May 1st is coming up AKA the last day that medical school applicants can accept a medical school admissions offer. For students who hold multiple acceptances, this is the deadline for deciding between their various options. For some, this decision may be easy, but for others there are a lot of factors coming into play before they make their final choice. Finances, location, curriculum, grading system, along with many other factors can influence your decision. Today I’m listing the key things you may want to consider along with a few of the things I considered when thinking about how to choose a medical school.
P.S. I needed new headshots for professional adult stuff and I decided to also use this time to redo some of my white coat ceremony photos since I never liked the originals. Yes I know… I am a couple years too late but who cares. I liked these pics a lot so in the spirit of celebrating medical school acceptances I’m sharing my new and improved white coat photos with this blog post! Oh and yes, I’m extra, but you guys already knew that haha!
HOW TO CHOOSE A MEDICAL SCHOOL #1: WEATHER
Okay so I was one of those people who wanted to be in the sunshine. After 4 years experiencing some of Massachusetts’ worst winters, I was ready to thaw out permanently. When applying, weather/ climate was important to me, but I also knew I had to be realistic and I couldn’t make a decision based off of weather alone. However, when I got my first California acceptance I knew that my chances of staying in the east were slim to none. I hate precipitation, I hate the cold, I hate snow, I hate seasons. I basically hate everything that isn’t warmth and sunshine. I remember getting caught in a blizzard on my way to an interview and I was praying in the car that 1) I’d made it out alive (I literally couldn’t see anything and never drove in big snow before) and 2) that I would get accepted somewhere else because I hated the blizzard so much. Some might think that weather is trivial but at the end of the day, if the weather is going to influence your mood then it will influence your productivity. I had people and advisors try to make me feel bad for prioritizing the sunshine. But at the end of the day this is YOUR decision to make. Do what makes you happy.
HOW TO CHOOSE A MEDICAL SCHOOL #2: LOCATION
So second in line to my best friend weather is her sister location. If you follow me on social media you’ll know that I miss home a lot. I definitely prioritized weather over location when I made my choice. Do I regret it? No. But do I wish I was more prepared for what being far away from my support system felt like? Yes.
Med school is hard. And for me, its even harder when all my classmates have their childhood BFFs and family around all the time and I can only see mine once or twice a year. I missed family events, vacations, weddings, etc. If I had stayed back east, I may have been busy with school but it would have been easier to go back home for events especially if I stayed in state.
With that being said, being close to home has its disadvantages as well. I know some medical students who are very close to their family and have a hard time saying no. As a result they end up overextending themselves to be with family and their grades suffered because of that. If you’re going to go to school close to family or a significant other, make the boundaries clear from the start. This is especially important if you are someone who normally takes care of and/or provides for your family. Make it clear that you won’t be able to provide as much help as you used to in the past. It may seem harsh, but its better to set boundaries from day 1 then have a falling out with your family members, significant others, and close friends as you get busier. And I’m only saying this because I’ve seen it happen to others.
HOW TO CHOOSE A MEDICAL SCHOOL #3: SCHOOL MISSION/ FOCUS
Make sure you look up the purpose of the schools you’re deciding between. If you don’t know the mission of the schools then definitely look them up. You don’t want to end up at a primary care focused institution when your goal is to be a thoracic surgeon. Does this mean you can’t match into surgery from a primary care focused school, NO absolutely not. But if you want to go into thoracic surgery and you have multiple options, it would make sense to pick the one that best aligns with your goals.
What if you don’t know what you want to do? Then maybe picking a school that gives students a lot of time to explore (i.e. clinical experience in the pre-clinical years) would be a good idea. Or if you want to do research then it may benefit you to go to a school that has a higher research ranking than one that doesn’t.
For me mission was #1 (yes it trumped weather). I really wanted to go to a school that either focused on the urban underserved OR had a special track or program that ensured that I would have those experiences. I know what kind of doctor I want to be and I know the populations I want to serve. It was important to me to be able to have like-minded mentors and peers so I prioritized this mission over anything else.
HOW TO CHOOSE A MEDICAL SCHOOL #4: GRADING
Pass/fail. If you are fortunate enough to have options then pick the schools that are pass/fail. That’s my only advice in regards to this matter…
Don’t get me wrong, pass/fail doesn’t mean be lazy. Still try your hardest to be the best student you can (you’ll need to know everything for your board exams anyways). But at the end of the day you can’t be perfect at everything and there will be that subject that you hate or struggle with. Or sometimes, something can come up in life like an oral surgery that went wrong and then you take 2 weeks off because of complications post surgery (yes this happened to me). For me those 2 weeks made up our whole kidney unit and I’m forever grateful that I didn’t have to worry about “grades” when catching up and learning about the kidney. Honestly, life doesn’t stop when you’re in med school. People will die, bad things will happen, you will get sick, but regardless of all that your BFF pass/fail will be there to comfort you when you have to recover and play catch up.
Some people say that pass/fail deters from “gunners”. I don’t think that there’s many at my school but realize whether you’re at a pass/fail school or not, there’s always gonna be people doing the utmost for no reason (and by utmost I mean asking about grades, lying about things or pretending not to know things so they don’t have to help, being extra competitive)… just ignore them (at least that’s what I do).
But yeah… pass/fail always. If you have no pass/fail options, then don’t be too upset. It’s not the end of the world. At the end of the day we all study super hard and we all have moments of high stress. Just be sure to surround yourself with positive, supportive classmates. Also if you end up going to a school that has grades, don’t beat yourself up if you miss the mark to get an A. Just pick yourself up and make a plan of attack to do better next time.
HOW TO CHOOSE A MEDICAL SCHOOL #5: CURRICULUM
Honestly I’m waiting for the day that an online medical school starts. I did most of medical school and college online. Sometimes I joke and say I got my degree from www.my.harvard.edu (where we logged in to access our course websites) instead of Harvard University because I was never in class. I hated going to class and throughout college and medical school I mostly watched the lecture replay in my bed wearing comfy pajamas and eating snacks. Unfortunately online medical school was not an option when I was applying but I made sure to always ask if schools offered online lecture replays or podcasts of lectures. One school I visited actually made lecture mandatory and they didn’t record it. They were instantly moved to the bottom of my list (this is also the school that I had to drive to a blizzard to get to so they weren’t starting very high to begin with anyways).
There were some blocks that I did go to class for because the professors were sticklers or because I knew those subjects would be harder for me. But even if I was in lecture I still ended up referencing the lecture videos for things I missed during the live session. I understand wanting to ensure that the professors don’t have to lecture to an empty lecture hall, but some of us need more than 1 pass at info to make it stick. Because I’m an auditory and visual learner, It was really important to me to be able to have the option to replay the parts that I need more time with. I’m also a self/ independent learner so I tended to prefer schools with less attendance requirements because it meant I had more time to study on my own.
Other ways that curriculums differ are length of pre-clinical years (1 vs. 2 years), organization of material, self-learning vs. in class learning, required classroom time, etc. Like I said, I prefer to study at home in my bed so the fact that my school had 10 or less required hours per week was definitely a plus. Speak to students at the schools you’re deciding between to get a feel of their curriculum and how it works for them. Also if you can, talk to current medical students at different schools to get unbiased opinions about different curriculum styles.
Also keep in mind that your learning style may change in medical school. What worked for me in college didn’t always work for me in med school so I was constantly changing my learning style and adapted as I went along.
HOW TO CHOOSE A MEDICAL SCHOOL #6: MONEY
Some people may say to forget everything I said above and to simply go where it is cheapest. I am all about wellness and happiness so I vote to GO WHERE YOU WILL BE HAPPY. With that being said, one school I was considering was over $90K per yr and it was very unlikely that I’d be receiving any thing other than loans from them. That’s 90K x 4 so thats $360,000 in loans off the bat without interest. I know that most physicians are able to get a hold of their debt but that’s a lot of negative dollars. I seriously considered that option and honestly, I strongly considered attending before I got into my first choice (despite the debt).
With that being said, I had the option to go to another school for very little. They offered a renewable scholarship and it was in an area where cost of living was super cheap so I wouldn’t have much living expenses. HOWEVER one of the current students made a racist comment during my interview day which ruined the whole experience for me. The student who hosted me admitted that the school was “cut-throat” and not collaborative so I decided that as long as I had other options, no amount of money would keep me there.
At the end of the day, money is important but it’s not everything. With that being said, I’m not in your pockets and I don’t pay your bills, so take into consideration any consumer and previous educational debt and figure out the best decision for you.
HOW TO CHOOSE A MEDICAL SCHOOL #7: FIT & VIBE
If you got accepted that means you must have visited at some point to attend an interview. How did the visit go? Did you like the students and others that you met? Could you see yourself living there? Hopefully you got a chance to stay with students (to save money but to also get an inside peek into what it’s like when the interview day is over) so that way you can compare your interactions between at the various schools you’re considering.
If you have an opportunity to go to second look then GO. You’ll get a better feel for the school and the other students who are your potential classmates. Plus it will help you make an informed decision.
At the end of the day, there’s no specific way to decide what school you should go to. These were just some of the things that I thought about when making my decision so I’d figure I’d share my experiences here. Remember that you are in medical school and you WILL be a doctor no matter what school you choose.
Having multiple acceptances in the competitive world of medical school admissions is amazing and you should be proud. But please don’t be rude, condescending, or anything less than humble and appreciative about your circumstances. It’s okay to celebrate but no one likes a jerk. Also if you’re reading this and you didn’t get into the school of your dreams or if you only received 1 acceptance, don’t feel bad at ALL. You only need ONE yes to be a doctor and there are thousands who don’t even get that far.
If you haven’t applied yet, or if you are reapplying this year then good luck with your journey and keep this post in mind when you start to narrow down your school choice and when you start to reflect on the schools you interview at. The application process is a whirlwind so keeping track of your details and experiences early on in the game will be so helpful when the time comes for you to make your decision.
Truthfully I believe that we all end up where we’re supposed to be so whether you had a million choices, or if the decision was made for you, be proud of your school and your accomplishments on the May 1st decision day! You absolutely positively deserve it!