location can mean being close to friends and family, who will be your sources of support in medical school in addition to your newfound friends and colleagues.

Location can mean being in an environment you’re familiar with and comfortable with. Or it can mean exploring a new city or region that fancies your interest.

I chose UC San Diego for medical school in part because of the location. I love it there, and I figured it’s great to be in a low-stress environment like San Diego, with beautiful beaches, amazing weather, and reasonable traffic, while in a higher stress period of my training.

The location of your medical school also plays a large role in your fit.

Fit

Fit is somewhat of a nebulous term, referring to how you relate to the medical school culture. Some suggest you look at the school’s mission statement to get an idea of their interests, values, and goals. In my experience, mission statements are too broad and generic. Rather, consider your experiences interacting with the school and its people.

You’ll get a feel for it on interview day, and certainly if you attend a second look weekend. Even if you’re doing a virtual interview rather than attending in person, you can still get an idea of the school’s persona and priorities.

Do you vibe with the other students there? Do they feel like your people? What about the faculty and staff you come across? Do they care about similar things that you care about? Maybe that’s underserved medicine or primary care. How does the environment feel and the immediate surroundings – this, after all, is where you’ll be spending a great deal of time.

This is the time to consider what type of doctor you want to be and whether this environment will help you work towards that goal.

Cost

While cost is important, I don’t think this should be your primary consideration. The White Coat Investor certainly feels different, arguing that medical schools provide comparable education, and choosing the cheapest school is almost always the best decision. If all medical schools were created equal, this would be a strong argument. After all, the compounding effect that works for you with investments also works against you with debt.

Cost includes more than just your tuition as well. Attending medical school in San Francisco or New York City will have higher associated costs of living compared to Omaha or Ann Arbor.

We know that location and fit are obviously highly variable based on the institution, but aren’t medical schools otherwise more or less the same? Not quite, bringing us to our final point: prestige and your intended specialty.

Prestige & Intended Specialty

The reality is that prestige can certainly play a role in your future residency matching opportunities. Particularly if you’re trying to train in a competitive specialty, the reality is that your pedigree can certainly be an asset in helping you have a leg up. This prestige effect continues on through fellowship applications, getting additional degrees like an MPH or MBA, and even with your future doctor job applications. There will certainly be some hurt comments below, but that’s just the reality of it, and I don’t water things down. This is Med School Insiders, and we it to you straight.

More prestigious programs are also more likely to be affiliated with larger medical centers that have a wide breadth of specialty exposure. If you’re set on matching into ENT or neurosurgery but don’t have those departments at your medical school, you’re at a substantial disadvantage. First, you won’t get proper exposure until your fourth year of medical school when you do away rotations. It will also be more difficult to find a long term mentor who can guide you or go to bat for you during your residency application.

You can look up the various departments at a medical school or affiliated hospital, or you can ask during your interview day. Ideally, you want medical school faculty in your specialty of interest, as these individuals are involved with research, teaching, and mentoring of medical students. Community physicians that have a looser association with the hospital can sometimes become great mentors if they take a liking to you, but that’s the exception, not the rule, as there isn’t the same obligation to your education.

The stability of the department is also highly relevant here. If the neurosurgery program at a medical school was put on probation or has been subject to controversy or scandals resulting in a high turnover of leadership, you’ll want to tread carefully.

When deciding on a medical school to attend, I want you to be able to have your pick. Why can’t you attend the medical school that’s in a city you love, that fits you like a glove, that’s highly ranked and that doesn’t put you in hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt? I feel so fortunate that I was able to find that for myself with UC San Diego. And a big part of that was becoming the most competitive applicant I could be. By having multiple schools vying for me, I was in a position to secure the merit-based scholarship awarded to only one student each year that covered my entire tuition and most of my living expenses. If you want to learn from my failures and triumphs, I’ve developed the Premed Roadmap to Medical School Acceptance course to guide you. Use coupon code CHOOSE20 for 20% off your purchase through the end of the month.

When deciding on a medical school, MD vs DO vs Caribbean is also massively important. Check out our post comparing the pros and cons of each to see which is the best choice for you Much love to all!

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