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Charting A Course to Medical School: PART IV

So here you are... done with the MCAT, and probably feeling like a great deal of weight has been lifted off your shoulders. You are relieved, happy, and excited about what is about to happen next -- your application to medical school. Yes, in many ways, the worst is over, but that does not give you an excuse to let up now. In fact, you should be more vigilant than ever. You are about to make some very important decisions, decisions which will affect the rest of your life. Now let's talk about: Selecting Medical Schools.

Where do I apply, and how do I know this medical school is for me?

Every year, the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) puts out an updated copy of Medical School Admission Requirements. The book contains valuable information regarding names, addresses, and locations of every allopathic medical school in the United States and Canada. It also contains data pertaining to every medical school, including GPA/MCAT score ranges associated with accepted students, class size, curriculum, requirements for entrance, selection factors, financial aid, class composition, tuition, et cetera. For students interested in osteopathic medical schools, there is a comparable book published by AACOM called the "Osteopathic Medical College Information Book."

With over 125 schools to choose from, how do you know which ten or so schools best suit your hopes, expectations, and qualifications? There are a number of ways that schools can be chosen. Examine the following factors:

1. Curriculum
What are you interested in pursuing once in medical school? Do you want to learn mostly via traditional lectures (traditional curriculum), via classes focused on learning information arranged by organ systems (traditional systems-based learning), or by case studies of clinical problems (problem-based learning). Every medical school has a reputation for coursework or programs unique to itself.

2. Class size/composition
Do you want to be in a class of 200 students, 100 students, or even fewer students? What types of student have been making up the class in the past few years? What percentage are women or come from minority groups?

3. Location
Where do you want to be when you are studying anatomy, biochemistry, physiology, and need a break? Do you want to be somewhere cold? Warm? Rainy? Sunny? Or is there a particular state or city in which you would like to spend four or more years?

4. Tuition and financial aid
Is there sufficient financial aid available? Will you be able to afford tuition, fees, and books? Are there good loan and grant programs available?

5. Cost of living
Even if you can afford tuition, will you be able to afford the necessities, including food, clothing, and housing?

6. Competitiveness
Do you just want to get through medical school, or do you want to excel among your peers? Do you want grades in your classes, or do you want to be on a pass/fail system? (Yes, many medical schools are pass/fail, and one school, Yale, has no grades!)

7. Reputation
It cannot be denied that some schools have established national recognition in particular areas of medicine. If you are already leaning toward a certain field, this may be something to consider.

8. Out-of-state acceptances
You may decide that you want to attend a medical school outside of your home state. This may be particularly true if you do not come from a state with many medical schools (e.g., Maine, Montana, Wyoming, and Idaho). Check the AAMC's Medical School Admission Requirements for out-of-state acceptance rates and tuition (which may vary for in-state and out-of-state students).

9. Other
Is there anything else about a medical school that captures your interest (your great-grandfather graduated from there, et cetera)?

How many schools should I apply to?

This number is up to the individual, but applying to medical school is expensive. The average per student is usually about 10 schools.

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