Choosing A Medical School


For many applicants, choosing a medical school is similar to the process of choosing a college/university. Many factors should be considered when choosing medical schools such as residency restrictions, mission of the school, curriculum, GPA & MCAT score, cost, admissions options and location. It is important to note that choosing a medical school is an individual process and should not apply to a medical school simply because of pressure from others or because that school has a high ranking. Fit is an important aspect of a successful application to medical school.

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A few factors to consider when applying to a medical school. Do you prefer a small or large school? Do you like a large or small class? What type of financial aid is available? What are the costs? Is the school connected to a university or is it a free standing institution? Which schools have a learning approach that emphasizes primary care, patient education, prevention, and preparation for community practice? What schools have a teaching approach that will work well for you? A medical school will consider whether or not your interests and experiences match those of the medical school’s mission, philosophy or research/academic opportunities.

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State Residency

As an applicant, your application choices might be limited simply by your state of residence (ie, you need to be a resident of the state in order to apply to that particular medical school). Be sure to read the Financial & Selection Factors links on the MSAR database online.  This site contains information on all American medical schools as well as medical schools in Canada. When researching the schools on the MSARS database, you will find comprehensive links to information regarding every aspect of medical school programs; selection factors, financial aid, demographics, types of programs etc.  For more specific information regarding non-state resident acceptances, class size etc. consult the MSAR (Medical School Admission Requirement) database online to confirm school-specific requirements. To view the MSAR online you need to purchase access to it from AAMC for $15. See the AAMC website for details.

Private Medical Schools: It will not matter whether or not you are a resident of the state where the medical school is located because there is no in-state or out-of-state tuition rates (everyone pays the same tuition).  Private medical schools are typically the options available for those who are international students since most public medical schools will not consider applications from applicants who are neither an American citizen or posses a permanent visa.

Note: For those who are planning to apply to medical schools in the state of Texas, you will need to apply via the Texas Medical & Dental Schools Application Service (TMDSAS). Additionally, you will need to be a resident of the state of Texas to apply to any Texas medical school except for Baylor College of Medicine who does not participate in TMDSAS.

International

GPA & MCAT

Consult the MSAR (Medical School Admission Requirement) database online and websites of individual allopathic and osteopathic medical schools for information on the average GPA and MCAT scores of recently admitted applicants. To view the MSAR online you need to purchase access to it from AAMC for $15. See the AAMC website for details. Though these are simply averages, they might help guide you in terms of which schools that you decide to apply. Medical schools will review your application with the context of your educational experiences in mind. A low GPA and/or MCAT score may not reflect the fact that an applicant has had to overcome adversity or unique challenges in their lives.

A high GPA and MCAT score alone without any demonstrated research, helping experiences or other extra curricular activities does not prove to a medical school that one will be an excellent physician.

GPA and MCAT scores are definitely an important factor in assessing an applicant’s qualifications but these are not the only or perhaps even the most important factors in evaluating an applicant for medical school. A high GPA coupled with a high MCAT score will get you noticed at a medical school but your other qualifications will be the reason why you are admitted. When considering “numbers” pay close attention to the "Selection Factors" link for each school in the MSAR database online.  This link will show the range of MCAT scores for the admitted applicants for that school.  You may see that there are medical schools who have admitted applicants with a low verbal MCAT score and scores on the Biological Sciences and Physical Sciences sections that are below the school's averages.  You can also see the ranges of overall and science GPAs that a school has accepted for the previous application year.

Location

A school’s location and surrounding will play a part in determining your interest. Safety, housing, recreational opportunities, transportation, cost of living, diversity (people, geography, attitude, etc.) and climate are all considerations. Living in the San Francisco Bay Area, you can be spoiled by the advantages in this region of the country. Do your best to not let parochial attitudes or stereotypes unduly limit opportunities for a medical education.

Mission

One of many factors that a medical school admissions committee will consider when evaluating an application is whether or not the applicant is a good match for that school based on an individual’s interests, future professional goals and/or demonstrated helping experiences. While many schools share a similar mission of producing graduates who will play a wide range of roles within medicine, some schools have specific objectives. Consider each school’s mission and whether or not it matches your goals and interests. Below are mission statements from three different California medical schools that range from general to specific:

  • The UCSF School of Medicine strives to advance human health through a fourfold mission of education, research, patient care and public service. [University of California, San Francisco School of Medicine]
  • The school’s overriding purpose is the formation of Christian physicians, educated to serve as generalists or specialists and providing whole-person care to individuals, families, and communities. [Loma Linda University School of Medicine]
  • Stanford is committed to being a premier research-intensive medical school that improves health through leadership, collaborative discoveries, and innovation in patient care, education, and research. The school will identify, accept, and recruit the future leaders of medicine. In particular, Stanford seeks individuals whose leadership will result in significant advances in the ability to care for patients. Whether through careers in basic biomedical research, clinical research, health policy research or community and/or international service based on original scholarship, Stanford’s medical students will contribute uniquely and importantly. [Stanford University School of Medicine]

Curriculum

The academic program available at a medical school can be quite diverse. Some schools may offer a flexible curriculum and others, an opportunity to be exposed to a clinical setting earlier in their medical school training. There are medical schools which offer dual degree programs (i.e., MD/PhD, MD/JD, MD/MBA, MD/MA, etc.) and other medical schools have small class sizes, allowing for unique academic and clinical opportunities. Some medical schools may have a P/F (Pass/Fail) option which helps to create and maintain a collaborative environment among students.

You should consider a medical school’s curriculum as an important factor when choosing schools. There will be opportunities (academic or otherwise) available at one school and not another. Be aware of your learning style and whether or not the school’s curriculum will provide you the opportunity to learn in the most effective manner.