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If you’re looking at medical school rankings, you’re seeking to make a large investment in your career and your future.
It’s natural that you want the best education possible.
- Medical school rankings are one way to compare various medical programs when making your decision.
- However, some students become too fixated on these rankings and overlook other important factors.
In this article, we’ll examine how medical school rankings are determined, how much they really matter, and how you should utilize medical school rankings when deciding where to apply.
Plus, we’ll discuss those other important factors that will help you find the right medical school for you.
Do medical school rankings matter?
Medical school rankings do matter to an extent, but they aren’t as important as many students have been led to believe.
Rankings and Becoming a Doctor
To start with, the ranking of your school is unlikely to determine whether you fulfill your goal of becoming a doctor.
- Doctors are in high demand, and nearly 100 percent of U.S. students who graduate from medical school will find a residency and a career as a physician.
This trend is projected to continue: According to The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), the United States will have a concerning shortage of doctors by 2025.
The AAMC estimates that the U.S. will need 64,800 more doctors with no increase in residency training.
Bottom Line: If you can successfully graduate from medical school—no matter how that medical school is ranked—and complete a residency, you will most likely find work as a doctor.
Rankings and Residency Matching
During the fourth year of medical school, medical students take the second part of their licensing exam (USMLE-2).
After passing this exam, students begin a residency.
- A residency is basically a supervised internship at a teaching hospital.
- Along with the third portion of the licensing exam, it is the final step in becoming a practicing doctor.
Each year on “Match Day” medical students learn what residency program they have been matched with by The National Resident Matching Program (NRMP).
- After rounds of interviews, med school students and residency programs rank their preferences.
- The NRMP uses a computerized algorithm to compare preferences and make matches.
- You are not guaranteed to get one of your top choices.
Some residencies do have reputations for producing better doctors than others.
In hopes of receiving the best possible training, many medical school graduates want to match with one of the top residency programs.
This leads to the question: Can the ranking of your medical school determine the prestige of your residency?
In a survey of residency program directors by the NRMP, directors pinpointed the factors they consider most important in ranking candidates.
Of 35 factors, graduating from a highly regarded school was ranked 23rd in order of importance, with 53 percent of directors saying it mattered.
Medical board scores, letters of recommendation, personal statements, and grades in clerkships were considered far more important.
Bottom Line: Attending a highly ranked medical school can help propel you to a top-notch residency program, but it’s not as important as many other factors.
Rankings and Preparation
Will going to a reputable medical school prepare you to be a more effective doctor?
Some schools may provide better instruction, more student support, and/or more experiential learning opportunities.
However, all accredited medical schools must meet the rigorous standards of the Liaison Committee on Medical Education (LCME), meaning any school you attend should provide adequate medical training.
Bottom Line: A medical school’s ranking will not determine whether you become an effective and successful doctor.
Because all accredited medical schools meet specific high standards, the quality of your preparation is determined more by how diligently you study and how well you utilize available opportunities.
- Overall, a high-ranking medical school can make you a more competitive candidate, and it may offer unique opportunities or exceptional instruction that other schools don’t.
- It can also be helpful in getting matched with the residency of your choice.
However, this is only one of several factors weighed by residency programs, and many other factors are considered more important.
Additionally, the ranking of your medical school will not determine your effectiveness as a physician.
In fact, the hands-on training you receive during your residency will likely influence your practice more than all your med school lectures and studying combined.
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How are medical school rankings determined?
To compile medical school rankings, various publications and sites survey the medical schools that are accredited by the LCME.
The schools that respond by providing necessary data may be included in the ranked list.
Different publications or sites use different algorithms to create their rankings. In general, these include factors like the following:
- Peer assessment score (medical school deans rating other medical schools)
- Assessment score by residency directors
- Research activity (including NIH, non-NIH federal, and nonfederal research activity, both overall and per faculty member)
- Student selectivity (median MCAT score, median undergraduate GPA, and medical school acceptance rate)
- Full-time student to faculty ratio
Components are weighted based on the publication’s interpretation of how important that component is in determining the quality of a medical school.
- Schools listed as Unranked did not provide enough data for a rank to be calculated.
- Many ranking sites and publications only list the rankings of the top three-fourths of medical schools.
The schools that did provide enough information but did not fall into this category are listed as Rank Not Published.
How should students use medical school rankings in deciding where to apply?
Although medical school rankings shouldn’t be the most important factor in selecting a medical school, you should still consider them when deciding where to apply.
Since student selectivity is a factor in determining these rankings, medical school rankings can serve as an indicator of how competitive one medical school is relative to others.
- Regardless of your grades and test scores, you can apply to any medical school.
- However, a student with a more competitive GPA and higher MCAT scores may be more successful applying to the top tier of medical schools, while a student with average numbers may have a greater success rate with schools in the middle of the list.
Additionally, because assessments from national residency directors are factored in, you can assume that higher ranked universities received more favorable ratings from residency directors.
This means that in general, students from the highly ranked universities may be prioritized by residency directors (although other factors are considered too).
Bottom Line: Although it shouldn’t be the sole deciding factor, you should consider the prestige of medical schools when applying—this may help you match with a top residency program.
Based on your test scores and GPA, use medical school rankings to help create an application strategy.
If your scores are average, apply to a few schools from the top tier, several from the middle range, and a few from the lower tier.
What other factors should students consider when applying to medical schools?
While taking medical school rankings into account, you should also focus on holistic “fit.”
Consider, for instance, the location of the school, the opportunities available, the pre-clinical course load and course selection, and so on.
If you already know what you’d like to specialize in, you should look for a school that excels in that specialty. Your specialty may also be location dependent.
- For instance, if you want to provide medical care in rural or underserved communities, apply to medical schools where you can receive hands-on experience in such communities.
Explore school websites, talk to current students if possible, and investigate factors such as research opportunities that might interest you, mentoring and shadowing programs, early and ongoing clinical experience opportunities, etc.
Bottom Line: Before looking at rankings, think about what you want in a medical school. Make a list of schools that seem like a good fit, then look at the rankings.
The rankings may help you adjust or narrow down your list and can shape your application strategy.
Top 100 Medical Schools
Based on data aggregators, here’s a list of the Top 100 medical schools in the United States.
Again, this list should not be the sole factor in deciding where to apply, but it should be one of several considerations.
- Harvard University- Cambridge, MA
- Johns Hopkins University- Baltimore, MD
- University of Pennsylvania- Philadelphia, PA
- Stanford University- Stanford, CA
- Brown University– Providence, RI
- Mayo Clinic School of Medicine- Rochester, MN
- Duke University- Durham, NC
- New York University- New York, NY
- Washington University in St. Louis- St. Louis, MO
- University of California- San Francisco- San Francisco, CA
- University of California- Los Angeles– Los Angeles, CA
- Columbia University- New York, NY
- University of Washington- Seattle, WA
- Yale University- New Haven, CT
- University of Pittsburgh- Pittsburgh, PA
- University of Michigan- Ann Arbor, MI
- Vanderbilt University- Nashville, TN
- Baylor College of Medicine- Houston, TX
- University of Chicago- Chicago, IL
- Icahn School of Medicine at Mt. Sinai- New York, NY
- Cornell University- New York, NY
- University of California- San Diego- San Diego, CA
- University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill- Chapel Hill, NC
- Northwestern University– Evanston, IL
- Georgetown University- Washington, DC
- Emory University- Atlanta, GA
- University of Southern California- Los Angeles, CA
- Case Western Reserve University- Cleveland, OH
- University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center- Dallas, TX
- University of Virginia- Charlottesville, VA
- Boston University- Boston, MA
- University of Wisconsin- Madison- Madison, WI
- The Ohio State University- Columbus, OH
- University of California- Berkeley- Berkeley, CA
- University of Alabama- Birmingham- Birmingham, AL
- University of Texas- Austin- Austin, TX
- Tulane University- New Orleans, LA
- Yeshiva University- Bronx, NY
- University of California- Davis- Sacramento, CA
- University of Rochester- Rochester, NY
- University of Florida- Gainesville, FL
- Tufts University- Medford, MA
- Northeastern University- Boston, MA
- College of William and Mary- Williamsburg, VA
- University of Southern California- Los Angeles, CA
- Saint Louis University- St. Louis, MO
- Dartmouth College- Hanover, NH
- University of Hawaii- Honolulu, HI
- University of Utah- Salt Lake City, UT
- University of California- Irvine- Irvine, CA
- University of Cincinnati- Cincinnati, OH
- Wake Forest University- Wake Forest, NC
- University of Georgia- Athens, GA
- University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign- Champaign, IL
- Drexel University- Philadelphia, PA
- Furman University- Greenville, SC
- University of Miami- Coral Gables, FL
- Baylor University- Waco, TX
- University of South Florida- Tampa, FL
- University of Virginia- Charlottesville, VA
- Clemson University- Clemson, SC
- University of Central Florida- Orlando, FL
- Penn State- University Park, PA
- University of Missouri- Columbia, MO
- American University- Washington, DC
- University of Washington- Seattle, WA
- University of Maryland- College Park- College Park, MD
- University of Massachusetts- Amherst- Amherst, MA
- Stony Brook University, SUNY- Stony Brook, NY
- Temple University- Philadelphia, PA
- University of Connecticut- Farmington, CT
- University at Buffalo- SUNY- Buffalo, NY
- George Washington University- Washington, DC
- University of Vermont- Burlington, VT
- Rush University- Chicago, IL
- Hofstra University- Hempstead, NY
- University of New Mexico- Albuquerque, NM
- Virginia Commonwealth University- Richmond, VA
- University of Louisville- Louisville, KY
- Wayne State University- Detroit, MI
- University of Oklahoma- Oklahoma City, OK
- Augusta University- Augusta, GA
- West Virginia University- Morgantown, VA
- Michigan State University- Grand Rapids, MI
- University of Nevada- Reno- Reno, NV
- University of North Dakota- Grand Forks, ND
- University of California- Riverside- Riverside, CA
- Des Moines University- Des Moines, IA
- East Carolina University- Greenville, NC
- East Tennessee State University- Johnson City, TN
- Florida Atlantic University- Boca Raton, FL
- Florida State University- Tallahassee, FL
- Howard University- Washington, DC
- Marshall University- Huntington, WV
- Nova Southeastern University- Fort Lauderdale, FL
- Ohio University- Athens, OH
- Touro University- Vallejo, CA
- University of New England- Biddeford, ME
- University of Pikeville- Pikeville, KY
- University of Toledo- Toledo, OH
Advice From the Experts
We asked two experts what they think about medical school rankings. Read on!
Shaan Patel, CEO of Prep Expert, Shark Tank entrepreneur, and medical resident at Temple (after transferring over from UCLA):
I don’t think name brand alone should matter if it doesn’t communicate quality.
What I would look for in a medical school are: how many students are successfully matched with a residency program, what the actual learning environment itself is like, what are the associated costs, and finally, what the school’s overall academic focus is on.
Does it prioritize specialty medicine over primary care? Is it more adept at turning out researchers or family practitioners?
Dr. David Lenihan, CEO of Ponce Health Sciences University:
In order to figure out whether medical school rankings should matter to you, you need to take a look at the criteria that are used to develop those rankings. Many publications weigh things such as research capabilities and peer perception as high on their list of ranking criteria.
However, for many students seeking to become a physician, that type of information isn’t particularly relevant to their goals.
Instead of relying blindly on third-party rankings, I encourage students to come up with their own ranking criteria by deciding the particular outcome(s) that they wish to derive out of their medical school experience. From there, it becomes a lot easier to determine which school is the right fit for you.
Final Thoughts: Medical School Rankings
Ultimately, medical school rankings should be a factor in deciding where to apply, but they should not be the only factor.
You should also consider location, your intended specialty, holistic fit, and other intangibles that draw you to a certain program. Don’t miss out on a school that’s a great fit for you just because of its ranking.
And if you don’t get into a highly ranked medical school, don’t panic.
- You will still receive a medical education that meets rigorous standards, and prestige is only one of many factors that will determine the quality of your residency program and your effectiveness as a doctor.
What truly matters is how well you perform and achieve once you get into medical school. So, make the most of available opportunities, work and study hard, and ace your boards, no matter where you end up.