Where to Apply? How to Decide Which Medical School(s) are Right for You.

On April 19, from 11:00 am – 8:00 pm ET, the UVM Larner College of Medicine will host a virtual “booth” at the Association of American Medical Colleges’ (AAMC) Virtual Medical School Fair. Representatives from Larner will be at the virtual booth from 12:00 pm – 4:00 pm to speak with prospective students. Per the AAMC event website, the fair “enables aspiring applicants and premeds…to connect with medical schools and admissions experts from around the U.S. and Canada.” 

In the post below, Caitlin Early, a Larner Class of 2025 medical student, reflects on how she used the AAMC virtual fair and other tools to support her research and decision-making process when applying to medical school.

Caitlin Early, UVM Larner Class of 2025 medical student.
Caitlin Early, UVM Larner Class of 2025 medical student.

When you were deciding which medical schools to apply to, how did you narrow down your options and focus? 

When narrowing down the list of medical schools I was interested in applying to, I focused on how my application was reflected in each school’s mission and student profiles. For example, I focused on service-based activities during my undergraduate years and had the privilege of taking social justice trainings. Because of this, while looking at mission statements of schools, I focused on institutions that highlighted service work and community-based health as core values. Thinking about the values that fit best with what I offered as an applicant helped me narrow my focus. 

I also considered location and the accepted student population. Some medical schools admit mostly in-state students while others don’t. If you are trying to narrow your list or save money on sending applications these are good factors to consider. In terms of location, it may help you to think of where you want to live and spend time. If there is a medical school that is not in an ideal location for you, it is worth considering removing it from your list.

What tools did you use to educate yourself about the different schools you were interested in applying to?  

I used many different tools to educate myself about the schools I was interested in applying to, including: 

Tell us a bit more about the AAMC’s MSAR – Medical School Admissions Requirements – page.  

The AAMC’s MSAR is a tool that every applicant should use! 

Most pre-health advisors will direct students to this resource. It can be found on the AAMC’s website in the resources under the Applying to Medical School section. I think most pre-med students use it and hear about it at some point during their undergrad experience. It provides an overview of allopathic medical schools in the U.S. and Canada, their application timelines, current student and applicant statistics, and much more. It also has tools that allow you to put in your statistics, to see where you fall in reference to the applicant and student populations for each school. You can also take notes on the schools, save lists of schools you are interested in, and search for schools by location, statistics, etc. Each school’s page has links to their website and additional application resources. 

This tool really helped me narrow down schools and decide where I wanted to apply. 

One of the tools you used to explore schools you were interested in was the AAMC Virtual Fair – like the one next week. Tell us a bit more about the fair. 

The AAMC Virtual Fair is super helpful when you want to find out more about a school and talk directly to students. 

Almost every school at the fair has students that will be at their “tables,” and it’s a great time to ask students questions about the school, what it is like to live in the community, etc. Additionally, there are always admission representatives, so you can get admission questions answered quickly. You can also visit booths without any questions in mind and see what others are asking. I did this a lot and learned a ton from other students’ questions. 

The fair is yet another form of information gathering that can help narrow down your application list, if that is something you are looking to do. 

The fair also features several AAMC information sessions about applying to and financing for medical school. At the 2020 fair, the financial information session helped me think about my current and future student loans and repayment options. If possible, plan on attending some of the sessions or seeing if there are recorded sessions to watch if you can’t attend live. 

At the fair, you mentioned you spoke with folks at the UVM Larner Med “table.” What types of questions did you ask and what made you decide to apply to Larner? 

When I attended the AAMC Virtual Fair, I visited the Larner “table” and was able ask about reapplying—I applied to Larner in 2018 and did not get accepted—and if there were any specifics they looked for in the applications of students who have previously applied. Larner was one of my top choices so I wanted to ensure I addressed any items that would help me be more successful during the 2020 application cycle. 

I also loved reviewing questions that other interested prospective students asked and learning more about Larner in that way. I am from Vermont and attended the University of Vermont (UVM) for my undergraduate education, so for me, going to Larner for medical school felt like a great fit. 

Due to Larner’s strong sense of collaboration and community, it does not have a hyper-competitive learning environment. This was my experience as an undergrad at UVM, and I knew these same values were true at Larner. By talking to medical students (both at the AAMC virtual fair and through personal connections), I also learned that the active learning curriculum format was helpful for long-term material retention and that students appreciated the opportunity to learn directly from their classmates every day. All these factors guided my decision to apply to medical school at Larner. 

The Larner medical student Class of 2025 poses for a group photo outside of the UVM Ira Allen Chapel after their White Coat Ceremony in October 2021. Caitlin Early is in the middle of the group, in front of the second column from the left.
The Larner medical student Class of 2025 poses for a group photo outside of the UVM Ira Allen Chapel after their White Coat Ceremony in October 2021. Caitlin Early is in the middle of the group, in front of the second column from the left.

Why are events like virtual fairs helpful to attend? 

These types of events are super helpful because they allow students to get questions answered quickly and give them the opportunity to talk directly to current students about their experiences. Current medical students are ready and willing to talk about the good and the bad parts of their medical school experiences, which can help prospective students determine if that school is a good fit for them. For example, some people prefer to live in a big city, while others feel more at home in a smaller, quieter city or in a rural area. Asking students about what the surrounding community is like can be helpful in letting you visualize yourself living there. While there is a lot of studying to do, living somewhere that is comfortable for you is important.  

Of course, this is just one example of a question to ask, but it is events like the AAMC Virtual Fair, and even events individual schools host, that are important in your decision-making process throughout the application cycle. It’s so important to take advantage of all the resources out there! 

Were there schools that you were initially interested in that you ended up not applying to based on the research you conducted?  

Yes, there were schools that I was interested in that I discovered would not be the best fit for me. 

Personally, I started with an open list and then narrowed it down based on location, student profiles, and other characteristics. I wanted to stay on the east coast, so I applied to schools primarily in the eastern half of the country. I also learned through research that some schools were located more centrally in large metropolitan areas while others offered rural medicine experiences. I knew that I was interested in community-based health and getting the chance to potentially see primary care in a rural setting, so this also narrowed down my list. Asking those detailed questions and diving into the offerings of schools that you are really interested in can help you gauge whether it is a school you should apply to. 

When considering where to apply, why is it important to trim down your list? 

When applying, it is easy to use the strategy of “applying to more schools will increase my chance of getting an interview.” However, for a lot of students, this is unrealistic due to financial constraints. 

Additionally, most schools send applicants a secondary application. Applying to many schools means a lot of secondary applications and associated with those are even more fees. 

Because of these factors, I capped my list at 12 schools, but this will vary from applicant to applicant. I think using the above-mentioned strategies to narrow your list can be helpful, and, ultimately, applying to schools that you are really excited to attend is important. 

I also suggest applying to the Fee Assistance Program if you qualify.  

Any final pieces of advice for pre-med students currently going through the process of determining which schools they want to apply to? 

Lean on your pre-health advisors and other mentors—they can review application materials and often know you well enough to help you curate your school lists. They can see the strengths in your application and help you think about what schools have values that align with your own. 

Although it’s important to apply mostly to schools that fit your stats and your application, it is okay to apply to some “reach” schools. Even if your stats may not perfectly align with a school or if the school accepts mainly in-state students and you are out-of-state, if there are a lot of other factors drawing you to the school, it is okay to take a shot and apply there. Remember that you are more than just your application. 

The medical school application process is long and can wear on your mental health. Try to set aside time to forget about the whole process and do the things you love with the people you love. 

There is so much time spent waiting and it can be hard not to compare yourself to friends or other pre-meds going through the application process at the same time. Stepping away and resetting can help with mental health. I had multiple gap years and applied in two different cycles before I was accepted. It was hard to watch friends get into medical school, but I was able to explore other hobbies and passions outside of medicine during that time, which have ultimately helped me stay grounded now that I’m in medical school. 

Remember that you can do this and try your best to be patient with yourself along the way.