I recently saw a posting on the Premed Life website which gave a list of the top 25 colleges and universities, ranked by the number of medical school applicants. As expected, many large universities are on the list (UCLA, the University of Michigan, UC-Berkeley, the University of Florida, and UT-Austin are the top five). Looking over the list prompted some thought in regard to what kind of environment is most conducive to premedical studies and to succeeding as a medical school applicant. Here are five elements to consider and/or questions to ask when weighing what college/university might be best for premed students.
If a school produces a large number of medical school applicants is it a positive environment? There may be intense competition in very large premedical classes if there are hordes of premed students. Of course this depends on the individual school and its atmosphere. But this is something to consider (and ask current students about) when weighing one school against another. Make sure the school’s environment is a good fit for your learning style, as well. Are you an independent learner?
Will a large environment and lots of premedical students make it more difficult to get to know professors and find mentors? If there are hundreds of premedical students are there too many seeking guidance/mentorship from professors? Mentorship is incredibly important in college (and in medical school!) Are professors too overburdened with teaching loads and with the number of students they teach to have time left to mentor individual students? This is important to consider since an education entails more than classes alone.
Will the classes be too large and impersonal to be able to get meaningful letters of recommendation? Letters of recommendation are an important component of the medical school application process. Consider who might be able to write your letters, especially if the class sizes are huge. The best letters of recommendation are written by individuals who know applicants well and can attest to their capabilities/strengths.
If you encounter difficulty in your classes will it be challenging to seek out help? Make sure you know whether professors are accessible at institutions where there are hundreds of premedical students. Is assistance offloaded to teaching assistants? There is nothing inherently wrong with TAs but professors have more knowledge to share. Small liberal arts institutions generally have smaller classes taught by professors—it may be easier to access professors at those schools. If it’s not possible to attend a small school because of financial or geographic constraints, be sure you know how to access help if/when you need it at a large school. Are you proactive?
Ask students about the caliber of the teaching. Do professors like to teach or do they regard it as a chore? Ask current students about the premed courses and get firsthand feedback about the quality of the classes. If you intend to be premed these classes will be incredibly important as a basis for your knowledge and for preparing for the MCAT. You’ll want classes that are taught well in order to be as prepared for medical school as possible.
There are lots of parameters that go into the decision about where to enroll in college. For prospective premedical students there are even more things to consider, as described above. If you want help with this decision feel free to send me an email to arrange a time to talk.
–Liza Thompson, Expert Medical School Admissions Consulting