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 state residency restrictions, the 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 you 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.
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.
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 and Texas. When researching the schools on the MSAR 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 $28 for 1-year and $36 for 2-years. 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 nor possess 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.
Applying to medical school is an arduous process and applying as an international applicant is even more difficult. Before setting your goal to attend a U.S. medical school please read the following information as there are complicating factors that international students can face when applying to medical school in the U.S.
What are the barriers for international students applying to U.S. medical schools?
There is a limited number of medical schools in the U.S. that accept or even interview international students. Please see our list of schools (below), both allopathic (M.D) and Osteopathic (D.O.) that have indicated they will accept international students. Be sure to check each individual school as each school has its own admission policies and requirements and they may change their acceptance of international students from year to year. For example, Rosalind Franklin University and Albert Einstein College stopped accepting international students starting in the class of 2020. Some schools indicate that they will accept international students but actually have zero interviews over the past years. Refer to MSAR for further information.
Many medical schools are public schools that receive funding from the state they are in. That means the medical schools want to train physicians who will stay in their state and practice medicine there. Many of the state medical schools, including the medical schools in the University of California system, will take very few out-of-state students, and even fewer international students, with the notable exception of UCLA. With that in mind, applying to a private medical school might provide a better chance of admission, as they often do not have quotas for state residents.
International students are unable to receive Federal Loans to pay for an expensive medical school education. Federal Loans are only available to permanent residents or citizens of the U.S. For purposes of admissions and financial aid, U.S. permanent residents are managed similar to U.S. citizens. As an international student, you will need to show medical schools that you have the funds to pay for it. They may require one year or all four years of tuition paid or bank accounts showing funds available to pay. However, some private schools still offer merit-based scholarships for exceptional international applicants.
Medical schools are concerned that an international student who completes a medical education in the U.S. will not stay in the U.S. to practice medicine but return to their home country to practice medicine. Of course, many international students want to stay in the U.S. to practice medicine, but this is a consideration of medical schools when they are reviewing medical school applications.
Medical schools want to know that their students are going to be accepted to residency slots and eventually be physicians who are able to practice. International students need to be able to get work visas to be able to stay in the U.S. after they have graduated from medical school and are ready to attend a residency program. Generally, the residency program they match will sponsor their visa. However, if an international student has an issue getting a residency due to a visa issue it can reflect poorly on the medical school. Although other professions can go out and get a job after their graduate degrees (law, dentistry) physicians cannot practice medicine until they have completed their minimum of 3 years of residency (postgraduate) training. With the current administration’s immigration policies with H1B visas especially, there have been more issues with students who have returned to their home country and cannot get back into the U.S. to complete the residency they matched with due to visa issues.
What can you do to be a stronger applicant to U.S. medical schools?
As a U.C.Berkeley student, taking your science pre-requisites and getting a baccalaureate degree from a university in the U.S., you are eliminating one barrier to U.S. medical schools as courses at Berkeley are considered academically rigorous by most institutions. U.S. medical schools typically require the prereqs to be completed from a U.S. college/university. Although you are completing your coursework in the U.S., you are not considered a U.S. student. The “international” status is based on your residency status, not where you received your degree from.
Your academic record and MCAT score need to be as stellar as possible to make sure you are competitive. You have to be above the typical academic metrics for medical school applicants and have strong medically related experiences, leadership, and research.
Applying to both allopathic (MD) and osteopathic (DO) medical schools that indicate and show they have previously accepted international students can help achieve your goal. Refer to the MSAR and/or AACOMAS for a list of osteopathic schools that accept international students.
Ideally, you need to be on a path to citizenship, if possible, or at least have a strong desire to stay in the U.S expressed either in your personal statement or secondary applications.
What are the other options there?
MD/Ph.D. programs are typically easier for international students to get accepted to. It is not recommended to apply to MD/Ph.D. programs just for the ability to attend medical school. You need to be very interested in the MD/Ph.D. path when it comes to applying and interviewing. These programs are highly competitive and are only an option for international students who have completed a significant amount of research and who are academically very strong applicants. Some questions for a student to ask themselves if considering this route are:
Do you really want the MD/Ph.D. in order to pursue your career goals, or is the dual degree primarily being used as a source of entrance to and funding to attend medical school?
Are you prepared for the type of educational experience that an MD/Ph.D. program demands?
Do you know the typical career path for which an MD/Ph.D. program generally prepares you?
You can check with the AAMC MD-PhD Programs Policy resource for a chart of the MD/Ph.D. programs that accept international applicants. One of the reasons MD/Ph.D. programs may not accept international students is due to where the supporting funds are coming from. If the MD/Ph.D. program is supported by the NIH Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP), trainees on those grants must be citizens or noncitizen nationals of the U.S. or have achieved permanent residency status. MD/Ph.D. programs with other funding sources might be more willing to consider international students.
It is important to note that Canadian students do not always face the same challenges as other international applicants. First, the educational system in Canada is very similar to that of the United States, and admissions officers are therefore more familiar with their educational system. Second, there is also a long history of Canadians receiving both their undergraduate and medical education in the United States. U.S. medical schools may vary on how they view Canadian applicants versus other international applicants. Canadians are more likely to be able to receive financial help from their government to finance their U.S. or Canadian medical school education. There are a couple of U.S. medical schools that favor Canadian applicants and you should refer to MSAR for further information.
Consider other health fields. Pharmacy, dentistry, and nursing are all easier health professional schools for international students to attend.
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. See the AAMC website for details. Though these are simply averages, they might help guide you in terms of which schools 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 extracurricular 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 that 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.
A school’s location and surroundings 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.
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]
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.