Beware the Hippo: Choosing Where to Apply to Medical School

If you are applying to medical school this year, it soon will be time to compile your list of schools to which you will apply.  “Ms. Pre-health Advisor,” you ask, “How do I come up with a list of schools?  Where should I apply?  How many schools should I choose?”  Assuming my most Yoda-like posture and voice, I say, “You choose the schools.  You choose the path.  But help you I can, yes.”

First, you might enjoy listening to two podcasts produced by the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine in which two medical students discuss how they chose schools and former Director of Admissions & Outreach Joni Krapec gives her perspective on the process.  The podcasts highlight some of the factors applicants consider when selecting schools including curriculum, location, and size.

Now, here are two less effective, but fairly common, ways of selecting schools followed by some thoughts to keep in mind:

Hippopotamus. Digital ID: 436886. New York Public Library

Beware of Hippo Mind.  You know the toy with the four hippos, advertised as a “frantic marble munching game,” where you pound the lever frantically to help your hippo eat, eat, eat!  And the marbles get stuck in the middle, and jammed under your hippo’s jaw, but it really feels good to make the hippos go crazy.  There is an element of good fortune involved in medical school admissions; however, if you are compiling a very long list of schools thinking, “I just want to get in somewhere,” then you are using Hippo Mind to grab your marble.  Pre-health advisors are good at talking people through Hippo Mind.

Beware of Dreamer’s Mind.  It’s a beautiful day today and I’m working at home next to the open window and I can see cherry blossoms.  I would love to live in California — I’ve lived in Pennsylvania my whole life!  I’m going to apply to all the medical schools in California.  Seattle is cool, too.  Pre-health advisors are good at dream interpretation.

Dreamer’s Mind is important and valuable, and Hippo Mind, too, lends energy to the enterprise, but they alone may not help you reach your destination.

Consider these points:

Applying to medical school is an investment of time and money.  What is your budget on both counts?  Applying to, say, more than twenty schools might not increase your “chances” of admission, but it may result in debt or “passive withdrawal” from schools when you find there isn’t time to complete all the secondary applications.

Gather information about schools.  Use the MSAR and other statistical information we have in our office.  Find out how many out-of-state or international applicants are interviewed and eventually matriculate to the school. Look at the size of the incoming class compared to the number of applications received.  Check not only the mean GPA/MCAT, but also the range for accepted students.

Have an open mind and reflect upon your career goals.  You will receive a great education in medical school and take the first steps toward becoming a doctor. There are about 170 accredited allopathic and osteopathic medical schools in the U.S.  Interestingly, we have a book in the Career Services library called The Best 162 Medical Schools. Familiarize yourself with many schools and consider which are “the best” for you and your application.

Lastly, remember that you need not rely on The Force (or The Blog) alone, but are always welcome to make an appointment at Career Services to discuss your application plans!

Author: Carol Hagan

Carol Hagan is a pre-health and pre-grad advisor in Career Services. She has a Ph.D. in art history from Penn and did her undergraduate work at Wesleyan University.

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