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Private Versus Public Medical School: The Truth Uncovered

By: Nikhil Jaganathan

You’ve finished your MCAT, extracurriculars, and have begun your primary application. The next step is to decide where exactly to apply, which often requires balancing many criteria. Private and public medical schools can differ in many ways from cost to class size to curriculum. Here, we break it down. 

In-State Residence

Public medical schools tend to designate a certain number of positions of each class to residents of that state because the state allots them funds. Plus, public medical schools often offer discounted tuition to in-state residents. This means many students tend to focus their efforts on in-state public schools because of the greater chance of securing a position as well as affordability. This may be especially good if you live in a state with several public medical school options such as New York, California, and Texas. In contrast, private medical schools tend to view all applicants equally, so this may be a benefit if you’re applying to medical schools outside your state.  

Almost every osteopathic medical school is private, so this may make the decision for you if you are leaning toward that type of school. 


Tuition cost generally tends to be greater for private medical schools compared to public schools because they lack state funding, often with significant differences. Don’t immediately discount private schools; however, as these comprise some of the most prestigious and high-ranking schools. Private colleges tend to dominate the higher-ranked tiers of rank lists, which can correlate with Step Exam scores and more competitive residency programs or specialties. However, this correlation is not absolute. Countless medical students from local public medical schools earn matches into highly competitive residency programs, and this is more of a continuum. 

Federal student aid or other forms of financial aid may be a good alternative to student loans for someone who wants to minimize their medical school debt.


In general, the medical education tends to be relatively equal at public and private schools. Increasingly, schools are following a pass/fail curriculum and the rigor of medical school is becoming more standardized. There is no effective method of quantifying curriculum quality between public and private medical schools. Thus, it is important to focus on each medical school you are interested in INDIVIDUALLY rather than grouping them into large categories to eliminate them. 


School acceptance rate is another factor that you may want to take into account. Medical school admission is standard for the initial process; however, some schools may send applicants secondary applications, or use GPA or MCAT scores to determine admission. 

Schools’ processes vary, for example, from Harvard Medical School to Texas Tech University to New York Medical College. 

Making a Decision

Consider private versus public medical school as one criterion among many in choosing your educational path. Ultimately, you will likely have to look at overall rankings to evaluate each school compared to others and how your stats compare to each school’s averages. Our goal here is to provide you with some overarching trends, and hopefully this will make your search a little more manageable!

Ready to start? See our guide to getting into medical school to begin your journey!

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