It’s officially that time of year when medical school applicants get to compare their admissions offers (if they’re lucky) and make a decision on where to matriculate. This time is so exciting for students because it’s literally the only point in the entire application process that the students hold any power. But what things are important to consider when making the decision of where to spend the next 4+ years? There are a lot of factors to keep in mind, and some are more obvious than others.
Let’s start with the obvious things that everyone will tell you to look at.
This is HUGE. On one hand, you definitely WILL spend the majority of your time studying, so in theory, 90% of the time, it doesn’t really matter where you’re located. Most schools have some nice libraries on campus, so you should have a good environment to study in regardless of where you end up.
On the other hand, it’s important to consider what you want to be able to do when you’re not studying. Will you feel depressed if there’s nothing fun to do on weekends? Every single school you visit will try to make the town look fun when they take you on the tour. They’re trying to sell you on the school, after all. But be honest with yourself about whether you will enjoy the location of the school when you aren’t studying. From experience, I love Yale a lot, but I’m a city girl, and I wish New Haven were more urban. New Haven technically IS considered a city, and it’s marketed as a city, but after growing up in Chicago and spending summers in NYC, I beg to differ.
Cost of attendance
Cost is obviously one of the most important factors when picking a school. If the difference in scholarship/funding is HUGE (full tuition scholarship vs. not), that may make the decision for you. Otherwise med school is already so expensive that the marginal difference of 10% or 20% isn’t that big of a deal if the more expensive option will make you much happier for 4 years.
Proximity to family/friends/significant other
Self- explanatory, but this is important!
Side-note: Don’t make a decision on a school based on where your significant other is unless things are very serious. I’ve seen this go wrong with others, and it’s not pretty. Also, don’t just assume things are serious- actually have that discussion with your significant other and discuss your timeline for how you see things progressing. If someone isn’t willing to have that discussion with you, do not select your med school based on them, duh.
Prestige of program
Everyone loves a big name, but sometimes people make a bigger deal of this than it needs to be. The difference between the #15 ranked school and #20 ranked school isn’t that big of a deal, in my opinion. I don’t think this should be the deciding factor when making a decision unless there’s truly a huge difference in level of prestige between the options you are considering. If there is, I’d take it into account for sure. No one likes to admit it, but coming from a big name school DOES give you an advantage when applying to anything in the future, and I don’t see a reason to pretend it doesn’t help.
Now let’s move on to slightly less obvious factors that are important to consider.
Do you love worrying about grades and stressing out!? If so, go for a school that has letter grades or Honors/High Pass/Pass/Fail grading (basically A/B/C/D)! If not, TRY TO GO TO A SCHOOL THAT HAS PASS/FAIL GRADING. I knew that I didn’t want to go somewhere that had letter grades if I could avoid it, and I am so glad I didn’t have to deal with letter grades, class rank, or AOA during med school. We DO have Honors/High Pass/Pass/Fail type grading for our rotations, but every medical school has that. Yale definitely made things as chill as possible- I wouldn’t be sitting around writing blog posts if they didn’t. If you have the option, I’d highly recommend going somewhere that’s Pass/Fail.
I know this isn’t necessarily what’s on your mind if you’re just applying to medical schools now or if you’re just making a decision on where to attend. Rotations are 1.5 to 2 years away, so they’re probably the last thing on your mind. But honestly, this is one of the main things that differentiates one med school from another. Some schools are so strict about all the requirements, the grading policy, the shelf exams, etc. Rotations are hard no matter which school you are at, but I do think it’s important to talk to upper year students about their experience working with residents and attendings, shelf exams, grading, travelling to different sites etc. I get the feeling that the process is a lot more stressful at some schools than others.
Research opportunities built in to schedule
Most medical schools have research opportunities available to students. And faculty are likely happy to work with students regardless of which school you end up at. But does your school guarantee you funding for a summer research project? Does your school build in time in your schedule for research opportunities? Do students have to complete a thesis project? Things like that will determine how easy it is to actually get publications.
Yes, you might sound super intense and gunner-ish if you ask for this information when you interview at/visit schools. I never asked for the match list when I interviewed, but in retrospect, this would have been a great tool. It tells you where the 4th year students matched- what specialty, what hospital, what city. In my opinion, the match list is a culmination of the school’s success at getting their students where they want to be. It indirectly gives you an idea of the opportunities students had access to, how well prepared they were for board exams, and how supportive the school was, because let’s be honest- you need all three of those things in order to match well.
When you go to interview or to revisit the school after getting accepted, try to meet with students who are not involved in hosting you to get their opinion on the school. The students who will be involved with giving you tours, hosting, or whatever else are only going to say good things- those are the students with the most school pride. If you can talk to current students who went to the same undergrad as you, as you or even just random students you run in to at the school, that might be more useful in determining student satisfaction.
That’s it for now, but if you guys have thoughts or follow-up questions, please leave them below! I’ll likely do a Q&A type post about this topic in the near future as well!
All views expressed are solely mine, and are not endorsed by my academic institution. This post is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, and this site should not be relied upon as health advice. I am a student, and share my opinions and experiences through this platform, but am not qualified to give medical advice, nor am I seeking to do so.