Medical School Admissions: Choosing Where to Apply, Part 1

May 7, 2012
Shaan Sheth

Chances are that if you’re reading this blog, you’re probably already thinking about applying to medical school; what you may not have considered, however, is which schools you’ll be applying to. Students often being the admissions process with only a rough idea of the schools they’re interested in – or alternatively, plan to apply to nearly every school.

Talk to any current medical school applicant and they’ll tell you that even the process of applying to medical school can be expensive. Primary and secondary application fees, travel expenses, and interview attire add up to make the application process a costly experience. Smart applicants, however, do their research to ensure that they’re giving themselves the best chance of getting accepted.

The first step in exploring schools is to get a copy of the Medical School Admissions Requirements (MSAR), an annual publication by the AAMC; if you don’t have access to a recent copy of the MSAR you can go here to purchase the latest edition. In addition to the MSAR, other resources for information about medical schools include the Student Doctor Network and the schools’ websites. Even with all of this information available, it can be hard to figure out which medical schools to apply to without first knowing some of the factors that you should consider.


Maybe you think you want to go to medical school close to where you grew up, either because of a connection to that area or because it would be easier to go to medical school close to your family. On the other hand, the medical schools you apply to may reflect the location where you want to practice someday.

The location of a school can have a big impact on the school’s academic focus – urban schools will have more of an urban focus while schools that serve rural areas tend to have more of a rural health focus when it comes to patient care and research. Similarly, the location of a school influences the patient population that you will encounter in terms of demographics and disease; for example, if you’re interested in pathology and global health, you may want to apply to schools that are near large hubs of international commerce.

Career Aspirations:

If you think you may be interested in a competitive residency or a specific residency program, you’ll want to apply to some schools that are strong in your program(s) of interest (both in terms of patient care and research). That being said, you don’t have to go to a medical school affiliated with your dream residency program; remember, you can do away rotations (clinical rotations at institutions unaffiliated with your medical school). Away rotations are one of the best ways to demonstrate commitment a program, they allow you to establish ties with the department and demonstrate that you’d be an excellent fit for their program.


Finally, the cost of attending medical school varies widely. The best values in medical education often come from the public medical schools in your state of residence, as you’ll get an “in-state” tuition rate. Be sure to apply to these regardless of your MCAT and GPA, because it’s always good to have an affordable option. Beyond that, take a look at the tuition and average graduate debt for the schools you are interested in and seriously consider whether you want to take on $150-200,000 in loans for your medical education. You don’t need to go to a top medical school (even if you get in!) to get a job as a physician.


Clearly these are just a few of the factors that will influence your selection process; stay tuned for Part 2, where we’ll discuss two overlooked factors – curriculum and fit. Ask your questions and let us know in the comments below what other factors you’re considering as you narrow your list!

Shaan Sheth

Shaan Sheth I graduated from Rice University with a BA in Psychology and I currently live and work for Kaplan in the great state of Texas. I used Kaplan to study for my MCAT and thought that the course and my instructor were so helpful that I got a job with Kaplan a few months later. Since then, I've taught and tutored hundreds of students for the MCAT, DAT, OAT, and PCAT both online and on-site. When I'm not helping pre-meds, I enjoy lifting weights and cooking!

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