Help me choose a college: The importance of school rigor/ranking & public vs private

Kurk

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So I'm going to be applying to colleges soon and am wondering about the importance of private vs public, rigor of the school, school ranking, etc.

My understanding was that medical/dentistry schools generally do not care about where you graduate from; a 3.7 gpa from Rochester is the same as a 3.7 gpa from the University of Michigan.

I am, however, assuming that a 3.5 gpa from Harvard/Stanford/Princeton is superior to a 3.7 from Florida State University or at least on the same level.

I will be applying to a few in-state public schools which are very cheap, a couple of small private schools which are mid-range, and a few private research institutions with top of the end tuition rates.

I plan to apply to all and see what financial packages they offer me.

I will also be considering the following when choosing a school:

- Will I be a big fish in a little pond or the other way around? How will this affect my academic performance?
- How long of a commute will I have to deal with? How will this add to unforeseen expenses like car maintenance and loss of study/volunteer time?
- What kind of people will I be around? Promiscuous types who spend Fridays drinking and partying or those who make good use of the time?
- Are there many shadowing/volunteering opportunities close by?
- Cost of parking
- Research facility quality
- Do they have my major/minor of choice?



I would greatly appreciate it if someone could link me to a page which answers the question or leave some feedback. Thanks.
 

eteshoe

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Before answering could you clarify a few things for me?

- how has your performance in high school been (and the level of rigor at that school)?
- what major (and minor) are you thinking of pursuing?
- Do you want to take all 4 yrs (or more) or finish faster?
 
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Kurk

Kurk

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Before answering could you clarify a few things for me?

- how has your performance in high school been (and the level of rigor at that school)?
- what major (and minor) are you thinking of pursuing?
- Do you want to take all 4 yrs (or more) or finish faster?
a. I have a 3.5 gpa with an upward trend since freshman year. Last two semesters would be closer to 3.7/3.8. I attend a private college-prep school which is known for its rigor. A 3.5 here is closer to a 3.7 in the public schools (according to my college counselor).

b. I'm thinking molecular biology with a minor in finance or business

c. Four years is the max I would spend; three years is a bonus but I've heard this being frowned upon by med/dentistry schools. I would love to take summer semester courses regardless of whether or not they help me graduate earlier.
 

Mongoosie

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Focus on attending a school where you can succeed grade-wise, the business/finance program doesn't suck, and the science program has a good rep. Make sure that you can get involved there with EC's and research as well.

Public vs. Private UG might matter to Yale, Stanford, Harvard. But even HMS has a kid from Colorado State University.

One of my favorite teachers has a mantra - "it's not where you go, it's what you do while you're there".
 

eteshoe

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I'll just quote an earlier post I made regarding a similar question:

[...]

What are good colleges for pre med?
Any solid state or private school that will give you a decent selection of majors with a good sized alumni network should suffice. This will allow you to get a good education, gain some unique experience(s), expand your professional network, and provide you with solid career opportunities if you so choose not to pursue medicine.

[...]

What should I do now if I want to be a doctor?
- Attend a solid college.
- Pick a doable but marketable major (doesn't have to be an insanely difficult major like engineering but if you like it go for it).
- Do well in that major (try to keep a 3.7+ GPA) and remember to utilize the school's tutoring services, TAs, office hrs, friends, upperclassmen, etc.
- Study well and get a solid MCAT score (aim for 513+).
- Get involved in a few clubs and try to enjoy the college experience.
- Of course volunteer, shadow, etc and get into med school.
- Do well in med school, aim to crush step 1 and your clinical clerkships
- Don't be an a-hole

Hopefully that helps a bit. Good luck with your academic and career endeavors!
Remember - numbers matter only up to a point, so don't harp on being a perfectionist and push yourself to learn/do something cool in college.
 

efle

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So I'm going to be applying to colleges soon and am wondering about the importance of private vs public, rigor of the school, school ranking, etc.

My understanding was that medical/dentistry schools generally do not care about where you graduate from; a 3.7 gpa from Rochester is the same as a 3.7 gpa from the University of Michigan.

I am, however, assuming that a 3.5 gpa from Harvard/Stanford/Princeton is superior to a 3.7 from Florida State University or at least on the same level.

I will be applying to a few in-state public schools which are very cheap, a couple of small private schools which are mid-range, and a few private research institutions with top of the end tuition rates.

I plan to apply to all and see what financial packages they offer me.

I will also be considering the following when choosing a school:

- Will I be a big fish in a little pond or the other way around? How will this affect my academic performance?
- How long of a commute will I have to deal with? How will this add to unforeseen expenses like car maintenance and loss of study/volunteer time?
- What kind of people will I be around? Promiscuous types who spend Fridays drinking and partying or those who make good use of the time?
- Are there many shadowing/volunteering opportunities close by?
- Cost of parking
- Research facility quality
- Do they have my major/minor of choice?



I would greatly appreciate it if someone could link me to a page which answers the question or leave some feedback. Thanks.
a. I have a 3.5 gpa with an upward trend since freshman year. Last two semesters would be closer to 3.7/3.8. I attend a private college-prep school which is known for its rigor. A 3.5 here is closer to a 3.7 in the public schools (according to my college counselor).

b. I'm thinking molecular biology with a minor in finance or business

c. Four years is the max I would spend; three years is a bonus but I've heard this being frowned upon by med/dentistry schools. I would love to take summer semester courses regardless of whether or not they help me graduate earlier.
Do you have an SAT/ACT score? Or something like a PSAT that predicts Top 20-competitive scores?
 
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Kurk

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I would apply to a variety of types of schools and then make the decision based upon where you get in.
Right, but if it was up to me I'd go to the cheapest place without thinking about anything else. If school rigor/status really counts for professional schools I'd like to know now so I don't regret it later.
 
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WedgeDawg

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Okay, I'm half a decade out from the college admissions game (wow that's weird), but I'm going to give advice based on the assumption that it's slightly harder now than it was then.

With a 28 ACT, assuming you're not planning on taking it again or whatever, you're not going to be super competitive for the schools that would make any sort of difference in medical school admissions. According to an AAMC report (which can be found in the Essential SDN thread or in probably 25% of @efle's post history), private medical schools consider selectivity of undergraduate institution to be quite important while public medical schools don't consider it to be very important. Now, this is an overarching generalization and won't necessarily hold true for specific schools (i.e. Michigan, even though it's a public school, seems to likely place some degree of importance on undergrad school because outside of Michigan, a disproportionately high number of their students come from Ivies/Duke/Stanford/whatever - you can find this on their class profiles page if you're interested; they have data for the previous 10 years).

So overall, yes, undergraduate school plays some role - not all schools are equal.

Now, you have to be very careful about how you interpret that because you can't go around saying things like "3.5 at Harvard is equal to a 3.9 at University of State School" - that's just not how it works. Rather than comparing them directly, we should look at them separately and see what competitiveness will be at varying levels of application strength. For simplicity's sake and to more directly address your question, I'm only going to consider MCAT and GPA (but obviously that's not how it works in real life).

Top undergrad school first:

High MCAT, High GPA - this is literally the top of the heap; you'll be getting interviews nearly everywhere you apply and you can definitely count on merit scholarships and Top 20 acceptances

High MCAT, okay GPA (think like 3.5) - you're still going to be fine and will likely get interviews at solid places; best chances will be at schools that care about prestige, mid tiers, and your state schools

not high MCAT, High GPA - you'll probably be fine; target low tier schools and your state schools

not high MCAT, not high GPA - you're not in great shape; your "prestige" won't help you here because neither of your stats are good

Other undergrad now:

High MCAT, High GPA - you're going to have great luck everywhere; you might not get quite as many top 20 interviews as someone from Harvard with the same stats, but you'll get a lot and you're in great shape

High MCAT, okay GPA - this is probably where the biggest difference exists; while someone from an Ivy might be quite successful in their application cycle with these stats, your state school grad won't do quite as well. They still have a good shot at med school, but it's not going to be as good as someone from a more selective undergrad; anecdotally, most of the people I know in this situation made it to med school, but several off the waitlist in June/July and at low tier schools or, best case scenario, their state schools

not high MCAT, high GPA - this is the "average" successful applicant; your state schools are your best bet - not too different from top undergrad

not high MCAT, not high GPA - bad shape

Now, some of these may be way too overgeneralized, but bear with me a sec. You'll notice that the main difference occurs at the high MCAT, not so high GPA stage (let's say 3.5 / 37). Someone from, say, Columbia or Princeton with these stats is likely going to have a very successful cycle because they have several fallback mid-tier private schools (USC-Keck, Hofstra, Einstein, etc) that just love to eat up top undergrad alumni for whatever reason and are happy to take students like this. However, if you had those same stats from, say, Virginia Tech, while still an excellent school, you're not going to have that fallback option and will basically be hoping to be picked up by a state school or, otherwise, a low tier private (which you'll be paying outrageous sums of money to attend).

Why this discrepancy exists, we can only speculate.

So in the grand scheme of things, it makes little difference where you go and more difference how you perform. I would not recommend going to a top undergrad unless you are a great test taker because chances are your GPA is going to be lower (see my discussion on grade inflation at Ivies in my sig and how that actually works - you're likely to be near the median, which in science classes is usually a B and a 3.2 sGPA from Penn isn't going to impress anyone) and so you might have to rely on your MCAT to help pull the numbers side of your app through. If you're a strong test taker, you're usually safe at top schools and will likely have success.

State school is generally a safe bet if you're an acceptable test taker and a great bet if you're an amazing test taker, because as long as you can keep up a 3.7 (competition is overall going to be less intense at your state school then it is at Yale, so it might very well be more doable) and get a 30+, you're in "okay" shape for med school (that's around the accepted median), and if you are a superstar and are getting like a 3.9/38, then no one is really going to care where you went.

Sorry this was so long, but it's a nuanced topic and I didn't want to blow it off with a short but inadequate response.
 

efle

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Great post by Wedgie. Here is the AAMC chart he's talking about.

I don't want to sound rude but feel like I have to say this: if the 28 ACT is a representative score, you shouldn't attend private top 20s even if admitted, because you will likely find the competition completely overwhelming. A 90th percentile score is great, but makes it way too much of a gamble to enroll in places where the median scores are 99th. I saw too many excellent students give up on medical ambitions because of how tough it is to remain top ~1/3rd in the equally excellent student body.

I would say prioritize finances. After that, look at location, school culture (this is a big one), course catalogs/majors and minors of interest, etc. Apply to some big state schools that have honors colleges, or some LACs that are hurting for science-oriented students, get a great deal and enjoy being one of the bigger fish in the pond.

And lastly

Promiscuous types who spend Fridays drinking and partying or those who make good use of the time?
I have a hard time thinking of a better use of Friday night than partying with your friends, and judging people on their sex life is so last century. I'm only a few months out of college and miss the hell out of it already, try to get the whole experience and not just a great GPA!
 
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Kurk

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Okay, I'm half a decade out from the college admissions game (wow that's weird), but I'm going to give advice based on the assumption that it's slightly harder now than it was then.

With a 28 ACT, assuming you're not planning on taking it again or whatever, you're not going to be super competitive for the schools that would make any sort of difference in medical school admissions. According to an AAMC report (which can be found in the Essential SDN thread or in probably 25% of @efle's post history), private medical schools consider selectivity of undergraduate institution to be quite important while public medical schools don't consider it to be very important. Now, this is an overarching generalization and won't necessarily hold true for specific schools (i.e. Michigan, even though it's a public school, seems to likely place some degree of importance on undergrad school because outside of Michigan, a disproportionately high number of their students come from Ivies/Duke/Stanford/whatever - you can find this on their class profiles page if you're interested; they have data for the previous 10 years).

So overall, yes, undergraduate school plays some role - not all schools are equal.

Now, you have to be very careful about how you interpret that because you can't go around saying things like "3.5 at Harvard is equal to a 3.9 at University of State School" - that's just not how it works. Rather than comparing them directly, we should look at them separately and see what competitiveness will be at varying levels of application strength. For simplicity's sake and to more directly address your question, I'm only going to consider MCAT and GPA (but obviously that's not how it works in real life).

Top undergrad school first:

High MCAT, High GPA - this is literally the top of the heap; you'll be getting interviews nearly everywhere you apply and you can definitely count on merit scholarships and Top 20 acceptances

High MCAT, okay GPA (think like 3.5) - you're still going to be fine and will likely get interviews at solid places; best chances will be at schools that care about prestige, mid tiers, and your state schools

not high MCAT, High GPA - you'll probably be fine; target low tier schools and your state schools

not high MCAT, not high GPA - you're not in great shape; your "prestige" won't help you here because neither of your stats are good

Other undergrad now:

High MCAT, High GPA - you're going to have great luck everywhere; you might not get quite as many top 20 interviews as someone from Harvard with the same stats, but you'll get a lot and you're in great shape

High MCAT, okay GPA - this is probably where the biggest difference exists; while someone from an Ivy might be quite successful in their application cycle with these stats, your state school grad won't do quite as well. They still have a good shot at med school, but it's not going to be as good as someone from a more selective undergrad; anecdotally, most of the people I know in this situation made it to med school, but several off the waitlist in June/July and at low tier schools or, best case scenario, their state schools

not high MCAT, high GPA - this is the "average" successful applicant; your state schools are your best bet - not too different from top undergrad

not high MCAT, not high GPA - bad shape

Now, some of these may be way too overgeneralized, but bear with me a sec. You'll notice that the main difference occurs at the high MCAT, not so high GPA stage (let's say 3.5 / 37). Someone from, say, Columbia or Princeton with these stats is likely going to have a very successful cycle because they have several fallback mid-tier private schools (USC-Keck, Hofstra, Einstein, etc) that just love to eat up top undergrad alumni for whatever reason and are happy to take students like this. However, if you had those same stats from, say, Virginia Tech, while still an excellent school, you're not going to have that fallback option and will basically be hoping to be picked up by a state school or, otherwise, a low tier private (which you'll be paying outrageous sums of money to attend).

Why this discrepancy exists, we can only speculate.

So in the grand scheme of things, it makes little difference where you go and more difference how you perform. I would not recommend going to a top undergrad unless you are a great test taker because chances are your GPA is going to be lower (see my discussion on grade inflation at Ivies in my sig and how that actually works - you're likely to be near the median, which in science classes is usually a B and a 3.2 sGPA from Penn isn't going to impress anyone) and so you might have to rely on your MCAT to help pull the numbers side of your app through. If you're a strong test taker, you're usually safe at top schools and will likely have success.

State school is generally a safe bet if you're an acceptable test taker and a great bet if you're an amazing test taker, because as long as you can keep up a 3.7 (competition is overall going to be less intense at your state school then it is at Yale, so it might very well be more doable) and get a 30+, you're in "okay" shape for med school (that's around the accepted median), and if you are a superstar and are getting like a 3.9/38, then no one is really going to care where you went.

Sorry this was so long, but it's a nuanced topic and I didn't want to blow it off with a short but inadequate response.
Wow, that was really helpful actually. Thank you much. Btw, I know my ACT isn't awesome; I crammed a week before and took it once. For my purposes it's adequate because I'm confined to the schools in my area where a 28 is competitive enough (with the exception of one high-end university which is a reach but not Princeton level or anything).
Great post by Wedgie. Here is the AAMC chart he's talking about.

I don't want to sound rude but feel like I have to say this: if the 28 ACT is a representative score, you shouldn't attend private top 20s even if admitted, because you will likely find the competition completely overwhelming. A 90th percentile score is great, but makes it way too much of a gamble to enroll in places where the median scores are 99th. I saw too many excellent students give up on medical ambitions because of how tough it is to remain top ~1/3rd in the equally excellent student body.

I would say prioritize finances. After that, look at location, school culture (this is a big one), course catalogs/majors and minors of interest, etc. Apply to some big state schools that have honors colleges, or some LACs that are hurting for science-oriented students, get a great deal and enjoy being one of the bigger fish in the pond.

And lastly


I have a hard time thinking of a better use of Friday night than partying with your friends, and judging people on their sex life is so last century. I'm only a few months out of college and miss the hell out of it already, try to get the whole experience and not just a great GPA!
Not rude at all. I like realists. I agree, the competition would be fierce in one of those schools; I'm already experiencing it at my high-school where everyone is at my level or higher—you're the small fish in the pond.

As for the last part, I am a rather prude person so...
 

efle

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For my purposes it's adequate because I'm confined to the schools in my area where a 28 is competitive enough (with the exception of one high-end university which is a reach but not Princeton level or anything).
Do you mind naming the area/schools? Or PM me.


As for the last part, I am a rather prude person so...
I've been with the same person since halfway through high school, so it's not my style either, but it's a lame reason to judge people that might make for awesome friends
 
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Instatewaiter

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So I'm going to be applying to colleges soon and am wondering about the importance of private vs public, rigor of the school, school ranking, etc.

My understanding was that medical/dentistry schools generally do not care about where you graduate from; a 3.7 gpa from Rochester is the same as a 3.7 gpa from the University of Michigan.

I am, however, assuming that a 3.5 gpa from Harvard/Stanford/Princeton is superior to a 3.7 from Florida State University or at least on the same level.

I will be applying to a few in-state public schools which are very cheap, a couple of small private schools which are mid-range, and a few private research institutions with top of the end tuition rates.

I plan to apply to all and see what financial packages they offer me.

I will also be considering the following when choosing a school:

- Will I be a big fish in a little pond or the other way around? How will this affect my academic performance?
- How long of a commute will I have to deal with? How will this add to unforeseen expenses like car maintenance and loss of study/volunteer time?
- What kind of people will I be around? Promiscuous types who spend Fridays drinking and partying or those who make good use of the time?
- Are there many shadowing/volunteering opportunities close by?
- Cost of parking
- Research facility quality
- Do they have my major/minor of choice?



I would greatly appreciate it if someone could link me to a page which answers the question or leave some feedback. Thanks.
My recommendation would be to go to the strongest school you can which is also affordable. If they are on similar tiers and one is 20K more per year than the other, going to the cheaper school is probably best. I think, as you say, waiting to see what the final financial package consists of will be the best idea. However, an extra 20K for Harvard as opposed to FSU is worth the money for connections you make and for the prestige.

Prestige will matter for medical school and will somewhat make up for GPA but not large differences. For instance a 3.7 from Michigan will definitely be viewed stronger than a 3.7 from FSU but a 3.4 from Michigan may not be vieweed stronger than a 3.7 from FSU. To expound upon the prestige portion, almost all of the people in my medical school class came from well known universities both public and private (Harvard, stanford, UVA, William and Mary, Michigan, UC berkley, UNC etc) with probably about 10% coming from less well known schools and another 10% coming from the undergrad associated with the medical school. Perhaps this is because stronger students end up at these well known schools or perhaps it is because you get help, are exposed to mentors who know med school faculty and the like.
 

Instatewaiter

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- Will I be a big fish in a little pond or the other way around? How will this affect my academic performance?
- How long of a commute will I have to deal with? How will this add to unforeseen expenses like car maintenance and loss of study/volunteer time?
- What kind of people will I be around? Promiscuous types who spend Fridays drinking and partying or those who make good use of the time?
- Are there many shadowing/volunteering opportunities close by?
- Cost of parking
- Research facility quality
- Do they have my major/minor of choice?
The following post is not intended to be mean but to give you advice I think you need:

College is about 2 things: Growing intellectually and growing as a person. Do not just focus on the first. Growing as a person includes maturity but also includes social interactions. Living the college experience is very important IMHO and probably more important for you than many.

The people who are the most successful in life and in medical school are those who are comfotable with all walks of people and are very social. Many (?most) of these were dorks in high school. Unlike high school where some feel like they don't fit in, college has a niche for basically everyone. However, you have to be there to meet those people.

So, make friends. Go out. Party a little. If you want, have some protected sexual experiences. I STRONGLY RECOMMEND AGAINST COMMUTING. If you commute, you are not going to meet people and you are not going to be included. This is just going to exacerbate a problem with meeting people and living a college experience. I am not asking you to do Keg stands at 2am but I do think it would be important for you to live on campus if only for a year or two. Those first few months are the most important to making friends in college. And if you don't meet people and are living with your parents you are going to become stunted socially (as I suspect you would if you "commuted"). This will compound as your peers are growing socially and making circles of friends that you won't be a part of.
 
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Kurk

Kurk

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The following post is not intended to be mean but to give you advice I think you need:

College is about 2 things: Growing intellectually and growing as a person. Do not just focus on the first. Growing as a person includes maturity but also includes social interactions. Living the college experience is very important IMHO and probably more important for you than many.

The people who are the most successful in life and in medical school are those who are comfotable with all walks of people and are very social. Many (?most) of these were dorks in high school. Unlike high school where some feel like they don't fit in, college has a niche for basically everyone. However, you have to be there to meet those people.

So, make friends. Go out. Party a little. If you want, have some protected sexual experiences. I STRONGLY RECOMMEND AGAINST COMMUTING. If you commute, you are not going to meet people and you are not going to be included. This is just going to exacerbate a problem with meeting people and living a college experience. I am not asking you to do Keg stands at 2am but I do think it would be important for you to live on campus if only for a year or two. Those first few months are the most important to making friends in college. And if you don't meet people and are living with your parents you are going to become stunted socially (as I suspect you would if you "commuted"). This will compound as your peers are growing socially and making circles of friends that you won't be a part of.
I cannot stand dorm showers. That's enough of a reason not to pay an extra eight-grand to live in a walk-in closet. I will be, however, applying to a good match school in a rural area where it isn't too terribly difficult to get a studio apartment (in fact it's cheaper than the dorm). Depending on what financial package they offer and the cost-benefit ratio, I might change my mind.
 

Instatewaiter

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I cannot stand dorm showers. That's enough of a reason not to pay an extra eight-grand to live in a walk-in closet. I will be, however, applying to a good match school in a rural area where it isn't too terribly difficult to get a studio apartment (in fact it's cheaper than the dorm). Depending on what financial package they offer and the cost-benefit ratio, I might change my mind.
Most colleges have freshman students live together the first year and after that first year, many move off campus. Suck it up that first year and the next year you can live off campus. Your social life will thank me later. If you forgo dorm life, you will also forgo much of college social life which you can never get back

When you do decide to live off campus, live close enough to walk.