Pre-Health Peer Coach Corner: Finalizing a Medical School List

Welcome back to the Pre-Health Peer Coach Corner where we share tips, tricks, and advice for being Pre-Health at Penn. 

In this week’s post our contributors offer advice for preparing your medical school application list.  


Meet the Panel: Darrian McAfee CAS ’21, Luis Rosario CAS ’19 and Heta Patel CAS ’21

Hello! My name is Darrian McAfee. I am a first-year M.D. candidate at the University of Maryland School of Medicine who is set to graduate in 2025. I was a biology major with a concentration in neurobiology at Penn and went straight through to medical school after undergrad in 2021. My motivation for medicine stems from my fascination with the science of the body and my desire to connect with patients on a personal level. Outside of medicine, my hobbies include baseball, bowling, and playing geoguessr. I am always open by email if anyone would like to reach out!



My name is Luis Rosario, and I graduated from the College of Arts and Sciences in 2019 with a Major in Cognitive Neuroscience and a minor in Chemistry. Since graduating, I have been working as a research coordinator at Penn Neurology where I manage research studies investigating ALS and other related neurodegenerative disorders. I enjoy exercising, playing video games, and dancing, a hobby, and passion I discovered as part of Onda Latina at Penn! I’m super excited to start medical school this fall at the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine!



Hi! I’m Heta Patel and I’m a 1st year Penn Med student. I graduated from Penn undergrad in 2021 with a Health & Societies major and Hispanic Studies minor and went straight through to medical school. I am passionate about violence prevention, and the medical humanities, and more often than not you can find me collecting vinyl and frequenting music shows around Philadelphia.




What characteristics did you prioritize when evaluating medical schools? 

Darrian : When weeding stuff out, one of the first things I would think about was location. Medical school is obviously very hard and I wanted somewhere I could be happy and feel at home. I also wanted to be somewhere competitive. Use your GPA and MCAT scores to identify and apply to schools that you feel like you are likely to get into and you’re not just applying to top-tier schools.  The other aspects I would look at are extracurriculars, research, and whether or not the school is pass/fail.

Luis: I think one of the first things I looked at when choosing a school was the area. I wanted to be in a city because I felt they get more diverse and interesting patient populations. I wanted to understand what it meant to treat patient populations in urban areas because that’s the patient population I grew up in and am most concerned about [as] they are usually medically underserved.  Number two was trying to see make sure I wasn’t overextending myself, but would still be competitive at the school. The last thing would be to make sure that you really value and align with the mission of the school. If you’re really into research, you want to go to an institution that really values research.

Heta: The first thing I did was I looked at my GPA and MCAT score and used that to create a list of schools. The second thing I looked at was location – I knew I wanted to stay in the northeast so that’s what I looked for.  I also wanted a school in the city because I personally feel like you get a more robust medical education in a city environment due to the diversity of the patient population and you see a lot of different kinds of cases.  Another thing I think is really important is to make sure you value what the school values. I really wanted to school with a strong focus on community service and giving back.

What resources did you use to learn about different medical schools? 

Darrian: Mainly their websites. Their websites taught me a lot about their curriculums, whether they are a pass fail, what they believed in, what their patient population was like, the type of clinics and facilities that they have, what researchers they have, etc. If you know what department or what specialty you want to go into, look at their specialties on their website. 

Luis: Looking on their website for mission statements was a good way for me to figure out what is important to them. The MSAR was also a really good resource to look up schools by location, costs, state, etc. It also gives a brief rundown of the schools’ mission statements and requirements for students. Career Services also does these great info sessions for students where you can learn more about the schools.

Heta: I used the MSAR to look at and research all the schools I was interested in. I think if students can they should try and get access to an MSAR subscription because it gives you a good idea of how much the school costs, what kind of programs they have, etc. which is really nice because sometimes it is hard to find information on the school’s website so it puts it all in one place.

What questions did you ask current students to help determine if a school was a good fit for you? 

Luis: As a student of color, the questions that were important to me were about social unrest and diversity, and whether or not the school addressed racial inequity in medicine. Another question I liked to ask was what are some examples of the research that students are able to do in the school. Definitely hone your questions to your interests and ask questions about what you are interested in and what you would like to do at Medical School.

Heta: I reached out to upperclassmen and friends I had in medical schools that I was interested in mainly for advice and generally what they thought about their schools. I would also ask them to look over my school list to make sure it wasn’t missing any schools that they thought I should apply to and their thoughts on some of the schools that I had already put down. Ultimately though, it is your decision to make, so collect their advice but make sure it is your choice.

What’s an area often overlooked that applicants may want to consider when putting together a school list?

Darrian: I would say the two that are huge are the diversity of the class and the diversity of the patient population. A diverse patient population ensures that you are going to have a range of interesting cases and I think a diverse class allows for better conversations about medicine and how socio-economic statuses or sexual demographics affect health. 

Luis: Costs. We don’t know that we don’t like talking about money, but as I started weighing different schools and different offers one of the biggest things I realized is the cost of attendance. When you’re looking at different cities like living in Philadelphia versus living in New York City or Boston the picture is very different. You need to think about if you get into some great school in one of these super expensive cities, would you be able to afford not just tuition but living costs. There’s a huge difference between graduating $250,000 in debt versus $100,000 in debt or less than that.

What tip or piece of advice would you want to give underclassmen?

Heta: In terms of choosing a school, my three main points of advice would be to use the MSAR to get an idea of schools information, to create tiers for schools – as in scores wise and where they think they would be a good fit in – and then, I would also make sure that they discuss with other people that may have gone to the schools. It’s definitely a collaborative process, but then remind yourself that you don’t apply anywhere just because someone is telling you to apply there like. Make sure it’s your own list and your own decision because sometimes it’s easy for some people to be like my parents want me to apply here, and obviously I understand that pressure, but try to stick to what feels right for you.


By Ariana Alexander
Ariana Alexander Associate Director, Graduate School Advising