Choosing an undergraduate institution is the first major step any student will make on the path to becoming a physician. If you’re an aspiring pre-med, you should set yourself with the best opportunities and support networks in college and beyond - applying to (and succeeding in) medical school is a grueling process, and you’ll want to be prepared.
Here, I’ll talk about what actually makes a school good for pre-meds before getting into the good stuff: the list of best pre-med schools.
What Makes a School Good for Pre-Meds?
Pre-med students need a lot of specialized resources and opportunities as undergraduates in order to boost their med school applications. It’s important that aspiring physicians attend schools that aren’t only high-ranked, but also provide unique support to pre-meds, so in creating my list of best pre-med schools, I considered the folowing factors (as you should, when deciding on a school).
Medical Schools Admissions History
This is perhaps the most obvious, and most important, factor to consider. Various specialized resources for pre-meds are great, but the only thing that really matters (and the thing that keys you in to whether these resources are actually effective) is the % of pre-med students from that college that actually end up at medical school.
The problem is that not all undergraduate institutions make this information easily available, and if they do, the numbers may be artificially inflated - they may not count students, for example, who start off as pre-med but don’t fulfill all requirements. They may also “weed out” weaker students from the pre-med track with difficult classes. That being said, there are some things you can do to get a general idea of a school’s med school admissions history:
- Start with online research to see if any stats are available on colleges you’re interested in (e.g. “[school name] pre-med admissions”).
- Look into class profiles of med schools you’re interested in. For example, the Tulane School of Medicine’s latest class profile notes the major colleges and universities its students come from - they include Tulane, UC Berkeley, UCLA, Vanderbilt, Johns Hopkins, Emory, and Northwestern. Information about undergraduate institutions isn't available on many med school class profiles.
When available, I included med school admissions stats in the descriptions below. If I could find stats only from unreliable sources, I didn’t include them.
There are a lot of requirements and activities to keep track of when preparing for medical school applications - something you’ll be thinking about starting as a freshman in college (or perhaps even earlier). Special pre-med advising programs are really helpful when it comes to making sure you’re on the right track.
Knowledgeable pre-med advisors and mentors should be able to prepare you for all aspects of the application process, including course and major selection, application development, and interview preparation. The more intensive the advising resources, the better prepared you’ll be for your med school applications.
Research and Publication Opportunities
You’ll need research experience in some sort of STEM lab for med school applications. The earlier you start your research, and the more research you do, the more impressive you’ll be to medical schools.
Well-funded research institutions will often have many opportunities for undergrads to get involved in labs simply because more research is happening. More research means more opportunities for you to get your name on a paper or two, which is a big plus for your CV.
You’ll notice that most of the schools on this list are very well-ranked research powerhouses with excellent medical schools - this is no coincidence. The same research funding, facilities, and faculty that make a med school great also help make a school great for pre-meds.
Clinical Experience Opportunities
You don’t just need research experience for your med school apps - you also need work in clinical settings. Oftentimes, you’ll have to get this experience through volunteer work (like at a clinic or a nursing home).
If you’re in an area with limited clinical environments it’ll be tough to get the experience you need, especially if you have to compete with other pre-meds.
Med schools want to see that you’ve spent time in the field - make sure your school of choice offers opportunities for you to gain this experience.
Rigor of Curriculum
This may seem counter-intuitive - you may not be excited at the prospect of seeking out tough courses on purpose - but a rigorous curriculum will ensure that you’re prepared both for the MCAT and for medical school. Schools that are tough on their premeds will ultimately produce stronger med school applicants, which is a good thing considering that less than half of all pre-med applicants end up at medical school at all.
Pre-Med Major vs. Pre-Med School
Most colleges and universities don’t actually have a dedicated pre-med major. At these schools, students are responsible for meeting their gen ed reqs, their reqs for their major, and their pre-med reqs.
As you may have expected, then, many of the best schools for pre-meds won’t have a specific pre-med major, but they will have strong biological and physical sciences departments (many students choose these majors because there’s a lot of overlap with pre-med requirements).
Best Pre-Med Schools
College rankings are helpful when starting your college search, but no ranking list is perfect - there’s no way to come up with an officially objective system that applies to all students.
In an effort to be as transparent as possible, I’ve compiled this list of the best pre-med colleges using the factors I’ve described above. The ranking numbers themselves aren’t particularly important - what matters more is how these schools may or may not fit your own college criteria.
Harvard’s Office of Career Services estimates that 17% of any one of its classes will apply to med school - this is a huge fraction of the student body. Pre-med applicants with a GPA of 3.5 or higher had a 93% acceptance rate to med schools in 2013, whereas average acceptance rates that year were about 42%.
Harvard College offers a peer pre-med advising program, where students are assigned a pre-med tutor sophomore through senior year.
Harvard University hosts the country’s #1 ranked medical school, and also boasts very strong biological sciences departments. There are several affiliated teaching hospitals nearby (which are great for both research and clinical experience).
#2: Johns Hopkins
Johns Hopkins is well-reputed as a very highly ranked med school and medical research institution, which means a lot of research and clinical opportunities. You’re sure to have access to impressive resources as the university is affiliated with one of the best teaching hospitals in the country.
Undergraduates at Johns Hopkins follow a pre-med advising program track (not a major). This advising track includes individual appointments, small group meetings, and special programs. Unfortunately, there’s no good information out there on med school acceptance rates for pre-meds. Finally, the school hosts many health-related student organizations.
Stanford isn’t just a top-ranked college - it also hosts a top-ranked medical school. Special pre-med advisors are available to discuss ideas, coursework planning, long-term objectives, and options for gaining experience.
The pre-med community at Stanford seems particularly organized and cohesive. The Stanford Premedical Association has a lot of information and resources available to students, all in one place.
UPenn’s Perelman School of Medicine is one of the best in the country; access to this med school means tons of research opportunities. But don’t just take my word for it! In 2013, 76% of UPenn students who applied to med school were accepted, which was well above the national average of 43% for that year.
The school offers a pre-health advising program to guide students through fulfilling pre-med requirements and successfully applying to medical school.
At Columbia, students are assigned a pre-med advisor and attend informational meetings sponsored by the Premedical Committee throughout their time there. The university hosts a top 10 med school.
The NYC location means access to countless clinics and hospitals, which means many opportunities for clinical and research experience.
We actually have some information about med school acceptance rates for Duke undergrads - the school states that 85% of its college students get into med school, which is about twice the national average.
This may have something to do with the fact that Duke hosts a top 10 medical school. In addition, pre-med students are also assigned an advisor to mentor them through the college and med school application process.
You may have noticed that all the schools on the list so far have been private, but not the University of Washington. UW is one of the best public med schools when it comes to both research and primary care, and pre-med students benefit from these resources.
Pre-health advisors help students with academic and vocational concerns (e.g. picking classes, job shadowing, research, volunteering) with both individual and group meetings. There are also many pre-med student groups, including Alpha Epsilon Delta and the Student Health Consortium.
#8: UNC Chapel Hill
The school states it “doesn’t track specifics” when it comes to med school acceptance rates for pre-meds. One source stated that 90% of UNC pre-med students who apply to med school get in, but take this with a grain of salt. Overall, UNC has a very good reputation across many health fields for both undergraduate and graduate students.
Pre-meds benefit from the Special Health Professions Advising Office, which provides many resources to students interested in health professions.
UNC also offers an interesting nine-week Medical Education Development (MED) summer program, an intensive program for smart and committed students who have lacked past opportunities to move toward a career in the medical field. If you’re not ready to attend college as a pre-med but want to become a physician, you may want to check it out.
An impressive 71% of Cornell pre-meds with a GPA of 3.4 or better were accepted to medical school in 2013. If you end up as a pre-med at Cornell, you’ll be in good company: about ⅙ of undergrads are interested in pursuing a career in medicine.
The school is pretty isolated, so the best research and clinical experiences are the ones on campus. Cornell has a decently-ranked med school which likely provides many of these on-campus opportunities.
Finally, the school’s Health Careers program provides specialized advising, programs, information, and an Evaluation Committee. This Committee will prove to be very helpful when it comes to getting letters of recommendation for medical school applications.
Outdoorsy students may not mind trading an urban environment for the scenery in Ithaca, NY.
With a top 20 med school, Northwestern offers a lot of great research and clinical opportunities. It helps that the school is located in a bustling urban area. Unfortunately, there’s no available info on pre-med acceptance rates to medical schools.
There is, however, a lot of information on available resources on the school’s pre-med advising website. These advisors help students with everything from choosing courses to applying to med school. Pre-meds are welcome to schedule individual meetings or stop by during drop-in hours.
I’m including Georgetown on this list because it offers a pretty interesting option for students who like to plan ahead called the Early Assurance Program. If you’re a high-achieving pre-med student at Georgetown College, you can get assurance of admission at Georgetown School of Medicine at the end of your senior year.
Georgetown isn’t one of the country’s top-ranked med schools, but if you’re not interested in going into academia this won’t matter so much.
3 Tips for Future Pre-Med Students
If you’re thinking about choosing a pre-med track (or even if you’re still just thinking about it), set yourself up for success by following these tips. For even more guidance, check out our step-by-step guide to how to become a doctor.
Focus on Math and Science in High School
You’ll need a foundation in high school for your pre-med courses in college, and you’ll need to do well in those college courses in order to get into med school - it’s that simple.
It may be painful at times, but doing well in math and science classes will set you up for better admissions chances at one of these top pre-med programs.
Look Beyond Schools’ Pre-Med Programs
There are so many other factors to consider when making a decision about where to go to college. A school’s pre-med program is important of course, but so are the more practical things that will affect your quality of life.
Are you happy with the general area? What about the school’s room and board options? Are there student groups and activities that you’re excited about? If you’re not happy at school on a day-to-day basis, that could affect your performance when trying to fulfill your pre-med requirements.
Keep Your GPA High
Many of the stats I could find on pre-med acceptance rates to med school qualify those stats by providing info based on students’ GPA. The implicit (or sometimes explicit) implication here is that students with higher GPAs have more success getting into med school.
Of course an undergraduate institution with research opportunities and great advising will help your chances, but those resources can only do so much if your grades aren’t so great. Conversely, you can still get into med school with great grades and an awesome MCAT score even if you didn’t go to a super prestigious undergraduate institution.
If you’re still figuring out whether a career as a physician is right for you, think about getting some hands-on experience. You may not think there’s much you can do as a high school student, but there is! Start by shadowing a physician, and check out our guide to 59 great med programs for students in high school.
If you’re interested in pre-med programs, you may also be interested in BS/MD programs. Check out our comprehensive guide on how to get into a great BS/MD program to streamline the med school application process.
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Francesca graduated magna cum laude from Harvard and scored in the 99th percentile on the SATs. She's worked with many students on SAT prep and college counseling, and loves helping students capitalize on their strengths.