Choosing the Medical School that’s Right for You
by Sam Asgarian, Kaplan Elite MCAT Instructor
When it comes to the medical school application process, there are generally two types of techniques: the “machine gunner,” and the “sniper”. The former is an applicant who just starts applying to as many schools as possible, hoping to get at least one “hit”; the latter is a student who selects the right schools based on fit and targets them specifically. Although both techniques have their own merits, the sniper is usually more successful – and most often happier – than the machine gunner, because they find the programs that mesh with their personality and goals without a lot of wasted effort.
If you ask your premed friends where they want to go to med school, a common response is “Wherever I can get in!” Between the undergraduate degree, clinical and research obligations, and the MCAT, it’s an unfortunate truth that many premeds don’t spend enough time on the school selection process. This typically sends them down the machine gunner path or, at best, turns them into an ill-informed sniper. There are several ways to avoid this and still not become overwhelmed, however; one key resource is the Medical School Admissions Requirements (MSAR) guidebook. Re-published every year, this book incorporates information directly from the admissions committees of every allopathic medical school in the U.S. and Canada and is often referred to as “the Bible of premed admissions.”
So let’s say that you have a copy of the MSAR. What specifically are you going to look for when choosing the schools you should apply to? Not surprisingly, a great place to start is the “How to choose the right school for you” section; you can then take a closer look at profiles on each school, which include average MCAT scores of accepted students, number of students interviewed, percentage of applicants receiving offers, information on the medical school’s setting and curriculum, and much more. This information will give you an initial idea of whether or not the school is a good fit for you.
Next, you will want to do some old-fashioned networking. Do you know anyone, past or present, who has attended the schools you’re interested in? This can cover many areas: current med students, medical school graduates, current undergrads, friends or family who have interviewed there, and even people who simply live in the area. While it’s great idea to get an insider’s view of the school, you’ll also want some basic information like “what are the winters like?” and “do you have to have a car?” to further narrow down your list. All of this research will give you the information necessary to apply without looking like a machine gunner, which is important; the more specific you can be in an application and interview, the better your chances will be of gaining acceptance.
Next, you need to consider your strengths and weaknesses regarding each school you’ll be applying to. Did you know that some schools won’t even consider out-of-state applicants? You wouldn’t believe the number of students who waste time and money applying to schools that they are not even eligible to attend! Now, let’s say you do your homework and only apply to schools you’re eligible for; you also have to think about your chances of getting in. Do you have any ties to the area like family, friends, or being a former resident? If you do, make sure you make this clear somewhere in your application. Some schools also look for students with backgrounds different from that of a typical premed, so you will want to make sure you mention musical talents, writing skills, and other things that make you unique.
Finally, it is extremely important to remember that medical school is a four-year endeavor. You may not realize it now, but that is a significantly long time. You do not want to be locked-in to living in a city and attending a school that doesn’t suit your personality; if you are not a “cold-weather” person, you will be miserable living in a place where it snows for half the year, while if you need to be in or close to a big city, you will have a hard time going somewhere isolated. The more you think about these things ahead of time, the less you’ll have to worry about mistakes that could come back to haunt you in the future. You spend thousands of hours studying to get your undergraduate degree, and several hundred more hours dedicated to MCAT prep, it would be a shame not to take the time necessary to make sure you are applying to medical schools that are right for you. With the right resources, you will find that it is not too daunting a task, and you’ll snipe your way right into the best school for you.