Decide Where to Apply

Choosing the medical schools to which you should apply may seam like a fairly simple decision. But it is not. You need to know the medical schools and understand what each school looks for in an applicant.

You should approach this decision with the same care and diligence as the rest of your application. Your School Selector tool is a good starting place for evaluating schools using different criteria.

For most applicants, the highest likelihood of acceptance is in public, state-supported schools in the state in which they have legal residence (see Selection Factors below). Note that many state medical schools accept limited (or no) out-of-state residents. You should therefore begin by acquainting yourself with the individual medical, dental or veterinary schools in your home state. Learn about the curriculum, cost, clinical teaching facilities, location, etc. Then, as you begin to investigate schools outside your own state (mostly private schools), you will have some basis for comparison. Use the following references:

In addition,  the following professional association web sites are full of good information on their schools/programs:

And each school has its own web site.

School Selector Tool in AdviseStream

This is a tool developed by AdviseStream to provide Duke students guidance in selecting medical schools that most closely match their GPA and MCAT numbers. All medical schools publish the average cumulative and science GPA of their entering class as well as the average MCAT score of their matriculants. These “national” numbers are useful to a certain extend, but average matriculation numbers of Duke students at selected medical schools are even more helpful in determining if you will be a competitive applicant at that school.

You will need an account for AdviseStream to access the School Selector Tool.

Selection Factors

The following factors should be considered when selecting which medical schools to apply to:

1. Mission

Go to the website of any medical school and you will find their mission statement. You will be surprised that these statements often vary considerably. Some medical schools have a mission to produce doctors who will serve in a rural area of their state. Others are training the next generation of medical school faculty, or doctors for the military, or are a traditionally African-American institution. Still others may have a spiritual or religious component of their overall mission.


1) Loma Linda University School of Medicine is a Seventh-day Adventist institution that integrates health, science, and Christian faith. It has the following mission statement:

The mission of the School of Medicine is to continue the healing and teaching ministry of Jesus Christ, “To make man whole.”
So they set out and went from village to village, preaching the gospel and healing people everywhere.”Luke 9:6.

2) Harvard University School of Medicine has this as their mission statement:

“To create and nurture a diverse community of the best people committed to leadership in alleviating human suffering caused by disease.”

3) The Brody School of Medicine (BSOM) at East Carolina University has this mission statement:

“The BSOM has a threefold mission/objective provided by the North Carolina General Assembly. These are:

  • to increase the supply of primary care physicians in North Carolina,
  • to provide outstanding medical care to the people in Eastern North Carolina, and
  • to provide educational opportunities to minority and disadvantaged students.”
2. Curriculum

For medical school, the traditional curriculum has been two years of basic sciences (Biochemistry, Anatomy, Physiology, Pathology, etc.), a year of required clinical “rotations” or “clerkships” (pediatrics, surgery, medicine, ob-gyn, etc.), and a final year of clinical electives (cardiology, radiology, oncology, etc.) as students apply for residency positions. Most schools have begun to integrate patient care into the first two years of medical school. Many have introduced (to a varying degree) team-based learning into their curriculum.

Several schools have compacted the basic sciences into one year (Duke) or one-and-half years (University of Pennsylvania). Some schools teach the basic sciences using a systems-based approach (Case Western, University of Pittsburgh). In comparing the educational programs of medical schools, find out what options exist. You should also try to analyze how you learn best (i.e., your learning style), which may help you evaluate the curriculum of the schools in which you are initially interested.

The curriculum will generally reflect the mission of the school. For instance, Duke has a curriculum in which the third year is devoted to research or pursuing a dual degree such as a Masters in Public Health (MPH) or an MBA or J.D. Other schools introduce clinical clerkships in the first year and in all subsequent years.

There are also differences in grading systems. Some schools have a pass/fail system or an honors/pass/fail system. Others still use letter grades. If you have a definite preference, you should take this aspect into account when looking at schools.

Similar curricular options are present within specific dental schools and veterinary schools. You should familiarize yourself with the options before making a decision on where to apply.

3. Teaching Material

Teaching material refers to the patients that you will be seeing during your clerkships. Patient populations can differ significantly from school to school. For instance, if you attend New York University School of Medicine, you will be clerking at Bellevue Hospital in New York City. This population of patients is much different than patients at Stanford Hospital in Palo Alto, or at Los Angeles County Hospital or Massachusetts General Hospital.

4. University (plus and minuses)

Is the medical school a stand-alone school or is it part of a university? If it is part of a university, is the medical school on the same campus as the university or in a different part of the city? Some students like being part of the undergraduate life of a university, so this criterion may be important to you. For example, Harvard Medical School is in Boston, while Harvard University is in Cambridge. Duke University School of Medicine is on the same campus as the university, as is the University of Chicago Medical School. Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science in Chicago is a stand alone school with no undergraduate component.

5. Location

Do you like the Northeast or the West Coast? Do you want to live in a big city or a medium size city? Do you think there is a difference in living in Chapel Hill versus downtown Chicago? How about the Midwest or the South? What is the cost of living in these regions? These are questions that you should ask as you determine your list of medical schools.

6. Cost

When considering the cost of a medical school education, your least expensive option will be your state school(s). This is because the legislatures of each state provide public tax money to keep the cost of a medical education reasonable for their state residents. Private schools will cost more than state schools. Explore the financial aid options at each school that interests you. They may have merit scholarships or a combination of merit and need-based scholarships.

7. Size and Demographics

The size and demographics of the medical school, in terms of its student body as well as its faculty, may be an important factor in your decision. Student life can be different with a class of 50 versus 200, with a more homogenous vs. a more diverse student body, etc.

8. GPA and MCAT Numbers

All medical schools publish the average science (BCPM) GPA and cumulative GPA as well as the average MCAT scores of the first year class. How do these numbers match your numbers? Higher or lower? Your reach schools will be schools where the average GPAs and MCAT scores are higher than your scores. Target schools will have GPAs and MCATs in your range. While there is no such thing as a “safety” school in the medical school applications process, you should include several schools in the mix that have GPAs and MCAT score lower than yours.