- Getting a high GPA
- Scoring well on the MCAT
- Finding meaningful activities and building a strong resume
- Completing the application (including rec letters and essays) and interview, though you should note that these are mostly independent of the undergraduate school you choose
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2018 Best Pre-Med Schools
Are you considering pursuing a medical degree? It’s not too early to start planning, and the undergraduate college that you choose can have a significant impact on your career.
If you do know that you want to be a medical doctor while you’re still in high school, you should look for colleges that will prepare you well for the career ahead of you. But as you sift through potential colleges, keep in mind that your pre-med experience should ultimately set you up for a bigger goal: med school. An ideal college will have a pre-med track that can guarantee success in these four crucial aspects of a medical school application:
When it comes to med school, your GPA is vital. You should be looking for colleges where you can score well, as a strong GPA is so important for medical school applications that it even supersedes class rank. The reason is that most medical schools use a mathematical formula that takes in the numerical value of GPA to assess students. For example, having a 3.5 GPA and being #18 in your class at one college is often worse than having a 3.9 and ranking #35 in your class at another for the purposes of medical school admission.
While GPA is often more important than rank, you should still aim to be amongst the strongest students on campus. Most college classes are graded on a curve, and being at the top of the curve translates to a high GPA. For example, you’d be much better off with a 3.95 at Bates College than a 3.35 at Princeton. Additionally, you want to avoid schools that have grade deflation (very difficult curves) and instead, look for the schools that have moderate to strong grade inflation (easier curves).
Although your science GPA plays a significant role in med school admissions, the rigor of your major is just as critical. Having a high GPA in an “easy” major won’t cut it; you need a rigorous course load to validate a high GPA.
It’s also important to note that you should generally try to avoid your state’s flagship university. These universities have many academically competitive students who didn’t have the extracurricular resume or financial means to attend top-tier universities. So it’s a lot harder to get As in your pre-med classes.
A good MCAT score is also essential to med school admissions. You should look for a college with a curriculum that will prepare you well for the exam. Most colleges will cover the science material on the MCAT through their pre-med classes. However, you should also ensure that your college has good psychology, sociology, and even general education English classes that cover critical reading techniques. Attending a college that reinforces these other MCAT components will yield you a much better score overall.
Extracurricular Activities & Letters of Recommendation
Having a good resume isn’t just about loading it with generically impressive activities and awards. It’s important to have activities that are specifically meaningful and relevant to you as a potential med school student. You want to have plenty of patient care experience, ideally through shadowing or formal internships, though volunteering is okay if you can’t find one of the other options. Biology-specific or medical research is also a critical addition to your resume. And it’s beneficial to work or volunteer in the local community. If possible, try to work with diverse groups of people from varied socioeconomic backgrounds as that can be helpful experience for essay and interview questions.
Being able to fill out your resume with the right activities is another benefit to being at the top of your class. As one of the best students on campus, you will have easier access to better opportunities through professors and other health professions advisors.
When picking a school, you should also think about location. A college next to or in a city that has a robust medical industry, like Pittsburgh, Raleigh-Durham, or Houston, will have far more opportunities. By having access to major hospitals and private companies, you will increase your chances of getting valuable patient care experience and/or research.
Getting good rec letters comes down to, once again, being at the top of your class. Being a big fish in a small pond will help you gain the attention and favor of your professors, employers, and lab directors.
Med school is a substantial commitment for not just the student, but also for his/her family. Many families want to save money on undergrad so they can afford to pay $200,000 for four years of med school. Fortunately, top-tier colleges usually grant great financial aid, generally offering at least some assistance to families with under $200,000 per year in household income. Beyond that, you may want to stay away from flagship state schools because of the competition factor mentioned previously. Instead, you can look for private schools that will offer you a strong merit aid package.
Becoming a doctor is not for everyone. The 10-12 years of commitment to school, residencies, and fellowships is tough for even the most passionate and driven students. If you’re still a little unsure by the time you apply, look for schools that allow you to easily switch majors and programs without having to apply internally. In these cases, you might want to apply to the most competitive school possible; that way, you’ll be at a good school regardless of whether you’re on the pre-med track.
These are just a few factors to think about as you build a school list. As you may have noticed, many of these factors are broad and subjective. The “best” pre-med school will vary widely for each individual. However, if you want to look at the absolute best pre-med programs in the country, here are a few:
Note: Seven- or eight-year BS/MD programs, such as Brown’s PLME, are not included. Schools appear in alphabetical order, not rank. Med school acceptance rate is the percentage of med school applicants from that school who were accepted by at least one medical school.
Case Western Reserve University
Case Western is a prime example of a college with an excellent location, as it is located right next to the world-famous clinics Cleveland Clinic. Students will have a wide array of research and volunteering opportunities available to them. Case Western, like most other schools, doesn’t have a binding pre-med track.
Students of Cornell have access to the valuable Health Careers Program, which provides specialized advising, information resources, and many other programs. And although Cornell is academically challenging, 71% of students with a GPA of 3.4 or higher are accepted into med school.
Duke, while very academically competitive, still boasts a high 85% med school acceptance rate. Students at Duke also have access to a wide variety of resources, from personalized advising to research and internship opportunities provided by Durham and Duke’s prestigious School of Medicine.
Settled right next to the CDC, Emory offers numerous research and work opportunities to its pre-med students. Students can also use Emory’s PreHealth Mentoring Office for specialized advising and other services.
As of 2012, Harvard reported an extremely high med school acceptance rate of 95%. With some of the smartest students in the world, a great location among numerous medical facilities, and groups such as the Harvard Premedical Society, Harvard offers a plethora of invaluable resources to its pre-med students.
Johns Hopkins University
Pre-med students at JHU will find no shortage of meaningful research and internship opportunities. While notorious among students for GPA deflation, JHU still maintains a med school acceptance rate of 80% with five years of applicants’ graduation (as many JHU graduates take a gap year before applying to med school).
Northwestern pre-med students have access to a wealth of resources through the school’s Health Professions Advising. Resources range from MCAT advice/training to GPA calculators to local shadowing opportunities. Northwestern makes sure its pre-med students are well-informed and prepared for med school.
The Office of Academic Advising at Rice provides extensive resources to pre-med students, including a database of relevant research and internship opportunities and pre-med advising orientations. Additionally, Rice’s Joint Admission Medical Program helps low-income Texas students afford med school. Houston is also a town with many large hospitals that provide research, shadowing, and volunteering opportunities.
University of Pennsylvania
UPenn is one of the best pre-med schools in the nation, boasting a 76% med school acceptance rate. UPenn’s core pre-med courses and suggested courses both prepare students well for the MCAT by emphasizing all aspects of the test. UPenn is also in an excellent location for pre-med students, with facilities like the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia nearby.
Washington University in Saint Louis
Pre-med students at WashU not only have access to a four year advising program, but also to MCAT prep classes, mock interviews, writing workshops for med school applications, and two local hospitals. WashU ensures that their pre-med students are on the right path by providing constant hands-on assistance and meaningful research and internships.