Ask the Half MD: is there a best pre-med school?

June 27, 2008 at 8:32 pm (Applying to med school, Ask the Half MD)

A reader asks, “My daughter and I have been reading your blog for a while now.  She will be starting her freshman year at XXXXX College this fall.  She is worried that by attending a less famous university she is at a disadvantage when it comes to applying to medical school.  She is wondering if she should transfer to the University of XXXXX to better her chances of getting in.”

First, no parent should ever write me to ask about a child’s interest in medicine.  If you want to go to medical school and have a question about how to apply or what life as a med student is like, then you need to be the one who writes me.  Don’t let your mommy do your work for you.  As for the question regarding if there is a best pre-med school, the short answer is no. 

Your application to medical school is based upon your GPA, MCAT, letters of recommendation, extracurricular activities, personal statement, interview, and a host of other factors.  Your application—and all of the things that make it up—are solely you’re doing.  Granted, if you go to a university with grade inflation, your GPA will naturally be higher than other students’; however, you still must work hard to become a competitive applicant.

That said, we should not discount undergraduate institutions entirely.  The American Association of Medical Colleges keeps a list of which undergraduate universities applicants attended the year that they applied for medical school.  According to their data, the five universities responsible for having the most applicants in the United States are:

1. University of California at Los Angeles
2. University of California at Berkeley
3. University of Texas at Austin
4. University of Michigan at Ann Arbor
5. University of Florida

In a way, these programs send so many students to medical school every year that their pre-med offices are very familiar with the application process.  If nothing else, going to one of these universities—or to any place that is affiliated with a medical school—can help a person in so far as preparing him/her for the road ahead.  Many of these programs have staff that are very experienced with the cumbersome medical school application process.  Going to a small liberal arts college might very well make you the only pre-med on campus.

That’s not to say that if you are a high school student you should base your decision on where to go to college solely upon the number of pre-med applicants getting churned out every year.  You should certainly attend the school that is the perfect fit for you, whether it be a large state university with tens of thousands of students or a smaller location where all of the professors and deans know your name.  But if you are utterly lost and looking for ideas of where to apply, this list can serve as a good starting point.



  1. Rafael said,

    Very interesting post, but I still have few questions… I’m a medical student from Brazil (maybe I’m your most far away reader) and I would like to know how is the proccess to enter on an american university. If I understood, you have to ingress on the college first and after you go to the medical school?

    Thank you and sorry my bad english!

  2. halfmd said,

    Correct. The rest of the world goes from high school to medical school and spends six years becoming a physician. In the U.S., we go to college first, get a bachelor’s degree in any field—while taking necessary pre-requisite classes in organic chemistry and biology—and then go to medical school for 4 years.

  3. Bostonian in NY said,

    I think a critical point that needs to be thrown out there for mom is that out of the total number of freshmen declaring themselves as “pre-medical students” from day 1, only about 25% of them actually make it through the coursework to apply. Of those applicants, about 50% will get into medical schools on their first attempt.

    There’s a great deal of attrition in the process when other influences of the college life (LIKE FUN!) creep into the lives of our lovely pre-meds. It’s really tough to stick to the books while your non-pre-med friends are out partying 4 nights a week!

  4. elisabeth said,

    im going to be a senior this year in high school and ive been researching quite a bit of BA/MD programs here in the US…but then i stumbled across this website and read that in other countries people just go to med school straight out of high school. i guess my question is, if i were to move to another country could i potentially do this? and if it were possible would i be able to practice in the US?? i plan on becoming a cardiothoracic surgeon.

  5. Miami_med said,

    #1) Leaving the US with a plan to get back in to do surgery (which is competative) is a bad idea. Go to US med school and maximize your chances.

    #2) Most people who come to med school change their minds about specialty. Don’t get hung up on CT surg. Also, realize that the average CT surgeon spends atleast 8 years in training after med school and then works a LOT until retirement.

    #3) When I was your age, I wanted to be a rock star. Things change. Plans change. Go to college, start premed. If your interest holds up, you’ll be in a better position. If it doesn’t, you won’t be stuck with a foreign medical degree, a boatload of debt, and no good options.

  6. halfmd said,

    Bad idea. You’re what, 17-years-old, and already planning the rest of your life? First, to get into a foreign country’s medical school, you need to speak the language. Second, you typically must be a citizen. China doesn’t want to train American doctors just so they can practice in the United States. Further, while you can get licensed to practice in the U.S., you’re going to have a very hard time getting into residency if you train abroad. Many of the foreign docs end up doing primary care, regardless of their training and experience in other nations.

    If you’re desperate to go to medical school right out of high school, there are a few six-year BS/MD programs around the country. You’ll need outstanding grades to enter one of these groups. There is also early admission to medical school once you’re in undergrad. These programs typically take a total of seven years.

    Eight years to become an MD is not the end of the world. I took ten. Many in my class have taken longer.

  7. starlittaint said,

    I’m a rising senior in high school and have also been looking extensively and medical programs, medical schools, universities, and other possible choices. I’ve read on how tough it is to get into medical school and how if taking a accelerated BA/MD route it could possibly limit the undergraduate experience needed. I would like to be a psychiatrist, and have been thinking very much over the choices that lay before me. I think I have the grades and extra curricular activities necessary to make it into one of the six/seven year programs, but I am not altogether sure if it is worth it. Would you suggest taking the six/seven year programs, or to take the long way into medical school?

  8. halfmd said,

    That depends on what you want. If you want the full college experience and to take extra classes, join campus organizations, and experience the world, then the traditional path sounds like the right option. If you’re sole goal is to get through med school as quickly as possible, then the six-year plan might be worth it.

  9. IndianCowboy said,

    I might add that you need to go to a school at which an A is easily attainable, if it doesn’t have frank grade inflation.

    If you go somwhere like Cornell, U Chicago, or CalTech, you are NOT going to have what med schools think of as a solid GPA. Dean’s List at Cornell still leaves you rather uncompetitive GPA-wise. They say they take these things into account. They don’t.

    This is why most of us who made the msitake of going to challenging schools either end up getting a further graduate degree, taking a break, doing research, or ending up at their state school.

  10. augusto espinoza said,

    i am from the island of Guam and i want to pursue a career in Pediatrics i am a senior in high school now but will graduate in may 09 i was wondering if you can help me make a decision about a college i should attend i am very new in this sort of decision making i searched the internet but couldnt find a solid college or university to apply to. it would probably be best for me to attend a college on the west coast preferably california maybe washington ( i heard UoW had a good medical program. thank you

  11. Tori said,

    I am a high school junior aspiring to become a doctor possibly specialize in Orthopedics. I am also a competitive Field Hockey player and seriously looking into playing in college. I’ve had contact with Division 1, 2 and 3 colleges already. My intention is to get my undergrad in biology at a school that offers a pre med program. My question is how realistic am I being about trying to be an athlete, biology major and pre med student all at the same time? My current GPA is 96 and I’m ranked 64 out of 850 in my class. I take mostly A level (Advanced) courses with a few unleveled requirements in there as well.

  12. halfmd said,

    I’m not sure what you mean by a 96 GPA. I’m guessing that you’re not from America. In the U.S., the highest a GPA can be is 4. Also, our high schools are much smaller. As far as being an athlete in college, I’ve met quite a few former NCAA players who’ve done just fine in sports as well as the classroom. You’ve got this far doing both.

  13. Tamara McDowell said,

    I am a second year student at a three year school and my dream has always been anesthesiology. I just want to know what the best colleges are in the Northeastern region, because I want to go to school near my family. Also I have around a 4.0 GPA and need a school with good financial aid.

  14. christine said,

    I have heard there is a program for prospective medical students with a bachelors degree from other colleges to fulfill premed requirements. I heard it is a masters program. Do you know anything about this or anything similar! Thanks, Christine

  15. halfmd said,

    What you are looking for is something like this:

    Just do a search for “masters medical school”

  16. claire said,

    i am a high school jr. i have a 4.5 GPA and am doing full IB. i am planning to become a doctor, specifically a surgeon.
    i have heard that there are schools that once you are accepted in the undergad program you’re also automatically accepted in the medical school program. is this true? and if so, what are they or how can i find them?

    Half M.D.: Look for something called 6-year or 7-year programs. Also, you might want to search “junior honors” or similar titles. Be search to look at the admissions webpages for medical schools, and not colleges, as you’ll likely find what you’re looking for there.

  17. Kathleen said,

    So, going back to the original question about the optimal undergraduate program for pre-med preparation, would you advise then that a state university with a strong honors program and a lot of advising support for applying to medical school would be just as good as an expensive, small, private liberal arts program? Maybe then I would be able to set aside money saved from attending the public university honors program in order to help pay for the best medical school that I could be admitted to? What do you advise?

    Half M.D.: Yes to the first question, no to the second. You will never be able to save enough money to “pay for” medical school. The total cost to attend my state school for college was about $15,000. For medical school it’s around $250,000.

  18. MFern said,

    I am a sophomore, at a small private liberal arts College in Massachusetts. I am a Biology, and Pre-Med Major, I have been taking courses in Biology, Chemistry, Math, and English. I am currently in my second semester of Organic Chemistry. However, I just found out that the College I attend does not offer a Bachelors degree in Science for Biology majors instead, Biology majors receive a Bachelors in Fine Arts. I have spoken to the Biology advisor, and some of my Professors and they have told me that a Bachelors in Fine Arts does not put me at any disadvantage to either get a job in the Biology field or in the process of applying for Graduate school, or Medical school. Is that really true? Does having a Bachelors in Fine Arts from a small private college dimish my chances of getting into Medical School?

    Half M.D.: Did they say bachelor in fine arts or bachelor in arts? Either way, the title doesn’t matter. You’re still studying the same material.

  19. Rob said,

    Are you universities in Canada (i’m Canadian) a lot different than in the states?
    I’ve heard they’re harder. I plan on working as a doctor in the U.S. so is it smarter for me to go to school in the U.S.?

  20. Alyssa said,

    I am a high school senior that has already been accepted to college for the fall of next year. I am trying to decide between which school to attend, and im stuck between majors. What is better for applying to med school, a “premed major” (NOT premed track) OR a “biology: physiology and neurobiolgy major” with a premed track?

    Half M.D.: Your major doesn’t matter. Pick whatever you’re interested in.

  21. JAN said,

    I live in Florida and i was wondering if CSULA offers pre-medicine program?

  22. Lisa said,

    What I am interested in knowing is what universities having the highest percentage of pre-med candidates getting ACCEPTED into medical school??

    Half M.D.: No such list exists.

  23. Ian said,

    I was wondering if I have a chance at a getting into med school.

    Out of high school I went to a small state college and failed out. I was not into school, had no direction, no major, and partied too much.

    Now I have been out of college working for 3 years and have much more dedication and focus. I would like to finish my bachelors and apply to med school but I am nervous that my bad grades at my first college will hurt me.

    In high school I just got average grades, at my first college I did poorly, now I am taking classes and doing well at a community college. I have good grades at the community college but I am afraid I will not get into a good undergraduate school and then not get into med school.

    let me know what you think!

  24. Brittany said,

    Medical school is such a challenge. I feel like it is so difficult, and people make it out being such a scary process. I am just a junior in high school, but I feel like I have been stressing out about this every day lately. I made the mistake of being laxidasical my freshman year of high school, and my gpa sincerely reflects that. I plan to go to the best undergraduate school I get into, mind you, nothing to fancy. But truely excell. As long as you do very well in your first 4 years, I do not think medical school is going to be a climb on mount everest to get into.
    But my question being, as I will be a senior I have the option of doing an unpaid internship. My parents go to a dermatalogist who is very well off in a private practice, and has a well known name. She has never offered an internship to anyone before, so I would be the first in her office to do so. To do the internship, I would only have to take 5 classes a day, as opposed to 7. Would you recommend taking 5 classes plus the internship, or the 7 with no internship.
    -my classes next year will consist of all A.P and honors regardless of the two class difference.

    Half M.D.: Try asking a college counselor instead. A high school internship won’t matter when you apply to med school. You won’t even be allowed to list it on the application. You should do it if it’s interesting, but don’t expect anything more.

  25. rsa_705 said,

    I am currently at a junior college and want to become a doctor. This is my freshman year and I am 18 years old. My plan is to transfer to a UC, most likely UCSB or UC Davis. Do I have to finish all of the bio/chem/o-chem/physics before i transfer (im a bio major)? If so, then I am probably gonna attend a CSU instead because i will not be able to finish all of those in two years and i dont really want to stay at this Junior College for a third year to finish all of those classes before i transfer to a UC. And if i did go to a CSU how difficult is it to get into med school? The CSU i would most likely attend is Sac State. Thanks

  26. rick said,

    i have been wanting to become an orthopedc surgeon since seventh grade, I’m a junior in high school have about a 3.65-3.7 gpa, and i’m ranked 23 out out 405. What are my chances of getting into a good pre med school, and is it true that 99% of biology majors at the University of Notre Dame get accepted into Med school?

  27. Sammy said,

    Hi, I am freshman in my second semester in college (almost finishing up the year). My first semester GPA was 2.268… there were a lot of personal family problems going at the time. I took five courses and two of the courses (Chem and Math) received a D+ and F. I am retaking these courses this semester… I’m hoping to do better this semester. I was wondering if medical school is out of the question. I am an average student, but I did above average in high school because of effort. I’m know I can do better as the years progress, but this year was hard for me because of the transition and a close family member was extremely sick after surgery. I was wondering should I still try for medical school. Thank you.

  28. dave said,

    um… im just wondering… i’ve got the whole point of going to college where its not that hard to get an A and what not but what colleges offer the best premed programs in terms of like a balanced easiness to good teaching ratio?

  29. Kali said,

    I am a canadian student attending a small college in the US. I have completed my first year of Associate of Sciences.
    My goal is my bach of sciences with a pre med major.
    Do you know how medical schools or doctorate degrees compare from the US to Canada, Would the courses and requirements be the same.
    Just in case I need to transfer back to Canada due to financial needs..

  30. Erik said,

    I am a junior at the University of Cincinnati. I have yet to talk to a pre-professional advisor, so I thought I would just ask some questions on here. My major is biology, and from what I gather, my choice of major makes little difference. Anyways, I have around a 3.4 thus far, after organic chemistry and all. I remember freaking out last year when I got a C in the third section of general chem. I guess what I want to know is, is a 3.4 acceptable, along with good MCAT scores and everything else? Also, if the school you go to has a medical school, is there a better chance of getting into the medical school of that university that you attend, like do they favor their own undergrads? My last question is, when applying to medical school, do they have a look at your criminal history, and, if so, what criminal charges would bar you from entry to med school?

  31. MD... I wish! said,

    I am going to be a freshman in High School this September, and I am really hoping I could get any advice as to working towards a medical career.
    I’m a pretty good student, I love to learn but I don’t over-do it.
    I speak 2 languages fluently and am currently working on mastering a third. (Hebrew, English, Spanish)
    I love science, I love the way the human body works, it actually makes me happy to flip through How the Human Body Works and Henry Gray’s Anatomy of the Human Body…
    I just want to know what to do… Volunteer? Shadow doctors? GPA’s? Grades? What classes should I take? Anything would really be helpful.


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