This topic is something I am still trying to figure out in the early stages of the residency application.
When deciding which programs to apply to, I have been relying mostly on how the statistics of each program align with mine. While websites provide general information about programs, I find it difficult to determine what is unique about each program and how it sets itself apart from others. To overcome the limitation of the generalized websites, I look for residency webinars and virtual Q&As to learn more about different programs, if offered. For the few I have attended thus far, I found them tremendously helpful in learning about aspects such as program culture, benefits of the curriculum, and residency life; things that I would not be able to learn outside of talking to current residents and faculty. I think the best way to get a feel for the programs prior to interviewing is to talk to as many residents and faculty as possible. I have found they tend to be honest in their opinions, and you can ask any questions you wish such as what could be improved about the program, least favorite parts, and how happy residents are – questions that one may be hesitant to ask during an interview or to faculty directly. I realize this may not be possible all the time as not all programs host online webinars, and you may not have personal connections at places you are applying to reach out and ask questions. In these cases, I find it helpful to navigate online discussion forums and threads dedicated to the application process, as there are many helpful people who want to share their experiences.
More tips on selecting a residency program.