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Articles / Applying to College / Is a Public U. Grad Competitive at Top Med Schools?

Is a Public U. Grad Competitive at Top Med Schools?

Sally Rubenstone
Written by Sally Rubenstone | Feb. 10, 2012

Question: I am currently a high school junior, interested in majoring in pre-med and ultimately going to medical school. I have good grades and test scores and have been taking rigorous classes, and I hope to go to University of Illinois. There are many private schools I would like to go to, but, frankly, they're way out of my budget and U of I seems like a better fit for me. However, I'm concerned that I'll have trouble competing for acceptance into the top medical schools with students from more prestigious undergraduate colleges like Harvard, Stanford, or Duke. What are your opinions?

Medical schools--just like undergraduate colleges--seek diversity in each incoming class. This “diversity" includes not only racial or ethnic diversity but also means admitting students who hail from a variety of undergrad alma maters. So if you are highly successful at Illinois and score well on the MCAT, you can certainly compete with applicants from the "elite" colleges. Keep in mind, too, that demonstrating interest and success in the medical field via research projects, internships, etc. will help your candidacy as well.

Note, however, that all of the private colleges you name offer excellent need-based financial aid. If your family is middle-class or upper-middle class, you and your parents may feel that you will not qualify for enough financial aid to make these schools realistic options for you. But, on the other hand, if you apply and are accepted, you may be pleasantly surprised to see how much aid you receive.

All colleges are now required by law to post a "net price calculator" on their Web site, so you and your parents should fool around with a few of these to estimate how much a pricey college such as Harvard, Stanford, or Duke will really cost you, should you be admitted. (Example: This is Harvard's http://npc.fas.harvard.edu/ ) Granted, these online calculators often aren't terribly helpful for families with extenuating circumstances (which means LOTS of families!) but they may be able to at least give you a rough idea of what to expect.

Moreover, if you are strong enough to get into one of the aforementioned schools, then you are definitely strong enough to qualify for merit aid at many good colleges that aren't as hyper-competitive as those you've named. Smaller, liberal arts colleges can offer a lot of faculty attention and access to research opportunities that can work well at med-school admission time. Colleges That Change Lives is a good place to start when researching such schools. But, again, you can realize your goal of attending a top medical school regardless of where you spend your undergrad years.

One final point as you proceed with your plans: Pre-med is typically not an official major. A pre-med program draws classes from several disciplines … primarily sciences but not exclusively. Students can usually major in either a related field (e.g., biology, chemistry) or a completely unrelated one (e.g., art history, theater) and yet still complete the pre-med program and get accepted to medical school. So as you make your college choices, you may want to consider places that offer classes in a range of fields that interest you and not only in the pre-med realm.

(posted 2/10/2012)

Written by

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone knows the competitive and often convoluted college admission process inside out: From the first time the topic of college comes up at the dinner table until the last duffel bag is unloaded on a dorm room floor. She is the co-author of Panicked Parents' Guide to College Admissions; The Transfer Student's Guide to Changing Colleges and The International Student's Guide to Going to College in America. Sally has appeared on NBC's Today program and has been quoted in countless publications, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Weekend, USA Today, U.S. News & World Report, Newsweek, People and Seventeen. Sally has viewed the admissions world from many angles: As a Smith College admission counselor for 15 years, an independent college counselor serving students from a wide range of backgrounds and the author of College Confidential's "Ask the Dean" column. She also taught language arts, social studies, study skills and test preparation in 10 schools, including American international schools in London, Paris, Geneva, Athens and Tel Aviv. As senior advisor to College Confidential since 2002, Sally has helped hundreds of students and parents navigate the college admissions maze. In 2008, she co-founded College Karma, a private college consulting firm, with her College Confidential colleague Dave Berry, and she continues to serve as a College Confidential advisor. Sally and her husband, Chris Petrides, became first-time parents in 1997 at the ripe-old age of 45. So Sally was nearly an official senior citizen when her son Jack began the college selection process, and when she was finally able to practice what she had preached for more than three decades.

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