One of the areas of the medical school application that I’m commonly asked about is the list of schools. Many applicants are unsure of how many schools to apply to, what the differences are among schools and which schools to target to maximize their odds of admission. Here’s a few tips to help you to compile a strategic list:
- For states where you are a nonresident, concentrate on private schools. Public schools receive funding from the taxpayers of the state, and therefore give preference to state residents. You’re starting out at a disadvantage as a nonresident applying to a public school, so stick mostly with private schools when you’re looking outside your home state.
- Find out the medical school’s average GPA and MCAT score of accepted applicants. Although schools look at factors such as clinical experience, letters of reference and other non-quantitative elements of the application, GPA and MCAT score are still two of the most important factors in medical school admission. Concentrating on medical schools for which your numbers are at or above the average for accepted applicants will improve the chance that you don’t end up empty-handed at the end of the cycle. Applying to some reach schools is fine, but they shouldn’t make up a larger part of your list.
- Apply to a higher number of schools if your state’s public medical school(s) is very competitive. For strong applicants who are residents of states in which the public med school could be considered a “safety” school, 10 med schools may be sufficient. However, in a state like California where the public medical schools are extremely competitive, applicants are often better off applying to 15 or more schools.
- Make sure that your list of schools is manageable. Beyond 20 or 25 schools, secondary applications can be overwhelming since many of them contain multiple essay questions. Think about how many applications you can realistically complete in a timely manner without compromising on quality.
- Get to know what the med schools look for in applicants. Read about the school’s history and mission statement to see if you’re a good fit. For example, if the school emphasizes rural medicine and you’ve lived in cities all your life and have no experience in rural settings, you may not be a good fit for the school and vice versa and should instead focus on schools that align with your background and interests.
A good resource for learning about medical schools is the Medical School Admission Requirements online database available for purchase at the AAMC site. For more guidance about putting together your list of med schools, check out Chapter 7 of my medical school admissions book Getting into Medical School For Dummies .