There are 141 accredited MD-granting medical schools in the US, as well as an additional 29 DO-granting schools. Now, how do you choose the right medical school?
MCAT? Check. Applications? Check. Acceptances? Check.
There are a number of important things to think about, but six, in particular, warrant your attention.
1. Show me the money! Choose your cheapest option.
It may not be the most glitzy or the most highly ranked, but the cheapest option is, in the long-run, the best option. The average physician graduates with $162,000 in student loan debt, and it can take over 20 years to pay that off. If you can get away with less debt, you should. Remember, top medical schools are usually that way because of the quality of the students they attract. If you’ve been accepted to a top school, and you’re weighing between a cheaper and a “better” option, be confident that you have that quality, and that you’re good enough to get where you need to go without that “better” school name and reputation. You’ll be glad you did in the long-run.
2. Location, location, location. Think of choosing a medical school kind of like buying a house you’re going to live in for the next four years.
While med school won’t leave you too much time to hang out, remember that you’re going to want to live in a place where you can, in fact, enjoy your downtime, however you choose to do so. Do you enjoy your time with you family? Then perhaps a school close to home is in order. Do you like to spend your weekends like a rockstar? Consider a school in a big city with an active nightlife. Do you like time outdoors? Perhaps a school in a rural location might be a good idea.
3. Do you like the students at the school? After four years in college, socially, going to medical school can feel like regressing back to high school.
You’ll spend most of your waking moments of your next four years with your classmates, whether professionally or socially. You’d better like them. Each school attracts a particular sort of person—some schools are known for a “work hard, play hard” mentality, while others attract more bookish sorts. What kind of person are you and with whom do you like to surround yourself?
4. How strong is the clinical training?
The whole point of medical school is to train you to be a doctor. That happens most directly during one year of your training: the 3rd year. Talk to 3rd and 4th year students at each school and find out what their clinical training was like. Did they have real responsibilities? How hard did they have to work? In which specialties was training particularly strong? You want to go to a school that will kick your butt during 3rd year—that’s how you’ll learn to be a doctor.
5. What are the first two years like? Everyone learns a little differently—it’s important to think about how a school might support your particular learning style.
Are you the kind of person who needs to be lectured, or are you better with multimedia? Is traditional didactic learning better for you, or do you think case-based learning more effective? Match your needs to your school’s style, and you can avoid a lot of headaches during your first two years of training.
6. Look at the match list.
There are two goals in medical school: 1) Learn how to be a great resident; and 2) Get to a strong residency. While its way too early to know what you want to do for the rest of your life, think critically about some options in which you may be interested. Then look at each school’s match list and see how students from that school matched into the specialties in which you’re interested. That’s a great way to know how well you’ll be prepared to do the same four years from now!
Again, choosing a medical school is no easy task. It takes a lot of thought and consideration. But if you approach the process systematically, you’ll be more likely to make a good decision.
Step 1 to a strong application? Conquering the MCAT.