Choosing a Medical School

This weekend I listened to one of my favorite podcasts – Pre-med  hosted by Dr. Ryan Grey. Dr. Grey and I have actually spoken before. He’s a kind man dedicated to helping pre-meds get into medical school. He has several books, podcasts, and forums. If you’ve never listened, I highly recommend it.

The topic for discussion was stats. As pre-meds, we tend to hyper-focus on our GPA and MCAT scores. A bad grade can send us into a panic. We send questions to our advisers with “what-ifs” about how to handle a bad MCAT score before we’ve even taken it.

The problem is that these numbers are not as important as we think.

These scores are to get you through what Dr. Grey calls “the shredder.” It gets you into the pile for consideration. But from there, your application depends on a number of aspects: your personal statement, your extra-curriculars, etc. The most important consideration is your school list.

When I first started my pre-med journey, I started a list of med schools. I looked at the best-of-the-best and quickly realized that very few of them would accept my non-trad AP scores, online courses, and community college classes. Nevertheless, I made a list. I brought it to my pre-med adviser, who told me to throw it away.

Throw it away? Wasn’t I supposed to be finding my schools and working towards making it into those schools? No. I had it backwards. I was looking at schools for the wrong reasons. There’s a strategy to finding the right schools. It does not involve specific specialties or even rankings. It involves school environment, cost, city life, and competition level. If I apply to 6 California schools out of 12, I’ve already made it harder for myself. I followed my adviser’s instructions and shredded the first list. Since then I’ve made a long, long list and continue to do research.

Fortunately Dr. Grey made another (long) podcast about making your med school list. The average student applies to 14 MD schools and 9 DO schools. Though Dr. Grey recommends applying to both, I’ll likely only be applying to MD schools. I also can’t afford applying to 23 schools (think AMCAS fees, secondary fees, and travel for interviews). I’ll likely apply to somewhere between 12 to 14 schools.

My primary consideration is that as a non-traditional applicant, not all schools will be willing to accept my AP, online, and community college credits. (You can check with AMCAS’ MSAR service). After that, location and curriculum are my priorities. Without my MCAT, it’s difficult to figure out which schools may be out of my reach. For now, I’ll focus on learning about the schools.

Dr. Grey recommends you avoid basing your school list off of World News ranking, tuition costs, and residency/Match trends. Focus on finding a school where you can thrive. For me, I prefer a non-trad friendly school that accommodates to different learning styles and strives for balance between my medical training and my personal life. That may steer me away from “prestigious” and more traditional institutions like Mayo or Harvard (though those would be a bit of a reach for me anyway).

Would you guys like me to share my preliminary list? What are your criteria for deciding where to apply?


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