Program Features & Specialties
Outstanding medical schools have excellent departments in most disciplines, but, if you have a special interest in a particular field, be aware of what medical schools have programs that will allow you to explore and develop your niche. If you know you want to practice primary care in a community setting and have no interest in research, for example, attending a medical school with a research requirement where most students go on to subspecialize might be a poor choice.
Some medical school curriculums still use lectures and labs as primary teaching methods, but most have now moved towards small group, case based learning, which is also referred to as problem based learning (PBL). PBL encourages collaborative problem solving and peer education. Almost all schools now incorporate simulation learning into their curriculums, where students work on computerized mannequins to help them learn to diagnose and treat patients. Some schools have more sophisticated “sim centers” than others but don’t be fooled; effective learning requires outstanding teachers and supportive educational environments, which does not always correlate with impressive facilities. Prestigious medical schools typically have the most progressive curriculums, and medical schools are now incorporating “longitudinal patient care experiences” through which medical students care for the same patients during a specified period.
The trend in undergraduate medical education is to blur the line between the preclinical (first and second years) and clinical years (third and fourth years) of medical school, a distinction that used to be well defined. This blurring is being accomplished in medical schools throughout the country by incorporating varying degrees of early patient exposure. Though I discourage students from considering curriculums in deciding where they should apply, variations in curriculums can be factored in if you have to choose between multiple medical schools. Also consider that most of your last two years are spent doing rotations at hospitals affiliated with the medical school you attend. Consider these environments, too, as you decide where to apply.
For some students grading systems are an important consideration with pass/fail as an attractive option. However, I discourage applicants from using this as a factor when deciding where to apply; this becomes more important if you are lucky to have multiple acceptances!
For many medical school applicants, a school’s prestige is a very important factor when deciding where to apply. However, the majority of applicants should apply to a range of medical schools, not only the most prestigious institutions, since the process is not predictable and no one is a shoe-in for medical school admissions.
Many students prefer to attend medical school in a particular area of the country. Do you want to live in an urban or suburban environment? Large city or smaller city? Also keep in mind that many students end up doing their residency training where they attended medical school or at their medical school’s affiliated hospitals. Applicants who are very competitive can sometimes have the luxury of choosing where they would like to attend school; however, those who are less competitive often cannot be this choosy.
Medical school is expensive, and some students prefer to attend an in-state medical school to defray costs where tuition is lower. Some medical schools also have large endowments and offer generous scholarships to some accepted applicants. It is also important to factor in cost of living which can be more in urban areas if medical schools don’t offer housing options or most students live off campus. If you need to take out loans for medical school, calculate how much debt you might graduate with as you consider where to attend.
For AMCAS schools, you will pay a $170 fee which includes an application to one school. Each additional school is $39. The AACOMAS application fee is $195 which includes one school. Each additional school is $45. The TMDSAS fee is $165. The cost for secondary applications is around $100 per medical school. On top of this, consider travel costs for medical school interviews.
How Many Schools Should You Apply To?
We recommend medical school applicants apply to approximately 25 medical schools, however, if you are a very competitive applicant, you might apply to more medical schools, and a less competitive applicant would apply to more.
Safety Schools vs. Reach Schools
Unlike other admissions processes, there is no such thing as a safety school in medicine! However, the “safest” schools are those where your GPA and MCAT are higher than the average for applicants accepted to any given medical school. Reach schools are those where your MCAT and GPA are lower than those of accepted students. Target schools are those medical schools where your GPA and MCAT match or close to the metrics for accepted students. When making up a school list, always apply to your state medical schools since those are often the “safest” medical schools for in-state applicants. By the same token, out of state students are not competitive for state medical schools that accept few to no out of state student regardless of how competitive the MCAT and GPA.