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How to Choose the Right Medical School

How to Choose the Right Medical School

The road to becoming a physician is long and arduous.

Between studying hard to make the right grades in high school and college, preparing for and taking the eight hour MCAT( sometimes multiple times!), getting through the admissions process, staying afloat in medical school classes and clinical rotations, and residency, becoming a doctor is one of the most challenging careers one can pursue.

However, for those who make it out on the other side, physicians find themselves in an extremely rewarding hospital career (and hey, the pay isn’t too bad either!).

Our first post in the Med School Series was all about how high schoolers and undergraduates can prepare for the medical school admissions process. If you missed it, it can be found here.

However, if you are nearing the end of your collegiate journey and have already spent the last several years preparing for the next chapter of your education, the next step is beginning the application process -- but before you can get started with essays, personal statements, secondaries, and interviews, you will need to decide which schools you will apply to.

There are many factors to take into consideration when narrowing down your list of schools. Here are a few things to think about during this process.


One of the first things to think about when searching for medical schools is where you want to be for the next four years. Four years is a long time, so it is important to think about which environments would best fit your preferences.

If you love big cities, look for schools in urban areas. If you have a passion for rural medicine, or simply enjoy the small town life, search for medical schools in those areas.

Geography is also crucial to consider when it comes to costs. Medical school is notorious for being expensive and causing future physicians to rack up thousands in student loan debt. Generally, if you are searching for the most cost-effective option, look at public schools in your state of residency.

Another option many medical students choose is to complete their medical training at a medical school in the Caribbean. With more liberal admissions policies and higher-than-average acceptance rates, this can be attractive for students with lower GPAs or MCAT scores.

If this applies to you, or you just want to experience a different culture, medical schools in the Caribbean may be worth looking at.

Degree Type

There are two educational paths one can take to become a physician: a Doctor of Medicine (MD) degree and a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO) degree. Both teach the same basic curricula required to become a practicing physician, but the difference is found in the approach to medicine they take.

When most people think about medical school, the allopathic (MD) schools are the first to come to mind. This is because it is considered the more “traditional” approach to medicine -- doctors with this degree type are trained to look at specific illnesses and ailments in order to come up with a plan for how to treat it.

Adversely, osteopathic physicians (DO) take a more holistic approach to treating patients. Instead of considering only the specific ailment, they take more factors into consideration, including a person’s physical, mental, and spiritual health.

When applying, you can choose to send your application to both MD and DO schools. However, it is worth noting that DO schools typically have less stringent admissions requirements, so if you feel that you could be in the lower tier of med school applicants, it may be a good call to apply to some DO schools.

Choosing which degree type to pursue is based on personal preference, and at the end of the day, both MDs and DOs are both referred to as doctors and are afforded the same privileges. Like MDs, DOs can practice in any specialty they choose, but tend to pick broader ones like family medicine or pediatrics.

School Specifics

When you have narrowed down schools based on location, degree type, and where you feel you have a good chance at getting in based on your scores and application, your next step should be looking into the specifics of the school. For example, what size school would you prefer?

Would you like a large school with more classmates and opportunities, or a smaller school that offers the opportunity for a closer relationship with fellow students and faculty?

It can also be helpful to look into which curriculum style would best fit your learning habits. While both approaches effectively teach students to become competent doctors, some choose the traditional, lecture-heavy curriculum, while others opt for the problem-based learning (PBL) approach.

Doing a little bit of research about which style you prefer can help you narrow down your choices.

Other school specifics to consider are the grading system (A-F or Pass/Fail), the research opportunities, and the clinical experiences.

Picking the Perfect Schools for You

Along with being long and difficult, the process of becoming a doctor gets expensive. You have likely already begun to experience this through purchasing MCAT prep books and specialized classes and taking the MCAT itself. Unfortunately, the admissions process is pricey as well.

Most medical schools charge an admissions fee, so depending on the number of schools you apply to, you could easily end up spending several hundred dollars just by simply sending in your applications.

This is why it is important to narrow down schools to a number you are comfortable with. To do so, look into the location of the school, choose a degree type that fits your preferences, and do your research into the specifics of the school to find the medical schools that are right for you.

If you are in the process of applying to medical school, make sure you stay on the lookout for our next post in the med school series -- all about the application process!

Which factors helped you refine your medical school options? Tell us in the comments!

If you're interested in reviewing some of the other comprehensive medical school guides we've created, take a look at some of the following: Top 10 Best Osteopathic Medical Schools, Top 15 Easiest Medical Schools To Get Into, The Pros and Cons of Caribbean Medical Schools, How To Prepare For Medical School In High School and College, A Doctor's Guide To Paying Off Medical School Debt, Medical School Interview Questions: An Overview, Most Affordable Medical Schools, How To Get Into Medical School, Top Medical School Rankings.

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