How should you select where to apply to medical school? Accepted founder Linda Abraham sheds light on this important question. [Show summary]
AACOMAS opens in May, and AMCAS opens in June, which means the new medical school application cycle is just around the corner. How should you decide where to apply? Accepted’s founder, Linda Abraham, will tell you in this podcast!
What factors should you consider when deciding where to apply? [Show notes]
Welcome to the 353rd episode of Admissions Straight Talk. I’ve decided to do a solo show for this podcast and address something that I’ve been thinking a lot about. I am so glad you decided to join me for this really important and fundamental show if you are considering or even committed to earning an MD or DO. Today I will address the topic of where to apply, the foundation of an effective medical school application.
Imagine a Venn diagram with two circles overlapping. One circle label Schools You Want to Attend and the other circle is labeled Schools Likely to Want You. The schools where those circles overlap are the schools where you should apply.
If it was just that simple, the podcast would be over. Taking a 30,000 foot view, it IS that simple, but I’d like to unwrap both those ideas and give you suggestions as to what you should consider in selecting the schools you would like to attend and also researching the schools to determine which are likely to want you. Naturally there is some overlap between the two, but I still think it’s instructive to approach the topic from this angle.
I’d also like to touch on how many schools you should apply to. We typically recommend around 20 because individual school acceptance rates are so low – typically under 20% and in some cases under 10%. If you apply wisely to around 20 programs, you should have at least one and maybe more acceptances come next spring. Obviously, you also have to submit impressive primary and secondary applications and interview well, but we’re not going to discuss the application itself today. We’re going to focus on where to apply.
What will make medical schools want you
Medical schools where your stats align
Stats are really important to consider. Look at the MSAR for MCAT and GPA ranges to see if you meet the general threshold. Ideally you want to be at or above averages across the board for at least 3-5 of the schools you apply to. You should try to be at or above the 25th percentile for most stats at 50%, or 10 if you apply to 20, of the schools you apply to. You can apply to 3-5 programs where your stats are weak, but you really want to attend and have strong fit, which I’ll get more into in a minute.
Schools where you show you identify with their mission
Make sure you read each school’s mission and/or values statement so that you can show you share them in secondaries and IVs. See what relevant clinical experience is necessary for MD programs, and DO exposure for DO programs. Look into the research some programs require, as well as their approach to medical education – PBL, team based, system-based, etc. Think about when have you enjoyed learning in that way or why you think you will like it. Look at their strengths and your interests – where do grads go into residencies? Admittedly your interests could change, but if they don’t you’ll be ahead of the game by coming from a program with strengths in your area of interest.
Make sure the schools’ values and your values mesh. For some programs, especially public state universities, there are requirements for percentages of in-state vs out-of-state students. Look at the more detailed stats in MSAR where you can see which programs have that preference. If there is a whopping difference between in-state and out-of-state acceptance rates, avoid those with a strong preference for in-state residents if you’re don’t have residency in that state.
Schools where you have something special to contribute
Something special can mean lots of different things. Do you bring diversity? It is definitely an advantage if you come from a group that is under-represented in medicine either in terms of ethnicity, socioeconomic background, or sexual orientation. Maybe you have already achieved a breadth of achievements in the medical field. Perhaps you are a musician or artist as well as med student.
Those are the elements you should research in determining what schools are likely to want you, but obviously you also have to be happy in medical school. So now I want you to think about the factors that are likely to make you a happier, more satisfied medical student. The schools that have those attributes are the ones you should want to attend.
What makes medical schools attractive to you
Think about how far you want to be from family. If you live in a state with a state medical school you may enjoy a higher acceptance rate AND lower tuition by attending your in-state school. In other words, that school may not only be easier to get into for you, but it may mean that med school will cost you less than an out-of-state school. Both are major advantages and mean that you should probably apply to most if not all in-state schools, unless you really think you would be miserable there.
What about the weather? How do you feel about snow and ice? Hate it? Well Mayo probably isn’t for you, then. Or perhaps you don’t like heat and humidity, so maybe the University of Florida shouldn’t be on your list.
Do you prefer urban vs rural? Do the canyons of Manhattan compel or repel? Does the quieter pace of rural living call your name? Then check out med schools either in college towns or in smaller cities.
In-state public medical schools are almost always less expensive. In terms of cost of living, some parts of the country are way less (or way more) expensive than other parts. The cost of rent, food, and everything else is affected, and is definitely another item to consider when you’re choosing med schools.
Program focus and approach to medical education
Do you want an MD or DO? DO is not just an easier-to-get-into alternative to MD that still allows you to be a doctor. It’s a slightly different approach and more focused on primary care. When you apply to DO schools, you will do better if you show an interest (as in shadowing a DO) in osteopathic medicine.
Research or clinical focus
Some programs like Duke have a strong research orientation. They will want to see that you have done research as an undergrad or since. For others, like SUNY Upstate or Zucker Hofstra, appreciate the mental training inherent in research, but don’t require it. Choose schools whose commitment to research matches yours.
What types of residencies do grads go into? Primary care or specializations? Which ones? Are those the ones that you are most interested in? If yes, this is one more way to show fit and also prepare yourself for a likely career choice.
What approach to medical education appeals to you? If you have a preference, it should figure into what schools you choose to apply to.
How early and how do schools introduce clinical exposure? Again, if this is important to you, then you will want to weigh it when choosing where to apply.
Choosing medical schools requires both soul searching to determine what’s important to you and research. The self-reflection will determine what’s important to you. The research, which should include combing school web sites, attending presentations, visiting schools when feasible, and connecting with current students and recent alumni, will enable you to assess what school are looking for and which are appropriate for you.
When you apply to schools where you are competitive and where you can demonstrate fit with their value and mission, you are increasing your chances of acceptance. It’s just that simple.
If you have questions on anything that I’ve talked about here, you can get answers by doing any or both of the following:
- Join us for Ace Your Med School Application: A Live Q&A with 3 Med School Experts on March 12.
- Get answers from an experienced Accepted med school admissions consultant by purchasing an hour of consulting.
- Med School Selectivity Index: Avg MCAT Scores, GPAs, and Acceptance Rates
- Ace Your Med School Application: A Live Q&A with 3 Med School Experts
- What Do Medical Schools Look for in Applicants?
- Accepted’s Medical School Admissions Advising