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3 Tips for Interpreting Medical School Rankings

Whether you are just beginning your medical school application process by compiling a list of programs that interest you, or if you are choosing one program from multiple acceptance offers, chances are you have referred to a ranking of medical schools. There are a number of such lists, many available online, and each ranking relies on a unique methodology when judging programs. These lists can be very helpful when investigating the differences between medical schools, but they should not be the sole factor when making decisions about where to apply and where to attend. Consider these three guidelines, which can help you best use medical school rankings:
1. Focus on small numbers, rather than large ones
Medical school rankings evaluate many attributes of a program simultaneously, and then they condense these attributes into a single “large” number—the overall ranking. When reviewing rankings, decide which comparative metrics mean the most to you as a student and future physician, and then focus on the numerical data associated with these qualities (the “small” numbers). For instance, if you are interested in conducting research, you might compare the National Institutes of Health research grant funding that is awarded to each program. If you are interested in primary care, you might compare the number of students who enter your intended specialty each year. Remember that the overall ranking is an average of all the qualities measured, and that to best serve your own academic and career interests, you should investigate the individual components of each ranking.
2. Choose more than one list
It can be tempting to use just one list of rankings during the admissions process, but this may mean that you miss information that you might find useful. Look carefully at what each list evaluates in order to compile its rankings. Does the list solely focus on quantitative data, such as the admissions rate and the student-to-faculty ratio? Does the list also take subjective data, like student satisfaction, into account? To fully address your concerns and questions about each medical school, you may need to refer to several lists.
3. Remember that selectivity is not king
Admissions selectivity is sometimes at the heart of deciding which medical schools will be hailed as more elite than others. Ranking lists may examine how many interviews a school conducts, how many applications it receives, and how many acceptance offers it extends. While the logic behind placing emphasis on this metric seems sound—it follows that medical school applicants will naturally flock to those programs with the most to offer—it can fail to acknowledge that many applicants apply to the good name of a school, rather than the school and its unique attributes itself. A low acceptance rate does not mean that if you are accepted to that program, you will be academically and personally fulfilled in the ways that you had hoped. Medical schools are more than the number of applications they receive. When choosing a program, you are choosing the start of a trajectory for your medical career, and selectivity may not reflect your unique interests and goals.

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Cassie Kosarek is a professional tutor with Varsity Tutors, a live learning platform that connects students with personalized instruction to accelerat...