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, 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 college who actually end up in medical school.
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, UVA, and LSU. This isn't the norm, however, as many med school class profiles don't contain information about undergraduate institutions.
Whenever available, I included 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 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.
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-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.
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 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 in medical school!
Factor 6: 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 general education requirements, their major requirements, and their pre-med requirements.
As you might expect, many 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.)
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 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 special programs. The school also has many health-related student organizations.
Unfortunately, there’s no good information out there on med school acceptance rates for pre-meds at Johns Hopkins.
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.
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.
Penn’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 2017, 78% of Penn students who applied to med school were accepted—that's well above the national average of 43% 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.
Columbia is home to a top-15 med school. Here, students are assigned a pre-med advisor and attend informational meetings sponsored by the Premedical Committee.
Columbia's convenient NYC location guarantees easy access to countless clinics and hospitals, giving you plenty of opportunities for clinical and research experience.
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We've luckily found some information about med school acceptance rates for Duke undergrads—according to Duke, 85% of its college students get into med school, which is more than twice the national average. This likely has partly to do with the fact that Duke hosts a top-10 medical school.
In addition, pre-med students are assigned an advisor who mentors them through the college and med school application processes.
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, volunteering, etc., 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.
#8: UNC Chapel Hill
Unfortunately, UNC doesn’t track specifics when it comes to med school acceptance rates for pre-meds. One source states 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.
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. If you end up as a pre-med at Cornell, you’ll be in good company: about 1/6 of undergrads there 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 opportunities.
Finally, 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-20 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.
There is, however, a lot of info 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, you can get assurance of admission at Georgetown School of Medicine at the end of your senior year.
Georgetown isn’t ranked as highly as the other schools above are, but if you’re not interested in going into academia, this won’t matter too much.
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. For more guidance, check out our step-by-step guide on how to become a doctor and our list of the best books for pre-med students.
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!
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.
Tip 3: Keep Your GPA High
Many of the stats I 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.
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.