What to Look For in Your Medical School Search

The following piece was written by Anubodh ‘Sunny’ Varshney. He is a Dallas Fort Worth tutor for Varsity Tutors and current medical student at The University of Texas Southwestern Medical School.

Attending interviews at multiple medical schools isn’t just for you to sell yourself; it’s also a valuable opportunity for you to gather some key information about different institutions all across the country. Below are some factors to think about when you’re comparing these medical schools.

Class size

The size of your classes can range from the 50’s up to the 250’s each year. Small classes tend to build a more cohesive group and may allow for more personal interactions with faculty. However, large classes may bring the opportunity to make more friends who are similar to yourself, and in no way rule out the ability to build relationships with faculty. Think about whether or not you want to be in a more intimate environment versus a more traditional academic setting.


The location of a school will affect your personal life, finances, clinical exposure, and many other factors. Be sure to weigh this heavily and think about your personal preference for an urban vs. suburban vs. rural location.

Pre-Clinical Curriculum

Many schools use a pre-clinical curriculum that falls somewhere on a spectrum between problem-based learning (PBL) and traditional lectures. PBL involves working through patient cases in a small group setting with faculty. This requires significant background reading and research to learn all of the aspects of the case. Evaluations usually involve a component of participation assessed by small group faculty as well as exams, though this can vary. This is considered a more active learning style, and suits many students well. In contrast, a lecture-based curriculum involves what most students are used to in college. Lectures are delivered and students are expected to take notes and do outside reading as necessary in order to better understand the material. Evaluations are usually via written exams. This style suits students who excel at comprehending and understanding material more passively.

In reality, most schools now have a component of both PBL and lectures in varying fractions. It’s important to understand that no matter what the curriculum, all schools must cover the minimum amount of material you need to take the USMLE Step 1 after your pre-clinical years. Also, realize that your score on this exam is one of the most significant factors taken into account when evaluating your residency application. So, be sure to look for a curriculum that will help you learn the best, not a curriculum that claims to be less rigorous. In the end, you’ll have to learn all of the material needed to move into your clinical years, so there are no shortcuts regardless of the curriculum.

Hospital system

During your clinical years, your goal will be to build the foundation of skills and knowledge you need to be a physician. In addition, you must have a wide exposure to medicine so you can decide your future career path. So, be sure to look out for schools where you will be provided with ample volume, autonomy, and variety in patient care. As a general rule, schools affiliated with more types of hospitals (private, public, government, etc.) tend to give students a broader exposure to medicine. Also, higher volume hospitals tend to allow students greater autonomy in evaluating patients.

Student life

This encompasses things like facilities, opportunities to be involved in extracurricular activities, and overall student well-being. Be sure to look at schools’ student centers and see what they offer (gyms, multipurpose rooms, study areas, etc.). Also, most schools will have numerous student groups. Be sure to look for schools that already have groups that align with your interests, or that are flexible in having students start new groups. Most importantly, be sure to speak with several current students on your visit and ask them how they like their medical school experience. Their opinions are your most valuable tool in getting an insider view at a particular school.


Check out Sunny’s tutoring profile.

The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Varsity Tutors.