Harvard Medical School Lab, Photo Credit: Julie Gross

As important as it is to consider which med schools are likely to accept you, it’s equally important to consider which med schools you are likely to accept! In this post, we’ll walk through how to evaluate whether individual med schools are a good fit for you – and some of these factors may surprise you! So put aside your candidacy for the moment and give yourself time to think about what you want out of your med school experience.


Med schools vary widely in their philosophies. Before you get into the nitty-gritty differences between schools, investigate their broad approaches and consider which best align with your goals and values. Med schools’ Mission Statements are often surprisingly accurate reflections of what they’re about. For example, Weill Cornell’s Mission Statement states its commitment to “excellence in research” and its goal of “the advancement of the art and science of medicine through the maintenance of scientific and clinical scholarship.” Columbia’s mission is “to prepare future graduates to be leaders and role models” and “to shape the future and set the standards for medicine throughout the United States and the world.”

Contact us for a free consultation!

Curriculum and Special Programs

Once you’ve identified which schools broadly fit with your personal philosophy and desires, look into the coursework and electives that each school provides. Does the school you’re considering offer a unique curricular approach that appeals to you, specialized coursework in the form of electives or tracks, research programs, or other opportunities that pique your interest? Spend some time exploring each med school’s website before putting it on your list. You might also reach out to professors, students, and/or alumni to ask about their experiences in the program. Some factors to consider:

Pedagogy: The traditional curricular approach in med school, developed in the early 1900s by Johns Hopkins, is the “classic discipline-based” curriculum: two years of basic sciences, delivered mostly through lectures, followed by two years of clinical work. Over the years, several alternative models were developed for the first one to two years of instruction; most recently, medical education is moving toward more patient-centered and collaborative approaches. Current trends in medical education include:

  • Accelerated curriculum of one year of the core basic sciences followed by core clinical clerkships in the second year
  • Increased integration of problem-based learning (in which students research clinical cases in small groups under the guidance of a physician tutor) with standard lecture-style teaching
  • Earlier clinical experience
  • Increased emphasis on building skills to better understand and communicate with patients
  • Longitudinal integrated clerkships (LIC) in which students work with patients, peers, and faculty mentors over time
  • More exposure to inter-professional collaboration with other health professionals
  • More flexibility and interdisciplinary coursework in the last two years, on topics such as addiction medicine
  • Use of advanced technology such as simulation labs
  • Integration of scholarly work such as research projects

Medical schools vary in the degree to which they have adopted these newer approaches, so review the particular pedagogy and curricula of the med schools you’re considering.

Clinical exposure: Though the “classic discipline-based” curriculum described above doesn’t introduce clinical work until third year, more and more schools are introducing clinical exposure from day one. How important is it to you to have clinical exposure early on? How much flexibility does each school you’re considering offer in your rotation schedule and choice of clinical electives? How diverse is the patient population at the hospitals served by the med school?

Electives: Med schools vary in the electives, or non-required coursework, they offer. So if, for example, you already know that you wish to become a pediatrician, compare the electives in this field that are offered by the schools you are considering. While there is a great deal of overlap between elective courses at different medical schools, some clinical areas, such as genetics, child psychiatry, and cardiothoracic surgery, are not as prevalent, so if you have an interest in a less common field, make sure the schools you’re evaluating offer appropriate coursework.

Research: Medical schools vary, too, in their requirements and opportunities for students to conduct research. For example, some med schools require a senior thesis, which may be appealing if you conducted extensive research in college and want to continue. If, on the other hand, you don’t want to spend a lot of time conducting research in med school, that’s useful information too!

Grading Policy: The vast majority of med schools use a Pass/Fail grading system and this number has been increasing over the past five years. The rest use a variety of options, including Letter Grades, Honors-Pass-Fail, Honors-HighPass-Pass-Fail, with hardly any using numerical grades. Research the different approaches and think about which you are most comfortable with.

Class Size and Faculty Access

Med schools’ enrollments vary from 100 to over 350, and the faculty-to-student ratio can range from 1:1 at large public med schools to over 14:1 at smaller top private schools. Would you benefit from a more personalized approach to learning? Would you enjoy the chance to interact with a larger group of both students and faculty? A larger school will typically have more faculty and may offer more specialized courses.


Where do you want to spend the next four years of your life? Would you prefer a big city or a smaller town? Is it important to be close to family? If you are particularly interested in working with certain populations, such as rural or underserved, identify schools close to communities where these populations are likely to live.

Financial factors

Take into account your resources and the average financial aid packages and debt load for graduates of the schools you are considering. Examine what each school typically provides students in the form of non-repayable funding, such as scholarships, fellowships, grants, and awards. In-state students may be eligible for more funding. You may also qualify for federal aid through the FAFSA application.

Residency Placement and Board Exam Pass Rate

How successful is the school at placing graduates in various residencies, especially in your areas of interest? Evaluate med students’ pass rate for the required USMLE (United States Medical Licensing Exam) Step 1, typically taken at the end of the second year, and Step 2, typically taken during the fourth year. The pass rates will reflect both the level of instruction and the level of student preparation.

Choosing your best-fit medical schools is just as complicated as getting your application in order, but it’s worth it to get the most out of those four years. If you would like guidance on any aspect of your pre-med preparation or med school application process, contact Collegiate Gateway. As always, we’re happy to help!