Journeys with Joshua: Joshua Wienczkowski walks us through med school at East Tennessee’s College of Medicine with his monthly blog updates. Get an inside look into med school down South and life as a student adcom member through the eyes of a former professional songwriter with a whole lot of clinical experience — thanks Joshua for sharing this journey with us!
Choosing to tackle medical school and working hard to become competitive is a huge accomplishment, but narrowing down what medical schools to apply to train at can be a little daunting. I’ll walk through some important questions and points to consider that I used to narrow down the 14 schools I applied to. With this year’s application season coming up in a few months, now would be a good time to start researching schools that maybe you haven’t been in close contact with. Below are some solid questions that will help eliminate a huge chunk of schools, and begin narrowing down your top choices, your “reach” schools, and “safe” schools. I would recommend using this part of the AAMC’s website that lists each state, their medical schools, and has links to each school as you answer the questions below. Remember, you are the consumer in education, so be empowered that you have choice in this process.
How important is location to you?
Yeah, Hawaii does sound awesome for medical school, but that’s a long way from home for most, and makes breaks a little harder. I usually advise pre-meds to look at places within driving distance of family (6-8 hours) or near a major airport that has reasonable flights back home. When I get a break (which are much shorter than undergrad), I usually want to see family and catch up with old friends. Lifestyle is so important, because when I have downtime, I love being in the Appalachian Mountains so I can hike, cliff jump off of waterfalls, and enjoy a beautiful 4 seasons. Do you want a big city or do you like the countryside? Pick places that can support your hobbies and lifestyle, because 4 years is a long time to be bored.
What state do you have residency?
You’ll be hard pressed to get accepted to a state school if you aren’t a resident of that state or have pretty outstanding scores. Private schools pay no attention to your residency status because they aren’t funded through state tax dollars (don’t worry, they make it up through your tuition). I always tell pre-meds to look hard at their state schools, because that’s where they have the highest chance of acceptance and it will be the most affordable option. Remember, medical education is so standardized that it really is the same everywhere, so look at the value of what you’re getting for the price you pay.
How competitive are you?
Be realistic with your numbers, and research average acceptance scores for schools you’re interested in, but also remember that these are averages. If you’re a couple points below their average MCAT or GPA, don’t worry, that means you’re still competitive for an interview, and can earn yourself a spot. So you got a 26? Maybe Harvard is out of reach, but your state school is still a viable option. Be honest with yourself, but don’t sell yourself short.
What was your impression of admissions and student body?
I called admissions of over 20 medical schools just to chat, and get a feel for the people and culture. I also met with several at medical school recruitment fairs, and was able to quickly eliminate a few, because frankly, I was rubbed the wrong way. First impressions say a lot, so use your gut, and how you feel when interacting with people that represent institutions. See if you can get in touch with some medical students – can you see yourself being mentored by these individuals? Do you like a big student body that you can get lost in or do you like a family environment?
I know you’ve been taught to be a pauper, begging at the doors of medical schools to just get an acceptance, but honestly, you have more control in this process than you think, so be strategic, and only pursue places you’d genuinely and realistically be interested in attending. Also, I recommend applying to around 10 schools, and if you need help financing the application process, the Fee Assistance Program through the AAMC is a great way to pay for 14 schools, and waives the secondary application fee at most institutions.
Good luck, and let me know if there are any questions I can answer for you. I attend the greatest medical school in the world, for some people, and I hope this has helped you begin to narrow down the same.