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Variety of blue cubes with one yellow highlighted cube representing choosing a medical school.

How to Choose a Medical School: A Guide for Applicants

November 8, 2022
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How to Choose a Medical School: Steps to Take and What to ConsiderConsider USMLE Pass Rates Number of Students Who Match Into a Residency ProgramWhat Percentage of Students Graduate from the Program? Shortlist Medical SchoolsVisit Medical Schools on ShortlistGet Feedback from Current Medical StudentsFinalize List of Chosen Medical SchoolsChoosing a Medical School: FAQs

”Rohan

Reviewed by:

Rohan Jotwani

Former Chief Resident in Anesthesiology, Weill Cornell Medicine, & Admissions Officer, Columbia University

Reviewed: 5/30/22

a guide on how to choose a med school

Wondering how to select a medical school? This guide will teach you everything you need to know about evaluating your options! 

You’ve decided you want to attend medical school but aren’t sure where to start. But does it matter which med school you go to? There are also several factors to consider, such as location, tuition, and MD programs offered. This guide will show you how to choose a medical school.

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How to Choose a Medical School: Steps to Take and What to Consider

The easiest way to select the best medical schools for you is to take our free, interactive med school selection quiz below! 

Choosing medical schools is challenging: that’s why we’ve compiled these factors for you to evaluate. 

Knowledge of Top Medical Schools

Knowing the top medical schools in the U.S. is a great place to start. However, finding the best medical school is difficult because each medical school is different. Understanding what the school believes in and how those ideas fit your goals is important. 

Here are some things to consider when researching medical schools:

About the Institution

Read through the history of each medical school, specifically regarding its founding and medical achievements. Potential students find that understanding the university’s accomplishments and how they shaped history helps them understand how a school could influence their career path. 

Mission Statements

Mission statements allow you to understand a med school’s main goal. You’ll know a school’s mission and the learning outcomes for students. Knowing the medical school’s mission helps prospective students determine whether the university is right for them. 

Acceptance Rates 

Top medical schools are not easy to get into; many have acceptance rates lower than 4%. While this seems daunting, don’t let it deter you. Understanding medical school admissions requirements gives you a better chance of getting accepted. 

Admissions Criteria

Medical schools generally require a primary application and a supplemental application. Depending on your chosen program, you may use the AMCAS, AACOMAS, or TMDSAS application

You’ll want to research what each med school requires to ensure you meet the basic application requirements. 

Learn Which Programs Are Offered

Since no med school is the same, you’ll want to research programs at every medical school you’re interested in to find which one is the right fit for your career path. 

when choosing a medical school, learn about the programs offered in the schools you are interested in.

Consider the following when you’re evaluating programs:

Let’s say you want to attend a top med school that offers a combined MD/Master’s program. UCSF Medical School and the Perelman School of Medicine are top-ranked medical schools that offer these programs. However, they each offer different combinations of this degree option. Consider your options!

Understand the Teaching Style at Each Medical School

Medical schools require a lot of preclinical and clinical work to prepare students for the medical field. However, not every school has the same teaching style. Your preferred style can help determine which med schools you should apply to. 

understand the teaching style of each med school

There are approximately five teaching styles at medical schools: 

Determine which teaching style works best for you!

Evaluate the Admissions Criteria

You must meet the school’s minimum requirements to be considered eligible to apply. 

For example, applicants must take the MCAT. Minimum MCAT score requirements and averages vary by institution. 

Before choosing a med school, evaluate admissions criteria for each school

For example, Perelman matriculants have an average MCAT score of approximately 521. Research MCAT scores and GPA requirements when choosing a medical school. Medical schools also require students to complete prerequisite courses with a specific concentration in the sciences. For example, Perelman requires: 

Medical school requirements for courses vary between schools, so ensure you check each institution’s criteria. These are common prerequisite courses:

Taking many science-related courses can help you better prepare for medical school and the MCAT. 

Location: A Major Factor in Your Med School Choice

When choosing a medical school, you must consider its location. You could be living in Los Angeles, California, but want to go to Harvard School of Medicine — even though the David Geffen School of Medicine is nearby.

If the medical school is close to you, you may not worry too much about housing and the cost of living. If you choose to go to med school far away, you should consider the cost of living, housing, and out-of-state tuition costs. 

Location and cost of attending are a major factor in your med school choice

If you’re wondering how to choose a med school based on location, ask yourself these questions when considering a school’s location: 

The location of the medical school is one of the most important factors to consider when choosing which one to attend. 

Consider the Tuition and Costs of Medical School

There are additional costs and service fees on top of your tuition that you’ll need to understand. Medical schools offer financial aid options and scholarships, so applying for them helps alleviate some financial burdens. 

Consider the cost of in-state versus out-of-state tuition. In-state versus out-of-state tuition varies greatly and can accumulate over time. For example, the University of Utah’s yearly in-state tuition is $42,382, and out-of-state tuition is $78,237. 

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Consider USMLE Pass Rates 

To practice medicine in the US, you must complete the three-step United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE). 

Prospective students need to consider USMLE pass rates. Dr. John R. Gimpel, the president and CEO of the National Board of Osteopathic Medical Examiners, notes that if a school consistently reports USMLE scores above the national average, it shows its graduates are succeeding. 

The most important figures to consider are first-time pass rates. If a school’s figures drop below 90 percent, that may be a cause for concern. If a school’s rates drop below 70 percent, they risk losing federal student aid funding.

Number of Students Who Match Into a Residency Program 

It’s crucial to attend a medical school where most students successfully obtain postgraduate residency positions. Obtaining your first-choice residency is important, so you should consider residency placement rates

What Percentage of Students Graduate from the Program? 

It’s worth evaluating graduation rates to gauge how many students graduate each year.

The average four-year medical school graduation rate is 82% - 84%. You can also look at a school’s dropout rate. Students drop out of medical school for several reasons, including stress, illness, and making the wrong career choice. 

Shortlist Medical Schools

Consider everything we’ve covered so far to create a shortlist of medical schools. But how do you choose med schools to apply to? You should have around 20 medical schools on your shortlist, eventually cutting it down to 10 to 16 medical schools.


Visit Medical Schools on Shortlist

Institutions offer guided campus tours, and those interested are highly encouraged to attend. You can gain a sense of the campus culture and ask questions to actual students. This is your chance to get information that you cannot find online. 

Get Feedback from Current Medical Students

If you’re unsure whether a med school is right for you, reach out to current students at that university who can tell you about their experiences firsthand. Medical schools often have testimonials from current students or alumni, but they almost always only have positive reviews.

Finalize List of Chosen Medical Schools

Create a shortlist of 20 medical schools

Your shortlist should be even shorter now. You can always change your mind about the medical schools on your final list; however, you want to have a concrete list ready at least six months before applying. 

Choosing a Medical School: FAQs

Still wondering how to choose what med schools to apply to? Check out these FAQs! 

1. What Are the Top Medical Schools in the U.S.?

The top medical schools in the US include several Ivy League medical schools

2. How Many Medical Schools Should I Apply to?

How many med schools you apply to is up to you, but most applicants apply to around 15 or 16 medical schools, as the primary and secondary applications can become extremely time-consuming. 

3. What Med Schools Should I Apply to? 

The medical schools you apply to should align with your needs, preferences, and goals. Ensure you consider location, teaching style, tuition costs, and other factors before deciding. 

4. Does It Matter What College I Go to for Medical School? 

While you should receive a stellar education at every accredited medical school, the medical school you select matters. Your school should meet your preferences and standards. 

5. What Should I Look for in a Good Medical School? 

You should look at USMLE pass rates, residency match success, student satisfaction, and other factors to determine the best medical school for you to attend. 

Choose Your Dream Medical School

It is always difficult to know how to choose a medical school. With the level of commitment it takes, you want to be sure you are selecting a school where you will excel and grow into your career. Using this guide, you’ll be one step closer to attending the school of your dreams. 

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