How to Choose a Medical School

Three Parts:Considering the Acceptance RequirementsLooking at the AcademicsConsidering Other Factors

So you've decided that you want to be a doctor! Now you must choose which medical school is most appropriate for you, in order to get the most of the next four years of your life. It is important to consider the acceptance requirements, to look at the academic style of different programs, and to consider a variety of other factors such as location, finances, and proximity to your loved ones.

Part 1
Considering the Acceptance Requirements

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    Consider the prerequisite courses. Different medical school can have drastically different courses that are "required upon admission." Take a close look at these to determine whether you are a suitable fit for a certain medical school.
    • Note that students who have studied the biological or health sciences are at an advantage in that they are far more likely to have met the prerequisite requirements for almost every medical school.
    • Students who have completed a Bachelor of Arts, or studied math or physics or a subject other than the traditional biological and health sciences may have a harder time finding medical schools where they meet the acceptance requirements. You may want to take additional classes to meet these requirements.
    • There are, however, medical schools with less rigid prerequisite requirements. If you do not have a traditional biological and health sciences undergraduate background, it may save you time and money to find a medical school that is more lenient with the courses they expect you to have upon admission.
    • It may be beneficial to purchase access to the Medical School Admission Requirements (MSAR) website, which will detail the requirements for individual schools in the U.S. and Canada. It will also give you applicant and acceptance statistics.
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    Be aware of the strengths different medical schools are looking for in students. In the selection process for admission, some schools will emphasize your grades, some will emphasize prerequisite courses, and others will put a heavy emphasis on volunteer work and your prior in-hospital experience.
    • It is helpful to be aware of what different medical schools are looking for, as well as to know your own strengths and weaknesses, to improve your chances of being accepted.
    • Some medical schools also put a higher emphasis on your MCAT scores when considering you for admission. The MCAT stands for the Medical College Admission Test.
    • For those who are academically inclined and score very well on the MCAT, this could be to their advantage; however, for those will less stellar grades but excellent contributions to the community, it may be advantageous to look for a medical school that values students with extensive volunteer experiences.
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    Know whether or not you need a completed Bachelor's Degree. Some medical schools are open for application after two or three years of undergraduate study; others require a full Bachelors Degree first. When choosing a medical school, especially if you are early on in your undergraduate studies, consider whether you are interested in applying to one that offers "early admission" (admission without a full undergraduate degree). This could save you time and money, and it may help to fulfill your dream of becoming a doctor sooner rather than later.
    • Talk to the pre-health advisor or other academic advisor at your school. She may be able to help you determine which school is right for someone with your experience and strengths.
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    Make a choice based on the schools you are accepted into. Ultimately, what it comes down to for most prospective medical students is to apply to a variety of schools (often as many as possible), and to then make a choice based on the one(s) you are accepted into.
    • The competition to get into medical school is very high, which is why it is always a good idea to apply to multiple schools. Keep in mind the secondary costs of applying to schools, such as traveling to interviews and campus visits, as well as application fees. The average number of schools that students apply to is 15.[1]
    • Also, do not give up hope. Many students take two or three (and sometimes more) tries to be accepted into a medical school at all.
    • The good news is that the medical schools usually choose their selection dates to be on the same day (or a very similar day) so that if you get multiple offers into different medical schools you will be able to choose between them and pick the one that is your preference.

Part 2
Looking at the Academics

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    Consider whether you want a medical school with PBL (problem based learning) or traditional teaching. Traditional teaching is where all of your training in the pre-clinical years is lecture and laboratory based, where you learn the concepts in great detail but do not spend much time applying them until you begin working in the hospital (usually in the last two years of medical school).
    • PBL (problem based learning), on the other hand, is more of a case-based approach where you are given one "sample patient" each week, and the patient relates to the week's learning theme. For instance, it would be a patient with a complex heart problem in the week you are studying the heart.
    • The goal of PBL is to get students together in small groups where they apply the knowledge they are learning in lecture to the featured patient case.
    • The downside of PBL as opposed to traditional medical school teaching, however, is that there are less total lecture hours. Therefore, students may need to spend more time reading up on their own about the fact-based information they are required to know.
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    Find out about the amount of teaching and educational guidance you will receive during your clinical years. Usually the last two years of medical school are devoted to in-hospital work (they are called the "clinical years"). You work hospital shifts alongside a qualified physician, and practice seeing patients and coming up with diagnoses and treatment plans.
    • The interesting thing about the clinical years is that the quality of education can vary dramatically depending upon your instructors.
    • If you can, ask other students in the medical school you are considering what they thought of the physicians they worked with during their "clinical years." These are some of the most pivotal years, and having a physician who is interested in teaching students (as opposed to working with doctors who are frustrated with having students on their service) can make a huge difference in your learning.
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    Think about your ability to get a residency in your desired specialty after graduating. After completing medical school, you must continue your training as a "medical resident" prior to becoming a fully qualified physician. Residency is the stage of training where you either choose to become a family doctor, or choose to specialize in any medical specialty.
    • Admission into many of the medical specialties after medical school is very competitive. Therefore, if you have your heart set on doing a particular residency (or specialty) once you graduate, it would be wise to consider which medical schools offer the best opportunities for you to get additional experience in your area of interest.
    • You may want to look at medical schools where there are experts in the field you are interested in on staff. Also look at schools that do a lot of research in your field of interest.

Part 3
Considering Other Factors

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    Think about the location where you want to go to medical school. Do you want to stay in your hometown? Are you open to studying abroad? Have you considered, if you go away for medical school, the implications this would have on getting a residency and/or of being able to practice medicine in your hometown once you graduate? These are all important questions to consider before choosing a medical school.
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    Remember to prioritize relationships and family. If you have a significant other and/or children when you are applying to medical school, consider the profound impact going to medical school can have on your relationship and family life. When making a choice about what medical school to go to, consider factors like how the location suits your family, how long the program would be, how costly it is, and whether it is a choice that is win-win not only for you but for your family as well.
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    Be smart financially. Studying abroad is often far more expensive than studying in your home country. Also consider things such as living expenses, tuition fees, and the cost of traveling back home to visit family if you are living far away from loved ones.
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    Consider if you are interested in research. Some schools have more of a focus on research, and some may have MD/PHD programs that allow you to focus on research and obtain a PHD degree along with an MD degree. In addition, some schools have MD/MBA programs for those interested in the business of healthcare or administration.
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    Be clear on your priorities. Medical school is a huge commitment. Before choosing a medical school, ask yourself what sacrifices you are willing to make to fulfill your dream of becoming a doctor. Make sure your heart is absolutely set on it before choosing a medical school.


  • If you feel you need more help, consider purchasing “The Official Guide to Medical School Admissions” from the Association of American Medical Colleges, which has about 100 pages of information for those considering medical school.[2]

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Categories: Applying for Tertiary Education