Getting into medical school is inarguably a huge accomplishment. Statistically speaking, there really are not that many of the initial applicants within each cycle who actually get offered acceptance letters. Of course, being able to show that you’ve received certain marks of academic aptitude (like high GPAs and MCAT scores) significantly increases your chance of being one of the chosen few. However, believe it or not, while the pathway to becoming a physician within the United States has all the same requirements standardized test-wise (the Step exams), the way each medical school approaches preparing their students for these exams is somewhat unique to that medical school. Additionally, the number of students who go into certain specialties out of each school may be slightly different. If you find that you have been accepted into more than one medical school (or you’re simply trying to figure out what schools would be best to apply to in the first place), consider these factors to help guide you acceptance (or application) decision.
The amount of information that you need to conquer as a medical school student can be fairly daunting, but going to a school that best suits your personal learning style may help make the task easier. Some medical schools offer video recordings of every lecture, giving students the option of just watching them in the comfort of their own homes if desired. Others offer more audience-participation lectures, requiring students to attend a certain number of classes per year. Still other schools have a focus on self-taught or peer-led lecture presentation groups. Other teaching style differences include the order that material is presented; some schools have a focus on systems-based teaching (such as cardiac, renal, respiratory, ect.) while others have more a subjects-based approach (physiology, cellular biology, anatomy, ect.). If you already know that certain teaching styles simply don’t work well for you, then you may want to avoid attending such a medical school if possible.
Even though medical school students across the United States all need to take their Step 1 exam after their second year, the testing style of in-house exams varies from school to school. For instance, while many medical schools offer traditional one-subject exams, others blend all subjects into three days of “master testing” in order to best mimic the format of the Step 1 exam. There are obviously pros and cons to both approaches, and finding out how a medical school tests its students could be beneficial in helping you figure out what option is best for your personal learning preferences.
Cost of Attendance
Of course, no discussion on the right medical school to attend/apply to would be complete without at least a minor discussion on the consideration of the cost of attendance. Generally speaking, attending an in-state school in the state in which you have residency is the cheapest way to attend medical school. (If you live in a state that does not currently have any of its own medical schools, be sure to research what states do honor your residency rights; for example, Wyoming has no in-state medical schools, but its residents are offered the option of attending Washington’s medical school with in-state tuition privileges.) If paying back school loans is at all a concern to you, a state-school might be your most practical option.
Finally, it is well known that certain schools tend to put out more physicians into certain specialties than others might. Even though you should end up receiving the same training for patient care at any medical school you attend, these residency rates can often be a strong indicator of both the type of students who tend to attend that school and the strength of teaching towards certain fields at the establishment. At the same time, often institutions are strongly associated with having great “______” residency programs. (For instance, University of Washington is well known as offering a top family practice residency program.) Since some students feel that they have a better chance of getting accepted into the residency programs at their particular medical school location, these residency programs might certainly be an item to consider when selecting the best medical school for you.