My Approach to Making a Rank List

Congratulations! You have finished (or almost finished) the grueling interview season. Now it’s time to make your rank list. This can be an intimidating task that feels like it carries immense weight. But you’ve gotten this far, and all you have left is this one step. You no doubt have heard numerous approaches to making a rank list. No single way is correct. But the more you hear, the more you’ll be able to approach your list in a way that works best for you. Here I will lay out my general steps to making my Med-Peds rank list. Hopefully you can find something that is helpful in your personal method of finalizing your rank list in whatever field you chose.

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Important Rules

First, rank every single place you interviewed with unless matching at that program is less desirable than not matching at all. Second, the way the matching system works, there is no benefit to moving programs around based on what you think your likelihood of matching there is. I won’t get into the details of it, but trust me, rank programs in order of your desire to match there, even if you feel it’s a longshot. Third, this list is about YOU. Don’t let prestige, fear, or stereotypes affect your rank. Set your order how You want, how YOU will be happiest and most successful.

Jog Your Memory

I did not make a giant spread sheet like many people do. Mostly because it was so tedious. But I did keep notes and reflections of each program I interviewed with. I had pros, cons, gut reactions, personal feelings, and unique qualities about each place. If you have kept notes on your interviews, now is the time to read through them and refresh on each program. If you are like me, the details of the early interviews might be a bit hazy. Use your notes to remember what it was about each place that left certain feelings. If more questions remain, reach back out to programs and contacts via email. If you debriefed interviews with friends, family, or mentors, ask them what you said about each program. My wife was able to remind me of the level of enthusiasm I had after each interview, which wasn’t necessarily reflected in my own notes.

Top, Bottom, and Middle

An easy first step is to group your programs into top, middle, and bottom tiers. This step gets the ball rolling and sets the skeleton of your rank list. You don’t need to worry about the minutia here. Large, overarching themes will dictate who goes where. Everyone knows the places that blew them away, underwhelmed, or fell somewhere in between.

Fine Tune

This can get difficult. How do you distinguish programs that offer so much? It seems like each program always makes up in one area where it lacks in another. If there isn’t an obvious gap between programs, think through different criteria. Are they equal academically, but one offers a more desirable geographic advantage? Does one offer more extensive research opportunities? Think about your desired career path. Does one program train better for primary care while another tends to match residents into prestigious subspecialty fellowships? Did you have more consistently stimulating conversations with one program than another? What program has the best chance of supporting your career and wellness? Where will you be happiest and most successful (these two things should be the same no matter what your definition of success is). For me, a couple angles helped me the most in finalizing an order. I knew I wanted to pursue a subspecialty, but just wasn’t sure which field. So, programs that had larger numbers of Med-Peds residents and faculty practicing in more areas would set me up for better exploration of Med-Peds subspecialty opportunities. Thus, larger, older, and more established programs got a bump. Additionally, I was more interested in education rather than research. So, programs with solid education initiatives and training rose on my lists as well. There are a million ways to make the small list changes. At the end of the day, if two programs are 100% equal to you, go with your gut reaction. Visualize how you’d feel opening the envelope/email on match day. Gut feelings employ all of the subconscious information we have stored away. Put that to use, and listen to your gut.

Remake Your List Multiple Times

As you run through the infinite methods of comparison, you are bound to change your mind at least a little bit on each pass. My advice is to click the submit button each time you set your most recent rank. This helps in a couple of ways. First, it ensures that, should some massive computer system failure occur, you have at least submitted something along the way. Second, you have the benefit of feeling the immediate reaction to that submission. If you have a panic attack, maybe your order isn’t quite right. If you feel at peace, you might be done. Run through this exercise a number of times. You’ll see patterns develop in the tougher sections, figure out what traits you value most, and learn which rank orders you feel most comfortable with. After a while, your list will feel tried and true. You can hit that submit button with confidence.


Making your rank list is the culmination of years of hard work and months of exhausting interviews. Take the final bit of effort to make your list reflect what you want for your future. Refresh your memory, review your notes, discuss it with the important people in your life, look at each place from numerous angles, submit a trial list, rinse, and repeat. A winning combination will rise to the top. At the end of the day, you’ve done your work, and the rest is up to a mindless algorithm. Sit back, relax, and await one of the best days of your life, match day!

Have questions about your rank list? Contact us directly or leave a comment below!

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