October 20, 2019

Does Where You Go To Undergrad Matter For Med School?

Ryan Karmouta MD, MBA

There are two medical school applicants, Sally and Harry.

Sally goes to “Best Of The Best University.” The school is highly selective, and their pre-med program is world renown for creating fantastic doctors that go on to change the world. 

Harry goes to “No Name Easy 4.0 University.” As the name suggests, the school is very easy to get into. Their pre-med program, or any of their other programs for that matter, is not particularly well-known.

Is Sally at a significant advantage over Harry to get into medical school? How much weight will medical schools put into each of their respective undergraduate programs? Do other aspects of their application matter more? 

In this post, we will be breaking down these questions. Discussing what we know and don’t know, and the benefits of a prestigious program, to determine how much your undergraduate school of choice matters.

What Information Do We Have?

Not much. 

With our “What Are The Best Pre-Med Majors” post, we could use data that the AAMC provides us about medical school applicants and their major to help us come to a conclusion. But the AAMC has very little data based on undergraduate schools. Without this info, it is hard to statistically analyze how much of an impact your undergraduate school has on your med school chances.

Outside of that, we only really have anecdotal information based on assumptions. Generally, this information states, if all else is equal, that going to a school like Sally’s will give you a better chance to get into medical school.

Since this information is based on assumption, we can’t say that this is a hard and fast rule. 

But let’s entertain the thought that this information is true. Let’s say prestigious programs give you a better chance of getting into medical school given equal GPA and MCAT. Why would this be the case? What are the benefits of going to Sally’s undergraduate school over Harry’s?

Benefits of Going To A Prestigious Program

At prestigious programs, you have the best faculty, research facilities, and extracurricular opportunities. It will be easier to get experiences to pad up your application and to talk about on your interview day. Moreover, the name of certain schools does carry some weight with admissions committees. Some medical schools do pay attention to extremely prestigious undergraduate programs (Stanford, Harvard, Princeton as top tiers for example, and another tier for other prestigious programs). The reason is these schools already have a self-selecting student population: these students are usually already academically accomplished and motivated given they've made the cut at these competitive programs.

Now, whether or not it is easier or harder to get a great GPA at a prestigous program depends on specifics. Some ivy league programs are notoriously known for inflating grades relative to some public schools while some are known for the opposite.

So it is not hard to believe that prestigious pre-med programs would give you a better chance of getting into medical school assuming equal grades.  That last assumption is tough as these programs select very bright students that all do well on exams.

The School vs The Individual

Because of their highly selective nature, prestigious programs already usually have students with the work ethic to succeed in undergraduate and beyond. However, many students at other programs also have this motivation and grasp. It is important to make an informed decision about opportunities available, relative cost of the program, your individual happiness, and academic difficulty (if considering medicine).

But this all comes down to the individual. The school may help along the way, but it is the students who are putting in the effort. If Sally goes to the prestigious program and struggles in her classes while Harry ace's his classes, Harry will be in a better position most likely at the end of the day.

For instance,  if Sally goes to the prestigious program and struggles in her classes while Harry ace's his classes, Harry will be in a better position most likely at the end of the day. everyone has to take the MCAT.

On the flip side, while Harry may not have to work as hard as Sally for his high GPA, but if he studies hard and scores better on the MCAT, that doesn’t matter. His score shows he has the knowledge and critical thinking skills to succeed. 

Harry can also find amazing extracurricular opportunities on his own, even if his school does not facilitate this requirement. Yes, Harry may have to work harder to find these extracurricular opportunities. He may have to study harder to cover the gaps his classes may have missed for the MCAT. But it is possible for him to compete.

You Are The One In Control

A prestigious school provides many benefits. Their ability to prepare you for the MCAT, the opportunities they offer, and their reputation can certainly help you get into medical school. If you have the opportunity to go to one, you should.

But your undergraduate school choice is not the end all be all. If you are dedicated, you are going to score well on the MCAT and find the extracurricular activities that will make you stand out among the other applicants.

In the end, your willingness to put in the work is going to outshine the name on your undergraduate degree.