Choosing Where to Apply to Medical School Means Balancing Several Important Factors

With over 150 combined accredited MD- and DO-granting medical schools across the country, how
do you decide to which schools to apply?

The Association of American Medical College (AAMC) says that most students typically apply to about 16 schools. Applicants can apply to as many schools as they wish, but each student's situation is different and so you must decide how many schools is reasonable and, frankly, affordable for you.

Beyond the AMCAS, additional costs include secondary application fees as well as potential interview/travel expenses. For those eligible, the AAMC Fee Assistance Program is a good option to help alleviate a big chunk of those costs.

While it's certainly an investment in your future, the money and time you spend filling out secondary essays, interviewing, acquiring letters and other paperwork will be substantial.

Deciding which schools to apply to means doing a bit of research and streamlining your focus to identify which schools are worth the money and time as a potential landing spot for your medical education. Each applicant should have a good mix of schools to consider, so research can go a long way into recognizing the schools for which you would be competitive.

Plainly put, it would be wise to find a balance between where you (1) believe your candidacy would be the strongest and (2) where you could see yourself training for the next four-plus years.


1. Comparing the Figures


MSAR
Comparing your academic record with admissions stats from your list of schools will help you determine where your figures will be competitive.

The AAMC's Medical School Admission Requirements (MSAR) database is a great tool for getting a more detailed look at each school. Do note, however, that there is a fee to gain access.

With a comprehensive listing of U.S. medical schools, potential applicants can review school-specific admissions requirements along with all of the applicant and acceptance statistics. Compare your GPA--especially the science GPA--- and MCAT scores among other factors.

Yet, as more schools take a holistic approach to admissions, comparing grades and scores is just a start.

Resident Preferences and Out-of-State Figures
If you're looking at schools outside your state, it's helpful to see what percentages of out-of-state applicants typically are accepted at each of your respective options. Research the figures and decide if it's worth a try. 

While some schools only accept in-state students, many schools like the College of Human Medicine (CHM) do prioritize room for students outside the state. At MSU, we believe that non-Michigan resident diversity is an important component of every CHM entering class. Approximately 20-25 percent of each CHM incoming class is from outside of Michigan.

Tuition Costs
The age-old question: How much does it cost?

Let's face it, medical school is expensive. Wherever you decide to go will most likely carry a hefty price, so it's good to know at least a range for how much each school will cost. Typically, applicants can find that out in the MSAR as well or on the school's website.

Of course, this is only an initial look as it's still too early to know the financial aid packages that each school can offer. Don't be overwhelmed by what you see. Rather than concentrating solely on cost at this point, perhaps a better question to pose should be, "Is this particular school worth it?"

Do they offer the precise elements you are looking for in a medical school? For example, if you plan on a career in research, it may be worth it to apply to a school with higher tuition for the additional research opportunities. For those who have ambitions of working with underserved communities, many students have found CHM's community-based history and community campus model attractive. 

The worth depends on how you value what the school offers and what traits it crosses of your checklist. And one thing applicants should certainly place value in is fit.


2. Finding the Fit


Finding the right fit is about asking the right questions and being honest with yourself.

In the following you'll find a set of helpful questions to consider. But each person is different, so along with these questions, think about what's important in a medical school for you. Think about the
medical school traits that you believe will help you succeed in training and, ultimately, as a physician.

Academics and Programming
-Is the education style and/or curriculum format good for me?
 The reality is that every medical school can train you to be a doctor. Yet it's in the way they train you that can drastically differ. Curriculum and the academic structure of the various medical programs should be an important factor in your decision.

Some students prefer a lecture-heavy curriculum while others find small-group and activity-driven curricula more appealing. The College of Human Medicine's new Shared Discovery Curriculum, for instance, is reinventing medical school training with an innovative, modern approach to adult-learning that uses small groups (or "learning societies") as the active engine for the curriculum.

The Shared Discovery is also an integrated curriculum that blends learning with action, introducing early and ongoing clinical experiences through all four years of training. In contrast, many schools still employ a more traditional "2+2" model of education that initially uses lecture-style classes to teach the medical sciences in the first two years before introducing clinical training in the final two years.

Lastly, consider flexibility in the curriculum and whether there will be enough electives and/or free time to pursue personal topics of interest. CHM students can pursue those interests in periods we call intersessions

-Does any of the special programming interest me?
Each medical school has their own set of special programs, emphasizing and enhancing the college's mission.

Schools can offer a wide range of academic programming with various certificates and Leadership in Rural Medicine and Leadership in Medicine for the Underserved) and dual-degree options, allowing a variety of career pathway options.
dual-degree
options. The College of Human Medicine offers several certificate programs (

If either research or a career in academia is important to you, decide where you believe you'd receive the best opportunities. With an increasing research imprint in Michigan and partnerships with organizations like the Van Andel Institute, for example, the MD-PhD program at CHM is a good option for those leaning towards a physician-scientist type of career.

The MD-MPH and MD-MBA programs are also popular if public health or a career in business/administration is in your sights. For students who wish to practice outside the country or are simply interested in global health components, consider schools that facilitate travel abroad and service-learning.

Location and Student Life
-Does the school's mission and ambitions resonate with me?
Each medical school's mission guides the institution and can extend to admissions. Even here at CHM, we use a mission-based assessment of applicants beyond academics. For this reason, it's important to identify which missions resonate with you and the type of physician you're aiming to become. The benefit of that match is for both the school and student.

Admissions committees evaluate students based on interests, professional goals and demonstrated experiences. While schools aim to produce residents who can fill wide ranges of roles within the field, some schools have specific histories and objectives.

Consider each school’s mission and whether or not it matches your goals and interests.

-Would I enjoy living there?
While we hope geography and weather wouldn't be a deal-breaker, where you live can play a big role in quality of life and happiness. We can understand if some students put a lot of stock in wanting to be at a particular place. But be careful not to over-restrict yourself geographically, as that may limit your opportunities.

Learn what each location offers and keep balance in mind. Remember to think about life outside of school and consider any hobbies or personal interests you may have.


Students with spouses and/or children have a lot to think about in addition to what's been discussed. So it helps to decide on schools with realistic expectations for what would be possible should an acceptance at one of your options facilitate a move down the line.

Some students want to be closer to family while others may be excited to seek out somewhere different. This is a good time for new scenery.

-Is the student environment a good match for my character?
Along with where you will train, you're also deciding with whom you'll be training for the next few years.

Using an integrated, group-style approach, the new curriculum at CHM genuinely emphasizes a collaborative climate, not only between students, but between the students and faculty as well.


Class size and format is pretty easy to learn upon initial review. But, again, because it's still early, a true picture of student life may need to wait until you can see facilities for yourself and speak directly with students and staff.

At CHM, the entering class of 190 is split between our East Lansing and Grand Rapids community campuses. Further, the students at each location are split into four learning societies and subsequent scholar groups for more intimate and collaborative learning.  

Finances Beyond Tuition
-Can I afford to live there?
There are many factors that determine the cost for you to attend medical school, including location and resident requirements, whether it is a public or private institution, and your personal financial aid package.

While we've already touched on the cost of schooling, additional financial consideration should go to cost of living. This is definitely a factor as well, but we suggest really considering living costs after being (cross our fingers!) accepted and when the time comes to decide between schools to matriculate.

By that point, you may be aware of what each school can offer in terms of living assistance and stipends. For now, it wouldn't hurt to do some research, but don't let this deter you from applying to schools in pricier areas if you're genuinely interested for reasons directly tied to opportunities and your career path.

***

As you'll learn through the process, not much is easy about applying to medical school, and that includes deciding where and who your application goes to.

Meeting with a pre-health advisor can help and don't hesitate to reach out to admissions offices should you have more questions--it's what we're here for. Once schools receive your verified AMCAS application, the next step in the process is the secondary application. Good luck!

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