Getting into Medical School For Dummies
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There are many factors to consider when choosing which medical schools you might like to attend besides the sheer cost of medical school. Factors such as rank, educational curriculum, and others should be considered as you narrow the list of medical schools you want to apply to.

You need to compile a list of medical schools that include several safety schools – schools that, based on your GPA and MCAT scores, should be easy for you to get into – and several dream schools, along with several schools you like but perhaps don’t dream about.

Type of medical school (public/state versus private)

Public schools (who receive state funding) give preference to applicants who are residents of that state, and may be mandated to fill 90 to 95 percent of their class with state residents. Some public schools accept no out-of-state residents at all certain years.

Private schools don’t prioritize based on state of residence. Therefore, to optimize your chance of admission, focus on public schools in your state as well as private schools in any state.

Medical school rank

Going to a big-name medical school can help pave the way to residency. However, you don’t have to attend a top-tier school to enter even the more competitive medical specialties.

Making the most of your time in medical school, no matter where you attend, is what’s most important in making yourself competitive for residency programs.

Although no universally agreed-upon set of rankings exists for medical schools, many students find the one compiled by U.S. News & World Report helpful as a guide to determining how selective a school is.

Medical school cost

The least expensive route to obtain a medical education is attending a state public school. In addition to giving in-state applicants preference for admission, public schools also charge lower tuition to state residents.

Tuition isn’t the only expense you have during medical school; housing, transportation, food, and other living expenses need to be factored in. The estimates that schools provide of the per year cost to attend medical school, including tuition and basic living expenses, are a good guide to use when comparing schools.

Private schools may be more generous about awarding scholarships than public ones, so when assessing medical school costs, also look at the average indebtedness and percentage of students who receive financial aid at a school (you can find this information in the MSAR for MD schools and the Osteopathic Medical College Information Book for DO schools).

Medical school curriculum

Although all medical schools impart the same essential body of information to their students, the way in which they teach that information varies from school to school. One of the biggest differences among curriculums is the extent to which they use a lecture format versus problem-based learning (in which small student groups research topics and present information to the class).

Other aspects of the curriculum include:

  • Organization of the curriculum: The traditional approach to medical education is to present information organized around a discipline such as anatomy, physiology, or genetics. However, many schools have switched to an organ systems-based approach that studies all facets of an organ system (such as the cardiovascular system) together.

  • Integration of clinical medicine into the curriculum: The first two years of medical school are the preclinical years, however, schools are trending toward earlier introduction to patient care, with some schools giving students hands-on experiences as early as the first week of medical school.

  • Opportunities to pursue a concentration or area of interest: Some schools offer particular tracks for students interested in primary care, public health, administration, or research.

In addition to curriculum, grading systems also vary among schools. Some schools use a pass/fail system and may give “honors” or “high honors” to students who excel. Other schools use a system of letter grades. The way in which a school evaluates students may also differ between the preclinical and clinical years.

A medical school’s mission

Although all medical schools aim to educate knowledgeable, competent, and compassionate physicians, particular schools may place a priority on research, primary care, social justice, and/or service to disadvantaged populations. Such schools look for applicants whose backgrounds and experiences demonstrate that they’d be good fits for the program.

Medical school class size

Medical school classes range from 50 to 300, with a class size of about 150 being typical.

One of the benefits of a smaller class is that the group tends to be more tightly knit, although if you’re the type who prefers more privacy, the small-town atmosphere a more intimate class size creates may not be to your liking. A larger group of students offers greater diversity and opportunities for friendships.

Medical school location

You spend four years living in the area where your medical school is located, so make sure it’s somewhere you’re happy settling for a while. In particular, note the following:

  • Region: Climate in a region, demographics, subculture, regional cuisine, and other factors may vary too much from what you’re used to and may affect your schooling.

    On the other hand, schools value regional diversity, so if you’re open to venturing to a different part of the country for medical school, that may work to your advantage when the committee is evaluating your candidacy.

  • Setting: The urban, suburban, or rural location of the school affects not only your time outside of class in terms of cultural and recreational activities, but also the clinical education you receive. For example, a med school located in or near a rural area can help you discover what practicing in such a setting is like and the most common health issues involved.

  • Proximity to family and friends: You build a new support system in medical school made up of your peers and mentors in the program; however, if being near family is important to you, focus on schools closer to home.

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book author:

Carleen Eaton, MD, has used her expertise in admissions and test preparation, as well as her experiences as an applicant who received acceptances to top-ranked medical schools, to guide hundreds of applicants successfully through the medical school admissions process. She is the founder of, a medical school admissions consulting firm.

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