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Med Schools Opt Out of U.S. News Rankings. What Does This Mean for You?

Recently, a handful of well-known medical schools have dropped out of the U.S. News & World Report’s annual ranked list of medical schools. Harvard, Stanford, Colombia, Duke University, Icahn Medical School of Mount Sinai, and the University of Pennsylvania have historically been some of the top-ranked medical schools by U.S. News’ annual report, so their voluntary withdrawal from the list provides applicants an opportunity to assess the possible implications. The recent news prompts us to evaluate what the U.S. News rankings mean, how they are decided, and what the withdrawal of these prestigious medical schools could mean for students. 

Remember that just because these schools have publicly opted out from participation, they will most likely still appear on this year’s U.S. News list anyway. Previously, when many law schools withdrew from being ranked, they were still included on the list. U.S. News uses public information and estimations to replace the information needed for accurate ranking determination, which the withdrawn schools refused to provide.

However, Harvard, Stanford, Colombia, and Penn’s withdrawals remain meaningful even if we see them ranked this year. When the U.S. News Medical School Ranking List uses detailed estimations, the “official consensus” ranking loses credibility. This may prompt prospective students, employers, and the medical community to assess the competitiveness and value of medical schools differently than they have in the past. 

Med School Ranking Criteria

Before prospective students and employers regard the potential impact of a given medical school’s U.S. News ranking, it’s important to assess the criteria that make up these rankings. The U.S. News Report only considers allopathic and osteopathic medical schools that are accredited by the Liaison Committee on Medical Education (LCME) or the American Osteopathic Association (AOA). It then considers schools within this pool based on a weighted consideration of a qualitative quality assessment, their research activity, their primary care production, and three quantitative measures of student selectivity. 

  1. Quality Assessment: This assessment of quality is based on qualitative opinions from surveys ranking different aspects of the med school on a 1-5 point scale. School deans, deans of academic affairs, and heads of internal medicine or directors of admissions perform a peer assessment. There is also an assessment from the residency program directors using a similar scaled survey.
  2. Research Activity: It assesses a school’s research activity as the cumulative dollar amount of federal grants and contracts each school receives, plus the average federal research activity each faculty member performs. Although the faculty member participation tries to balance out this measure, it’s clear how larger, more highly funded medical schools have an advantage in this ranking. Smaller research programs completing meaningful, quality research on smaller budgets are not highlighted by the U.S. News’s ranking in this category.
  3. Primary Care Production: U.S. News assesses this by the proportion of each medical school’s graduates practicing in primary care specialties or completing primary care residencies.
  4. Student Selectivity: U.S. News publishes that high scores in “Student selectivity reflects medical schools [which] can best administer high-quality, rigorous programs to enrollees who demonstrated accomplishment as undergraduates.” This selectivity score is based on the median Medical College Admission Test, or MCAT, score, ​​the median undergraduate GPA of the incoming class, and the proportion of accepted applicants in the incoming class, which we usually consider the school’s acceptance rate. 

Why Are Schools Opting Out?

The medical schools that opted out of the U.S. News ranking made statements pointing to the quantitative assessment of student selectivity as the reason they are withdrawing from consideration.

Traditionally, top-ranked medical schools call attention to how heavily these test scores and grades are reflected in the overall ranking. These highly weighted numbers give more importance to prospective applicants with high statistics and can create barriers to admission for prospective applicants with more qualitative strengths. This addresses those students who are unable to afford test preparation resources or undergraduate tutoring to maintain high GPAs. The achievements of prospective applicants with outstanding service or clinical experiences are not captured by these measures of student selectivity, and this is an issue for the schools that have withdrawn themselves from consideration.

What Does This Mean for Medical Schools? 

Ultimately, Harvard, Stanford, Colombia, Duke University, and the University of Pennsylvania are well-known and well-regarded medical schools, which the majority of prospective students know. However, these schools’ decision to publicly opt out of the U.S. News list could set a new, more holistic tone for rankings and which elements are considered the most salient for quality assessment.

What Does This Mean for You? 

The exit of these notable medical schools from the U.S. News Ranking List means they may no longer occupy the top spots on the list. Still, Harvard, Stanford, Colombia, Duke, and Penn medical schools will remain prestigious and competitive. Applicants will need a high GPA, MCAT score, glowing letters of recommendation, and meaningful activities to have a shot at acceptance into these institutions. However, seeing top medical schools deemphasize the quantitative aspects of applications, which U.S. News gives precedence to, may show a new, more holistic approach to admissions. Promising students with lower raw numbers but strong factors within their application may now have a greater shot at overcoming a comparatively lower score.

Getting accepted to med school is a challenge. See chapter one of our free guide to getting into med school!

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