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Choosing the Right Medical School

Signs marked "good", "better", "best" pointing in different directions So you’re trying to figure out which medical school is right for you. You may be getting ready to apply, or lucky enough to be in the position to have to choose which medical school’s offer to accept. After all, it is spring, when all premeds come to life with the realization that either their applications are due in June or their decisions about which offers of acceptance to take are due on May 15.

Let’s start with those of you getting ready to apply. Make sure you’ve got what you need. For that, let’s see what you’ve got! We admissions officers hate to agree with premeds who insist that admission is nothing more than a numbers game; most of us will agree that numbers may be where we start—but they’re not where we finish.

If you have a plethora of “D”s on your transcript, you might not be ready to apply this spring, but you may be ready a year from now after you’ve completed an enhancement program. If you’re wondering what that’s all about, see a great article from the Association of American Medical Colleges, “Why Enroll in a Postbaccalaureate Program?” and peruse its list of programs. However, don’t lose sleep over that one “C” you got in general chem! If everything else is strong—and by that I mean that your MCAT score is respectable (a score of 27 has at least a 70 percent chance of passing part 1 of the medical school boards on the first try), your service and research work are substantive and meaningful and you sincerely want to be a doctor for all the good reasons—then go ahead and give it a try. That is, after you’ve gotten the green light from your advisor, the person who is most capable of guiding you. He or she should know the schools for which you are best suited. Be sure, however, to throw in a few “reaches,” no matter what anyone says. You never know!

Next, take a look at the Medical School Admission Requirement website to see what the various schools have to offer—and where they are. Medical students seem to be happier when they have strong support systems nearby. You’ll decide how close “nearby” is for you. You might also be someone who loves the ocean, the forests, the mountains or the desert. You may love urban life or prefer the quiet of the country. If so, keep all those factors in mind. There is time for fun during medical school, so if the outdoors life is important to you, go where you can do your thing. If you have a family member who is ill, it may be important to you to stay close to home. You can get a good medical education at every school in this country.

We all teach medicine but we do it differently. Some of us are primary care–oriented, some are research-oriented and some, like Einstein, are a hybrid. Some offer special programs that enhance the learning environment. We teach medical Spanish, send our students abroad, offer master’s degree programs and provide a fifth year tuition-free to those students who want to enhance their training. Find the school that will offer you the means to follow your passion.

Select the schools that appeal to you for whatever your reasons are. Never give up your preferences because of commercial rankings. When you visit a school, look to see if the students appear happy. Ask them. They will tell you most of what you need to know. Medical school is not for the faint-hearted; there are many inherent stressors, and it’s important that students feel supported by the faculty and administration. Ask the students about the housing and the food. Find out about financial aid and scholarships. The financial aid officer will be able to guide you out of your debt within ten years if you’re willing to sign on for a few years with a nonprofit. And whatever you do, make your decision by paying close attention to your gut reaction.

Be sure to check out our #MedMo page for tips about getting into and getting through medical school! 

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Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Ed Miller April 1, 2013, 1:44 PM

    As the recently-retired Chief Health Professions Advisor for students and alumni of Yale College, I found Dean Kerrigan’s article filled with down-to-earth, honest, and extremely helpful advice not only for soon-to-be applicants to medical school, but also for those who successfully navigated the murky waters of the medical school admissions process and who are about to select the school where they will spend the next four or more years of their lives. Most importantly, though, Dean Kerrigan rightfully points out that a spotty academic record does not necessarily rule out admission to medical school, and she does an excellent job of providing advice to applicants who may have been dissuaded from applying due to an aberrant C or perhaps even two C’s! In addition to medical school applicants, Dean Kerrigan’s positive article should be required reading for all new premedical advisors that are seeking to provide a Plan B for those applicants who are not quite ready to apply for admission to medical school or for those who tested the waters and found their application a bit weak for admission and who subsequently turn to their college’s health professions advisor for assistance in how they might improve their credentials before reappyling for admission to medical shool. Kudos to Dean Kerrigan and to Einstein for such an outstanding article and for a terrific blog!

    Edward J. Miller
    Director, Emeritus
    Health Professions Advisory Program
    Yale University

  • Patricia Boland April 2, 2013, 12:30 AM

    Ms. Kerrigan has written a very thoughtful and insightful article advising future Doctors on where, how and when to go through the admission process. I found it to be extremely encouraging, cheerful and the best article I have read on the subject in a long time. Having had the pleasure of talking with Ms. Kerrigan, I found her to be extremely kind and very patient. Wonderful article, very well written, thanks so much!

  • Amol Utrankar April 2, 2013, 2:47 PM

    Thanks for this piece. I found it to be very helpful advice, and I’ve got a quick follow-up question: How do you identify the culture of a school and determine which school offers the best opportunities for pursuing a passion? Your advice on speaking with students during a visit is helpful, but visits are usually done after applying and getting the interview. If I’m at the stage where I’m trying to decide where to submit applications, I’m interested in hearing what you think are the most insightful and credible ways of understanding a school’s qualitative aspects: its student culture, teaching philosophy, areas of research emphasis, etc.

    Again, thanks for the advice!