5 Questions to Help You Choose Which Medical School to Attend

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You actually got in - and to more than one medical school! Congratulations! But of course, this brings up a new problem, one that you’ve probably overlooked with all of the focus and anxiety on just getting in:

Which medical school should you choose to attend? This is likely the largest investment of your life (to date), so choosing the right medical school for you is a tough choice with few clear answers.

Most major purchasing decisions are part head and part heart. Choosing a medical school is no different. To illustrate, consider a purchase that many pre-meds have considered: buying a car.

Choosing a Medical School is Like Buying a Car

Imagine you’re interested in buying a new car. It’s a big purchase, and you want to get it right, especially since you’ll be stuck in this car for a while. There are many features to consider - the car company’s reputation, safety, reliability, and cost, just to name a few.

Some people can justify a bigger car-buying budget, but others won’t care. Some people distance themselves from brand or luxury, but others want to show their status. There’s a reason why models range from Mini Coopers to Range Rovers, in color options from pastel pink to cobalt blue. In the end, a lot of it comes down to personal preference and how a certain car fits your lifestyle.

You’re probably a logical being who wants to rationalize your decisions, whether that’s a new car or where to receive your medical education. But just like buying a car, choosing a medical school is a subjective, personal decision that hinges on many practical and emotional factors.

Sorry - we can’t provide an exact formula for your gut feelings or orient your heart’s compass, but we can still give you a list of questions to help clarify or narrow down your priorities when making your choice:

 

5 Questions to Consider When Choosing Which Medical School to Attend   

Factor #1 - How does the school make you feel?

This is where the “part heart” aspect comes in. How did you feel when you were on campus during your interview or tour? What vibes did you get from the school, the faculty, and the current students? Which place feels most like home?

Make a list of questions like this as a way to track your “fit” or emotional connection with each of your potential medical schools. Our emotions can be fickle, but these feelings should not be disregarded.

You may not realize how much your classmates become part of your life, history, and future. Medical school often determines whom you marry, where you’ll live, and where you’ll raise your family. Odds are good that you’ll work near the medical school or make connections there that influence your path and practice.

So you want to make sure you feel positive and excited about the atmosphere and student culture of your future institution.

Factor #2 - How do its costs compare with other schools?

Price is often the main reason why someone chooses a Civic over a Lexus, and vice versa. All pre-meds have a different budget, and some are more willing to incur more debt.

Start by considering which of your schools cost the most - remember to multiple the tuition by four and add a good chunk for interest. According to research for the year 2017, the average cost of medical school was $32,495 for a single year at public medical colleges and $52,515 for a single year at private medical colleges.

It’s important to note that certain medical schools gouge out-of-state students. Some medical schools charge double the tuition for out-of-state as they do for in-state students. Among the most flagrant are: Michigan State DO ($80,000 for out-of-state vs $39,000 for in-state students) South Carolina ($77,000 vs $35,000) Illinois ($74,000 vs $37,000) Wayne State ($65,000 vs $32,000) Toledo ($62,000 vs $32,000). And there are many more.

If you’re an out-of-state student, you might want to avoid attending these schools, as your debt will be significantly higher than it would be otherwise. If you don’t mind taking on a good amount of debt, financial aid loans from the federal government or from private institutions can help get you through your years of school. Just make sure you’re not taking on more debt than you need, and that you know how you’re going to pay off that debt down the line.

We’ve written a whole article about cost considerations, so check it out if you want more information.

 

Factor #3 - Will the school help you match with residency programs?

It’s still relatively early in your journey, so you might not know for sure what specialty you want to pursue during residency. But you can still assess which schools have more successful residency placement for the fields you’re considering and in places you’d like to live and complete your training.

Not all medical schools are equally successful at helping students become doctors. Most US MD schools have a solid match list - especially in 2017 - but it’s a self-selecting group. If you’re graduating from a top medical school, you might go for your number-one choice of dermatology, but if you graduate from a school that’s not as well regarded, then perhaps you might settle for internal medicine.

But how do you know which schools are best able to place their students in competitive residencies? You might have to scour your potential schools’ websites, but there are certain resources that have compiled helpful stats and information (albeit limited). The U.S. News and World Report covers some of the top-matching schools, so that might be a good place to start.

 

Factor #4 - Do you like the school’s location?

It’s often said that “you take yourself wherever you go,” and many people are happy to go anywhere that will take them. But your attraction to the school’s setting is more important than you may think.

Considering you might meet your future mate in medical school and that the school's ties to the area mean that you're likely to stay there after graduation, how much do you like the location? Is it a place you'd consider living after you graduate?

Do you prefer rural or urban environments? Do you dislike cold weather? Is studying in a thriving cultural hotbed important to you? Make a list of these questions to help you determine the pros and cons for each of your potential choices.

 

Factor #5 - What other criteria are personally relevant to you when choosing a school?

Some candidates vastly prefer smaller class sizes or certain curriculum formats like problem-based learning (PBL). Some are drawn to the chance of performing clerkships in diverse settings, while others make their decision based on particular opportunities at a school. One of our past students chose Midwestern DO because it offers a one-year teaching apprenticeship that she really liked, and another student chose the University of Cincinnati due to its avenues for him to continue his pediatric burns research.

Beyond the four factors listed earlier, make a list of other personally relevant criteria that would help you decide. Consider what learning style, activities, and interests have mattered to you in the past, but also how the school could build on or enhance them in the future.

 We never said this would be an easy decision, but hopefully our list of criteria will assist you in solving your “good problem to have.”

Try to view your interview, tour, conversations with current students, and overall impressions as your “test drive” of the schools; sure, the school is essentially getting you from point A to point B, but you should enjoy the ride along the way!

Good luck with your decision!