Deciding Which Schools to Apply to Using the Medical School Mission

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Learn how to use medical school mission statements to streamline your application process and determine which schools are the best fit for you.  

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Female Doctor with glasses smiling wearing scrubs

Most medical school applicants are advised to review medical school mission statements and apply to those that resonate with their interests, values, and talents. However, some applicants overlook this advice and apply to many different schools in the hopes that at least one will admit them. This approach can take a lot of time, effort, and financial resources and may not result in acceptances that are the best fit for the applicant’s goals, values, and interests.

It’s important to remember that as an applicant, you make the first and last decision in the admissions process. You choose the schools to apply to, and you choose where to matriculate. Therefore, as medical school admissions officers, we encourage you to make informed decisions, recognize the characteristics you value in a program, and apply to schools that suit you. By using a mission-driven approach to your application process, you may decrease the number of applications you submit while increasing your chances of receiving an offer from your preferred medical school.

How can applicants use medical schools’ missions to identify those that align with their interests, values, goals, and talents?

Most medical schools use their mission as a guide to holistically review applications. This process involves a balanced assessment of an applicant’s experiences, attributes, and metrics (sometimes referred to as EAM) relative to the mission of the school. Applicants can use a similar systematic process to identify, evaluate, and select medical schools whose missions align with their values and career goals. Below, we’ll give an overview of the different components of a mission-driven and balanced admissions selection process and use them to help guide applicants.

Experiences are those activities that an applicant intentionally pursued to inform their personal and professional interests in medicine. When reviewing the mission of any medical school, we suggest that you reflect on (a) the experiences you had that demonstrate your willingness and ability to advance its mission and (b) the experiences the school offers its students that build on your experiences, especially those that align with your career interests and goals.

Find the schools that actively foster many of the attributes or skills that are important to you. For example, If the school features a goal of primary care and you are highly interested in this specialty, then chances are your experiences will align with the school mission, and as a student at this school, you will have the opportunity to find engagement in many primary care-oriented experiences. If you find primary care opportunities within the curriculum, you will know that this is truly a goal for the program and your intent to go into primary care aligns with their training opportunities. Another example is research. If research is stated in a school’s mission, having significant research experience will enhance your application.

Attributes are personal characteristics unique to you that help others understand you and your goals. It can be difficult to find personal attributes in a mission statement, so you should look for it in other places, such as the school’s website. There you are likely to gain insight into the types of students they seek and see examples of the school’s attributes that may align with your own. Those attributes could include the values of the school, the makeup of the faculty, staff, and students, and the communities served by the school. You might also locate information in the news or social media posts that the school shares about their students or student organizations (i.e., LGBTQ+, Minorities in Medicine, Women in Medicine, and others). Many times, schools highlight their work with medically underserved or rural communities or emphasize cultural humility into their curriculum. You might also find this information in the type of interviews the school conducts or the other types of assessments they use such as situational judgment assessments like the AAMC PREview® exam or the CASPer.

Metrics refer to your grades and test scores. Many medical schools publish average, median, and high and low score ranges of applicants they have accepted. The average score reflects the students that the school tends to accept, but this also means that half of the accepted students scored higher than this average and half scored lower. The average scores also reflect the typical student the medical school can support.

As you think about metrics, be sure to approach your applications with a sense of self-awareness and realistic self-appraisal. Recognize where you are academically and allocate your applications based on the likelihood of successful admission to a school. Consider whether you may fall into the range of accepted applicants and the resources that the school offers to help students succeed. A great first step in this exploration involves consulting the Medical School Admissions Requirements™ (
MSAR®) website to browse, search, and compare information about U.S. and Canadian medical schools.

Understanding how medical schools use the experiences, attributes, and metrics model can give you insight into how medical schools review applications holistically. For more information on mission fit and choosing the best medical school for you, check out the following resources:

by Leila Amiri, PhD, Erik Porfeli, PhD, and Marlene Ballejos, PhD

Editor’s note: A big thank you to the members of the Mission in Action Working Committee for contributing to this article.

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