Honestly, who gives a @hit where you went to undergrad. I sure don’t. The same can be said for admissions committees. You are probably balking and rolling your eyes at that statement, but hear me out. They (and I as your future colleague) care about what you bring to the table. An Ivy league education will not overshadow a subpar or average resume. So, what should you look for in an undergraduate institution? I’m glad you asked.
First and foremost, you need to be happy. This is uniquely defined by everyone. For myself, I wanted the ability to play collegiate tennis. I didn’t have the skills to play at a division one institution, but was able to play for a top DIII program. The ability to continue with my passion for tennis certainly played into my happiness. Why I stress happiness, however you define it, is because in order to reach your full potential you need to be in an environment that will allow you to thrive. This will be defined by whatever your passions are. I want you to run to them, not away from them. Please do not choose a so called more prestigious school over your dream school because you think it will be a better premed stepping stone. Let me shatter that illusion for you. It will not. Not being true to yourself as a future college student will stifle your medical school aspirations, not unlock them. The journey of building a solid resume is a grind, but one that can be enjoyable if you pick the appropriate environment. Alright, enough ranting about the illusion of the perfect premed institution. More importantly, how do you pick your perfect premed institution.
The first thing to consider, sadly, is finances. Given the choice between a state school and an expensive, “prestigious” private school, I would lean toward the state school, that is unless you have very passionate links to said private institution. Perhaps they have a killer music department. Maybe there is some cutting edge research going on there that fascinates you. In that case, the finances should not weigh as heavily on you. If that is not the case though, don’t increase your debt burden unnecessarily. Again, the prestige of your undergraduate institution is frankly overrated. You can craft a stellar premed resume at a state school. Going one step further, do not overlook community colleges. I am not sure how much financial help you will have access to along the way, but regardless, saving money (and not sacrificing your future at the same time), is never out of style. I know sooooo many current med students who went the community college route initially. It allowed them to live at home, work, both of which saved thousands of dollars, all the while focusing intently on school and extracurriculars. In Wisconsin, the community colleges funnel directly into the state school, which I have to believe exists in other states.
So now that the depressing talk of money is out of the way, let’s get onto the more exciting stuff. You should initially ponder many of the typical considerations for college bound students: big school versus little school, close to home versus far away, big social scene versus little one, etc. After that though, you need to really, really reflect on fit. This gets back to your passions. What do you like to do? What do you want to spend your next four years pursuing?
This blog piece is not meant to detail the perfect premed resume, (spoiler: no such thing exists) however I will slowly and skillfully tease this out with subsequent pieces. I will throw some tid bits in here though. No surprise, grades do matter. That being said though, more than likely the school you pick to attend will provide you with a satisfactory education. Grade inflation does exist though. So, if you choose to attend a more “rigorous” institution your grades may be lower than they would have been elsewhere. This is considered by admission committees, but to what degree is difficult to say. I can definitively say that poor grades cannot be masked by an “elite” diploma. While this is something to consider, do not let it dissuade you from going where you want. If you get in to a more challenging school, you are capable of rising to that challenge. Moreover, the MCAT functions to level the playing field, as you are weighed against every other applicant, all of whom represent colleges from around the country (and some foreigners too). In short, grades matter, but don’t let a school’s reputation scare you away if that is where you belong.
Let’s keep rolling with the myth busting. Does a more rigorous school prepare you more for the MCAT? I would honestly say it is tough to say. This is because a particular school’s coursework is not tailored to the MCAT. Only a minority of science students are probably going to take the MCAT. Moreover, a chemistry course is geared toward making chemists, not doctors. You may have a stronger base, but you are still going to have to put in just as much work as the next person to crush the MCAT. Therefore, this should not be something that even crosses your mind. The MCAT is a unique animal that requires its own preparation. Strong course work may help, but it may also make no difference at all.
We have gotten grades and the MCAT out of the way, so objective elements of the application have been tackled. Time for the subjective elements, or the extracurriculars. Getting back to your passions, these better be allowed to flourish at your damn school. So, first and foremost, these are obviously things to explore. After all, if you have been listening, that is why you should pick an undergraduate institution. What to consider though is how readily available opportunities will be to you though. For example, at a high caliber school, there may be a ton of fascinating things going on, but in order to take advantage of these opportunities, you may have to be near the top of the class, no small feat (doable though ;). At a smaller school, the same abundance of things to explore may not exist as at a bigger school. At the end of the day though, you can be successful wherever you go. You can carve out your path at any institution, or series of institutions if you start small at a community college. THIS IS THE TAKE HOME POINT FROM THIS ENTIRE BLOG. Why do I say this? Well first, because it is true. Second, because if you are driven and hungry, you can create opportunities for yourself anywhere. Given this reality, you should no doubt be in a place that makes you happy, but perhaps having to hustle a little more than one that makes you absolutely miserable, but allows endless opportunities right at your fingertips. Say you are at a small school that does not have robust research or shadowing opportunities. A quick internet search will showcase opportunities all around the country. You can easily do a summer of research elsewhere. You can just as easily hook up with local practitioners, shadowing and learning about medicine in a unique, intimate, one on one way. Creating opportunities for yourself makes them that much more heartfelt, but also looks incredibly more impressive to admissions committees. You can tell them that something didn’t exist, but you created it for yourself because you wanted it that bad. Ultimately, they don’t give a @hit where you went to school. They give a @hit about who you are and what you bring to the table.