I’m posting this in response to a very good question that I received from one of this year’s applicants. Selecting what schools to add to your list is a very important point! You don’t want to miss the ones you would like, but did not have enough time to research. You don’t want to spend a fortune applying either. I’ll share some of the biggest mistakes I made while going through this process. I hope this would help you make better choices.
Initially, I had 15 medical schools on my list. All of them are in the US, and all of them I really liked. I learned about them mostly through research conferences and reading their website. Harvard Medical School has been my dream for the past six years, but I would have been happy with any of the schools on the list. Below is my original list:
Wash U in St. Louis
Mistake #1: do not apply to "out-of-state" schools!
I heard so many good things about UCSF and UCSD that it did not even occur to me to think that these are California state schools. I’m from Massachusetts. Unless your MCAT score is 45, and your GPA is 4.0 your chances of getting into Stanford are better than either UCSF and UCSD. If those are indeed your numbers, then you probably want to go to Stanford anyway.
Mistake #2: do not apply to schools that you rejected previously
If they rejected you - it's a different story. If your application changed significantly from previous years, then by all means you should apply. Personal example: as a senior in college I declined offer of admissions to Tufts (through early admissions program). They did not show me that love again when I applied regular action!
If you rejected their offer of admissions - they already know that you don't want to attend their school. They will not accept you.
Thus, I applied to these 15 schools and sat there nervously awaiting interview offers. September 2nd was a happy day - I received four interview offers. By early October I had seven. At the same time, some of my classmates had ten to fifteen. It scared me. I proceeded to add another 7 schools to my list in OCTOBER:
Mistake #3: do not succumb to pressure and add more schools to your list!
I interviewed at roughly half of the places on my original list. Of the schools I added in October, only ONE invited me for an interview. Later I actually ended up being accepted to it, but truth to be told it was a huge waste of money. I strongly advise against doing this :)
I learned later that a lot of my friends had laundry lists of "safety" schools. This does not make sense to me -- why add schools that you don't want to attend? What kind of "safety" is it if you end up at the place you don't like? No, add the schools that you like. You will do better research on these schools. You will write better secondaries. You will perform better on interviews. All because you will be motivated by "I really want to go here!"
Mistake #4: do not apply to schools you would never go to
I applied to Baylor and Vanderbuilt driven solely by their ranking on US News&World Report. In retrospect, I was doing this under pressure. I would never be able to live in a red state. I would not want to go to these schools. This fact alone affected the quality of the secondaries I sent to these places. If you have a significant other (I’m married) be sure to discuss your choices with him or her.
Of the 8 schools that interviewed me I was accepted into 5: BU, Dartmouth, Yale, Pittsburgh, and Harvard. 3 waitlisted me: UPenn, Brown, and Duke. I was never rejected post-interview.
You can expect that on average you will be interviewed at half the places you apply to, and that you’ll be accepted to half of those. Of my original fifteen schools, I had one dream school and one safety school. The rest were just really good schools.
mdapplicants.com is a fantastic resource to compare your school lists and numbers to other applicants. Two things to keep in mind. One: most members on MDapplicants don’t add dates to their profiles. This is annoying and makes things difficult to keep track of. Two: profiles on MDapplicants tend to represent “top” applicants. They do not represent a random population sample.
With this said, if you want to see a fantastic MDapplicants profile, please see here. I’ve never seen a better organized and helpful profile.
Here is another good resource to look at: a Blog run by Dr. Lee Ann Michelson called Harvardocs. It features a lot of helpful information and is very clear.