One of the most practical and crucial things to consider when crafting your medical school application is, “Where am I going to apply?”
Choosing wisely is intimately tied to your odds of being accepted. And perhaps more importantly, it is the direct determinant of where you will actually attend medical school. Therefore, it is imperative to be thoughtful and intelligent about how many schools and what type of schools you apply to. So how does one choose? Here we will discuss how to choose between MD schools, DO schools, and Texas schools.
The first thing you should know is there are three main types of application services. The vast majority of medical schools in the United States use the American Medical College Application Service (AMCAS). This is very likely the application service you will use if you want to become an MD.
If you want to become an osteopath (DO), most osteopathic schools in the US use the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine Application Service (AACOMAS). Since only about 10% of non-Texas residents are accepted to medical schools in Texas, the state has its own application service, the Texas Medical and Dental Schools Application Service (TMDSAS).
While these application services all have similar requirements, there are subtle differences you must be aware of.
Learn more about the various application services in our article AMCAS vs. AACOMAS vs. TMDSAS Med School Application Differences.
Choosing Allopathic (MD) vs. Osteopathic (DO)
How strong is your application? Allopathic (MD) programs have higher average GPA and MCAT scores, so their admissions process is considered more competitive. The AAMC (AMCAS) and AACOM (AACOMAS) govern the applications for MD and DO schools, respectively. The average GPA and MCAT score for allopathic (MD) schools is 3.73 and 511.5, compared to 3.49 and 503.8 for osteopathic (DO) programs.
Be realistic about your prior achievements and your goals. It may be helpful to seek the advice of professors, academic counselors, medical students, or others who have been through this process.
Second, evaluate whether any aspects of MD or DO degrees are more attractive to you. Perhaps you are interested in osteopathic medicine and want to pursue a degree with a focus in this.
The third point to consider is competitive specialties have traditionally been less likely to take DO applicants for residency programs. Therefore, this may be a limiting factor in future career plans. Evaluate the differences between the MD and DO programs and let them guide your decision.
Learn more in our 2021 AACOMAS Application Guide for DO Schools.
Choosing Allopathic (MD) vs. Texas schools
The GPA and MCAT scores for matriculants to allopathic schools outside and inside of Texas are very similar. The average GPA and MCAT for allopathic schools is 3.73 and 511.5, respectively, compared to 3.80 and 510.8 for Texas schools.
If you’re considering applying to schools in Texas but you don’t live there already, unfortunately, the odds of being accepted are against you. Applicants who live in Texas have a much higher chance of being accepted, which is true of both public and private medical schools in Texas. Generally, only 10% of non-resident applicants are accepted.
This is great news for Texas residents. If you live in Texas, we recommend you take a long and thorough look at the schools in your state. Not only does Texas have a number of outstanding programs, the cost of tuition is often lower for Texas residents as well.
That’s not to say you will be guaranteed acceptance just because you live in Texas, and it doesn’t mean you’ll be dismissed out of hand if you don’t live in Texas. But it’s important to understand that chances of acceptance are slim to Texas medical schools for non-residents.
Learn more in our TMDSAS Application Guide for Texas Medical Schools.
How Many Medical Schools Do I Apply to?
Unfortunately, there is no magic number or exact right answer to this question. According to AAMC, the average number of schools students apply to through AMCAS is 16. Generally, around 20 programs is considered a safe number. Much lower would run the risk of too few applications resulting in too few interviews. Many more would lead to a huge number of secondaries, perhaps too many interviews to attend, and higher cost.
With that said, the strength of your application and your comfort level with your application will be a large determinant of this decision.
I personally was overcautious, applying to more than 30 programs and sending around 25 secondaries. This was a huge amount of work and, in the end, it was likely unnecessary. But I did have peace of mind in the primary application process. It will ultimately depend on your personal comfort and preference.
If your application is lacking in some regards, casting a wider net may give you a better chance of acceptance. Ideally, you should apply to programs in the following 3 categories:
- “Reach schools” – strong programs that have average metrics above your scores.
- “Target schools” – programs that match your MCAT, GPA, and other metrics, which you are appropriately qualified for.
- “Safety schools” – programs for which you exceed the average qualifications.
Aim to apply to 25% reach schools, 50% target schools, and 25% safety schools.
For example, if you decided to apply to 20 programs, you might choose 5 reach schools, 10 target schools, and 5 safety schools. In general, this is an intelligent approach that creates a safe spread of program quality well-matched to your application.
What Characteristics Should I Look for in Medical Schools?
This will depend on what you value and what you are targeting in your training. Common factors that are important to consider include:
- Quality and reputation of the medical school – It is no secret that school rank and reputation are important to consider, as it may affect the quality of your training and your future professional opportunities.
- School location – Geography is very important as well, but not quite as crucial as it is in the residency application process. Often people complete residency close to where they plan to practice in the future. For medical school, you have more freedom, and will not be bound to that location for future educational or professional experiences. That said, you will be living there for four years of your life, so do your research. What is the city like? How far away is the city from where you currently live? What are the costs of living?
- Clinical/Research/Professional opportunities – if you have a specific interest or specialty you wish to explore, it may be beneficial to look at programs that excel in this field. With that said, most strong university programs are well-balanced and diverse in the opportunities they provide.
- Tuition/finances – schools will vary in their tuition based primarily on private versus public and in-state versus out-of-state (relative to where you live).
It is extremely helpful to consult MSAR (Medical School Admissions Requirements), a small fee resource from AAMC that provides information on class size, average scores, tuition, and other characteristics of each MD program in the US. This is a great place to explore the specifics of the programs you are interested in.
We covered school characteristics in more detail in our article: How to Decide Which Medical Schools to Apply to (12 Important Factors)
Med School Insiders will help you choose the medical schools that are best for you. We can also help you improve your application in order to get noticed by your top choice schools. Our Comprehensive Medical School Admissions Packages are tailored to your needs and the specific schools you are applying to.