Often times when I speak with friends and mentees who either are in the process of and/or looking to apply to medical school in the future, I get asked the simple question, “how did you decide where to apply?” Before I get to my answer, just know that the answer to this question is completely dependent on your individual situation. With this said, I will share my experience as I feel you may benefit from learning from my successes and mistakes.
Step 1. I built a list of questions that I felt would help me develop a solid list.
For me personally, here’s what I considered when building my list of schools (in no particular order):
Do I have a preference between allopathic (MD) and osteopathic medicine (DO)?
Where do I have the best chance to get accepted? (based on my statistics, extracurriculars, experiences.
Where do I want to be geographically?
As a student interested in research, which schools will allow me to seek research involvement?
What does the schools residency match list look like? (diversity of specialties, strong residency record, access to solid residency programs)
I didn't take biochemistry as an undergraduate, so I looked for programs that either didn't require biochem OR allowed you to complete it before matriculating (this is usually the case so it wasn't a limiting factor).
How can I save the most money on my medical school education?
Step 2. I Assessed Myself and Answered These Questions in an Unbiased Manner:
This part is hard. Essentially, I took the 7 questions above and gave myself a reality check. I worked through each question, trying my best to be realistic and honest with my answers. Here’s what I came to figure out:
I didn't have a preference between MD and DO (this may not be the case for you, and that's OK!). I’m interested in sports med, so while I may decide to go into ortho, I don’t believe that going the osteopathic route will prevent me from doing so.
Full disclosure- my MCAT was very average (literally). HOWEVER, my GPA was very high and I had a lot of extracurricular involvement, so I decided to apply broadly, both MD and DO.
Due to my MCAT, I didn't have much of a choice on this. I needed to apply broadly to have a chance, so that’s what I decided to do. However, my goal was to stay in the Northeast where I could be in close proximity to family.
Again, this was conflicted by #2, but I tried to apply to schools that had research opportunities AND accepted students with stats in my range.
This was very important to me. Especially when I got to looking at osteopathic schools. What I found is that most medical schools produce students in each specialty. I tried to apply to schools that had good track records in producing ortho residents as that’s a specialty of interest for me.
Didn't really factor in as most schools let you apply with classes in progress.
I applied to all of my state schools. I’m lucky to live in NY where we have a four state schools, so I made sure to apply to each of those.
Step 3. I Finalized My List and Stuck To It
Listen, don’t overthink the process. If you have terrible statistics and know you have a .000001% chance of getting in, don't apply. In my situation and after speaking with my mentors, I was very confident that I would get 3-4 interviews if I applied to 20+ schools (including osteopathic). However, this was: 1) very expensive and 2) very risky seeing how the process is so competitive and there really are no guarantees. Looking back, I can’t say I regret applying so broadly because it brought opportunities. I will say that as I’ve gotten more educated on the admissions process, I could probably have cut my list by 5-10 schools.
Anyway, the point is that once I made my list, finished my application, and reviewed everything in detail, I pressed submit, paid the price, and tried to relax. Pressing submit is an accomplishment in itself and you need to do your best let the process play out.
For me, the application process began in May. I applied when AMCAS opened in June to try and maximize my chances for acceptance. I did not hear from some schools until January (in fact as I type this I still await admissions decisions from some schools).
However, I have remained positive throughout the process and kept busy. I have continued my research, cooked a lot of healthy food, and worked out like a mad man. I hope this post helps you develop your list and avoid some of the common pitfalls that myself and other students make. As always, if you have questions regarding the process, feel free to drop me a question in the comments section or send me an email.