Researching and Evaluating Medical Schools

Researching and Evaluating Medical Schools

When choosing a medical school, your first order of business is to decide what’s important to you. Do you want a traditional program focused around lectures or a program centered around Problem-Based Learning (PBL)? In what sort of learning environment do you thrive best? Do you want to live and study in a city, town, or rural environment? You will need to take a number of factors into account when assessing which programs fit your wants and needs, including:


Culture Curriculum
Hospital Rankings Faculty and Research
Rotations and Internships Grading Policy
Match Rates Location
Campus Setting Class Profile
Cost Class Size


Resources for Researching Medical Schools

Finding credible sources of current information on medical schools is key. There are several guides published every year that provide rankings of schools, as well as data about acceptance rates and median GPA and MCAT scores. In addition, some rank schools according to their reputations among students, professors, or prominent people in the field.

Put your MCAT score and GPA alongside the median numbers of schools that interest you. The comparison will give you a rough idea of where you stand. But remember, MCAT and GPA are not the only criteria for admissions. Many other factors like recommendations and “intangibles” like activities and relevant experience can factor prominently into the admissions equation.

Be Strategic

A sensible application strategy will include schools in three general categories:

  • Dream schools—places you’d love to attend, but where your chances of acceptance are up in the air or even unlikely.
  • Good possibilities—programs you’d like to attend and where your grades and MCAT score are close to the median.
  • Safeties—schools where your numbers make acceptance more likely.

How many medical schools you should apply to is best determined by your strength as an applicant, the difficulty of admission at schools to where you’re applying, and the general difficulty of getting into any program in your discipline. If you’re applying to nine or ten med schools, pick a couple of dream schools, several in the “likely” category, and one or two safeties.

A good way to get a sense of how med schools perceive you is to create a fact sheet with your MCAT scores (or projected scores), overall GPA, and GPA in your major (and minor, if applicable). Relevant outside activities, work experience, internships, publications, etc. will also contribute to the overall strength of your application.

Medical School Admission Requirements

Medical School Admission Requirements, published every April by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) and affectionately called the “MSAR,” provides comprehensive information on accredited U.S. and Canadian medical schools.
When it comes to medical school admissions, “doing it by the book” refers to the MSAR. The information provided in this book comes from the schools themselves. The first part of the MSAR includes over 100 pages relating to the admissions process. The second part includes profiles of all the LCME-accredited schools in the U.S. and Canada. Every school profiled in the MSAR contains the following entries:

General Information Curriculum
Requirements Selection Factors
Early Decision Program Tuition
Financial Aid Location
Campus Setting Application & Acceptance Policies
Information on Previous Year’s Class

You can order the MSAR at


The MD/MPH Option

It has been clear for many years to public health professionals that many health problems are rooted in social issues and that these problems must be addressed using the tools of public health. Just as it is important for physicians to understand how the human body works from the organism down to the sub-molecular level, it is also important for them to understand how the human being works from the organism “up” to the global level.

With that in mind, there are many opportunities for pursuing both an MPH (Masters of Public Health) and an MD. MPH programs include study into epidemiology, biostatistics, planning and management, international health, bioethics, public health law, environmental and occupational health, and the social and behavioral sciences. Most schools with joint programs recognize the confluence of the two fields and allow both programs to be completed in five years or fewer.

Johns Hopkins, for instance, allows for a leave of absence after the second or third year of medical school for the student to complete the core requirements of the MPH program. Columbia, Yale, and Rochester offer similar five-year programs; Rochester allows the student to complete the core MPH requirements before beginning medical school so as to follow a normal medical student timeline. Some schools, such as Tufts and Northwestern, allow a joint MD/MPH degree within the timeframe of a four-year medical degree. Northwestern accomplishes this by allowing medical students to pursue their MPH part-time by taking evening classes, while Tufts integrates the program directly into the curriculum. Many other schools not listed here also offer four- or five-year MD/MPH programs.

Adding an MPH to an MD gives a student an incredible range of options after graduation. Having a broad understanding of health care and clinical models makes MD/MPH degree recipients sought after for jobs in public health administration, policy and research, as well as standard residency programs. And with the ability to complete both degrees in four or five years, it is not only an interesting, relevant, and widely applicable course of study — it’s a feasible option as well.


MD and DO Degrees

There are two main types of medical schools in the United States and Canada: allopathic (MD) schools and osteopathic (DO) schools. Pre-medical students are sometimes confused by the difference between the two types of schools and the degrees that they grant, but the reality is that they are more similar than you may realize. For instance, the curricula of both schools are similar, state licensing exams are required for graduates of both programs, and most hospitals and residency programs recognize the degrees as equivalent.

Philosophical Differences

The differences between the two types of schools are largely rooted in their philosophical approach to medicine. Allopathic medical schools are often considered to be the “traditional” medical programs, although osteopathic medicine has existed since the late 1800s. Osteopathic medicine is rooted in a belief in treating the “whole patient” (including lifestyle and community), and as a result a higher percentage of osteopathic graduates pursue careers in primary care fields. The training an osteopathic physician receives in medical school includes courses in osteopathic manipulative medicine, or OMM; through this hands-on approach, much emphasis is put on the musculoskeletal system and its effect on the patient’s health.

Admissions Differences

As compared with allopathic medical schools, osteopathic medical schools have a reputation for looking at the applicant as a whole, and are therefore more likely to admit students who would be less competitive applying to top-tier allopathic programs. The average GPA and MCAT scores for incoming students are slightly lower in osteopathic programs, but both require an undergraduate degree and foundational science coursework before applying. Allopathic medical schools are represented by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) with applications submitted through AMCAS, while osteopathic medicals schools are represented by the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine (AACOM) with applications submitted through AACOMAS.