Accepted to Multiple Medical Schools? 6 Factors to Weigh | Education

If you have been accepted at just one medical school, congratulations. Your decision is likely made for you. However, if you have been accepted to more than one school, you have another decision to make: “Which school is right for me?”

My advice is to create a spreadsheet where you can lay out, side by side, various qualities and characteristics of the individual schools. What you include on your spreadsheet is up to you, but be certain to include the following important ones. And leave room for descriptive words and numbers for your scale.

1. Comfort With School Environment

How comfortable do you feel in the school’s environment? Where is the level of friendliness and the values you see in play? How do you feel when you walk through the door, and will you be greeted by others? Do the students seem like family or is everyone doing their own thing? Have you been able to see live classes or videos of classes that were not staged? Are the students comfortable asking questions?

The med school admissions process has moved to virtual interviewing, and students are having fewer opportunities to be with one another in the school environment. If you are seriously considering a school, make every effort to visit to experience what it is like before accepting the offer.

Having been with med school admissions and student affairs, I have seen this factor make a huge difference in student success and, on the flip side, the level of unhappiness. Some schools have a lot of rules, a structure that works well for students who desire that. Other schools have far less structure, which some students highly prefer.

The size of the school can feel differently if the classes are in large lecture halls versus small groups. Check out classes and how the students engage outside class. Fit is the point.

2. Alignment of Career Goals and Curriculum

Do your career goals, the curriculum and how it is taught blend well together? Is there adequate time and primary investigator availability for research if you plan to become a physician investigator? Will you get to work in underserved communities with the patients you hope to serve as a primary care physician? Do you want to practice medicine in a rural community and have that opportunity offered on rotations?

Not that you can’t reach these goals through many med schools, but some will be more supportive than others. Likewise, there will be differences in locating super-subspecialized clinical rotations from one school to the next, especially if you want to try mini samples of these earlier in your preclinical education.

In fact, find out when you would get to work with patients on an ongoing basis. It helps your motivation to study when you are connected to real people. You may only be a listening ear, but you will begin to feel the connection patients have to you and you to them.

Also, find out the number of electives available to a student prior to submitting applications for residency programs. This is important for students who may like multiple specialties and need extra time to make their decision.

Some may downplay the importance of these electives, but it’s good to see several in any program you pick. If all electives are after submission of the residency application, you will have less experience on which to base your decision.

Some students love the flipped classroom while others prefer lectures. Some love problem-based learning from group members; others want to depend only on their own preparation. If you are going to adapt to a new style at the school you choose, be absolutely convinced that you’re open to it.

3. Advising Program

The advising program of a school can be immensely important to students. Is advising done primarily in large groups or is it one on one? How close are you to your advisers the first two years, and what happens as you move into clerkships and planning for residency applications? In addition to a primary adviser, do you have specialty advisers by the time you’re in the third or early fourth year?

Find out how well senior students feel the advising system works and the areas where they would like additional support or resources. It’s a mistake to avoid considering this prior to choosing a school, as it can make moving to residency much more challenging.

You will likely need to contact students in their final year to get knowledgeable answers on this topic. The more competitive your specialties of interest are, the closer attention you need to pay to this. Ask how active the advisers are on students’ behalf and how easy they are to find.

4. Tutoring and Health Services

Tutoring services, along with physical and mental health care, are things students tend to wave off, believing they will never need them. However, planning for the unforeseen is always wise.

Be sure to explore these important services not just with administration, but with real students who used the services. How easy was access and getting the time to use the resources during all years of the curriculum?

5. Location

There may be good reasons to ignore the factor of location, but you should consider the pros and cons of each school’s location. There are reasons to be closer to family who can offer support. If you have children, for example, being near their grandparents may matter.

If you appreciate lower living expenses as a single person and support during intense study months for the boards, being at a med school closer to home for laundry, a home-cooked meal or advice on auto repairs may be best. If you pick a school far from home, it may cost more time and money to fly back and forth during vacations. That may be less of an issue depending on how much financial aid you receive to pay for school.

Finally, if only one school accepts you, that’s the right spot.

6. Cost

If you are not receiving a large grant or scholarship, finances may be your top or second-place factor. You likely will have to bring up this topic with each school’s admissions dean as soon as you receive your acceptance. Many schools require a significant deposit, which puts an unpleasant burden from the onset on students who are trying to hold places in multiple schools.

You’re being realistic, not ungrateful, in trying to find out what kind of funding a school can offer you. As soon as you can get your parents to complete any required paperwork, if that’s necessary, the faster the answer may come. Most medical students end up with tremendous amounts of student loan debt.

Only students who will enter the most lucrative medical specialties can afford to not think hard about cost. Before you start med school, you can’t guarantee that you will land in one of those specialties or, even if you do, that you will like it. Don’t count on loans being written off, either, unless you are in the military or in a program where federal student loans are forgiven after a certain number of years of repayment while working in a public service position.

I have had students who believed their parents would be able to pay for their entire education, and for unexpected reasons that plan fell apart. Ask medical school deans for their school’s best financial aid offer and balance that with the other factors you’re considering.

Get as much information about each school as you can, as early as you can, then weigh these six factors together. If they need to be weighted in priority, do it now. This is the time to put in the extra effort to ultimately make the best decision for yourself and your family.

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