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Private vs Public School As a Pre-Med

Is it better to go to a private school or public school as a pre-med?  It’s honestly a complicated question because “private vs public” is not the only factor that plays into the answer. A school’s ranking, affiliation with its medical school (if it has one), location, and resources all play a role in its ability to send their students to medical schools throughout the country. With that being said, there is no clear-cut straightforward answer to private vs public school as a pre-med. In this article, I’ll address factors that you should consider before you make the important decision of what college you should go if your ultimate goal is to be a doctor.

Certainty in decision to be a doctor

This is probably the most important factor in your decision making process. Depending on how confident you are in your decision of going to medical school, you can choose your schools accordingly. If you are 100% confident, then you have the flexibility to going to a lower ranked, cheaper school on scholarship rather than going to an expensive, slightly higher ranked private school. For example, if you’re from California and you’re choosing between a state school like UCSD and USC, with no scholarships coming from either school, it wouldn’t hurt to go to UCSD because you will save money and because UCSD has a strong reputation of sending students to medical school. However, because USC is a higher ranked school with more resources and better student-to-faculty ratio, if you have any desire to do something besides medicine (such as business, accounting, or journalism), USC might be a better fit.


Unfortunately cost is an important factor when you want to become a doctor. If you have to pay $200,000 to go to a private university and then an additional $200,000-$300,000 to go to medical school, you will have at least half a million dollars of debt by the time you finish medical school. Even though physicians make decent money, it’s tough to be straddled by debt like that. That is why many students choose to save money by going to their state school if they are pretty sure they want to apply to medical school. Nevertheless, don’t let cost be the ultimate deciding factor for what school you go to. If you get into a great private school like Brown University and are choosing between Brown and University of Rhode Island (as a Rhode Island native), don’t let cost be the main reason why you go to the public school. Although US News rankings aren’t everything and tend to favor private schools, I personally wouldn’t sacrifice more than 30 ranks simply to save money.

||Read: Does Undergraduate Reputation Matter for Admission?||

Difficulty of curriculum

Private schools are known for grade inflation and much more student “hand-holding”. Public school students are often on their own and lost in the masses. And unfortunately, GPA is incredibly important when it comes to medical school admissions. For that reason alone, many students feel that going to a private school is more beneficial. For example, why go to University of Florida over New York University (NYU), if NYU is higher ranked and is “easier” to get better grades (this is probably where the previous point on price comes into play)? At the end of the day, a smart diligent student should do well regardless of whether there is grade inflation or not. Nevertheless, this doesn’t always hold true. There are other factors that can influence your grades such as class availability (it is notoriously difficulty to get the exact classes, with the best professor, that you want at a public school), student to faculty ratio, tutoring services, etc. With that being said, there are many students who fit in better in private schools because they offer more help and accountability to the struggling student.

||Read: What is the Best Major for Premeds?||


Resources can mean a lot of different things but primarily I’m thinking of career centers, counselors, mentors, clubs, volunteer/shadowing opportunities, research positions, alumni networks, and affiliated medical school. Smaller private schools may not have the same types of resources as large public universities. This may or may not have a significant impact on your pre-med experience. Once again, you have to weigh the pros and cons. For example, if you compare Pomona College and UCLA, Pomona College does not have an affiliated medical school. Nevertheless, it is a great school with an optimal student to faculty ratio, especially when compared to UCLA. UCLA is an amazing research institution with one of best hospitals in the nation right next to campus, but it is easy to get lost in the sea of pre-meds at UCLA.

When making the decision of what college to attend, self-evaluation is crucial. Are you someone who is willing to pay extra money for a better student to faculty ratio? Maybe this will serve you well and you will do better in school because of it. Were you able to survive the grind of a high school with a large graduating class? Maybe you’ll be more successful at a public university than the student who had a graduating class of 100. At the end of the day, it is hard to know if there is a right or wrong answer. However don’t simply let one factor such as cost or ranking be the sole deciding factor.

About Edward Chang

Edward Chang
Edward Chang is the Co-founder and Director of Operations of ProspectiveDoctor.com. He graduated from the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and is currently a urology resident at the University of Washington. He also attended UCLA as an undergraduate, graduating with a major in Molecular, Cell, and Developmental Biology. If you are interested in contributing to ProspectiveDoctor.com, please contact him at edwardchang@prospectivedoctor.com. Follow ProspectiveDoctor on Twitter, @ProspectiveDr.