With 141 accredited U.S. medical schools to choose from, aspiring medical students have several factors to consider when deciding which ones to apply to and ultimately attend.

Having a solid set of priorities will help students narrow down a list of schools that will be the best fit for them. Four essential categories to consider during the application process are:

    1) Competitiveness as an applicant
    2) Location
    3) Curriculum
    4) Finances

1. Competitiveness

How do your GPA and MCAT scores compare to those of the average enrollee at the medical schools you’re interested in? While these numbers are not the only factors admissions officers consider when they look at your application, they do serve an essential role in the initial screening process.

Typically, the best strategy is to apply to a few schools where your numbers match those of average matriculates, a few “reach” schools where your numbers fall a little below the mean, and a few “safety” schools where your numbers are far above those of the average students. It also wouldn’t hurt to consider public medical schools in your home state, because they generally give preference to in-state applicants.

2. Location

Where you attend medical school will influence your academic success, finances, and personal happiness for the next four years. Do you want to stay close to your significant other, family, and friends? Or are you ready to explore a new place, far from what you know? As you consider your medical school choices, keep in mind that distance from loved ones may play a large role in where you are ultimately willing to go.

Another important consideration is whether you want to spend your medical school years amidst big city life, in a small town, or somewhere in between. The cost of living will certainly be higher in an urban area, but for the right person, this cost may be offset by the abundance of things to do. The variety of clinical experiences may also differ between these two environments, and it would be important for individual students to look into what rotations are available to them in their schools of interest.

Furthermore, location will determine the climate and geography you’ll have to deal with everyday. Having to trudge up hills and through snow to get to class every morning might make you think twice. Weather is not typically a deal breaker, but if you truly can’t stand a particular type of weather, don’t put yourself through that misery when there are plenty of other options available.

3) Curriculum

While there is appeal in getting into one of the Top 10 medical schools, try to keep perspective. Every U.S. medical student, regardless of the school, will learn the same material and take the same standardized board exams. However, each school has a different teaching methodology, and students should choose schools where they can learn best. Traditional lecture-based courses work for some students, but others may prefer the increasingly popular team-based learning method, in which students learn about a subject through applied problem solving.

Clinical and research experiences will also differ between institutions. Students who are more interested in biomedical research should seek out schools with more research opportunities and funding. Those who are set on family medicine, internal medicine, or pediatrics may benefit more from a school that places a greater focus on primary care training.

4) Finances

The difference in medical school tuition between public and private medical schools can amount to tens of thousands of extra dollars in debt. Students should seriously consider their current and future financial situations and decide how much more they are willing to pay for a particular big name school. Do your research on the scholarships and financial aid available at each school, and consistently remind yourself that whatever debts you accrue will eventually have to be paid back.

More on medical school

Know your medical school requirements
Are you ready to tackle the MCAT?
Understand how MCAT scores play into admission
How to use medical school rankings
Are you ready to take on and manage medical school debt?
What you should know about being a doctor
Pros and cons of pursuing a medical degree
New medical schools address the physician shortage

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