How to Choose a Medical School: A Guide for Applicants

April 25, 2024


Reviewed by:

Jonathan Preminger

Former Admissions Committee Member, Hofstra-Northwell School of Medicine

Reviewed: 4/25/24

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 break down how to pick the best medical school to kickstart your career! 

a guide on how to choose a med school
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How to Choose a Medical School: Steps to Take and What to Consider

Consider ranking, admissions criteria, institution offerings, location, costs, and student success rates when choosing the best medical school. Your medical school should align with your personal and professional goals and offer you the best resources to achieve them.

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. 

Consider the following when you’re evaluating programs:

  • How many programs are offered?
  • How do the programs differ from one another?
  • How many students are accepted into each program?
  • How does this program at Medical School A differ from the same program at Medical School B?
  • How long does the program take to complete?
  • Does the program align with what you want to do in the medical field?

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. 

There are approximately five teaching styles at medical schools: 

  • Traditional: Two years of preclinical learning followed by two to three years of clinical work.
  • Integrated: Combines preclinical and clinical education (for example, learning biology and physiology as you examine a body as a whole). 
  • Problem-based: You’ll work with patients from the very start of your med school education and work in groups. 
  • Case-based: Similar to problem-based, you learn in small groups for short periods to think about what knowledge and skills you need and why.
  • Inquiry-based: You work with scenarios and must ask questions, research, and conclude using your findings. 

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. 

One way to identify the ideal medical school is to consider your academic profile. For example, Perelman matriculants have an average MCAT score of approximately 521. Research MCAT scores and GPA requirements when choosing a medical school to see where you’ll be considered a competitive applicant.

Medical schools also require students to complete prerequisite courses with a specific concentration in the sciences. For example, Perelman requires: 

  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Competencies in behavioral disciplines like English

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

  • Biology
  • Chemistry 
  • Physics 
  • Mathematics 
  • Humanities

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

Evaluate Research Opportunities

When picking a medical school, check out their research opportunities. Look for schools with good labs and resources. Make sure they cover a wide range of research areas. See if the professors are active in research and if students can join in. This hands-on experience is important for your career in medicine. 

Research experience can also influence the development of other important medical skills, such as better communication, teamwork, and writing skills. So, choose a school with plenty of research opportunities to help you learn and grow.

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. 

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

  • If in-state, would I still need to move?
  • If out-of-state, how much would on-campus housing cost? How much would off-campus housing cost?
  • What’s the difference in costs for in-state versus out-of-state tuition? Will it cost about the same or is there a big difference?
  • Is the location a good place to start my career?
  • Will this location fit with my personality?
  • How far away do you want to be from friends and family?
  • How much will visiting home cost?
  • What weather/climate do you prefer?

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 $46,202, and out-of-state tuition is $84,762. 

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

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

When creating your shortlist, you may still be wondering “how do you pick the best med schools to apply to?” “How many should you choose?” You should have around 20 medical schools on your shortlist, eventually cutting it down to 10 to 16 medical schools.

Visit Medical Schools on Your 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

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. 

FAQs: Selecting a Medical School

Still unsure of how to pick which medical 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

  • Harvard Medical School
  • Johns Hopkins University
  • University of Pennsylvania (Perelman)
  • Columbia University
  • Duke University
  • Stanford University
  • University of California – San Fransisco 

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. 

In Conclusion

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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