How to decide which school is "right" . . .

. . . assuming, of course, that I get accepted to more than one school?
I have been accepted to one school. Almost didn’t schedule an interview with a second school, as the first school has a much better reputation. However, I went to the interview and was really impressed with the second school. Which, caused me to wonder what criteria I should be considering if I am lucky enough to have a choice of schools to attend.
One school, that I probably won’t get into, would be my top choice so that I don’t have to spend four years living a couple of hours away from my husband. So, for the others, location is not really an issue. None of them is significantly closer to home than another.
How much should I consider reputation? The one school is well known for the specialty that I am interested in. Might that make a difference when it comes time to apply for residency?
Should I arrange to go back and spend another day on the campus of schools I am interested in? The amount of time I was there on the interviews just wasn’t really enough for me to get a good sense of whether or not I will be happy there for the next for years.
I realize that this is kind of rambling, but the basic gist is would those of you who have gone through this share any insights you may have on choosing which school to attend?

this is the $200,000 question… and it’s a doozy…
I’m having the same problem deciding… I’m lucky in that I have two acceptances already… but unlucky in that I am having to make this decision. the school that has the upper hand right now has it because of it’s weather (LOL) and it’s prospects for jobs for my husband… but I don’t think it’s the better school and I had an unpleasant experience when I interviewed there. (I didn’t enjoy the interview at all and I was convinced that they wouldn’t accept me anyway)… the 3rd school that I interviewed at, that also accepted me is more rural, and would be harder (we think) for my husband to find a job… and it’s in a colder climate… there’s also schools for my kids to worry about… but I think it has the better program. I’ve already sent my deposit in to the first school, and I am willing to forfeit it, even though it’s a lot of money, if we find that the other school really is better and my husband/kids can be accomodated there. But there’s so much to decide and so many factors to consider.
I think that the idea to visit again is a fabulous one and I am thinking that I may consider it as well…it might help my impression of the school where I sent my deposit and make me feel more comfortable with that choice, in addition to helping find out more about the surrounding areas.
I’d say go for it!

Going to visit the schools again is a good idea that may give you more insight. Also, if money is the same (a non-issue due to both schools being the equally expensive) then look at the grading policy, believe me when i tell you that if you have the choice go pass/fail versus grades. Although most of us kicked arse in pre-med once you hit medical school the tune may change…just fyi. Also, if all else is equal (money/grades/good vibes/etc) then I would go for the school that ranks higher. Again, this I would do if I get good vibes from the school, the tution is the same as some other school I am considering, it is pass/fail, and I like the area. Why? well because most of us do not know for sure what we will do and although we may have "ideas’ things can change. Going to a better ranked school will open more doors and that can be helpful. Folks know eath other and if your school is known for X/Y residency the odds that someone high up may know somebody else high up at some other residency is pretty good.

I’m in the same boat right now. It is going to be very hard to choose. I’m going to wait for financial aid information before making any serious decisions, but other things I’m thinking about are location, curriculum, and opportunities for things like study abroad and a combined md/mph. The big problem I see right now is that the schools I would say I “like” the most aren’t in the locaitons I am most excited about. Even as far as location, I’m not sure which part of the country I really want to live in the most. I mean, there are different things pulling me in different ways. I have the most friends in Chicago… but I like New York City much better (not that I’ve gotten in anywhere there)–at the same time, I would love to live in California with the nice weather and scenery (not that I’m in anywhere there either!). Then there’s my family and the rest of my friends, and they mostly live in Minnesota and are convinced it is the center of the universe. If I go away for med school, it’s not so much that they’ll miss me, as that they’ll think I’ve made a huge mistake and will constantly remind me of this for the rest of my life.
Another issue is the general vibe I’ve gotten at each school. But it’s so hard to tell during interview day!
I will hopefully be able to attend some of the accepted student days at the schools I’m most interested in. I’m hoping that will help me decide.

My recommendation would be to pick the school that is a good fit for you…this would mean evaluating the following criteria:
(1) Location
(2) Atmosphere
(3) People
(4) Infrastructure/Facilities
(5) Living Quarters
Frankly, I wouldn’t even use “reputation” as a deciding factor.


Frankly, I wouldn’t even use “reputation” as a deciding factor.

I wholeheartedly agree. Being in a school that “fits” you well will make you a better and happier student. In turn, that will make you a sharper fourth-year student when you go on “audition rotations” (a few well-chosen rotations at places you’d like to do your residency). By far the MOST important selling point for your residency application is YOU, not your school’s name or reputation. Perhaps there is something to be said for reputation if you are putting, say Harvard and Johns Hopkins against a small state school… but even then if you are a good saleswoman you will come off just fine. The process of landing a residency position is highly individualized; your school name is about the LAST factor, hardly considered.


By the way, I speak from experience when I say this…I made the mistake of going to “name U” for my undergraduate degree. It was alright, but I would have been happier elsewhere and probably should have gone to the school I didn’t go to.
Didn’t make that mistake this time. I like the midwest and the northwest, so I didn’t waste any time applying to schools outside this region regardless of their reputation.
Having gotten in to a DO school that I like a whole lot, I’m getting ready to withdraw several of my allopathic applications making room for people who would really like interviews at these places.
The bottom line about any school is you get out of it what you put in to it.

Amy, what specialty are you interested in? Depending on what it is, your school choice may not matter as much as step I scores and letters of recommendations. Also, after exposure to different fields, you may find yourself changing your mind during your clinical years – I would say over half my class did this, including me (I have over 10 years volunteer work with children, but I switched from peds to ob/gyn and then to radiology, and I can’t imagine myself doing anything else now).
For me, the important parameters were in this order: location (married, my spouse’s job not really mobile), match list (I think this is the best predictor for med school performance), tuition (I have a crippling 6 figure deferred student loan now), practical considerations (commute, housing, safety) and reputation last.
I don’t list “atmosphere” because I have decided (after having been on both sides of the interview table) that is is hard to judge this anyway based on school visits (it’s like the first 6 months of dating, everyone is on their best behavior…).
Besides, no matter what a school is like, you will be able to find your own niche and support with a smaller and special group of friends.
I think picking a school is a little like trying on a new hair cut – you won’t REALLY know how you like it until it’s too late to change your mind. All you can do is your best!

we’re getting down to the wire. Florida already has my money. Virginia wants my money by the 7th. Still “on hold” from Atlanta…
I personally think that Virginia is the best school of all of them… but given the climate (yes it’s a factor), the year round program, the lack of potential jobs for my husband, and the lack of good schools for my kids… I’m having a hard time considering it. The area is beautiful, and I could see myself living there if it weren’t so cold… but I can also see myself living in Florida… the only issues I have there are one of the professors who rubbed me the wrong way… the potential high cost of real estate, and the fact that they only have 2 cadavers in the gross anatomy lab… aargh!
I’ve also been thinking about research. not doing it for a living… but I’ve always thought that clinical research would play a part in my life… most likely I’d be partnered with someone else on that. I digress… VCOM has a big research component to the school… although I don’t know how much of that I’d be able to have any part in…
Do you have to have been affiliated with a school that does research to do research in the future? (I would think not… but what do I know?)
oh well.

Andrea, while Blacksburg would certainly be somewhat colder than Cary, it’s still a pretty temperate climate. And AFAIK the schools are actually pretty good. Granted I’m biased, I looove Blacksburg.
Have you been in touch with OPMs Amy B (not to be confused with Amy Beaupre) or Mary Bois Byrne? Amy B hasn’t been around in quite awhile (not surprising given that she’s just completed her first semester at VCOM) but you can certainly give Mary BB a PM by clicking here. I’m sure she’d be glad to give you her perspective if you haven’t already spoken with her.
Mary R.

Sorry for the late reply to the question - I am out of the country and internet access hasn’t been a priority.
I am interested in Emergency Medicine. The school I have been accepted to has one of the best and (oldest) emergency medicine programs in the country. However, rumor has it that one of the top docs in EM teaches at another SOM that really impressed me, but doesn’t have such a good reputation (although it has been getting better in recent years).
And then, as mentioned, there is the possibility that my interests will change in medical school.
So, lots to think about.
Belated Feliz Navidad a todos!

ask to see the match list for the schools you are interested in and see how many matched in EM and to what program. Also ask what percent people got their top 3 choices.
EM is a competitive residency, but I think the primary means of getting an interview for residency is getting good board scores and evaluations. Also, doing externships in a particular program you are interested in and showing deep interest/intiative while you are there (while not being obnoxious) will go a long way.

Hi there,
You need to go back to the schools that interest you outside of the interview day to get a good idea of what life is like. You only see what the school wants you to see on interview day.
Grades and board scores are largely an individual matter rather than a school related matter. I scored higher on USMLE Step I and II than most of the other takers in the country when I took those exams. (Howard is not known for high board scores). I have the residency that I want in the specialty that I want. Your medical school is NOT going to get these things for you. It is up to you to set the circumstances that will enable you to go into the specialty that you want. It doesn’t make any difference if your school sent 30 people into the Duke general surgery residency. If you don’t have the grades and the scores, you won’t be going to Duke or anywhere else for surgery.
It doesn’t make any difference where you go to school(in the United States) as how you do when you get there. Reputation of the school is meaningless if you do not perform well. The match list of any school from previous years is not going to do you any good because you determine your fate.
Choose a school where you can do well in your coursework and set the stage for you to do well on your USMLE exams. If you hate the location and hate your classmates, you are NOT going to do well.
It also does not make any difference what residency specialties are located at school X or school Y because as a medical student, your education is totally seperate from residency education. Residency education does not impact on medical education and medical education does not impact on residency education.
As above, visit schools that interest you outside of interview day. Look at facilities and find out where students live. You can’t do well if you are located too far away to get to and from easily.
Look at financial aid packages. The smartest thing I did was graduate with little debt. It gives me many more practice options than other folks who are carrying $250K of debt that must be paid off. Interest accrues on that money while you are in residency and payments on loans will make a HUGE difference in your lifestyle once you are finished with residency.

In terms of a given school’s particular programs in one particular field (e.g., emergency medicine), consider carefully the fact that at least three and a half years and probably more of your experience are going to be spent in other disciplines. So the more important issues are whether you will be happy and whether you will get a good overall experience. And yes, the likelihood that you will change your mind (or at least seriously consider it) about your field of choice is also pretty high–so choose a school that allows you to keep your options open. Definitely don’t make your choice based on one faculty member, in my opinion.

My own story of making my own decision was in the context of an embarrassment of riches, but can be found here:
Looking back I think the most important reasons this turned out to be a good decision were that
1. it got me out of my comfort zone, which was good for me (I think!)
2. it put me into a school where there were a lot of options
I didn’t include it as part of the lengthy thread linked to above, but I had an experience of going to clinic with two HIV docs at Stanford. They were two of the three main HIV docs there. I realized that they were cool guys but that I could well get sick of them. The idea of going to a school with a huge faculty (as with Harvard) was attractive to me because I didn’t want to get trapped in a small world. I think, looking back, that this was one of the smartest aspects of my decision (for me). Basing my decision on research interests… still not sure whether that was quite as smart, but then, I’m still trying to figure out whether I am going to do research at all during med school.

There were some other factors discussed in this thread from Jan 2004.

How Do You Choose Between Two Great Schools?

Good luck.

Susan - Chicago/Minneapolis


then look at the grading policy, believe me when i tell you that if you have the choice go pass/fail versus grades… then I would go for the school that ranks higher.

I have to agree with Efex on these 2 points. Anyone that may be interested in a career in academis, should definitely consider the school’s rank.
Also, schools that make life as a parent easier may also be a consideration. For example if you’re out because of a sick child, are the lectures taped and available on line?
As for the “fitting in” with other students issue, I’m not too sure I see the relevance of this like I used to. People are people and smart, highly motivated folks tend to be pretty much the same everywhere you go. The only exception I have to this is living in the South, say from NC down. Red state for med school? I dunno about that…

From my limited perspective halfway through 1st year…
Things that I thought would be important and turned out to be important
- clinical work starting 1st month is a great break from classes and I learn a lot
- real, active clinicians teaching exam skills in small groups (in 1st year)
- large and varied selection of clinical opportunities for 3rd and 4th year rotations
- benign winter weather
- living close to school
- housing easy to find and inexpensive
- bike ride to school, don’t have to deal with driving and parking
- park close to apt means I can easily get out for a run and my daily 1/2 hour of sunlight
Things I didn’t realize would be so important
- being close to friends and support system
- pass/fail minimizes nasty competitive tendencies of fellow students
- honor code means I can take my exams anywhere, not have to sit in a huge room with 130 coughing people. Also means that people are very conscientious about sharing study resources.
- lots of non-trad students in my class, so I don’t feel like the odd one out
- optional attendance, MP3 lecture recordings, and online powerpoints mean I can work at home instead of sitting through another poorly taught lecture
- our underfunded state school doesn’t have enough in the way of student services for academic or personal difficulties; library resources are more and more limited (e.g. we just lost off-campus access to UpToDate, library closed at 7 pm during finals week); we buy our own dissection supplies including gloves, tools, scrubs, books; we buy our own exam instruments including otoscopes, ophthalmoscopes


- lots of non-trad students in my class, so I don’t feel like the odd one out

Do you have any advice on how to assess this at each school? Nearly every school I’ve visited says that its students span a wide range of ages and come from all walks of life. Whereas usually the list of student hosts features the names of 15 22-year olds… Also, average age doesn’t say much since it’s always right around 24.
I guess accepted student weekends must be one way to tell.



- lots of non-trad students in my class, so I don’t feel like the odd one out

Do you have any advice on how to assess this at each school? Nearly every school I’ve visited says that its students span a wide range of ages and come from all walks of life. Whereas usually the list of student hosts features the names of 15 22-year olds… Also, average age doesn’t say much since it’s always right around 24.

I guess accepted student weekends must be one way to tell.

Speaking from my perspective with classes with and around med students, I’ve learned that it’s so important how old the students but how they act. I find the “traditional” students at Hopkins (both med and grad)to be a lot more mature than I thought they would be and I’m pleased to see others in my classes with a few gray hairs as well. I just don’t get that “nontrads don’t belong here message” from Hopkins or UMaryland for that matter, the way I did at Chapel Hill. The exception at Chapel Hill would be the school of public health.