Tips for choosing the right medical school for you
The first crucial step to becoming a doctor is choosing the right medical school for you, which is one of the biggest career-shaping decisions you’ll make. There are many factors to consider, from studying locally and staying close to home or opting for a Caribbean medical school with small class sizes to MCAT pass rates and residency options. If you’re wondering, “How many med schools should I apply to?” and how to pick a med school, this guide will discuss what you need to consider when applying to medical schools and how to choose the right medical school for you.
Learn the basics
Knowing how to pick a med school starts with learning the basics about each institution. One of the biggest mistakes you can make when choosing a medical school is not doing the research before applying and simply basing your decision on a school’s prestige or reputation. Making sure a school is the right fit for you (and vice versa) is essential to increase your chances of being accepted.
About the medical school
Explore each medical school’s history, founding, and notable medical achievements. Understanding their accomplishments and historical impact can help determine how a particular medical school might shape your career trajectory.
Every medical school has a mission statement, which reflects its values and helps show whether the school is right for you. Mission statements reveal the skills and talents each medical school values and the abilities they expect from prospective medical students. Exploring a medical school’s background, values, and mission will help you decide whether a school fits with your values, learning style, and career objectives.
It can be challenging to be accepted by a medical school, and many have acceptance rates as low as 4%. However, don’t let this discourage you from applying. Understanding each medical school’s admission process and requirements will put you in a better position to be accepted.
Most medical schools typically require students to submit a primary and supplementary application. Also, be sure to check their admission criteria and work towards meeting these standards if you don’t already.
Tuition fees and costs
Each school charges additional costs and service fees in addition to tuition, and you’ll need to understand what these are for each medical school before you apply. Some medical schools offer scholarships and financial aid options that can help alleviate some of the financial burdens of attending medical school.
What medical schools should I apply to?
Find out what programs are offered
As each medical school is different, you must research the programs at each medical school you’re considering applying to ensure they align with your passions and are the right fit for your career path. This will ensure that you’ll remain motivated to complete the program. When you are evaluating programs, you should find out the following:
- How many programs does the school offer?
- How do the programs differ from each other?
- How many students does the school accept in each program?
- How long is the program?
- How does the program at one medical school differ from the same program at another?
- Does it align with your career goals?
Find out about how the schools teach
An important factor to consider when choosing a medical school is how you like to learn, as schools can vary in how they deliver programs. For instance, you may benefit from learning in a smaller class where you have more one-on-one time with your faculty and more research opportunities than in larger classes.
There are generally five types of teaching styles at medical school, and you should find out which style dominates at the schools you’re considering and think about which one best suits your style of learning:
- Traditional: Two years of preclinical learning and two or three years of clinical work
- Integrated: Combines clinical and preclinical learning
- Problem-based: Working with patients from the start of medical school
- Case-based: Learning in small groups for short periods to consider what skills and knowledge are required and why
- Inquiry-based: Working with scenarios where students ask questions, conduct research, and use their findings to make conclusions
Revisit admissions criteria: are you a suitable candidate?
Take the time to consider whether you have the right traits for medical school. A passion for helping others is important, but you also need the personal characteristics, drive, and academic prowess to succeed. You also must meet the minimum admission requirements. For instance, you’ll need to take the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT) and meet the medical school’s minimum MCAT score and grade point average (GPA) requirements. Requirements for specific courses also vary between schools.
Don’t underestimate the location
When choosing a medical school, its location is important. After all, you’ll be there for a significant amount of time. Do you want to study in a busy city or amid the beautiful sunshine of the Caribbean? Factor in the cost of living too, which the school’s location will influence. Other factors you’ll need to explore when considering a medical school’s location include:
- How much would on-campus and off-campus housing cost?
- Is it a good location to start my career?
- How far away am I happy to be from friends and family?
- Does the location inspire me and fit with my personality and interests?
- What climate do I prefer?
- What’s there to do when taking a break from studying?
- How much will it cost to visit home?
What to look for in a medical school
As you start your journey applying to medical school, it’s a good idea to consider key elements to help you make your choice.
Consider what support services are offered to students
Medical school is undoubtedly hard work and requires study, time, and commitment to medicine. Even if you feel ready for the challenge, you’ll likely face some challenges you didn’t expect. A good student support service can make a huge difference in your experience at medical school, so look at what different medical schools offer. Looking for resources like mental health services, career guidance, topically focused office hours, and peer-review sessions is a good idea. Given the importance of securing a postgraduate training position after medical school, it’s worth checking if the schools you’re looking at focus on preparing students for the residency application process. Does the school provide support with personal statements, practicing interviews, and choosing a medical specialty?
Consider the facilities and learning environment
Every student has their own idea of what a good learning environment looks and feels like. What’s important is that you feel positive about your education setting. Being satisfied with your learning environment is key to promoting professional development and well-being. Consider the factors that would help you enjoy a positive learning experience, such as supportive classmates, extracurricular activities, or technologically-advanced facilities. Some students consider clinical rotations essential to a great learning experience.
Consider the med schools’ tuition fees and other costs
The cost of medical school can vary considerably between schools, so it’s worth researching. While your education is an investment in your future, you need to consider how much it’ll cost and how you’ll pay for it.
Evaluate your support system and how to pay for your studies
Your support system is the network of people that can give you practical and emotional support during medical school. This can include your family, friends, professional colleagues, sponsors, and mentors. A strong support system will positively impact your overall health and help you navigate medical school challenges while providing you with practical financial support.
Consider your savings
As soon as you decide that medical school is where you want to go, you should aim to tighten up your expenses and stick to a modest budget to enable you to save as much as possible before and during medical school. This will allow you to pay some of your medical school costs as you go and also put you in a good position to start repaying any loans as early as possible once you graduate.
There are several options for scholarships, especially if you demonstrate strong and consistent academic performance, have strong research interests, or are from an underrepresented cultural background. Look into what private, public, governmental, and school-based scholarship opportunities are available.
Consider other means of financial support
Many students use federal loans to finance their medical school education. These are considered better than private loans as they come with more flexible repayment options. There are pay-as-you-earn repayment or income-based repayment options, while some hospitals offer a loan forgiveness program to qualified physicians who start working there.
How to pick a medical school
Consider USMLE pass rates
While all medical schools require you to achieve a passing score on each of the three United States Medical Licensing Exam (USMLE) tests, doing well on Step 1 is crucial for securing your residency. Look at the schools’ pass rates for individual programs, as this indicates how well the school prepares its students for the exam.
Find out how many go into a residency program
Securing a residency is an essential step to becoming a doctor. As you compare medical schools, look at how many students successfully match into a residency program to get a good sense of whether the school provides quality education. Consider what portion of graduates successfully achieve residency positions. You’ll want to choose a med school where most students obtain postgraduate positions and which specialties graduates match with.
Find out how many students graduate from the program
Find out from medical schools how many of their students complete the program and the portion of those who leave early. This is a valuable way to make a side-by-side comparison of multiple medical schools while deciding which to apply to.
How to choose a med school
Shortlist your medical schools and visit them
With all the information you’ve gathered, you can now create a shortlist of medical schools. Ideally, you should start with around 20 schools on your shortlist before cutting it down to between 10 and 15. The next step is to visit your shortlist to get a feel for the campus culture and have the opportunity to ask questions to current students. This is a great opportunity to get the information you won’t find online or in a medical school prospectus.
Learn more about the experience students get
Medical schools will often share testimonials from past and present students to give you an insight into the student experience and what it’s like studying at the school. But if possible, try to reach out to current and former students directly to learn about their firsthand experiences and gain valuable insight.
Consider your future career prospects
Throughout your information gathering, don’t lose sight of your career goal. Consider whether the school offers the programs you need for the field of medicine you wish to pursue and the career opportunities once you finish.
Finalize your med school list and apply
Your shortlist of medical schools should be much shorter now. While you can always reconsider a medical school on your final list if you change your mind, aim to have a definitive list ready at least six months before you apply.