How to Use Medical School Rankings to Your Benefit

Back when you were applying to undergraduate programs, you may have used college and university rankings to differentiate between “good” schools and less academically robust schools. As you ready yourself to apply to medical school, you may have noticed that med school programs are also ranked.

While some of the metrics used to determine med school rankings are similar to those used for undergraduate rankings — like the academic reputation of schools based on expert opinion — most med school graduates go on to residencies, meaning that the material outcomes of med schools are overwhelmingly similar. In light of this, delving deeper into how the rankings are determined and which components are most meaningful to you as a prospective med student can help you determine where to send your application or which school to attend.

[Read: 9 Residency Tips for Medical School Applicants.]

If you are applying to med school, ask yourself these three questions when factoring medical school rankings into your admissions process:

— Which components of the med school rankings are most important for me?

— At what point in my med school application process should I think about rankings?

— Is there a downside to attending a med school with a lower ranking than another?

Which Components of the Med School Rankings Are Most Important for Me?

U.S. News & World Report shares its annual Best Medical Schools ranking criteria and methodology online. If you are thinking about using the rankings to inform any part of your application process or matriculation decision, be sure to review the components of the rankings before doing so.

Identify which components are most important to you. You might be most interested in total federal research funding, the percent of graduates practicing in primary care specialties or other parts of the ranking methodology.

Figuring out which parts are key for you before looking at the overall numerical rankings can help you more precisely define which med schools better fit your criteria. It can also help you avoid the error of defining a school’s worth solely by the overall rank number next to its name.

Keep in mind that U.S. News publishes two distinct rankings for the Best Medical Schools for Research and Best Medical Schools for Primary Care, based on various types of survey data. In addition, there are specialty rankings for fields like internal medicine, pediatrics and surgery, among others, which are based solely on ratings by medical school deans and senior faculty. And brand new this year, there are separate rankings that evaluate student diversity and graduate outcomes.

[Read: Primary Care vs. Research: Which Med School Is Right for You?]

At What Point in My Med School Application Process Should I Think About Rankings?

The two points in time when looking at medical school rankings could be most helpful are when you are deciding which schools to apply to and when you are making your final decision on where to attend.

When deciding where to send your application, rankings may be helpful in selecting programs that best align with what you want. For example, if you are applying to M.D.-Ph.D. programs or if you want a wealth of research opportunities and funding, it makes sense to check out the research rankings for schools as well as the amount of total federal research funding they receive and the average amount of that funding per faculty member.

Conversely, if you are most interested in a primary care specialty, it makes sense to review the primary care rankings as you assemble your list of prospective schools.

Rankings can also be helpful as supplemental information when making a final decision on where you will attend med school. Again taking into account what you want in a program, you can use rankings to evaluate whether one program to which you have been accepted is stronger in a certain area than another.

[Read: How to Choose Which Medical School to Attend.]

This kind of evaluation requires delving more deeply into the criteria that go into determining a ranking. You may start with a school’s overall rank as a guide, but be sure to click through the information for the school itself to see which components of the program best suit your needs.

Is There a Downside to Attending a Med School With a Lower Ranking Than Another?

The short answer to this question is, “Not really.” U.S. News ranks only medical schools with accreditation from the Liaison Committee on Medical Education, known as the LCME, and the schools of osteopathic medicine accredited by the American Osteopathic Association — meaning that every ranked program has met the institutional and academic requirements for a program in medical education.

Every ranked program can help you on your path to becoming a doctor. While it is true that attending a highly ranked research institution increases your chances of matching into a residency in a selective field like dermatology or orthopedic surgery, it would be false to say that strong students from schools with lower rankings cannot match into these specialties.

If you are deciding between a higher-ranked school that may not fit you well and a lower-ranked school that fits you like a glove, you should consider going to the lower-ranked school. A strong student will be a strong student no matter where he or she goes, and four years is a long time to be in a place or program that does not feel right.

More from U.S. News

How Long Is Medical School and What Is it Like?

How to Write a Medical School Letter of Intent

Month-By-Month Guide to the Medical School Admissions Cycle

How to Use Medical School Rankings to Your Benefit originally appeared on usnews.com

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