Choosing a medical school

Congratulations! You’ve done it! Hard work, luck, resilience good-planning: these are all necessary to a successful application cycle, and certainly relevant to you. I hope you take the time to celebrate your success with loved ones and friends and to take a few moments to reflect on how far you’ve come and how many people uplifted you. As you plan ahead for your future, I hope you have a relaxing summer before the medical school workload falls upon your lap. Remember to carry your passions and joys with you on the long journey ahead. Best of luck and warm wishes 🙂

If you haven’t already, you can check the AAMC traffic rules for acceptance protocols, regarding timelines and holding multiple acceptances.

Happy/Unhappy with your one and only choice? As I wrote earlier, you should only apply to schools you would like to attend…unless you indeed would be happy with going anywhere. If the issue is financial concerns, there are ways to make medical school more affordable, such as through the National Health Service Corps. If you applied to a school on a whim, I encourage you to reflect on how you could have made a more informed choice. If you, however, later discovered that the school is a poor fit and is now your only acceptance, consider this perspective:

You may be surprised that your initial impressions of the school do not pan out. If you’re concerned about the ranking of the school, remember that where you go for school may be less important than where you go for residency. Rankings also change, and may not be based on factors important to you. It’s true that certain medical schools tend to send more of their students to better-ranking residencies. This will be important to students hoping to be involved in academia, research, or administrative positions, as it may make your pathway easier. However, your pathway is possible anywhere, as long as you’re willing to put in the hard work.

Multiple acceptances: Amazing job! You are of the small percentage of applicants to have received multiple acceptance and are now finding yourself in the envious, lucky, but the well-deserved position of choosing among schools.

As you decide, consider that most, if not all, medical schools promise the same education, a similar enough curriculum, and an equally valued degree. Location and cost aside, what differentiates medical schools tends to be the resources, opportunities, and culture. To evaluate your choices here is some advice to guide your deliberation or pros/cons chart:

  1. Location is important for two factors: family/support network and patient populations. As one MS1 anatomy professor shared with me, the benefit of living close to your support network cannot be emphasized enough. Homesickness aside, the chance to go home on the weekend or receive support during emotionally challenging times is invaluable. Second, the location of your school and its clinical sites will be deterministic of the patient populations with whom you have the privilege of interacting.
  2. Cost: The average medical student will have around $200,000 in loans, and at an interest rate of five to seven percent, they will be paying off an incredible debt burden probably until their early-40s. Financially-speaking, you should try to go to the cheapest school possible, in terms of tuition and living costs. If you receive a handsome financial aid package, be sure to inquire if it will persist across all four years.
  3. Resources & Opportunities: In deep diving into the website and conversing with students, you should be able to figure out if you can follow your passions at medical school. Be intentional with your questions. For example, if you are into research, you should find out if there are research labs pursuing work of interest to you. You should also consider how easily students can get funding to do research. If you want to continue clinical rotations away, go beyond asking what opportunities exist but even if the school provides housing at the sites
  4. Culture: If you can afford it, I encourage you to attend Second Looks (i.e., Acceptance Days/Weekends. If it’s not financially feasible, reach out to current students or the Admissions office to set up conversations. You probably won’t be able to get the full picture of a school’s culture through conversations, but you can get a good idea. I think it’s necessary to understand the mission statement of the school, and ultimately, what kind of physician the school is hoping to graduate.

Some questions to research or ask others during Second Look:

  • What kind of physicians does the school hope to graduate?
  • What is your matching success? Have students matched into competitive programs consistently?
  • How many exams or tests the week? When do you have finals? Are questions designed to prepare you for USMLE or Board exams?
  • ​Do you find professors engaging? Are students required to attend classes?
  • With what kinds of patient populations do you interact?
  • What clinical rotations do you offer? Is there housing provided?
  • Which years are Pass/Fail? Do you have an internal ranking? How is AOA (i.e., medical honors society) membership decided?
  • How much is rent on average? How do students find housing?
  • What kind of mentoring is offered? Is there a primary mentor assigned or a team of mentors?

Some questions to ask yourself:

  • Do the people at the institution embody the virtues you wish to practice as a physician?
  • Will the school support your current interests (e.g., specialty, hobbies, passions, etc.)? Do they seem invested in your personal growth?
  • Do the faculty and students encourage an atmosphere of competition or collegiality?
  • Does the school support all forms of diversity?
  • Is the location conducive to your mental, emotional, and physical health?

Congratulations again! While it’s possible that whatever you choose may not be the right or perfect choice, but it will be, in any case, the best one for you 🙂


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