Deciding where to apply

It seems to have snuck up on me - suddenly I’m at a point to decide exactly where to send my optimistic applications.

I’m sure there have been threads on this before, but for whatever reason I haven’t been able to find 'em…

I plan on applying to the schools in my state, and I have a few other “reaches” in mind. I don’t feel like I’m completely ready, though, to make a fully informed decision.

My question to you is : what determined the schools to which you applied? Location? Specialities? Potential “ins?” Competitive scores?

Also, how does one properly make a decision like this, in what seems like so early in the process?

FWIW, I’ve now completed my pre-reqs and will be writing the MCAT in July or Aug. I’d like to get a good jump on the AMCAS app (and I feel like I’m already behind), and my school’s Pre-Health advisement office has an internal packet - including a hard list of schools - that I’d like to finish within the next few weeks.


For me, there were a couple of main factors. One was location. I wasn’t willing to go more than a few hours drive away from my husband. Another was cost. There was only one MD school in my state that I didn’t apply to - and that was because of cost. It is a private school (and relatively picky) and I figured that if I got accepted there, my odds were pretty good I would also be accepted at one of my state schools. Given that scenario, I figured that even if I was accepted, I was unwilling to pay the cost (almost double that of the state schools), so it seemed logical not to waste my money applying there.

I did consider a few out of state schools that met my driving range criteria. After looking at the MSAR, though, and seeing how few out of state students these schools accepted, I decided not to waste my money. I would spend some time on the MSAR and if a school takes very few out-of-state candidates, I probably wouldn’t waste my money applying there unless you have a really strong desire to go there.

Good luck in the decision. In some ways, those of us who are limited by family considerations have an easier time of it.

For me, the first thing I did was get the US News and World Report book on Medical Schools and looked to see what all the schools were about starting with tuition. Followed by # of out of state acceptances, specialties, etc.

After this list, I went to the websites of each school and read all about each school and see if I would be happy there. In addition, I needed to see if it would be possible to continue practicing our religion in the area. Since we are jewish, the number of places were limited.

From there, my wife and I sat down together and she told me where she would be willing to move to.

And that was my list.

I pretty much did what Gabe did, above, but with different priorities in choosing. I started the season with a girlfriend who was applying for graduate school at the same time. At that point I think I applied to something like 20-25 schools, hoping we could match cities. Within this list of 20-25, I emphasized my home state schools (3/5 of the UC schools); I tried to avoid schools with grading systems other than pass/fail for the first two years; and I tended to focus on research-oriented schools because at the time I was especially interested in research, but I favored the schools that defined “research” more broadly than molecular bench research.

A couple of months after we’d moved to DC to work in labs, taking me out of Northern California for the first time in my adult life, the girlfriend ditched the idea of grad school and left town for someone who’d already finished med school and residency. (See Postal Service: The District Sleeps Alone Tonight) I was totally miserable, but I tried to make lemonade:

–eliminated any schools not near an ocean (making an exception for Northwestern in Chicago, because the lake is big enough that you can’t see the horizons, and the city is cool).

–eliminated a school that had an incredibly convoluted application procedure

–eliminated a school which wanted to know my SAT scores: I thought this was absurd.

I got into a great school early in the cycle and eliminated two schools I was sure I wouldn’t prefer. Waitlisted x2, admitted x3, not interviewed x3. Not interviewed at one of my “safety” schools; waitlisted at my “target/#1 hope” school; accepted to my “reach for the stars” school. There was no discernible pattern to any of the results except that the two most academic places liked me the best, and the places I thought at the beginning would best match my personality all rejected or waitlisted me. So make sure your list is diverse.

My choices were definitely influenced by the fact that I knew I could stay in a great lab for another year if I didn’t get in–that allowed me to trim the “safety” range considerably.

Good luck! It’s great that you’re coming to this stage in the process.


i bought the msar and noted tuition, comparable scores, and out-of-state acceptances. I looked at websites to match up my goal with the school’s interests, then my hubby told me where he would not like to live. I did not get in anywhere that year.

this time around, i did those things but also checked out DO schools

for same info. I then applied to 30 schools btw the 2 applications. I even applied to some that i had not considered before, and i was accepted to a couple of schools and received many interview invitations. the schools that accepted me were ones that I had not considered before but decided to apply to them regardless.

my point is, cast a wide net and don’t overlook a school. always remember that the school’s decision is often arbitrary, and your golden opportunity may lie in unknown places, and to never give up!

Definitely don’t discount schools, for good or bad reasons. I was accepted at a school that I thought was a reach and waitlisted at a school that should have been a safety school for me. You never know what the admissions committe will be focusing on, so go give it your best shot.

Also, schools start to look a like when looking at them in the catalog or online. Think about some things that you are interested in (i.e. public health, PBL, research mentoring, international health) and see if particular schools pay lip-service to those things, ignore them completely, or provide strong, supportive environments for you to pursue areas of interest for you.


Does anyone have any advice for worming your way into other state schools? I’m from MA, and finances and family are a major concern, but UMass has made it pretty clear they’re not open to non-trads (although I’ll still throw my $100 at them). Is UVM my only option in New England other than the Big Three?

I just don’t want to accept the “bad luck for those from a densely populated state, ha ha!” philosophy I’ve been hearing…

Ohio is a good state. We have six state schools (5 MD and 1 DO) and one private school. All of the state schools take at least 25% of their class from out of state, some (like Ohio State) considerably more than that. Add to that the fact that Ohio is a relatively easy state to gain residency in - typically you can gain residency after your first year, so you will only pay out of state tuition for your first year. Also - if you have a spouse who will be working, you can probably gain residency for your first year of medical school in Ohio.

Competition for the out of state spots is considerably tougher than for state residents, but the Ohio Schools are pretty open to non-trads.

Dartmouth is very open to non-trads. As a resident here, I work with their students constantly and there are a substantial number of nontrads in every class. Even though they are an “Ivy” & damned expensive, do not write yourself off. I did when I was applying to med school &, in hindsight, wish I had had them on my radar screen. Of course, I LOVE my alma mater - KCOM & have no regrets about choosing to go there.

Dartmouth looks lovely, but as a) my undergrad GPA is bleh, b) my MAMS GPA is running at 3.3, and c) I have no idea when to fit that calc requirement in, I may have to consider it for my residency rather than my MD.

Thanks for the tip on Ohio, I’ll include them in my search outside the area. And who knows, maybe someday I’ll found an additional medical school for New England!

I just lost my rather lengthy posting - summarizing, I am 36, engineer at NASA for years, dream of becoming a doctor, GPA 3.2 (biomedical engineering), MCAT 27 and just retested - applied last year, no interviews - trying to decide where to apply this year, I applied to all Texas schools, and I prefer warmer climates, Cali, Florida, Carolinas, New Mexico, etc. I have a book that lists stats on each school but I need to narrow down due to the costs since this is my second time around. I was discouraged after talking to dean of admissions at hawaii. He broke it out in terms of points and I would need 6 additonal points - a GPA approaching 3.8 and MCAT of 36 to gain an interview. It was discouraging and made me rethink if I even have a chance with non-Texas schools with my numbers. Is anyone else feeling like perhaps GPA is way over emphasized when you have demonstrated compassion and critical thinking skills?

Any advice on how to narrow down the list - I really want California, but that may be a long shot. Are there any schools out there that you think would even give me a chance as a non-resident?

This is a great site, I wish I had found it earlier in the process! Keep reaching for the stars!

First of all, applying to schools is a very thorough process. You must look at first, how MANY can you afford to apply to on AMCAS, and then add in the secondary fees (which ALL schools will more than likely send out). Then, figure out which STATES are you willing to relocate to, then if that is too many choose cities. After that is settled, look at ALL the schools on your list and if they do NOT take at least 20% or more out of state folks do NOT apply there. You need to have a list of at least 15-20 schools maybe even more if your numbers are bordeline which yours are (the incoming average GPA of accepted applicants is about a 3.6 and the average MCAT of accepted folks is 30). Then, you really need to look at the GPA/MCAT average for each school on your list and be REALISTIC about your chances. Also, you need to APPLY very very EARLY!!! this is key. I am not sure when you applied the first time but applying early is ESSENTIAL this holds specially true for borderline applicants. Good luck!

Cali schools are pretty tough for in-staters, let alone out-of-staters. Ohio gets a LOT of applications from Cali students because the Cali schools are so competitive.

You are going to stand the best chance at your state schools. If you can afford it, you can also consider private schools and don’t leave out DO schools.

  • snowgirl Said:
Is anyone else feeling like perhaps GPA is way over emphasized when you have demonstrated compassion and critical thinking skills?

I know I'm not responding to the gist of your post, but I have to respond to this. You are making a mistake by setting this up as an either-or. There are plenty of folks out there who have great GPAs *and* have demonstrated compassion and critical thinking skills. There are unique things in each person's application; one of the things you need to do is figure out how to call attention to those things in your application.

You might find it helpful to talk to an admissions consultant (such as friend and OPM supporter extraordinaire, Judy Colwell, search for her posts). Before you spend a lot of money on applications again, money invested in an objective opinion about how to highlight the strengths of your application would be well-spent. Good luck!


Mary Renard: I appreciate the response - I am having a hard time seeing how I set that up as an either or statement; however, I wrote it rather quickly. I apologize for giving that impression because I did not mean to even insinuate that sentiment. Please forgive me. My rather poorly stated point was that you can have a lower GPA and still have the compassion and critical thinking skills to be a good physician. You can also have a high GPA and be compassionate and have excellent skills. GPA is not the only true indicator but it has the most weight. I think I was venting a bit about that. The frustration is that my undergraduate work (over 160 hours) was 12 years ago and it will be impossible in a reasonable amount of time to improve it. The all As I have made PB are just a drop in the bucket. I think schools should consider that a little more and perhaps that fact that I studied Aerospace Engineering for the majority of my undergraduate career. I was encouraged by the admissions officer at UCSD when I met with him a few days ago. He was certain I would be able to gain admission somewhere. He gave me some ideas to consider if I wanted to have a better chance gaining admission there. Basically, enrolling in a graduate or post-bac program, continuing to get all As, improve MCAT score and if possible, establishing residency.

Efex101: thanks for the method for narrowing down schools. I did apply very late last time because I didn’t know. I think you are correct, applying early is critical - so i hope to finish by the end of this week or early next week! I will take your advice and let you know how it goes!

“it’s nice to be important, but it is more important to be nice”

Glad to be of help…again your failure to gain acceptance may not have been so much your GPA from over a decade ago but a variety of factors…like applying late, not applying to enough, etc. Often times, we want to blame “something” and fixate on that, when the problem may be elsewhere. Apply to as many as you can at least 20 and apply early. Good luck.

Hey there snowgirl, I am sorry I came across as busting your chops - that certainly wasn’t my intention or my point. I have found over the years that there are folks who think that age in and of itself brings a wisdom that should be “worth something” in the med school admissions process, and I think I was more responding to the possibility that you were making that point… which I can see is not the case.

If your overall GPA is anchored with a so-so (or worse) past performance, there’s not a thing you can do about it except kick ass in all your current studies and do really well on the MCAT. That shows that you have left those youthful indiscretions behind and are ready to work really hard.

Many AdComs WILL look past those old grades and focus more on your recent work. You will make this easier for them by applying early, and by choosing your schools carefully. It can be really difficult to figure out exactly what schools are looking for… but as you continue with this pursuit and talk to more people, you will get a feeling for some of it.

You may have to dig to find out the age range of students at a particular school, but that would be a good question to ask. Don’t judge by the averages… my alma mater (GW) had a low average age for matriculation as a result of a good-sized 7-year BA/MD program, but had a huge range: in my class, the range was age 19 to 44 (that was me!). Also, don’t judge by the number of applicants, thinking that schools which get a huge number of applicants can’t possibly give individual consideration to each application. Again using my alma mater as an example, GW has thousands of applicants each year but also a well-deserved reputation for considering applicants individually.

Good luck!


Thanks to all for the kind and wise words. I am wondering if I should enroll in a post-bacc program even though I have completed all the pre-requisites or if I should just take select science courses at a nearby university? also, what is the best way to get involved with a research program? I hear that may help an applicant as well. Should I take the mcat again with a 27Q? I have heard you are more likely to do the same or worse once you hit a certain score. I guess it is a time management question.

I hope the best for your dreams too!