Choosing an undergraduate school is the first major step any student will make on the path to becoming a physician. If you're an aspiring pre-med student, you'll want to give yourself the best opportunities and support networks in college and beyond. Applying to (and succeeding in) medical school is a grueling process, so you'll need 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? 6 Key Factors
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 highly ranked but that also provide unique support to pre-meds.
In creating this list of best pre-med schools, I considered the following six factors (as you should, too, when deciding on a school!).
Factor 1: Medical Schools Admissions History
This is perhaps the most obvious and most important factor to consider before applying to college. Various specialized resources for pre-meds are great, but what really matters (and what keys you in to whether these resources are effective or not) is the percentage of pre-med students from that university who actually end up in medical school. The higher the number, the better your odds will be when you start applying to med school, too.
The problem is that not all undergraduate institutions make this information easily available, and if they do, the numbers might be artificially inflated. For instance, they might not count students who start off as pre-med but don't fulfill all the requirements. Or they might attempt to "weed out" weaker students from the pre-med track with difficult classes.
That being said, here are some steps you can take to get a general sense of a school's med school admissions history:
- Start with online research to see whether any stats are available for the colleges you're interested in. Try searching "[School Name] pre-med admissions" on Google.
- Look into class profiles of med schools you're interested in. For example, Tulane's School of Medicine's latest class profile lists the major colleges and universities its students come from; these include Tulane, UCLA, Emory, UNC-Chapel Hill, and UC San Diego. This isn't the norm, however, as many med school class profiles don't contain information about undergraduate institutions.
- Check out other stats that can tell you about the quality of a program, like student/faculty ratios, internship opportunities, admissions rates, and national rankings.
To help you out, we've compiled available med school admissions stats in the descriptions below. If I could find stats only from unreliable sources, I did not include them on the list.
Factor 2: Pre-Med Advising
There are a lot of requirements and activities to keep track of when preparing for medical school applications—something you'll be thinking about as soon as you start your freshman year (or perhaps even earlier). Special pre-med advising programs are really helpful when it comes to making sure you're on the right track. That's because pre-med advising programs specialize in helping students get into med school, which means they have the inside scoop when it comes to keeping you 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. Be sure to visit your pre-med advisors early and often to make sure you're setting yourself up for success.
Factor 3: 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 look 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. And 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 highly 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.
Factor 4: 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, such as at a clinic or 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-med students. If you're in an area like this, be sure you're going after opportunities early on in your collegiate career. Also keep an eye out for internships in other cities and states that can help you add clinical experience to your résumé.
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.
Factor 5: Rigor of Curriculum
You might not be excited at the prospect of seeking out tough courses on purpose, but a rigorous curriculum will ensure you're prepared for both the MCAT and medical school. Schools that are tough on their pre-meds will ultimately produce stronger med school applicants, which is a good thing considering that less than half of all pre-med applicants end up in medical school!
Factor 6: Pre-Med Major vs Pre-Med School
Some colleges and universities don't actually have a dedicated pre-med major. If that's the case, you'll pick a STEM-based major instead. It will be up to you to become familiar with the requirements for med school and keep track of them yourself.
Having said that, many of those schools offer a pre-med track or emphasis that is designed to help aspiring doctors achieve their goals. Be sure you do your research to see what types of pre-med programs are available at your school.
As you might expect, some of the best schools for pre-meds don't have a specific pre-med major. That being said, they do have strong biological and physical sciences departments. (In fact, many students choose these majors because there's a lot of overlap with pre-med requirements.) Be sure to check with your university and your advisors to determine which major is best for you.
The Best Pre-Med Schools, Ranked
College rankings are helpful when starting your college search, but no ranking list is perfect since 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 schools using the factors described above.
Keep in mind that all of these schools are all stellar options, and the ranking numbers themselves aren't particularly important. What matters more is how these schools might or might not fit your college criteria.
Now, let's take a look at the best med schools!
Harvard's Office of Career Services estimates that 17% of any one of its classes will apply to med school—that's a huge fraction of the student body! Pre-med applicants with a 3.5 GPA 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 in which students are assigned a pre-med tutor sophomore through senior year.
Harvard University houses the #1 ranked medical school in the US and also boasts extremely strong biological sciences departments. There are several affiliated teaching hospitals nearby, too (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 you'll have numerous 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 (which isn't a major). This advising track includes individual appointments, small group meetings, and other special programs designed to help aspiring med school students succeed. The school also has many health-related student organizations, which also provide opportunities for undergraduates to build their med school résumés.
Stanford isn't just a top-ranked college—it also houses a top-ranked medical school. Special pre-med advisors are available to discuss ideas, plan your coursework, help you visualize your long-term objectives, and give you options for gaining experience in the field. They also offer internship opportunities for undergraduate students, which can help you get clinical hours and stellar letters or recommendation.
The pre-med community at Stanford seems especially organized and cohesive. The Stanford Pre-Medical Association offers lots of information and resources to students, all in one place. Unfortunately, however, there aren't good statistics about how many Stanford graduates make it into medical school every year. But since Stanford has world-class degree programs, you can bet that number is pretty high.
UPenn's Perelman School of Medicine is one of the best in the US; access to this med school means tons of research opportunities. But don't just take my word for it! In 2020, 80% of Penn students who applied to med school were accepted—that's well above the national average of 44% that year.
The school also offers a pre-health advising program to guide students through fulfilling pre-med requirements and successfully applying to medical school. Also, certain majors (like engineering) have a pre-med focus to help prepare you for the next step of your med school journey.
Columbia is home to a top ten med school. As undergraduates, though, students are assigned a pre-med advisor and attend informational meetings sponsored by the Premedical Committee. Columbia's convenient NYC location also guarantees easy access to countless clinics and hospitals, giving you plenty of opportunities for clinical and research experience.
Additionally, Columbia provides pre-med students with a sample course curriculum to help them meet the minimum requirements for med school applications. This handy sheet—along with the top-tier advising services offered at the university—can help you get an edge on the competition when it comes to medical school admissions. Unfortunately, though, Columbia doesn't release statistics on how many of its undergraduates are admitted into medical school each year.
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Not only is Duke one of the best universities in the nation, it also offers a robust pre-med program. Students get plugged into the pre-med advising program as soon as they walk on campus, and they also have incredible opportunities including health-centered study abroad programs and hands-on research experiences.
The med school acceptance rates for Duke undergrads are phenomenal—according to Duke, 70-80% of its college students get into med school, which is nearly twice the national average. This likely has partly to do with the fact that Duke hosts a top-10 medical school.
You might have noticed that all the schools on the list so far have been private schools. But not the University of Washington! UW is one of the best public med schools in terms of research and primary care, and pre-med students benefit significantly from these resources.
Pre-health career coaches and advisors help students with academic and vocational concerns, such as picking classes, job shadowing, research, and volunteering through a combination of individual and group meetings. There are also many pre-med student groups, including Alpha Epsilon Delta and the Student Health Consortium, which help you continue your pre-med education outside of the classroom.
While there aren't medical school acceptance statistics available for the University of Washington, the fact that its medical school is one of the best in the US ensures pre-med students will get a top-tier education.
#8: UNC Chapel Hill
Unfortunately, UNC doesn't track specifics when it comes to med school acceptance rates for pre-meds. We can presume the number is fairly high given that UNC has a very good reputation across many health fields for both undergraduate and graduate students. They also offer specialization tracks, which can set you apart as you apply for medical school (especially if you want to go into medical research).
UNC 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, this could be a good option for you.
An impressive 76% of Cornell pre-meds with a GPA of 3.4 or higher got into medical school in 2016, and 63% of all Cornell applicants were accepted into medical school the same year. If you end up as a pre-med at Cornell, you'll be in good company: about 17% of undergrads there are interested in pursuing a career in medicine.
The school's Health Careers Program provides specialized advising, programs, information, and an Evaluation Committee to pre-med students. This Committee is particularly helpful when it comes to getting letters of recommendation for medical school applications.
Outdoorsy students might not mind trading an urban environment for the scenery in Ithaca, NY.
With a top-15 med school, Northwestern offers lots of 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 for students at Northwestern. However, Northwestern does publish a list of medical schools that its graduates have been admitted to in the past five years, which includes top programs like Harvard's and Columbia's medical schools.
Northwestern also provides pre-med students with tons of resources, many of which are available 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 also welcome to schedule individual meetings or stop by during drop-in hours, meaning you'll get plenty of hands-on help.
We're 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, you can get assurance of admission at Georgetown School of Medicine at the end of your senior year. That's a great deal, especially since Georgetown's School of Medicine is one of the top 60 medical schools in the nation.
3 Final 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!), you can set yourself up for success by following these three tips. Remember: medical school admissions rates are incredibly competitive, so focusing on your goals now can give you a huge leg up later.
Tip 1: 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! Load up on STEM classes in high school, and really focus on learning the material. If you're struggling, be sure to ask your teachers for help, and don't be afraid of tutoring!
You should also try to take your math and science courses as AP or IB classes if possible. First, it's important for you to learn how to succeed even in the most difficult courses. Second, many high schools use weighted GPAs for advanced courses, which can make a huge difference when it comes to raising your cumulative GPA.
It might 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.
Tip 2: 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 features that will affect your quality of life.
Are you happy with the general area in which the school is located? What about the school's room and board options? Are there student groups or activities you're excited about? If you're not happy at school on a day-to-day basis, this could negatively affect your performance when trying to fulfill your pre-med requirements. Take some time to really evaluate your personal goals and needs to ensure you're choosing a pre-med program that's right for you.
Tip 3: Keep Your GPA High
Many of the stats we found on pre-med acceptance rates to med schools qualified those stats by providing information based on students' GPAs. The implicit (or sometimes explicit) implication here is that students with higher GPAs have more success getting into med school.
While of course an undergraduate institution with research opportunities and great advising will help your chances, those resources can only do so much if your grades aren't great. A tough undergraduate program only helps if you do well in it!
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, consider getting some hands-on experience. You might not think there's much you can do as a high school student, but there is! Start by shadowing a physician, and then check out our guide to the best med programs for students in high school.
If you're interested in pre-med programs, you might also be interested in BS/MD programs. Take a look at our comprehensive guide on how to get into a great BS/MD program to streamline the med school application process.
Want to know what you should be doing right now to prepare for pre-med programs? Read our complete guide on how to prepare for pre-med in high school and our list of the seven books every pre-med student should read.
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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.