Medical School Admissions: Choosing Where To Apply, Part 2
May 24, 2012
Welcome back! In part 1 of our discussion on important factors to consider when choosing where you should apply to medical school, we reviewed some of the most commonly considered ones; location, career aspirations, and cost. Today, we’re going to review two additional factors, curriculum and fit. Curriculum and fit are two aspects of a medical school that most students do begin to consider or perhaps even fully understand before starting the interview process, but they can be just as important as the previous three we discussed.
Medical school basic science curricula, across the board, are a lot more rigid and standardized than undergraduate programs because there are certain concepts that are foundational to the clinical years that students need to learn in their first and second years. Nevertheless, there is some variation amongst schools, with most curricula categorized as traditional or integrated.
In the traditional curriculum, students take one or more classes at a time and what is taught in one class may not be related at all to what’s discussed in another. The first year of medical school is typically focused on the functioning of the healthy body, with the second year devoted to disease (including classes like pathology, pharmacology, etc.).
The integrated curriculum, in contrast, is generally organized by organ system and spans the first two years of school. Professors work together to make sure that what students learn in one class relates to their other classes. For example in a cardiovascular system block, students may study the heart in anatomy and histology, learn about normal and abnormal cardiovascular function, memorize the medicines that are prescribed for heart disease, and practice clinical skills related to assessing heart function with standardized patients.
While some students are fine with either curriculum, if you have a strong preference, consider applying to more schools of that sort.
Additionally, some medical schools vary in terms of their exam schedule, special tracks/certificates offered, length of the class day, and the length of the basic science curriculum. It’s important to apply to schools that will provide the opportunities, schedule, and structure that you desire in your medical education.
Fit is something that can be very challenging to figure out before visiting a medical school on interview day, but by investigating the following questions, you can start to get an idea about whether the school will be right for you, and if it isn’t, then you may not want to apply there.
- What is the student lifestyle? Some schools are more party-oriented than others. Other schools are very competitive and stressful. Consider whether you will prefer a collegiate, social atmosphere or a competitive, high stress environment in medical school.
- Does your personality get along with that of current students, can you see yourself making friends and fitting in at this medical school?
- Are intramurals/campus student-life important to you? If so, does the student body engage in such things?
- Do you feel that the administration is friendly and supportive? The Deans and staff in student-focused offices (such as the Offices of Student Affairs and Medical Education), will be like your parents in medical school. Can you see yourself going to them for help if you are having a personal or professional crisis?
- How is life in the town/city the medical school is located in? There are tremendous cultural differences across the country, and even within a single state, so consider if you’re applying to schools in places that you feel comfortable and accepted. The last thing you want to do is get used to a startlingly different environment while adjusting to medical school.
- Finally: What would it take for you to go to this school? Would you be happy to go if it was your only option? If the answer to the second question is ‘No’ then it’s probably not a school you want to apply to!
A great way to figure out if a school is a good fit for you is to spend the night with a student host during your interview visit. They will be the most honest and candid sources of information about the medical school, the student body, the surrounding town/city, and more, so act friendly and polite and ask questions! Keep these questions in mind as you go on interviews, and they will help you narrow your list of preferred schools when acceptances start coming in.
Let us know what other factors you’re considering as you decide which medical schools to apply to!