Evaluating Colleges as a Pre-Med Student: Going Beyond the Numbers


Evaluating Colleges as a Pre-Med Student: Going Beyond the Numbers

Last year, 53,030 students applied to medical school in the United States. Of those applicants, only 22,239--or 42%--were successful. 

Obviously, getting into medical school is no easy feat. For this reason, aspiring physicians should consider an undergraduate institution’s track record when it comes to preparing successful med school applicants. For example, the med school acceptance rate among pre-med students at UCSD roughly mirrors the national average. 

Creighton University, on the other hand, boasts a med school acceptance rate of 76%

However, pre-med students should look beyond the med school acceptance rate. After all, many colleges exclude students who fail to meet certain benchmarks from their reporting. At Creighton, for example, that 76% acceptance only includes students who scored a 506 or higher on the MCAT (a score of 506 places students in the 70th percentile of test takers). So while a 76% acceptance rate is still impressive (the national acceptance rate among those with a 506+ MCAT score is only 62%) it is perhaps not quite as eye-catching as it initially appears. 

To their credit, both of the above schools are transparent about their numbers. Other schools report incomplete numbers or do not report numbers at all. So in order to make more informed decisions, I recommend that pre-med students consider the following as they research colleges: 

--Ask about the med school acceptance rate and whether all med school applicants are included in that number.
--Review what kind of pre-med advising services are available. Does the school have dedicated pre-med or pre-health staff members who work with students through one-on-one advising and workshops? Or does it merely offer an online library of pdf resources.
--Once you discover the type of pre-med resources available, determine who can access those resources. Are they available to anyone or just to students who fulfill certain requirements? If so, what are those requirements?
--Find out whether the college is affiliated with or located near a medical facility where students can gain hands-on experience in a medical setting. If not, reach out to the school and ask the school where previous pre-med students have gained clinical experience.
--Are there active student communities for pre-med students? At Creighton, for example, Pre-Health Learning Communities run workshops, events, and presentations “designed to help strengthen the candidacy of students.” At Amherst College, an excellent liberal arts college in Massachusetts, the Peer Mentoring Pre-Health Program “matches experienced students with younger students to support them through the start of their pre-health journey.” Many colleges also host American Medical Student Association chapters that can help students develop professional networks and find medical opportunities.
--Look into the school’s grading practices. Is there a reputation of grade deflation and intense academic competition among pre-med students, or do most pre-med students find it manageable to maintain a competitive GPA? You can always ask the school if they can put you in touch with a current pre-med student.
--Think about your ideal learning environment before you apply. In order to be a competitive med school applicant, you need to do well in college. So go to a school where you are likely going to do well. For some students, this means a small college with lots of interaction with professors. For other students, this may mean a college that is close to home. Regardless, do not overlook the importance of overall "fit" as you put together your college list.

Finally, if a college does not report any of the above information, give them a call and ask for it. Attending college is a big financial and social decision. As a potential applicant, you have the right to make the most informed decision possible. 


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