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Applying to Medical School

Ranking Of Medical Schools

There is a natural tendency to seek admission to the “best” medical school possible. The problem is identifying which medical schools are the best. It is quite possible that in reality the best school is the one that has accepted you and is also most suitable to your own special needs, rather than one whose only attraction is its distinguished reputation. Nevertheless, a list ranking medical schools can be useful; it may provide information that can help you decide which schools to apply to and which school to select in case of multiple acceptances.

In considering any ranking list, the following factors should be taken into consideration.

  1. The ranking of a school should be only one of a number of factors affecting your final choice.
  2. Formulating a ranking list that cannot be challenged is almost impossible, because there are so many variables to consider (size, curriculum, faculty, basic and clinical facilities, student services, supporting resources).
  3. Since the educational philosophy of schools varies (for example, some are research oriented while others seek to train primary care physicians), one cannot objectively compare relative values. A judgment can be made only as to how well each meets its defined mission.
  4. A list that ranks the schools in numerical order can be misleading, because it would suggest that a school ranked number 21 is superior to 22 when in reality the difference is based solely on minute statistical differences between the two, within the data collected.
  5. A school's place on a list cannot be used as a definitive measure of the school's status, but merely serves as an estimate of its perceived reputation.
  6. Any list should be considered in the context of your own observations, your advisor's opinion, and alumni comments.

Because of the absence of any recognized ranking list, an awareness of some of the most prestigious U.S. medical schools may prove helpful to prospective applicants and acceptees. To this end an unranked list of some of the top U.S. medical schools is provided in Table 4.2. This list correlates well with the list of the most prestigious hospitals (see Table 4.3) and the mean MCAT admission scores (see Chapter 6). Obviously, on such a short list, there may be omissions.

Bottom Line

It is desirable to use the following criteria when selecting which medical school to attend, assuming that you have multiple choices. Much of the information needed to make an assessment should come from information acquired during the course of your interviews. Check your notes carefully.

  • Get the facts. Find out as much as you can about each institution from its literature, Web site, and present and former students.
  • School mission. Medical schools have different orientations as to the type of physician they seek to graduate. Determine from the school's literature its specific mission and see if it is compatible with your ultimate goal.
  • Size and cost. Evaluate your preference for a small or large student body. Determine to what extent total costs, namely, tuition-related school expenditures as well as living expenses, will strain your finances. Evaluate whether your debt potential after four years of school will be acceptable.
  • Reputation. Schools are known to have different cultures, with some considered to be competitive, high powered, or laid back. Determine what atmosphere you favor and see if it is comparable to that of the institution in question.
  • Curriculum/teaching methods. There are various curricula in use at medical schools. Determine how recent the school in question reviews and updates its own curriculum. Determine if a problem-based approach is used as part of the educational methodology, an approach that is currently favored by many institutions. Determine to what extent computer-assisted instruction is used at the school.
  • Early clinical exposure. Traditionally, students get their clinical exposure only near the beginning of the third year of medical school; the modern trend has now been to introduce clinical exposure early on. Determine when and to what extent this is done at the schools you are considering.
  • Clinical facilities. The essence of learning medicine takes place at a clinical facility. There are various types of settings. Your interview notes may indicate if you can obtain diversified exposure, such as at respected tertiary-care teaching hospitals, community hospitals, long-term care facilities, and ambulatory care settings. Such exposure provides strong preparation for a successful medical career.
  • Outside learning experience. Determine if the medical school offers a realistic option of taking electives at nonaffiliated domestic or foreign institutions.
  • Evaluating performance. Consider whether you are comfortable with the major evaluation system in use at the institutions, be it letter grade or honors/pass/fail.
  • Faculty relationships. Evaluate what you have heard about the general level of interaction between students and faculty. It is important to get a sense of how supportive faculty are to student academic needs.
  • Residency placement. The Dean of Students Office is the best source to obtain information in the school's ability to place its graduates in strong postgraduate training programs. Of importance also is the range of specialties in which graduates have gained appointments.
  • Research. Consider how significant a role research is for medical students at the school. It is important to learn about research opportunities offered to students in the form of electives or summer positions.
  • Social attributes. How far is the school from your family's residence? Are the amenities that the community in which the school is located attractive to you? What is the general school environment?
  • Attrition rate. While nationally the attrition rate is extremely low — about 3% — only one third of these who left did so for academic reasons, thus, this issue need not be a source of concern to you. Your acceptance should be taken as a vote of confidence.
  • School ranking. While it is comforting to feel you will attend a school that is ranked high, even if true, that does not necessarily mean that it is the best one for you. Your assessment of the aforementioned criteria should determine your choice.

In summary, accumulate all of the facts relevant to the schools you are considering and determine which of these are especially important, to you. By this time you should be able to ascertain, with a considerable degree of confidence, at which institution you will thrive. It is there that your personal success probably lies.

Additional topics

Job Descriptions and Careers, Career and Job Opportunities, Career Search, and Career Choices and ProfilesGuide to Medical & Dental SchoolsApplying to Medical School - General Considerations, Selection Factors, The Application Process, Recommendations, The Interview, The Selection Process