A Guide To Choose The Right Medical School

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May 8, 2020

Deciding which Medical school is right for you requires identifying various factors. No medical school is the same and often each program caters to different groups of individuals. If you have already a dream school in mind before taking the MCAT exam it is advisable to set a target MCAT score for yourself close to the average MCAT of accepted students at that institution. If you decide to make your school list after taking the MCAT, the score will help you create a realistic school list.

There are some things which are fundamental to help you choose the right medical school/s and therefore must be considered before anything else:

  • Location: medical school locationLocation of a Medical School is crucial because you will be spending the next few years of your life in that city or town. Therefore, look at all the variables that come with the geography of a place. This includes social life and culture, cost of living in that place, proximity to family and friends, climate and weather. Also, in-state and out-of-state tuition are very important aspects to consider when thinking about a school’s location. To a large extent, location also determines the kind of opportunities and research exposure options you have while pursuing your degree. Are you interested in serving multicultural urban populations? A school located in a bigger city will work best. Are you interested in rural medicine? Look for schools located in smaller towns and rural areas. In short, the location of the Medical School plays a decisive role in your career development as well as personal endeavours. Keep all these factors in mind while you prepare your school list.
  • Choice of course: Pre-med students have to choose between pursuing allopathic (MD) or osteopathic medicine (DO). Although the basic curriculums of both degrees remain the same, the difference is reflected in their philosophical approach. For instance, an MD degree will train you in more traditional medical philosophy, emphasizing the use of medicine and treatments to cure illness. DOs, on the other hand, also learn osteopathy and in general they focus more on treating the whole body instead of a specific condition. Many DOs end up pursuing a career in primary care which essentially focuses on whole-patient treatment by including aspects of lifestyle and over-all community well-being. Some students also aim for completing Masters during their medical degrees as it opens up doors for pursuing careers in alternative medicine, public health, administration and policy-making etc. If that is something you would also like to do, then find out which schools offer credit-course flexibility or additional degree programs. Many schools also offer special programs in health-care or integrated degree programs, multiple electives and options of time-off during initial degree years.
  • Class Profile and Size: classIf you are going to spend four or more years in one place, it is very important that you feel emotionally comfortable and welcomed in that place. The peer-group you form in medical school forms your professional network later on. Your peer-group becomes your family. At the same time, the class-size impacts your medical training. Smaller groups encourage peer-collaboration, which is especially useful for research based studies. A larger group will enrich your personality and outlook with a greater diversity of peers. Additionally, if you are a non-traditional pre-med student, or belong to the LGBTQA+ community, then you can consider talking to medical students in various medical schools in order to get a better picture. You can talk to mentors on Paived as well. It is wise to reflect on your preferences and then look for a medical school that fits them.
  • Curriculum and Course Structure: curriculum and course structureEvery medical school has a different mission and it is reflected in their curriculum and course structure. Some course structures follow the traditional medical pedagogy while others believe in giving their students experiential and research based exposures. Some medical schools allow their students course flexibility by allowing time for pursuing elective courses or master programs.  It is important to go through these aspects as they will impact your training as a doctor. Also take a look at the type of residency programs students get into after completion of their degree. Another crucial point is to look at the grading policy and requirements of the school. These will help you conduct a comparative analysis of what different schools do, and how they evaluate both applicants and students. Another crucial factor to consider is whether you prefer the socratic method of teaching, that is, the traditional lecture based teaching, or the problem-solving and situation-based teaching. A lot of school nowadays tend to integrate a mix of the two, but it is something to keep in mind and look out for. You can also talk to students or mentors on Paived to ask about their experience and receive first-hand account of their medical school.
  • Medical School Infrastructure and Facilities: The infrastructure and facilities provided by the Medical school can impact a lot of other factors, such as the cost of living and  quality of teaching. Ideally, you should look for basic facilities such as libraries and athletic grounds. You can take into account other requirements such as parking, housing, clinical set-up, research laboratories, desktop requirements etc. It is best to evaluate the infrastructure along with the course structure as they should complement each other.
  • Fees Structure: Medical Education can be quite expensive, especially when you weigh in the cost of tuition, health insurance, rent, transportation, personal expenses etc. So it is advisable to actively look for scholarships being offered by various schools. Evaluate how much of your budget will the scholarship compensate, combined with living expenses. Usually, state public schools are the cheapest option and state residents are charged lower than ‘non-resident’ students. Look at the current tuition fees and the percentage increase every year. Some medical schools also offer regular federal financial aid along with significant amount of endowment aid to students. Many schools offer debt management consultation to students and this is very helpful, especially if you have a spouse or children to support.
  • MCAT score and School Rank: mcatMany Pre-med students dream of making it to the most prestigious medical schools in the country. Ideally, one should always prepare as if you were applying to get into the top medical school in the country. This way, you can work you will work really hard on your MCAT, school work, resume and application. Usually, most pre-med students apply to 16 or more schools. To ease out the process, make a list of schools that fit your preferences and divide them into three categories. The first category should include schools that have high MCAT score and GPA average compared to your scores and are a reach for you. This list should contain 3-5 schools. The next category can include schools that are match your MCAT and GPA and were you have a realistic chance of being considered. Include as many schools as you are willing to apply to in this category, we suggest 5-10. The last category is your safe-zone or back-up schools. These are schools that have an average MCAT and GPA of accepted students significantly lower than yours. Include 3-5 schools in this category. Be aware that you are required to travel to the school in case you make it to the interview stage. You will also be spending quite a lot of money filling secondary applications. Consider all these factors when you make your final list.
  • Early Decision Programs (EDPs): EDPs refer to the Early Decision Programs. A number of schools now offer the opportunity for students to submit an application for admission before the school officially opens up to other candidates. The catch however is that you are allowed to apply only to this school and no other. Once the school has decided and given a verdict on your application, you are free to apply to other schools as well. Usually, schools take a minimum of two months to hand-out their final decision. If you feel that you have a strong application coupled with great scores and a robust academic profile, then you can consider applying under EDP in your favorite or dream school. You can save a lot of extra work on applications and research, not to mention money and time. However, the downside is you can end up wasting time in case you don’t get selected. If you feel you want to go for the EDP, then talk to one of the Mentors on Paived and ask for their advice.

The AAMC recommends that students go through the Medical School Admission Requirements website which provides a comprehensive list of medical schools in U.S. and Canada, and the Medical Schools Admissions Requirement Guide. If you are applying for osteopathic medicine, then you can visit the AACOM website and check the Osteopathic Medical College Information Book.

If you have any gaps in your application, then we highly recommend that you consult with one of our Medical School Mentor on Paived.

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