Choosing Your Medical School 

Questions to ask yourself when deciding on which medical school to attend.

How to choose which medical school to attend

Part 1: Introduction

If you’re one of the lucky applicants who ends a successful medical school application cycle with the choice of more than one school at which to pursue your medical degree, congrats! The medical school admissions process certainly isn’t easy, and to be in the position where YOU get to pick where you go…well, let us be the first to say, amazing job! It wasn’t easy but you did it. Now comes the fun part: choosing your medical school!

There are lots of factors to consider when deciding which medical school to attend. When you applied, you likely thought a bit about some of these considerations, but you were probably also concerned with making sure you even had a place to go! Now that you’re in, you can really dig into what you’re looking for in a medical school and in a medical education. It’s time to spend some serious time reflecting. This is one of the biggest decisions you’ll make in your career. 

If you have many opportunities and no idea where to start, fear not! Read on for our top tips on how to choose the medical school that’s right for you!

Tip #1: How is this program perceived?

A program’s credibility is something that can mean different things to different people. Some set a lot of score in being accepted to an Ivy League medical school. Others focus on the U.S. News and World Report Top Rankings. Still others scour the pages of Reddit and SDN to better understand how a program is perceived among residencies.

Typically, the way a program is perceived can have implications for how easy or difficult it might be for you to match as a resident. That’s why it bears mentioning here. While it ultimately matters how YOU feel about a medical school, you can’t ignore the fact that the school you attend will help determine your residency prospects in the future. 

When considering a school’s reputation, ask yourself three questions.

  1. What is the academic reputation of this school?
  2. How prestigious is this program? 
  3. How much does it matter?

The most competitive program and the most ‘prestigious,’ to some, may not be the best fit for everyone. If you think your goal is to become a community physician who does humanitarian work, a degree from a big name school is not the most important factor to consider; a legacy of service at your future institution is. But if you’re hoping to be a physician-scientist and work on NIH grants, probably having the support of a powerhouse school will mean more to you.

It can be hard to know, especially when you’re just starting out, what will be important to you in your career. Ultimately, consider your values.

  • Does prestige matter a lot to you?
  • Or the academic nature of the program?
  • What will this program offer you academically, that this other one may not?

Considering these questions will help you get a sense of what you value and that will help guide your decision.

Tip #2: What’s the culture like? Do I see myself here?

Close your eyes and think back to your interview day. How did it feel? Did you feel welcomed? Supported? Nervous? Miserable? It can be hard in the era of Zoom interviews to get a good sense of a school’s culture from a video chat, but that doesn’t mean that spending time with future colleagues and professors can’t point you in the right direction. If students are spending time answering questions, volunteering to serve on admissions committees, and generally making premeds feel good during their interview day, that’s a great sign that the community will be supportive and friendly IRL.

Don’t be afraid to ask the tough questions, especially now that you’re in! Ask admissions if you can talk to a current student with your similar interests. Reach out to student interest groups and clubs to find out more about the medical school where they study. Be straightforward: What’s the culture like here? Is it competitive? Cutthroat? Collegial? Most importantly, is it a culture where you could see yourself contributing to and THRIVING for the next 4+ years?

Tip #3: Where will I live?

Some people want to venture far from home for medical school, while others opt to take advantage of public school in-state tuition. Think about what your goals are for your education.

  • Do you want to be near a beach so that you can soak up the sun in your off hours?
  • Or would poolside be too much of a temptation when you’re meant to be studying?
  • Is your family a support for you, or are you cool with just seeing them for the holidays?

Where you live will have a big impact on your time in medical school. You’re busy during med school, but you’re still living your life. Sometimes premeds like to think that they’ll be too busy studying to do anything else, or even worry about where they are during school. I think that’s the wrong approach. When you’re off and taking a break it’s important to make sure you’re in a place that feels good to you; whether it’s by the mountains for a study-break hike, or near your family in the Midwest to grab dinner on a moment’s notice, or on a coast where there’s easy travel to other places. Where you live in medical school matters.

Tip #4: How much will I owe?

It’s no secret that some schools come with a, shall we say, heftier, price tag than others. While some schools give out merit scholarships, including a few that offer full-ride merit scholarships, most will offer students some combination of financial aid and other grants. The cost of a medical education is real, but some places are definitely cheaper than others. Even though it’s hard, think seriously about what debt will mean to you in your future.

Are you someone with $10K in credit card debt and some leftover loans from undergrad? You might want to consider a cheaper school for your medical education. Are you debt-free and planning on being a super-duper sub-specialist who works in private practice? Ok, maybe a bit more debt won’t be such a big deal. We don’t talk enough about the financial implications of medical school, but it’s important to consider. You will sacrifice a lot for your medical education; your financial health for the next 10 years of your life shouldn’t be ignored.

Tip #5: Who’s in my class?

A final question to consider: who will I be going to school with? Your colleagues can make or break your medical school experience. While you’re somewhat limited in getting to know people before going to school with them, you can still do your best to get a sense of who your future classmates might be. Some schools offer chats for admitted students. Others create small group sessions for people to meet on Second Look days. Still other programs offer to connect admitted students prior to matriculation.

Explore these options and also do a little research.

  • Where do folks come from?
  • How diverse is the class?
  • Where do the classes that have come before you end up matching, and what is their success rate?

The people you learn with will one day be the people you work with, refer your patients to, and consult on a difficult case. Spend some time thinking about who you want to be standing by your side.

Final Thoughts

At the end of the day, it’s important to remember that you’re in a really good spot. Be thoughtful about answering these questions for yourself, but also remember: have fun! You’ve worked hard to get to this point and at the end of the day, you’ll end up where you’re supposed to be: with an MD or DO after your name. 

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