Choosing Where to Apply

On your standardized application, you will indicate the schools to which you want to apply. There is no quick way to arrive at the list of schools that is appropriate for YOU. It takes time and research. There is no standard list that can simply be handed to you.

The Road Map

All students should purchase a copy of their health profession’s guide to schools:

These are the only publications endorsed and authorized by the schools themselves, and available through various professional organizations. They provide a comprehensive place to start your school research.

How many schools?

Nationally, most medical school applicants apply to about fourteen schools. Princeton students, however, tend to apply to 15-20 schools. The number of schools that you apply to is up to you, but bear in mind that it can get very costly. Application fees and interviewing costs add up quickly. Filling out a secondary application can take upwards of eight hours (you will often need to do research on the schools, and depending on the number of essays may spend quite a bit of time polishing your answers). Additionally, numerous interviews can take valuable time away from your studies during the semester if you’re applying while you’re still a student.

Criteria to consider

  • Public vs. Private and Residency Preference: Almost half of the 250+ MD, DO, and dental schools are affiliated with state universities (if you look in the publications mentioned above, public or private designation is stated for each school). Most state schools give some preference to state residents, or residents of states with whom they have contracted. This makes it easy for you to begin narrowing down your list since your chances of being accepted to a state medical school for which you are a nonresident are low. It also follows that you should add your own state school(s) to your application list.
  • Coursework Prerequisites: Different schools require different prerequisite courses, especially when it comes to dental and veterinary schools. If you have not taken prereq courses for certain schools, and don’t plan to take them, then these schools may be crossed off of your list. HPA has compiled a list of links to many school pre-requisite websites that you can access here.
  • Your Surroundings: Think about the kind of place you would be most comfortable living in. Is it a big city (see the HPA website for maps with the big city schools)? A smaller town? Is it important to be close to family? If you have an interest in working with certain populations (e.g., rural, underserved, people of color), look for schools in areas where members of these populations are more likely to live. Note however that the majority of medical schools are in the east, and there are few private MD schools in the western states.
  • Family Ties: Students who have physicians, dentists, or vets in their families should consider applying to a relative’s alma mater – it doesn't hurt to try! You probably know more about that school from your relative, which can help you know if it’ll be a good fit.
  • Cost/Aid: Tuition, fees, and cost of living vary widely among medical schools, as do their financial aid packages. Although a professional education is still considered a sound financial investment, you should give serious thought to the amount of debt you are willing to take on. The admission guides mentioned above provide statistics on the average aid package and debt load for current students.
  • Mission: Some schools focus more heavily on certain aspects of health care than on others. Some schools will have a strong emphasis on research while others – particularly state schools (and osteopathic medical schools, see below) – hope to train physicians to work in primary care within the state. You can easily find mission or values statements on the schools’ websites, and they are also included in the MSAR and other publications.
  • Curriculum and Pedagogy: Schools vary in their presentation of the curriculum. Here are some considerations that may affect your decision on “best fit” for your learning style and academic preferences. Keep track of academic aspects of different schools, and ask students what they think of them if invited to interview.
    • Teaching style
    • Time in the classroom
    • Curricular design
    • Timing and type of exposure to hands-on patient care
    • Grading policy
    • Choice of classroom electives
    • Opportunities for Clinical Electives
  • Residency Placement and Board Exam Pass Rate
  • Support Services
  • Culture of Student Body
  • Popularity with Princeton students: Statistics regarding acceptance rates and admissions data for individual schools can be discussed with HPA advisers. If Princeton students have been accepted (and even better, if they have matriculated) in recent years, it may be an indication that the school is a good fit for Princeton applicants.

Specialized Programs

A crowdsourced list of three-year programs, those with a specific focus (e.g., engineering, rural health), or other notable unique offering.