Somehow, it is May again. In Boston, this means more sun, Swan Boats, and my personal favorite: the turning on of the water fountains along all of the Charles River running routes. To those of you interested in medical school, it also brings the time to work on your primary applications and initial school list. For more information about how to prepare your primary applications, check out my blog post about June in the medical school application cycle.
At this point, though, you’re likely somewhat familiar with the process of obtaining recommendations, writing personal statements, and filling out information about your extracurricular activities...it is pretty similar to the college application process. A more daunting prospect, for some applying students, is the creation of their initial school list. In this post, I’ll discuss some things to consider when you’re narrowing down your school selection.
There are two irreplaceable resources to use when you are making these decisions. The first is your college’s pre-med adviser, or another mentor experienced with the application process, and the second is the Medical School Admissions Requirements (MSAR) guide put out by the AAMC. This tool allows you to quickly search medical schools by location, admissions statistics, class sizes, community, and more. It will really help you evaluate your list based on several of the criteria below.
4 Essential Things to Consider
1. Your competitiveness
Probably the most important factor to consider in this decision is your competitiveness as an applicant. During the application process, if you don’t have one already, it is really valuable to have a mentor or adviser who can guide you through the details and provide you with some sense of where you stand. Your GPA, MCAT score, letters of recommendation, extracurricular activities and leadership experience, and research are all important parts of your application, and everyone’s combination will be different. However, if you have a lower GPA or MCAT score, or decided late in your career to go into medicine and haven’t had a great opportunity to show your interest, you may (or may not!) have some aspects of your application that can hold you back. If this is the case, your application list should be a little longer, and include some less competitive schools.
Believe it or not, this is a really important factor in your decision to go to a medical school. The area in which you are living and practicing makes a big difference during your time at school, and you have to make sure that the facilities and activities exist to support you both inside and outside your time in the classroom. Some people can’t imagine their lives outside a big city, and some people would rather be walking distance from local hiking trails. If you have a family, children, or a significant other with geographic restrictions, it is even more important to be honest with yourself about where you are willing to go to school. Four years is a long time, and being in the right location can make or break your experience. Spending hundreds of dollars to fly and stay in an area where you are positive you don’t want to spend four years is a waste of your money and time.
Everyone knows that medical school is expensive, but not everyone is told about the cost of applications. This year, the initial AMCAS fee is 160$, which only covers the application for one medical school. EACH additional medical school application costs 39$! If you’re applying to 20 schools, that comes out to just under $1000, and that’s BEFORE flights and hotels for interviews! There is some financial assistance for those with demonstrated need, but for many students, those costs can be prohibitive. If you know that you can’t afford to apply to dozens of schools, make sure that your list contains a large number of schools to which your statistics and application profile match.
4. Must-have educational components
Your initial application is not the time to decide whether you would prefer a medical school with a big dorm or private apartments, an iPad based curriculum, or clinical exposure in the first month of school. However, if there are parts of your education in medicine that are non-negotiable for you, be sure to do your research and only apply to schools that offer the resources you are looking for. For example, if you are CERTAIN that you are going to do an MBA or an MPH during school, make sure the schools you apply to have those programs available, or have had students do them in the past. If you have a research field in which you have lots of experience, and know that you want to continue that work in medical school, make sure the school has a relevant department or local contacts that can help you out. In general, it is rare to have to exclude medical schools because of lack of resources, but if you are looking for very specific requirements, make sure they are addressed.
The biggest question is often “How many schools should I apply to?” Usually, your adviser can help you answer this personally. In 2011, the average number of schools applied to was 14. As medical schools have become increasingly more competitive, that number has likely increased in the past couple of years. Between 15 and 20 is a good bet, but again, consider your competitiveness and the “balance” of your school list (reach, match safety) can better guide you.
This is the first of many steps in the application cycle, and even more steps in the process of actually becoming a doctor. Good luck as you move forward with this application season! For more guidance with your medical school application and initial school list, reach out to Cambridge Coaching for a session with a tutor!
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