“Not all made the same” – How I Chose Which Medical Schools to Apply To

Choosing which medical schools to apply to was nothing like choosing which colleges to apply to. That was easy. I just applied to a good couple of schools in my home state and voila! – I ended up matriculating at UCLA. However, I knew I couldn’t just do the same with medical schools because all the ones in my home state were very competitive schools, so I needed to cast my net wide, to schools out-of-state, of which I knew nothing about. I saw the list of medical schools on the AMCAS website and felt overwhelmed because I have not heard of 85% of the schools. I knew I had some researching to do.  That actually took a big chunk of my time – researching which medical schools to apply to – and understandably so. I didn’t want to just shell out my money to apply to a schooI I knew nothing about. Plus, schools usually ask, “Why here? How would you fit in here? What would you contribute here?” and you wouldn’t want to give some generic response. Thus, its not only about the number of schools you apply to, but which schools you apply to. Some schools are similar, yet many vary in their own mission statement, philosophy, application requirements, curriculum, and competitiveness. You want to choose the ones are favorable for you, and ones you actually have a chance at, instead of naively applying to schools that you don’t know much about (which will decrease your chances of garnering an acceptance). These are a couple of factors that I looked at when choosing which medical schools to apply to:

1) OOS friendly vs. In-state preference: These are popular terms thrown around a lot in pre-med vernacular (in particular, Student Doctor Network). Some schools have preference to admitting medical students that are from its home state, and would explicitly say so on its website. The good news is that there is no guess work here, but the bad news is that your chances of being accepted to that school are that much more slim. I found a pattern that schools named “University of (state name)” usually have in-state preference. But it’s good to confirm on the school’s website. I also avoided applying to schools in which less than ~15% (some cap it off at 20-25%) of their class are out-of-state residents (stats can be found on AAMC website here). It just tells me that there is a strong preference for admitting local residents. On the flip side, there are schools that are “OOS (out-of-state) friendly” and around half, or even more than half, of their class is comprised of out-of-state residents. However, I found that these schools can be more competitive even though the GPA/MCAT scores are just average because many more applicants are applying to that school (Jefferson, George Washington University are Drexel are the ones I know). Thus, I wouldn’t put all my eggs in these baskets, and apply to other less popular out-of-state schools.

2) Competitiveness by numbers: This is probably a no-brainer, but you would want to apply to schools in which your stats (GPA & MCAT score) are around that of the school’s average of their incoming class. Applicants like to divide the schools they apply to into 3 categories: safety, match, and reach schools. Doing this ensures that you have some schools under each category, and that you’re not all applying to schools way out of your league. Even though there is no such thing as a “safety” school when applying to medical school (as I’m sure you heard), it just means that your stats are above their averages, and that you might** be viewed as a competitive or strong applicant. Because of my MCAT score, I didn’t have the luxury of really having “safety” schools (boo hoo). And schools with average stats lower than mine usually have strong in-state preference. Thus, my safety schools were really my “match” schools, or schools in which their average MCAT was +/-1 of mine (29-31), and that I could have a chance at if all else on my application looked good. Luckily, there were more schools in this league that I could apply to. However, there were many more schools that had average MCAT scores of 32+ and that I to categorize as “reach” schools for me. Yes, it was painful to scroll through these schools and see their average scores being higher than mine, knowing that it would probably take some miracle for them to be interested in me.

3) Environment/location: This is more of a personal preference. I didn’t really bother considering this as much because by the time I narrowed down medical schools by #1 and #2, I had enough medical schools to apply to and didn’t want to take my chances whittling down the list even more. Plus, I’m not choosy with location (as long as I remain in the U.S.), and my adult-curiosity was using medical school as an opportunity to move to a new location and explore a new area. BUT for some, location is very important because it can affect how you do in medical school. That’s where you’re going to spend the next (at least) 4 years of your life eating, sleeping, learning, building connections with people and places, and connecting culturally. Do you want to be in a busy city vs. middle of nowhere, warm vs. cool weather, touristy vs. quiet suburbs, close to home vs. far away, etc.? I remember reading an applicant’s letter of interest to UC Riverside, expressing how important it was for her to remain close to home because of the connection and support she has with her family in the area. She ended up getting an interview (whether it turned into an acceptance is still unknown to me). So maybe you want to stay close to home, so you only apply to schools that are either in your home-state, or only one state away. I just applied everywhere, and basically dotted the map of the United States.

4) Tuition: If you need help narrowing down your list even more, then maybe consider the tuition cost of schools. I only slightly took this into account because I wanted to be cautious and have it that I apply to more schools than less, by disregarding the tuition cost. If you didn’t already know, out-of-state tuition is usually much more expensive than in-state tuition. It can be a different of a few thousand, to almost ten thousand. But if you just want to compare tuition costs for out-of-state residents, some range from ~$35,000 to upwards of ~$58,000!! So maybe narrowing down the list of schools by tuition cost isn’t such a bad idea after all. However, they say that you’ll be in so much debt, what’s a few thousand more anyways?

I know there are potentially many more factors to consider, like research opportunities, class resources, grading system (pass/fail vs. grades), prestige, student opportunities outside the classroom, etc., but you can consider these things after you have received acceptances. I think the goal here is to apply to good range of appropriate schools.


**Schools are switching to a more holistic approach to evaluating applicants, so being viewed as a “competitive applicant” means more than just the numbers. But they are still an important part to your application.


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