Who’s No. 1? When the new medical school rankings come out, they typically generate a flurry of interest.

But before you get too caught up in it, remember that first understanding med school rankings will help you put it all into perspective. What is being measured and why? Once the dust settles, you might find yourself wondering, Who really cares? 

Well, it turns out that some people do. A lot. StudentDoc has classified three general categories of people who pay close attention to these rankings, and here they are:

Medical schools. They often rely heavily on private donations to finance expansion and education. Getting onto a listing of Top 10 medical schools is a big deal. And if you’ve ever seen a cheerleading session given by the president of a Top 10 medical school, you know how much weight they give these rankings. It matters.

Medical students. When you apply for residencies, where you’re coming from makes a tremendous difference. If your school has been hanging around the top of the ranking list, you’ll likely be a residency program favorite.

Your mother. There is not a single person on the planet who will be happier than your mom when she can say, “Yes, you remember my little punkin? Well, she’s in the best medical school in the country.”

Visit our Premed Forum for a discussion of Medical School Rankings.

Who wins this year?

Washington University in St. Louis. This juggernaut school lingers at the top of StudentDoc’s medical school rankings, and that is because it attracts top-tier students (GPAs averaging 3.93, MCATs at 13 for biology and physics) and garners a huge slice of the NIH funding pie with over $360 million annually.

Baylor College of Medicine. While Harvard, Hopkins, and Stanford almost always top these sorts of lists, scrappy Baylor rounds out the top five because of excellent recruitment (average GPAs at 3.88, and MCAT physics at 12, biology 12). But what sets Baylor apart is the reasonable pricetag compared with its Ivy League competitors: Baylor graduates can expect to owe $94,000, while Hopkins grads are saddled with an average $112,000 debt after four years of medical school.

The student. Here’s a very important point to consider as you weigh medical school programs: The goal of going to medical school is to learn how to treat patients. It turns out that those famous medical schools do not have a monopoly on providing a great medical education. Look at the list of medical school rankings for Primary Care to bring this into perspective. If you ask a person on the street whether they would rather be treated by someone who trained at Stanford or University of Nebraska, what do you think they’d say? Mention that Oregon Health and Science University skunked Hopkins’ medical school and watch the confused look on their face.

What you should consider

Medical school rankings are always a point of debate among medical schools and medical students. No single method for determining these rankings works perfectly, and every institution feels it should be ranked higher. US News provides two lists, Research and Primary Care, which addresses this problem in some ways, but it also points out where weaknesses reside.

Another roster worth keeping at the front of your mind should be the debt list. Compiled by US News, it shows the schools in which medical students graduate with the most debt. With a dwindling economy and interest rates higher than before, this is a genuine concern. You should factor this in when applying for medical schools. Who came out on top?

According to US News, the West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine saw 2012 graduates carrying an average debt burden of $242,000 upon graduation, higher than that of any other medical school in the country. Even Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke’s son is facing a tremendous debt burden of close to $400,000.

What do you need to know next?

Managing medical school debt.

MCAT scores: the good, the bad and the ugly.

Common mistakes made getting medical school recommendations.

Should you retake the MCAT?

What are the top 10 medical schools?

Business school rankings and other professional school rankings.

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