How to Decide Which Medical Schools to Apply to (12 Important Factors)


Choosing which medical schools you want to apply to is a painstaking and time-consuming process. You need to figure out where you have the best chance of acceptance, consider tuition costs, and decide where you want to live for four important years of your life. Follow our list of 12 important deciding factors for how to decide which medical schools to apply to.


How to Decide Which Medical Schools to Apply to

1 | The School Location

low angle map with pins

School location is a huge determining factor for choosing which medical schools to apply to. For starters, the location of the school you choose could skyrocket your tuition costs. Out-of-state students pay much more in tuition and fees, and in the case of some schools (including most in Texas), very few out-of-state students are accepted. Give extra consideration to schools in your state, especially if cost is a top factor for you.

Some premeds don’t put enough consideration into the actual location of the school they are considering. Every city is different, and going to medical school in the midwest is going to be completely different from attending school in a large city, such as New York.

The school you choose is going to be your home for at least four years, so do your research about where you are going to live. What is the city like? How far away is the city from where you currently live? What are the costs of living? What type of food is popular? What do people do for fun? If you can manage it, take time to visit some of the campuses and cities of your top schools to get a better sense of the campus as well as the surrounding area.

2 | Your Competitiveness as an Applicant

Application Checklist paper with checkmarks

Each school has a different expectation for your GPA and MCAT score, and while there’s plenty you can do to improve your MCAT score and overall application, you need to be realistic about your own scores.

Research the statistics of recent matriculated medical school students for all of the schools you are considering applying to. AAMC’s Medical School Admissions Requirements (MSAR) database allows you to browse, search, sort, and compare medical schools, including stats on GPA and MCAT averages.

It comes with an annual cost, but it will provide you with invaluable data that will help you make your final decision. You’ll be able to determine which schools are within your current target range based on your GPA and MCAT score, as well as reach schools and safety schools you could consider. The database will also help you find schools you may not have considered before since you can search schools by average GPA or MCAT and save your favorite within the app.

Remember that averages are only averages. You should aim for higher than average scores in order to be a competitive applicant.

Learn more: What MCAT Score Should You Aim For?

3 | The School’s Reputation and Ranking

A school’s reputation matters more to some people than others. Of course, there’s a certain prestige to attending a big name school like Duke, Stanford, or Harvard, but that doesn’t mean those big names will be the right fit for you. School fit, including location, teaching style, and specialties offered, are far more important factors to consider.

A school’s rank is a little more helpful. Take time to research current medical school rankings to get a better sense of how top schools compare for research, primary care, and other specialties. Rankings factor in important determinants such as funding, available resources, technology, and quality of training. A school’s rank will also give you a sense of how competitive it is to better understand your chances of acceptance.

4 | School Tuition and Fees

Money and US flag - cost of medical school

Tuition costs vary considerably across medical schools, with the most expensive medical school (the University of South Carolina School of Medicine) costing out-of-state students over $90,000 in tuition and fees. In comparison, some of the least expensive medical schools in Texas cost around $20,000 in tuition and fees for in-state students. And although it’s rare, there are some medical schools that are tuition-free.

Consider the vast difference in tuition costs when choosing which medical schools you want to apply to. Many schools charge much more (sometimes double) for out-of-state applicants, and there’s a cost difference for public versus private schools. The average student debt for medical students is over $200,000, which should not be taken lightly. Carefully consider the costs of attending the medical schools you want to apply to as well as any financial aid options.

5 | Financial Aid Opportunities

Financial aid opportunities are different at each school—both in the amount available and how you are able to receive it. Each applicant has separate circumstances, and some need this aid more than others. If you are depending on financial aid in order to pay for medical school, carefully research what is available as well as the details surrounding the aid for each school. Many schools offer more aid to those applying in-state.

6 | The Cost of Living

Many premeds forget to factor in the cost of living. As expensive as tuition is, it’s only one small piece of the total bill. The cost of living by state varies significantly. Renting a two-bedroom apartment in Mississippi will only run you about $750 per month, whereas a two-bedroom apartment in California will run you around $2,500 or more per month, depending on the location.

A couple thousand dollars more per month for rent alone is a big cost to consider over four years. There are other costs to think about, too, including groceries, transportation, and lifestyle expenses, all of which vary considerably depending on the city you’re living in.

7 | How You Prefer to Learn

Everyone learns differently, which means the teaching styles of certain schools may be a better fit for you. Consider whether you prefer large or small classes as well as the type of learning environment you work best in. Do you have a preference for how you are graded? Many medical schools grade on a pass/fail basis versus a letter or numerical grade to discourage competition between classmates.

This will take more research than simply looking at a database of averages. Research individual school programs to find out more about how you will learn. Dig into online networks to ask about school programs, and if you are deeply considering a specific school, take the time to reach out to someone who is attending or has attended to learn more about what it’s like to study there.

8 | Your Special Interests in Medicine

Surgeon close up face working

If you already know what specialization you want to pursue, this may help you narrow down your best medical school options. Most strong medical schools offer a balanced and diverse range of opportunities for students, but there are some schools more well known for certain specialties. If you have a specific interest you want to explore, look for a medical school that has the most to offer in this area.

Some school rankings will list schools based on what they have to offer in specific fields of study, such as family medicine, psychiatry, or surgery.

Med School Insiders has a video series called So You Want to Be… that’s dedicated to helping students choose a specialty. We cover a wide range of specialties and career paths, and we have plenty of new videos on the way.

9 | Personal Opportunities

Beyond specialties, what extra opportunities are available at the schools you are considering? Think about your interests and anything you might want to pursue inside or outside of your studies.

What clubs are available? What volunteering opportunities are available? What electives are you able to take? Does the school offer internships, work-study programs, or exchanges? How can the school assist you in reaching your personal and professional goals?

10 | Whether or Not You Live in Texas

TMDSAS Texas flag

Texas residents have a far higher chance of being accepted to schools in Texas than non-residents do, and this is true of both public and private medical schools in Texas. Typically, only 10% of non-resident applicants are accepted to Texas medical schools.

So, if you are a Texas resident, it’s a good idea to take a thorough look at the schools in your home state. There are a number of excellent programs in Texas, and the cost of tuition is generally lower for Texas residents as well.

If you are not a resident of Texas, you can still apply to schools in that state, but your chances of being accepted are slim.

Learn more in our TMDSAS Application Guide for Texas Medical Schools.

11 | Whether or Not You Want to Pursue Osteopathic Medicine

AACOMAS Osteopathic doctor holding patient hand

You may be considering applying to osteopathic (DO) schools for a variety of reasons. For instance, you may agree more with the preventative focus of osteopathic medicine, which takes a whole-body, holistic approach that treats the person, not the symptoms. Or, you may have a mentor who works as a DO.

It’s also true that the statistics for acceptance to osteopathic programs are often lower than allopathic (MD) schools. Osteopathic schools tend to accept applicants with a lower GPA and MCAT score, but it should be noted that DOs still have to complete four years of medical school followed by residency.

Don’t pursue osteopathic medicine simply because you believe it will be easier. If you don’t have an interest in osteopathic medicine, you should work at improving your GPA, MCAT score, and overall application instead.

Applying to osteopathic programs requires you to use the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine Application Service (AACOMAS) as opposed to the American Medical College Service (AMCAS). The services are similar, but there are important differences to be aware of.

12 | Personal Preference and Gut Feeling

Last but certainly not least, an important piece of choosing what medical schools you want to apply to comes down to personal preference. You might fall in love with particular schools or certain cities, or you may know that you don’t want to leave your home state.

Get to know a variety of schools and do your research well in advance so that you choose schools that feel like a good fit. Pay attention to how you feel around the people you meet on your interview day, including the staff and current medical students there. The people you meet at the school will give you a good sense of the culture and “fit” of the program to ensure it feels right to you.

If it doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. You’re going to invest at least four years of your life (and tens of thousands of dollars) into the school you choose, so it’s important that it feels right to you.

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Frequently Asked Questions About Choosing Which Medical Schools to Apply to

How Many Medical Schools Should I Apply to?

Medical schools with number symbol - How Many Medical Schools Should I Apply To

You can apply to as many schools as you like. According to AAMC, the average number of schools students apply to through AMCAS is 16.

Applying to 20 programs is considered safe as if you apply to too few programs, you run the risk of not receiving many interviews. If you apply to too many programs, you’ll have a lot of secondaries to deal with, potentially too many interviews to attend, and it will be more expensive.

You should base your decision on the strength of your application. You may want more options to fall back on if you think aspects of your application, such as experience, grades, or MCAT score, are lacking in some way.

Learn more: How Many Medical Schools Should I Apply to?

When Should I Research Which Medical Schools I Want to Apply to?

Get started on this process as soon as possible. There are a number of different aspects to consider when choosing a medical school, from the location of the school to the school’s ranking to tuition costs to whether or not you know which specialty you want to pursue.

Take as much time as you can to research the programs thoroughly and make the choice that feels right for you. It’s a big decision, and if you get accepted, you’ll be at the school for four years of your life. Going to medical school often means relocating to a new city or state. You should give yourself all the time you can to explore these cities to ensure you will be comfortable learning and, ultimately, living there.

Does Location Affect My Odds of Acceptance?

Your home location can affect your odds of acceptance. For example, Texas medical schools generally only accept 10% of applicants who live out-of-state. So, if you’re from Vermont, there’s a good chance you won’t be accepted to a school in Texas. Plus, you’ll need to submit your application through TMDSAS instead of AMCAS for most Texas medical schools.

Research the specific programs you’re interested in to determine whether or not your location will negatively impact your chances of acceptance. Choosing to move across the country for medical school is a big decision that should not be taken lightly. That’s why it’s so important to research medical schools and the cities they are located in as soon as possible.

What is a Letter of Intent?

Envelope and wedding rings - A Letter of Intent is like a proposal

A letter of intent is your promise and declaration to a medical school program that you will accept their offer above any other program you’ve applied to. You only write one letter of intent to your #1 school. Even if you’re accepted to four other distinguished programs, a letter of intent states you will choose the specific program you’re writing to if an offer is extended.

You should not send more than one letter of intent. Doctors take ethics very seriously. A letter of intent is essentially you giving your word to a program that if they accept you, you will say yes. If you break your word, it’s not a good look.

Read our Tips for Writing a Letter of Intent.

What is a Letter of Interest?

Envelope and flowers - Letter of Interest

A letter of interest is less of a commitment than a letter of intent. A letter of intent is like asking someone to marry you, but a letter of interest is more like sending a Valentine. You can say much of what you would say in a letter of intent (how interested you are in the program, why you think you’re qualified, why you’re a uniquely good fit, etc.,) but don’t say that you will accept an offer if one is extended to you.

Learn more about Letter of Intent vs. Letter of Interest.


What’s Next?

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. Learn more about our Comprehensive Medical School Admissions Packages, which are tailored to your needs and the specific schools you are applying to.

Read our Guide to Understanding the Medical School Application Process, which includes an application timeline, what you need to include in your application, mistakes to avoid, and what happens next.


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