how to find a school that's a good fit?

Hey everyone,
I need some advice on how to ascertain if a school is going to be a good fit for me. This past year at my post-bac wasn’t a very good experience. I thought I was going to go to school with adult learners pursuing a second career. But 80% of the class had graduated immediately before starting the program or one year before. It was an environment of wailing and gnashing of teeth, difficult relations with professors (one of whom was replaced part-way through Sem II–the one who had to endure comments of “this sucks!” from the back of the room), drug use, and being lectured about the overall lack of professionalism exhibited by the class.
In short, I spent last year with many people that I do NOT want to go to medical school with.
So how do I go about finding a school that’s a good fit for me, personality-wise? The MSAR hardly categorizes schools in a “if you like sushi, infectious disease and support same-sex marriage, School XX is the place for you!”
I believe that health care is a human right–it’s hard for me to listen to people talk about what specialty is most lucrative. I believe in equitable access to health care services: I don’t think a healer should turn away a patient who cannot pay. I believe that medicine is a calling, not an elite profession that one enters into in search of prestige. It was very hard for me to hear classmates joke about AIDS and AIDS patients, for example. My god, we’ve had to build coalitions of organizations to try to erase the stigma associated with this illness, and here they are laughing about it.
I question whether or not I’ll really be able to get a good feel for the things that are important to me while interviewing. If everyone is there to “sell” their school to prospective students, how am I going to know what my potential peers will be like? And if I’ll be happy around them?
While my advisor recommends DO schools as a better fit for me given my feeling about the last year, I am pursuing medicine so that I could serve the women of the developing world who need care most desperately. A DO will preclude me from doing this, so it’s not an option.
I am attracted to Drexel’s PIL curriculum because it’s case-base and because I’m better at learning when I have to figure things out for myself. It also seems to attract an older group of students, with whom I presumably wouldn’t have to deal with “hey, duuuude, let’s go out and get wasted!” dynamic.
Other than asking about what organizations they have where I can find like-minded people (phys. for human rights and such), what questions can I ask to best assess what the environment is like?
Thanks so much for your thoughts.

I have some thoughts, first go around to some schools and see what they are like, talk to some med students there. I also have thought about school and my age and decided WHO CARES about them? I’m going to do what I want to do. I’m sure at just about any school one can find a friend or many friends.
Look at the program and see if it is right for you.
Just my 2 cents

I agree that a good fit is very important. I used to interview applicants to my school, and I would always tell them that-- the interview day is as much for them to see if our school fit them, as it was for the school. It is hard to tell when everyone is trying to sell their school, but I have some suggestions.
1) Once you’re on the interview trail look at the other applicants you’re interviewing with and talk to them. Try to get a feel for them. They are the pool from which your classmates will come, and if the school has chosen to interview them, they are the sort of candidates the school likes. Look at the diversity of the group. (Now, do be a little careful-- by pure chance some times a group of interviewees will be very similiar. We had days when it would look like we only accepted non-traditional students, and others when they’re were none, etc).
2) Another thing you can do-- call the school and ask what sort of outside service activities students at the school are involved in.
3) Ask what sort of ethics courses are taught, and by whom.
4) Ask what criteria they consider in applicants, and how much credence they give to each part of the application-- and if they have a set cutoff for GPA and MCAT scores. If they do it’s my opinion they have decided that regardless how much a person has done, or overcome, they won’t consider them, and that tells something about the school.
Finally… realize that med students are going to gripe and complain. It is all part of the package. So be ready for some of that. Also, there will always be a few bad apples in any group that made it through the application process, so don’t let that spoil it for you.
Good luck. Feel free to PM me if you want a more detailed discussion of my suggestions (or for me to sell my school )

I agree with Whuds on this one. I think you should request from the admission average ages of the entering classes of former year and if possible high/low end and the median. But in truth, there are not going to be any medical schools where being older than 21-23 is the standard and really I don’t think it matters that much. Keep in mind that your post-bacc was very, very small (John Hopkins??? Goucher???) - either way both have no more than 30-50 students each year and that just don’t give you a lot to choose from. I would try to avoid being in such a small school again. If you open it up to a more manageable group to choose from (even 100), you’re bound to find a few people you click with. When I went to law school, I didn’t even visit the schools…it sounds crazy, but I didn’t. And when I got there, I did feel somewhat out of place, because I don’t think I personified the typical law student, but within the first few days I found another person I could relate to and within weeks we found a few others. And I often joke that I don’t know what I’d do if we hadn’t found each other, because we really not like the other law students but fit right in with each other (even though we were all different). Aside from the obvious, such as asking the admission office or interviewers/student host about older, more stable, less party-hardy culture at school…I’d really say you can’t know these things for certain. I’d say you have to ask these questions, take a look around, and follow your gut…I do believe that things happen for a reason and ultimately you’ll end up in the right place.

P.S. I heard that Northwestern really values older and non-traditional applicants…and therefore, their admitted class reflects that.

Hi there,
First of all, your medical education is largely in your hands. One of the benefits of attending medical school is that you are NOT dependent upon “liking” or even bonding with your classmates. With notable exceptions, your classmates will rise to the occasion and turn out to be good colleagues. (Monetary concerns and substance abuse not withstanding)
Things to look for in terms of a “good fit”:
Good location in relation to where you are going to live. It is a total thrash if you can’t get to your school easily.
A curriculum that suits your learning style. You don’t need to attend a school that has mandatory attendence if you learn better studying on your own. PBL-type curriculums have mandatory attendence so take this into consideration when looking at these schools.
Diversity of student body. If you can’t thrive in a diverse atmosphere, avoid schools like Howard, Meharry, King-Drew and Morehouse. (Read can’t stand to be around too many African-Americans or in a school where African-Americans are not a minority) If you are scared to death of your classmates and faculty because they are of other cultures, you are not going to do well.
Maturity and professionalism are not age-specific. You have to learn to tune somethings out and hone in on what you need. You also have to adapt to working with and being around traditional students. Most medical students are traditional and most residents have been traditional medical students so you are going to have to attend to your needs and ignore opinions of others. After all, it’s YOUR education and your money.
Beware that some of the older students in your medical school are going to be a total DRAG so older is not always better. You may tire of hearing about their problems too.
Figure out what your needs are and figure out what medical school (curriculum and location) fits your needs. Everything else is dependent upon your attitude and YOU can always change that. No one can make you feel uncomfortable without your permission.

what does PBL stand for?


While my advisor recommends DO schools as a better fit for me given my feeling about the last year, I am pursuing medicine so that I could serve the women of the developing world who need care most desperately. A DO will preclude me from doing this, so it’s not an option.

Question to anyone who knows more about this -
Why would a DO preclude one from taking part in activities in developing countries?


what does PBL stand for?

Problem Based Learning. :slight_smile:
(See you all in Denver)


Question to anyone who knows more about this -
Why would a DO preclude one from taking part in activities in developing countries?

Not all countries recognize the DO degree and there DO’s may not be able to practice medicine there. I remember a website that had a list of countries that recognized the DO degree but I can’t seem to find it now.

…but even if it’s through a legit organization, such as Doctors Without Borders and such? Also, the CDC has a program where you can volunteer your services for a couple years (maybe just one year) in a developing country.

Perhaps it’s best for me to find out from the sources directly - just in case. The journey is still kind of long for me, but I can post the info if anyone else is interested.

Sorry to usurp your post, Uzhacnaya. I will start a new post regarding this topic, promise

For more on problem-based learning, a google search led me to:
a page of links.
To just go to my take on how to pick a med school, here were some of my concerns going in:
grades vs. pass/fail (I only applied to pass/fail schools)
location (I didn’t apply places where I’d be miserable living)
general emphasis (I chose to apply to academic places as opposed to primary care-oriented places because I wanted research to be part of my path)
and flexibility (because, as in my case, I thought research was going to be big for me but at the moment it’s not–so then, the question is, do I have other options in the place I’ve ended up).
I think this will narrow your list substantially and then you make the rest of your decisions in spring of your application year, not now.
Good luck!

Note that Joe’s excellent thoughtful list does NOT include a whole lot about the student body. I absolutely hear the concerns about immature classmates, and there could be some. I definitely had a few prizes in my class. But they were the minority in a class of 160 or so, and easily ignored. Your class will be big enough that you’ll be able to find the somewhat sympatico folks in it, and you don’t need to pay attention to the whiners.
I also noticed that as time went on in med school, even the immature whiners grew up quite a bit. You simply MUST work at a professional responsible level in your third year rotations, or you are going to get your a$$ handed to you. People figure out pretty quick that they need to behave responsibly.

Hey folks,
Nearly three weeks of vacation can do wonders for one’s perspective…so I’m not only looking at your responses gratefully but also a bit more postively. I’m also back in the world of public health, and my batteries have been recharging quickly amongst people devoted to working for the greater good.
You’ve brought up wonderful points, many of which I haven’t thought about. So I’m adding this to my file of information to consult as I move forward through the process.
And a class of 100+ is very different from a class of 30, so you’re right–my experience this past year may not be an accurate predictor.
Re: the DO precluding one from working internationally. Even with working through an organization such as MSF, they will need to apply for a special permit for a DO to do short-term medical work in another country. I would think that they’d be more willing to hire someone who can go straight to work without filing additional paperwork with country governments, so I don’t want that to be something that holds my chances back.
So many things to consider! Thanks again for sharing your valuable experiences and perspectives.

There is nothing to be ashamed of in thinking that an MD is a better fit for you–even if it’s just a sort of vibe about it.

The DO is a perfect match for some people. For others, it’s not. If it doesn’t feel right to you, you don’t need to use MSF to explain that.

I’m glad the vacation was refreshing.



How did you know which schools emphasized research vs. primary care? I’ve read through the MSAR and have only gotten a vague sense for that at each school. Once I get secondary apps from schools, I’ll look at their websites in more detail than I have so far, but even the websites don’t seem to really say for sure. On the primary care side there are some that state outright that that’s their focus, but how can you tell which ones are “academic”? Is it by reputation?
I want research or public health to be definite options in my future, but I also want the flexibility you mentioned. At the moment I’ve got about 30 American schools on my list…

Some rough guides to finding the more academic centers, and be warned: many gross and somewhat inaccurate guidelines follow, and some guessed-at stereotypes are in my conclusion, so take many grains of salt:
1. Their amount of NIH funding in the US News and World Report ranking list. If they don’t have much they are unlikely to be a big research institution b/c NIH is far and away the major funder of biomedical research in the US.
2. Whether they encourage extra time and provide extra funding for student research. (This is often in the promotional materials.)
3. (With some exceptions:) Based at a research university.
4. In the areas you know of, there are researchers working at that school.
5. It seems like people would pay to buy the sweatshirts (and not just because of the cute mascot, like my alma mater UCSC’s Banana Slugs).
6. There’s a school of public health there.
7. A google search for the phrases “new research” + “medical school” + “hope” will show which medical schools are promoting their research in the newspapers (distinct from what schools are actually doing research).
8. They have MD/PhD programs.
9. I just googled and found, a site which appears to give info about what institutions have what funding; it requires signing up so I didn’t.
Conversely, the primary care schools are more likely to be ranked in the primary care listings in the US News and World Report; they are more likely to have as many clinical preceptors in community sites and clinics as in tertiary care large hospitals; they are more likely to promote primary care as a value in their materials.
Now the gross guessed-at stereotypes that might still be useful:
Some primary care school promotional material buzzwords: “community”, “caring”, "service"
research school promotional material buzzwords: “leadership”, “cutting-edge”, “center of excellence”.
Primary care schools promote caring and service; research schools promote “leadership” and innovation. On the other hand, sometimes their promotional materials run counter to their actual reputation, so the primary care school plays up its research and the research school tries to look nice and community-oriented.
As you narrow things down, feel free to email me offline.

Thanks Joe! You list is so helpful I’m going to print it out. Will also go to store to buy USN&WR today…
Anyway, I have already decided only to apply to schools that are part of a big university (excepting Mayo). I want to go somewhere where I’ll be able to meet all sorts of people.
Thanks again,