One of the most important decisions in the application process is deciding which schools you will apply to. There are a significant number of factors to consider as you go through this process and many of these are outlined below. It is important to note that choosing a professional school is an individual process and a school that is a great fit for one student may not work well for another.
One important method for determining if a school is a good fit it so examine the mission statement of the school. Each school spends a great deal of time carefully crafting a mission statement that best fits the goals and aspirations of that school. You can read over these to determine if these goals and aspirations are a good match for your background and future plans. For example, some schools have a mission statement focused on advancing medical research and creating cutting edge medical scientists. If you also have a passion for research and a strong background in this area, then this school may be a good fit. However, if you are not as interested in research but have a passion for global health and community outreach, then you may not want to apply to such a research-oriented program. Instead, you should search for schools with a similar global focus.
- State Residency
State residency can be a very important consideration for medical schools, but may not be as critical in other fields. Most public medical schools prefer applicants from their own state and save only a few seats for out-of-state applicants. In Colorado, the University of Colorado School of Medicine has a strong preference for Colorado residents and the majority of the incoming class each year is from Colorado. However, private institutions typically do not have these types of preferences for residency. Rocky Vista University College of Osteopathic Medicine in Colorado does not have a strong preference. Therefore, when examining which medical schools may be a good fit for you, be sure to consider residency preferences.
For fields other than medicine (dental, PA, veterinary, etc.) the residency requirements are not as strict and can vary from school to school, so be sure to take this into consideration as you review the schools to which you plan to apply.
There can be a great deal of variety between different professional schools and the types of curricula they offer. Some have very specific coursework and a set pathway while others offer a significant amount of flexibility. Some programs use problem-based learning, focused on group work and critical thinking while others prefer more traditional lectures. One school may have specific tracks in the curriculum (rural medicine, research, global medicine, etc.) which may match your ultimate career goals and thus make this curriculum a good fit for you. Some programs have a pass/fail grading system, while others emphasize individual grades and class rank. Class size is also an important factor - do you prefer small class sizes or are you more energized by larger groups of people?
It is important you think about your learning style, the academic opportunities provided in the curriculum and your ultimate carer goals as you consider the curricular programs at a particular school.
- GPA and Test Score (GRE, MCAT, DAT, OAT, etc.)
There are many different resources to determine if your academic qualifications match those of applicants who are successful in gaining admission to a particular school. It is important to remember that many schools practice holistic admissions, so just because you aren't a perfect fit for test scores and GPA, this does not mean that you are automatically qualified.
Below are a list of sources for information about GPA and test scores of successful applicants
The Medical School Admissions Requirement online database is a searchable website for MD schools that provides this (and much more) information.
The American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine provides the College Information Book for DO schools.
The Veterinary Medical School Admissions Requirements is available for students research schools of veterinary medicine.
The Podiatric Medical College Information Book is a free pdf that lists the information for each podiatric medical college.
For those interest in PA, PT, OT and optometry programs, there is currently no resource that lists applicant criteria by school.
Beyond simply considering state residency (for med schools), students should consider the overall location of the school. Safety, cost of living, recreational opportunities, proximity to family, transportation, diversity, weather, culture and housing are all important considerations. Be willing to consider new adventures, but also be aware of factors that are the most critical for your success.
If you are an international student who is interested in attending a US health professional school, it is recommended that you contact one of the prehealth advisors to go over potential options, as there are some specific considerations that apply to international students.
If you are a US citizen who is considering applying to an international health professional school, it is recommended that you contact one of the prehealth advisors to go over potential options, as there are some specific considerations that apply to international programs and some challenges that can occur if you are planning on returning to the states to practice medicine.
Although cost should not be your only consideration when choosing schools, it can be an important factor. How much will you owe at the end of the program? Will you be able to have a career where you can pay back the loans? Are there scholarships available? Do students work while in the program? These are all factors that can influence your decision and should be considered early in the process.
- Student Life
The atmosphere and culture of a school have a significant impact on student success and attitude. Remember that you are choosing a place where you will spend a large amount of time for a few years, and that you want somewhere you feel comfortable. Talk to current students, alumni and others about the program and the atmosphere of the school. Are the students extremely competitive or does the school foster a more supportive, cohort attitude? Which of these is a better fit for your personality? Does the school have support services if you need help (academically or personally)? Do the faculty seem happy there? These can be hard to determine from a distance, but make an effort to find out the culture and atmosphere of the place where you will spend a significant amount of your time.
Many students start their search of schools by considering the reputation of the school and use that as their determining factor. While it is important that the school is accredited and accepts federal financial aid, the actual ranking of the school is not that important in many ways. A school's reputation is no guarantee that you will be successful or that it is a good fit for you. For medical school, the reputation of the school can play a small role in residency placement, but the key is to choose the best fit for you, so that you can be successful, score well on the boards and then get into the residency of your choice.