Background. Recent match trends by medical graduates have revealed a declining interest in general surgery. Our study evaluates the academic strength of recent graduates to determine the quality of those matching to general surgery residencies. Methods. All third-year students rotating through the 8-week surgical clerkship from July 1998-June 2000 (n = 291) were followed at the University of Wisconsin Medical School. Each student completed 4 weeks of general surgery and 4 weeks of surgical subspecialties. Match data provided residency choices and students were divided into general surgery (GS), surgical subspecialty (SS), and nonsurgical (NS) residencies. Student performance was based upon National Board of Medical Experiences (NBME) surgery exam, class rank and Alpha Omega Alpha (AOA) status. Results. Students at our institution scored at the national mean on the NBME exam. GS team, session, and timing of GS rotation had no relationship to exam score. Total number of operative cases observed was inversely related to exam performance (P = 0.02). Of students entering a GS career, most scored below the mean on the NBME exam, 46% graduated in the bottom two thirds of the class, and only 6% of AOA members entered a GS residency. Conclusion. Although many of the strongest medical students select surgical residencies, they choose to enter SS careers and not GS careers. © 2003 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.