Choosing medical schools

Most of my pre-med conversations revolved around on how to get into medical school, and not how to select a medical school. This focus makes sense since any medical school will help you become a doctor—until you find yourself sitting in front of an application portal and realize your application cannot go to “a generic medical school” but only to specific ones that you must choose.

In choosing medical schools, I kept these three important reflections in mind:

  1. I only need to get into one medical school.
  2. Medical education is standardized. What differentiates one school from one is its culture, resources, and opportunities.
  3. I will only apply to schools that I think I would be happy to attend.

I applied to only MD programs; thus, this post describes my application process to MD programs. However, I highly recommend considering DO programs, as well! I admire all that my older sister is learning at her DO program. Plus, you can apply to both MD and DO programs.

MD vs. DO: The dichotomization of MD and DO is misleading. At most, if not all, hospitals, you’ll find MDs and DOs working side-by-side and at equal levels. They have to pass the same licensing exams and often can apply to the same residency programs. The major difference is that DOs are more focused on holistic medicine, and may use techniques like osteopathic manipulation. When choosing among MD or DO schools, consider what you want in your medical education. While DO schools were once considered “easier” to get into the past, they are increasingly competitive. It’s also a fair argument to make that DO students have to learn more (e.g., osteopathic manipulation medicine). For me, the choice came down to research opportunities and culture.

One more thing: DO schools have their application, which you can find here: AACOM.

Applying to MD programs:

Working off of advice from friends who got in medical school, I started choosing schools with AAMC’s AAMC’s Medical School Admissions Requirement (MSAR). It costs $25 to have access to data on a school’s statistics, culture, and resources. I’m not sure why these data are not freely available, but I quickly remind myself that medicine is not immune to capitalism…

When choosing medical schools, I recommend thinking of them as compatible, reach, or doable. There are no safeties.

My process of selecting schools was intuited from reading blogs and talking with friends but was not directly evidenced-based. On MSAR, I first set filters for locations (e.g., rural, suburban, or city) and for schools that accepted a reasonable number of out-of-state applicants. I then used a +/- 3-point range on my MCAT score and a +/- 0.1 GPA range to find schools that were compatible. I expanded the range to +/- 5 and +/- 0.2 to find reaches and doables. 50% of the schools I applied fell into compatible. 25% respectively fell into reaches and doables. I had the impression from perusing the web that my likelihood of getting rejected from a doable was the same as that of a reach; compatibles were my best fit. I don’t know if that’s true, but full disclosure, I was rejected from all of my doables…and not from all of my compatibles or reaches.

But don’t stop here! After making a list, I looked at the mission statements of the school and explored their websites to try to get a better feel of the school. Then, I narrowed the list to schools about which I felt excited.

I started looking at schools in January, but by June, when it was time to submit my AMCAS, I felt confident in my list.

How many applications should I send?

On average, students usually apply to 15-16 schools. I’ve had friends apply to 30. It adds up, monetarily-speaking. Given the admittance rates, you’ll probably want to apply to as many as you can (e.g., depending on your time available to fill out secondaries), but also and more deterministically, to as many, as you can afford. The cost of applying is considerable application barrier for under-resourced students. For example, if you apply to 25 schools, your primary application alone will cost about $1,145 ($170 for the processing fee, $39 per school). On average, secondaries are about $100, so that’s another $2,500. If you need to send AP scores, take a CASPR, submit transcripts, or likewise, the number increases.

Before even interviewing (I’ll get to those costs in a later post), you’ll likely be dropping a few grand. It’s frustrating, and I cannot emphasize enough, just like STEM fields: the pipeline is leaky. If you qualify, you can get fee waivers. If you don’t, you’ll have to borrow or save up during college, or some of my friends have done so while working during gap years.

Hope this helps!

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