Does undergraduate reputation matter for admissions? Unfortunately, the answer to this question is complicated. In a sense, the undergraduate institution you attend is insignificant. In another sense, it is significant.
Why is it insignificant?
When admissions committees from medical schools look at your application, the reputation of your undergraduate institution is definitely not one of the first things they consider. If a student has a high GPA and MCAT, solid extracurricular activities, a strong personal statement, and thoughtful supplementary essay responses, his or her school’s reputation will have little bearing on admissions. A good applicant is a good applicant.
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Let’s take a look at two applicants who theoretically have the same strong extracurricular activities and essay writing skills:
1. Brian goes to a state school that is not highly ranked. His school is known more for its parties than its science program. At this school, he pulled off a 4.0. However, he’s worried that prestigious medical schools would look down on him because his school is not very competitive. He takes the MCAT during the summer and gets a 38. Does his school’s reputation matter anymore? No, because 38 is in the 99th percentile. The high MCAT proves that he is able to compete in the big leagues. There is little uniformity in how students are tested in their prerequisite classes but the MCAT is the equalizer. Regardless of the school he attends, Brian is a great applicant and has a shot at every school in the nation.
2. Kelly attends Harvard. At the end of three years, she has a 3.5 GPA. Her MCAT is a 32, which is 88th percentile. Unfortunately, her numbers make her an average to slightly below average applicant. The fact that she goes to Harvard does not make up for her GPA and MCAT, rendering the name of her school insignificant.
Why is it significant?
Simply because of human nature, we are affected by rankings and reputations. MIT is notorious for having grade deflation. Their classes are difficult and not many students, no matter how bright they are, have good GPA’s. This is probably common knowledge among admissions committees. Therefore when looking at an applicant from MIT, they will most likely be more lenient with him or her (whether purposefully or unknowingly). If an applicant from MIT has a high GPA but a low MCAT (3.8 and 30), admissions committees might think he or she is very smart but just not very good at standardized tests. So going to a highly ranked school will slightly make up for a lower GPA or MCAT, but probably not both. If you do not go to a prestigious school with a reputation for difficult classes, admissions committees will most likely not give you that benefit of the doubt.
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Another factor that is often overlooked is that prestigious schools usually have more resources and opportunities for pre-meds. Most of the highly ranked medical schools are major research institutions. And the undergraduate portions of these medical schools are usually respectable as well. So if you go to UCLA as an undergraduate, you have the opportunity to do research with prominent researchers. In addition, there are numerous hospitals and clinics attached to UCLA where you can volunteer, shadow or work. This helps build your resume and get influential letters of recommendations. Although UCLA is a big school and students are not pampered, the resources were abundant. Therefore, even if reputation does not directly affect admissions, going to a good school can help indirectly.
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Like I have said before, you should not think too much about the reputation of the college you attend, but more about how you do at the college you choose. However, if you are choosing schools and you are tempted to go to a school that is not as good but has the reputation of having easier classes, you might have to think twice. Think about what opportunities you will have. Also if the classes were always easy, would you be prepared for the rigor of medical school? On the flip side, if you go to a school known for grade deflation, it will definitely be harder to obtain a competitive GPA. However, managing that will be a strong indicator that you will find success as a medical student. If you attend a reputable university, don’t expect admissions committees to be impressed at the mere name of your school. They have seen it before. You will need to be a good applicant regardless. If you go to a relatively unknown school, be sure to prove yourself by taking advantage of lesser competition. Don’t get in the habit of slacking just because the school is easier. And make sure you show the hot shots at Ivy League schools that you are just as smart as them by scoring well on your MCAT.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ProspectiveDoctor. Follow ProspectiveDoctor on Twitter @ProspectiveDr