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Mar 6, 2021
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This week has been quite eventful. I was admitted to my dream school, Harvard Medical School, and also received notice that I was awarded the Geffen scholarship at UCLA. I am an international student with no familial wealth and few savings, so financial aid is something that is very important to me.

While I have not received a financial aid packet from Harvard, I anticipate that I would receive one that covers full tuition and I would need to take out $80,000 – 100,000 in loans to cover living expenses. My partner and I would be moving together, they having a job, so most of the living expenses would be covered by them. My future plans are to remain in academia either as an academic physician or a physician scientist, and I am also interested in competitive specialties (dermatology, ENT, neurology, internal medicine to oncology/immuno).

I received great advice from this community before and during the application cycle, so once again I am reaching out to hear (read I guess, hehe) different opinions. If anyone who has been in a similar position could chime in their $0.02 I would appreciate it.

Harvard

Pros:
  • It is Harvard, arguably the best medical school in the world. I would also, in the future, want to go back to my country and do medical/educational outreach. I imagine the prestige would help a lot.
  • The Pathways curriculum fits my learning style quite well. I actually enjoy going to class and discussing with peers.
  • True P/F curriculum at all stages, no AOA.
  • Take classes at MIT and even do research there (apparently Pathways students can, you just have to reach out).
  • Students seem to really get along with each other. Smaller class size than UCLA probably helps a lot.
  • Having years 3 and 4 to do research would be great.
  • I LOVE LOVE Boston. Worked there as an undergrad and always wanted to live there for part of my academic development.
  • I have close friends in Boston.
  • Been a dream of mine since I was serious about academics in highschool.
  • Would not need a car to move around. Boston is very easy to walk around or take public transport to most places.
  • Partner could easily find a job there as they are in higher level education.
Cons:
  • Would leave with at least $80,000 – 100,000 in debt. I am well aware that this is still quite low for medical school, and that I can easily pay it as an MD, but the idea of debt still scares me. With interests this is probably going to end up being $120,000 – 150,000. Pretty sure HMS doesn’t match merit awards, so the cost of living expenses will be there for sure.
  • Patient population seems very white and rich. I am interested in helping underserved communities, especially immigrant ones. There is the Cambridge Health Alliance clinical site, which sees lots of immigrants and underserved patients, but participation is restricted to ~12 students and it is decided by lottery.
  • No direct flights to my home country.
  • Difficult to judge since I have yet to visit in person, but teaching spaces seem old and not as modern as UCLA’s.
UCLA

Pros:
  • Geffen scholarship is probably the best and most known award across medical schools in the US. Graduating with no debt, and perhaps even some savings, would be HUGE. I grew up middle class back home, which would be considered poor in the US, and the idea of being paid to attend a T10 is almost too good to be true.
  • Like Harvard, years 3 and 4 would be devoted to research and really finding my passions.
  • Very diverse clinical sites with equally diverse populations. LOTS of immigrants to work with.
  • LA weather is tough to beat compared to Boston.
  • Direct flights to my home country. I could easily visit my parents during breaks/long weekends, more so since I WILL BE PAID to attend medical school.
  • Geffen Hall looks amazing and seems like a great place to study/socialize/etc.
Cons:
  • Less prestige than Harvard? I know that I would get an amazing education at either school, however I have an inclination that Harvard could help me achieve my academic goals (both in the US and my home country).
  • Seems like a lot of students (from YT videos and word of mouth) watch lectures at home and don't attend class. I am actually looking forward to attending lecture and discussing with peers.
  • LA driving and traffic. I don’t even have a driver’s license in the US and have avoided it for nearly a decade. The idea of sitting hours on traffic and having horrible public transit systems is not appealing to me at all.
  • Don’t really know anyone in LA. Pretty sure I can make new friends in medical school easily, but it would be nice to move to a city where I already have close friends.
  • New curriculum could also be a con since we would be some of the first to go through it (guinea pigs). Also, if I am not mistaken, we will overlap on clinical rotations with the year ahead of us, which could be somewhat chaotic.
  • Was not entirely clear if AOA is still a thing.
 

Banco

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May 28, 2014
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Honestly both are amazing schools and many of your pros and cons are personal reasons that I can't really comment on, you have to decide that yourself.

What I can say is that if Harvard is your "dream" school, 80k-100k total difference isn't THAT high to pay off as a physician. You will be able to do so. So while it's not insignificant, it is still manageable. One tangible advantage aside from vague prestige is that you will increase your chances for residency at one of the Harvard hospitals by going to HMS, if that's your goal. Conversely, you will increase your chances for California/UCLA residency if you go to UCLA. Not that you'll have any issues from either schools going wherever you want - but those are some very specific differences that occur by virtue of the letters you get, the rotations/connections you make, being a "known commodity" in your area etc.

Either way, you will have a bright academic career coming from either place.
 
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Jul 20, 2019
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Harvard 100k debt can easily be paid off and you should follow your dreams. The geffen is amazing but Harvard is in its own league. If your debt comes out to be 200k+ I would choose UCLA.
 
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gomernation

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Congratulations on your acceptances! After reading your pros/cons I think you should pick Harvard, but I believe your decision will depend on Harvard's financial aid package. Here are my thoughts:
  1. Your pros for Harvard seem more substantial than your pros for DGSOM, and your cons for DGSOM seem more substantial than your cons for Harvard.
  2. Harvard is unequivocally the best medical school in the United States for academic medicine. If you attend, you'll have opportunities to form relationships with esteemed faculty at BWH and MGH. Doing research with and getting recommendation letters from them will seriously open doors for you in the physician scientist pipeline.
  3. The patient population in Boston is no less diverse than that of Los Angeles. Within Boston you may see more affluent patients in Harvard's network of hospitals compared to BMC, but there is serious racial, sexual, gender, SE, etc. diversity at all of Harvard's clinical affiliates, especially MGH. I will note that, in terms of %URM in the general population, LA has a more sizable Hispanic community than Black whereas Boston has a pretty equal distribution of Hispanic/Black (data from 2019 US census, see Boston's vs. LA's).
  4. You seem to be in a stable and healthy relationship with a working partner who is willing to cover a portion of your expenses. This makes the idea of eating $100K in loans less difficult to swallow.
  5. A huge part of your decision involves an unknown variable aka Harvard's financial aid package (which, as I understand, has historically been crappy). Many on SDN will advise you to take the Geffen and run. I think that is reductive because people value money and debt differently. There is a real argument to the idiom "money is no object" when you think long-term, especially when thinking about a future career in academia. Imagine yourself 10 years down the line. Which school do you think you will regret turning down more? Obviously this hypothetical ignores the emotional messiness of debt, but an important thought experiment nonetheless.
***note: I may be biased because I want to go into academic med as well.

Hope this helps!
 
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Moko

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This week has been quite eventful. I was admitted to my dream school, Harvard Medical School, and also received notice that I was awarded the Geffen scholarship at UCLA. I am an international student with no familial wealth and few savings, so financial aid is something that is very important to me.

While I have not received a financial aid packet from Harvard, I anticipate that I would receive one that covers full tuition and I would need to take out $80,000 – 100,000 in loans to cover living expenses. My partner and I would be moving together, they having a job, so most of the living expenses would be covered by them. My future plans are to remain in academia either as an academic physician or a physician scientist, and I am also interested in competitive specialties (dermatology, ENT, neurology, internal medicine to oncology/immuno).

I received great advice from this community before and during the application cycle, so once again I am reaching out to hear (read I guess, hehe) different opinions. If anyone who has been in a similar position could chime in their $0.02 I would appreciate it.

Harvard

Pros:
  • It is Harvard, arguably the best medical school in the world. I would also, in the future, want to go back to my country and do medical/educational outreach. I imagine the prestige would help a lot.
  • The Pathways curriculum fits my learning style quite well. I actually enjoy going to class and discussing with peers.
  • True P/F curriculum at all stages, no AOA.
  • Take classes at MIT and even do research there (apparently Pathways students can, you just have to reach out).
  • Students seem to really get along with each other. Smaller class size than UCLA probably helps a lot.
  • Having years 3 and 4 to do research would be great.
  • I LOVE LOVE Boston. Worked there as an undergrad and always wanted to live there for part of my academic development.
  • I have close friends in Boston.
  • Been a dream of mine since I was serious about academics in highschool.
  • Would not need a car to move around. Boston is very easy to walk around or take public transport to most places.
  • Partner could easily find a job there as they are in higher level education.
Cons:
  • Would leave with at least $80,000 – 100,000 in debt. I am well aware that this is still quite low for medical school, and that I can easily pay it as an MD, but the idea of debt still scares me. With interests this is probably going to end up being $120,000 – 150,000. Pretty sure HMS doesn’t match merit awards, so the cost of living expenses will be there for sure.
  • Patient population seems very white and rich. I am interested in helping underserved communities, especially immigrant ones. There is the Cambridge Health Alliance clinical site, which sees lots of immigrants and underserved patients, but participation is restricted to ~12 students and it is decided by lottery.
  • No direct flights to my home country.
  • Difficult to judge since I have yet to visit in person, but teaching spaces seem old and not as modern as UCLA’s.
UCLA

Pros:
  • Geffen scholarship is probably the best and most known award across medical schools in the US. Graduating with no debt, and perhaps even some savings, would be HUGE. I grew up middle class back home, which would be considered poor in the US, and the idea of being paid to attend a T10 is almost too good to be true.
  • Like Harvard, years 3 and 4 would be devoted to research and really finding my passions.
  • Very diverse clinical sites with equally diverse populations. LOTS of immigrants to work with.
  • LA weather is tough to beat compared to Boston.
  • Direct flights to my home country. I could easily visit my parents during breaks/long weekends, more so since I WILL BE PAID to attend medical school.
  • Geffen Hall looks amazing and seems like a great place to study/socialize/etc.
Cons:
  • Less prestige than Harvard? I know that I would get an amazing education at either school, however I have an inclination that Harvard could help me achieve my academic goals (both in the US and my home country).
  • Seems like a lot of students (from YT videos and word of mouth) watch lectures at home and don't attend class. I am actually looking forward to attending lecture and discussing with peers.
  • LA driving and traffic. I don’t even have a driver’s license in the US and have avoided it for nearly a decade. The idea of sitting hours on traffic and having horrible public transit systems is not appealing to me at all.
  • Don’t really know anyone in LA. Pretty sure I can make new friends in medical school easily, but it would be nice to move to a city where I already have close friends.
  • New curriculum could also be a con since we would be some of the first to go through it (guinea pigs). Also, if I am not mistaken, we will overlap on clinical rotations with the year ahead of us, which could be somewhat chaotic.
  • Was not entirely clear if AOA is still a thing.
Based on your preferences, my vote is for Harvard. Both are obviously excellent schools, but you are clearly more excited about HMS than UCLA. Since your partner will be working, the actual amount of debt that you will accrue is likely to be minimal. Going to HMS will also greatly increase your odds of matching at one of their world-renown hospitals, which may be helpful if and when you go back home to do medical/educational outreach. UCLA simply does not have the same name recognition outside the US. The patient population in Boston is also diverse, in terms of race, income, immigration status, etc. Personally, I would not let the lack of direct flights or newness of teaching facilities have any sway in your decision. Congratulations on your great choices, and best of luck with your decision. Just my thoughts.
 
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EdgeTrimmer

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Given you are an international students, do you have any plans to go back or work in your country? Harvard name will be handy in that situation
 
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Mar 6, 2021
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Thank you all for all of your insights and comments. After talking with many people (MDs, friends, academic physicians, MDs back home), I will follow my dream and attend HMS. Partner has agreed to take on a significant part of our expenses outside of rent (50/50 split), so I believe I can be wise with money and not accumulate too much debt.

Given you are an international students, do you have any plans to go back or work in your country? Harvard name will be handy in that situation

I plan on becoming an academic physician in the US and help reduce health disparities within immigrant communities. Additionally, I also hope to form partnerships with medical schools back home so we can develop educational and healthcare outreach programs.
 
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EdgeTrimmer

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May 26, 2018
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Thank for all of your insights and comments. After talking with many people (MDs, friends, academic physicians, MDs back home), I will follow my dream and attend HMS. Partner has agreed to take on a significant part of our expenses outside of rent (50/50 split), so I believe I can be wise with money and not accumulate too much debt.



I plan on becoming an academic physician in the US and help bridge health disparities among immigrant communities. Additionally, I also hope to form partnerships with medical schools back home so we can develop educational and healthcare outreach programs.
HMS is the right decision, all the best!
 
Aug 2, 2020
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As good as UCLA is, the reputation and prestige of HMS are just in a different league outside of the US.

Not many people would get the extra wow from Geffen (it hasn't been around for that long yet), so that doesn't help offset the prestige differential. Moreover, ~100k COA is nothing to worry about, especially for a HMS MD.

Research in biomedicine is also just totally insane in Boston. Almost everything new happens there nowadays. Given your future goal in academic medicine and the desire to work internationally, HMS is clearly the better choice for you.
 

crimson-cat

2+ Year Member
Mar 26, 2019
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Graduating with ~80k in debt is about the best it's possible to do at HMS (only can do if you both get max financial aid + a merit/need award that was introduced fairly recently). You are right on about facilities. I feel like HMS has some of the worst compared to its peers because it can get away with it and the quad itself looks so impressive. You are also semi-right about the patient base. There is diversity within the clinics and hospitals but at the end of the day it's a private hospital system, and won't have nearly the level of contact with underserved groups as a state institution would have. There are lots of ways to reach those groups, but it is often inconvenient and not as satisfying as it seems to be at schools with better free clinic networks and more diverse patient bases.

Overall, both will open very similar career trajectories for academic medicine, but HMS opens a lot of doors for international, policy, and business activities that few other schools do. You have to decide if it's worth the debt. Feel free to DM if you have any more HMS and immigrant health questions
 
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