Each spring, high school students who want to become doctors have a tough decision: choosing which college to attend. While location, costs and rankings are important considerations, there are other factors to weigh that contribute to a great college experience.
Here are some tips in four areas to help high school students choose a college suited for their medical school aspirations:
— Medical school admissions data.
— Advising and mentorship.
— Majors and academic opportunities.
— Premed opportunities.
Medical School Admissions Data
Colleges and universities collect data about their students’ success on graduate school admissions, including how many of their students applied to medical school, acceptance rates and where students matriculated. This information can often be found at the university’s career center or health professions advising office.
A high acceptance rate will tell you that the school has strong applicants and can also provide insight into the strength of that university’s premed advising. Additionally, if you aim to attend certain med schools — say, for instance, you want to attend med school in your home state — the list of where students matriculate and get accepted can be informative.
Advising and Mentorship
Look for both formal and informal premed advising at each college.
First, does the college have a formal career center and health professions advising office? What role does the latter play in helping students during their premed journey? For example, some medical school advisers will write a committee letter — a school-sponsored letter of recommendation — to med schools and will work closely with their students throughout the application cycle.
Often, the health professions advising office will collect and send premed opportunities to students, including summer internships, volunteer positions, gap year jobs and scholarships. Connections with advisers can help you discover new opportunities and give you an advantage when applying for these positions.
Career centers and graduate school advisers can help with editing resumes, applications and other written materials.
Other than formal advising from a career center, you can also ask premed students at each university about other avenues they receive med school advice. For example, are there premed clubs and fraternities where you can get paired with an upperclassman mentor? Do specific departments have their own advising for premed students? How strong is the alumni network in helping students?
Majors and Academic Opportunities
Most premed students entering college anticipate majoring in sciences. Therefore, look to see what science majors are offered at each university. Some universities offer only more traditional science majors such as biology and chemistry. Other universities have more interdisciplinary majors such as human biology, public health, nutritional science and health public policy, which examine health more broadly.
But remember, you do not have to be a science major to apply to medical school as long as you fulfill the premed requirements. There may be nonscience majors such as computer science and business that interest you. Some universities even allow their students to create their own majors.
Other than formal majors, high schoolers should look at other academic opportunities that pique their intellectual curiosity. For instance, look to see if you can conduct research for academic credit or write a senior thesis. Many universities have community-based seminars in which students pair with a community organization to apply concepts learned in class.
Some other classes and opportunities to look for include freshman seminars, research methods courses, and junior and senior project-based workshops. Some schools offer medical-related classes like anatomy and EMT. At some universities, courses at the medical, business, law, public policy and other graduate schools are offered to undergraduate students.
Various on-campus opportunities are available to premed students. Many premeds engage in research, which can encompass bench and lab-based research. However, look for other opportunities in clinical research or public health research, especially if there is a nearby medical school or public health school.
Additionally, some premed students get involved with service-oriented organizations. For example, students can teach science at nearby elementary schools. Many universities have premed clubs and other health-related organizations that can be great places to meet like-minded premed students and alumni who are eager to mentor you throughout your premed journey.
It is important to remember that premed opportunities do not have to be formal organizations on campus. Ask premed students if they are engaged with the surrounding community. An important factor in the amount of clinical opportunities at a university is whether there are nearby hospitals.
Also, students who attend college in urban areas typically have public transportation to access volunteer opportunities around the city, such as working part-time jobs at companies and volunteering with nonprofit organizations.
How to Find Out About College Premed Opportunities
Deciding where to go to college is one of the biggest and most exciting decisions a high school student makes. Here are tips and resources to help you gather information on premed opportunities at colleges you are considering.
Attend admit weekends and visit colleges. This is a great way to meet current premed students and learn about clubs. Visit the school’s career and volunteer centers and the health professions advising office to ask about admissions statistics and premed opportunities. If you can’t visit a university, send an email indicating your interest and set up a meeting with the health professions advising office.
Talk to recent alumni and current premed students: Ask current premed students about classes, mentorship, research and other premed opportunities they have been involved with. Listen to their choices about their major and talk to them about unique classes that have shaped their college experience. Recent alumni may be in their gap years, so you can ask about their process of finding gap year opportunities. For alumni already in med school, ask how their undergraduate experiences prepared them. You can meet current students and alumni at admit weekends, college receptions and through friends and family.
Dig through university websites. School websites have bountiful resources, but don’t stop at the homepage. Look through the department pages for majors and professor research. Some schools make their course directories available publicly. There is also usually a directory of student organizations, which is a great place to find clubs you want to join and the contact emails of current potentially like-minded students.
No matter where you choose to attend college, you will have a fabulous time and there will be premed opportunities at your disposal. While narrowing the seemingly infinite opportunities may at first seem daunting, following your interests throughout college will lead you toward a well-rounded premed journey, which will shape you into a fantastic physician.
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