Originally posted February 2015
Also applies to many professional school!
Since being a student ambassador I’ve learned at lot things that are really important to medical school applicants and what it important for them to know when choosing a school. I have also learned what potential students find important to their personal experience. Luckily, I’m more informed than the average first year (thanks to the medblrs!) so I’ve been able to answer many of these questions effectively!
So (hopefully) I’ve complied some useful questions that can help you figure out if a school is the right place for you. Everyone has different wants and needs, and that’s just fine, but maybe you’ll see something you didn’t think of. If you have any to add, please do!
1. Ask the current students how they like their curriculum
The internet is a wonderful place, where many schools are kind enough to post either their curriculum or at least the type they employ. Its a great first past to knowing if a school is right for you. But simply knowing what type of curriculum a school has won’t let you know if it’s really giving the students what they need. This is definitely a case by case basis and each student will tell you something different. But if you ask enough people you will get a feel for how the curriculum effects the students as a whole and how well the information is taught. This way you can get a feel whether its a situation you can see yourself succeeding in, and hey, you might even change your mind.
2. How heavily focused is the school on board prep
Ask about how the testing is done (block or individual class exams, computer or written, classroom or school testing center), and are questions written boards style? Do they have focus on things besides boards? Half of the battle of boards is being able to correctly approach these specific types questions. Some schools build up to it and some throw you right in. Some school might be too focused on boards (the students might not be as great clinically). Do they offer any boards prep besides a kaplan discount if even? It seems far off, but trust me, it’s worth knowing sooner rather than later.
3. Does the school focus on a specific type of specialty
Some schools tend to focus more on certain specialties or areas to provide health care. Sometimes you won’t know how much until you get to the interview. Certain schools will heavily focus on primary care, some on competitive specialties, while others are into undeserved city populations or rural care. This shouldn’t drive your choice because all schools will have people who do match all over the grid, but if the focus isn’t what you’re looking for the won’t may not be quite right.
4. How does the class interact with each other
This is much bigger than you probably expect it to be, but how the students have previously interacted in past classes is a good determinant of how future class dynamics will be (but is not always the case). This generally varies from class to class, but more often than not a school will generally have a culture most classes follows. Places range from internally competitive to warm and fuzzy family. You do need to know yourself a little bit to know which environment is going to bring out the best in you. It won’t take long to figure it out from both faculty and students about it. And remember, second years have an effect on first year life. Just FYI.
5. What do rotations look like and how often do they change
Your interviewers and 1st and 2nd year students probably won’t know the all the answers to your rotation questions unless you happen to get a 3rd or 4th year, a rotation preceptor or the administration who works on it specifically. It’s just hard to keep up with it all. Rotations are a big part of your medical education and even though they seem like a long way off, this is one thing you want to know about the future. What type of options are available, if they have anchor sites or traveling rotations, if international if possible through that school and how stable the sites are. Your rotations can really shape what you may want to go into, making it pretty important.
6. How receptive is the community to that school and how integrated are they
This a question that you probably won’t get a real answer from an open house, except the regular spout most schools give. For some, it’s very true that their students are actively involved in the community and they are well liked at the places they volunteer with. Others…not so much. This again, is very specific for you. If volunteering isn’t really your thing to start with does it really matter? But if you do want the experience know ahead of time how manageable it will be for you to get out there and if you have to set it up through the school or yourself.
7. Do different programs interact
Well first are there different programs at the school. This does include an undergraduate population.There are really only a few medical professional schools that are just one lone profession. But if you do, ask how the classes are towards each other? Are they friendly or is there a lot of back handed things that go on? Does administration seem to favor a specific program? Are you removed from the undergrad populous or integrated into it? You might feel like it won’t really matter, and in the long run it doesn’t. It could make your life easier though and in med school you need all the help you can get.
8. How helpful is administration
Ask the medical students for sure about this because they will definitely have opinions about it. There will be problems everywhere you go, there is no one perfect system. Just some will…have less issues than others. A good way to approach this is to ask how active the admin is in keeping the students up to date on relevant events and changes and keep themselves updated on things like rotations or accreditation changes. Do they try to find help for struggling students? Or are you really left to your own devices?
9. What kind help does the school supply
Some schools will have tutoring and review sessions and all kinda of extra study materials. And some schools have “advisory” committees which are really “scare the crap out of you” committees. Make sure you find out about it. It’s never easy to approach the idea of being a struggling medical student and you certainly don’t want to give off the impression that you will struggle (but that is totally real, it happens to pretty much everyone). You can also wait until after interviews to ask this if it’s worrying to you. Besides the not fun stuff, you should also ask how the school helps you advance your medical career, as in getting the tools you need for whatever type of doctor you one day chose to be.
10. Why should you go to that school
Even though they haven’t picked you just yet, you should know why you should pick them! Make them convince you why you should pick that school! Remember, if you do make it through the interview and it ends in acceptance now the school is at your mercy. They want you! The ball is in your court. When it comes down to it, you should feel right at a school, it should feel like a home.