Vanderbilt Pre-med: A case study of the "selective undergrad" boost...or lack thereof

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One of the common topics here on SDN is the role that your undergrad's reputation might play in medical admissions, particularly when gunning for admits at "top 20" medical schools.

There's a pretty convincing case to be made that a bias exists - for example see Lucca's much more thorough post about the class compositions over recent years at Yale SOM (tl;dr: ~75% of matriculants are supplied by just the "top 20" universities and LACs). Or, take a gander at the AAMC survey of medical adcoms a few years back, which found that private med schools rated "selectivity of undergrad" as a high-importance academic metric.

But what happens if we approach the question from the other direction: looking at how successful the pre-med graduates of a selective college are at getting admitted to "top 20" MD programs?

Normally, this data is provided by the AAMC to each undergrad in a "Designated Medical School Aggregate Report" and is not accessible to the public. Luckily for us, the Vanderbilt pre-med advising office publishes their report each year (example here).

From there, it's very straightforward to tally up the number of Vandy applications and Vandy admits to each "top 20" medical program. I did this for the 6 cycles spanning 2011-2016.

So, here are the values, Vandy-specific accept rates, and national accept rates at the current "top 20" medical programs*:

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There was one thing that did not surprise me: Vandy SOM inbreeds a lot, with an admit rate that is nearly tripled for applicants from their own undergrad.

What did surprise me was the rest: there was not a big boost in success rates for Vandy premeds elsewhere, in fact most of the time they were almost identical or worse than the nation.

Vanderbilt is certainly a "selective undergrad," with admit rate and test scores similar to Ivies. It's also a major feeder into medical schools, similar to places like Stanford and Harvard and Brown with approx. 15% of the student body (~280 people) applying each year. The average MCAT scores are high compared to the nation (511 / 85th percentile) and overall MD admit rate is much higher (70% admitted).

And yet, TL;DR - the data does not seem to support the idea that Vandy premeds have a leg up within "top 20" MD admissions.

I could speculate a bunch on why this might be the case, but won't make this text wall any longer.

*You might notice some programs missing, like UCLA, UCSF, or U of Washington. That's because there wasn't really any data - across all 6 years, 0 or 1 person got in.

**Almost every school had a year with zero Vandy admits. For example in 2015, no Vandy premeds got into Hopkins or Penn. Since the schools did not appear in the report in these cases, I marked down 0 admits but had to estimate the number of applicants by averaging the other years.

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While Vanderbilt is certainly a selective undergraduate institution, I'd be more interested to see if this remains the case across other high-caliber schools, especially HYPS. For whatever reason, I feel like there is more cross-breeding among those schools than Vandy to elsewhere.

Also, while you mention Vandy's MCAT average is higher than the national average, I'd like to see it controlled for.
 
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While Vanderbilt is certainly a selective undergraduate institution, I'd be more interested to see if this remains the case across other high-caliber schools, especially HYPS. For whatever reason, I feel like there is more cross-breeding among those schools than Vandy to elsewhere.

Also, while you mention Vandy's MCAT average is higher than the national average, I'd like to see it controlled for.
Controlled relative to HYP you mean? Princeton prehealth office reports their average MCAT was ~88th percentile, so almost identical to Vandy at ~85th, which makes sense as the student bodies are so similar in their academic metrics. The "boost," if it turned out to be present for Princeton students, wouldn't be due to better scores.

Also have to keep in mind how much self-selection is going on here. Vandy produces ~280 premeds per year with a 511 overall average MCAT, but only about 50-60 people per year deem it worthwhile to apply to places like Hopkins, Harvard, Stanford and Penn. We have no way of knowing what the scores look like for those 50-60, my guess would be a lot higher than 511
 
my deepest hope would be that this is representative of absolutely every school: inbreeding at home, not much difference in terms of performance compared to other places.

However, I have a feeling that what might actually be happening is that selection for prestigious undergrads happens on a very steep gradient, with the very top (HYPSM) receiving a significant boost (especially because 3/5 of those schools are associated with top med schools). In the Yale data, you can see that about 40-50% of the class comes from Yale or Harvard, for example.

My hypothesis is this: as you go up the rankings for undergrad or med school, the "prestige boost" and tendency to select for prestigious undergrads increase, respectively.

Like @efle said, I'm not convinced the difference can be explained by stats differences across schools. In the same Yale thread you can see data further on on how prestigious UGs and LACs have much higher admit rates than you expect for all, and especially lower, stat ranges. That the same does not appear to be true for Vandy is surprising. Were you able to compute an overall admit rate for Vandy apps @efle ?
 
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In the same Yale thread you can see data further on on how prestigious UGs and LACs have much higher admit rates than you expect for all, and especially lower, stat ranges. That the same does not appear to be true for Vandy is surprising. Were you able to compute an overall admit rate for Vandy apps @efle ?
Are you talking about admit rates to MD school generally? The overall success rate of getting into any MD school was 70% for Vandy, much higher than nation
 
Are you talking about admit rates to MD school generally? The overall success rate of getting into any MD school was 70% for Vandy, much higher than nation

Yes, that number is also really useful, but I meant something like we have for Amherst: "Applicants from our school with an MCAT and/or GPA below this threshold had an acceptance rate of X percent, while those above had a rate of Y" etc. I didn't look at the full report so I'm not sure if Vandy is even providing anything like this.
 
Interesting post! If we can generalize from this data, it would seem that the boost a premed applicant gets from attending a highly prestigious undergrad that falls just outside of the upper elite only applies when they apply to the lower ranked medical schools. This should be informative to anyone deciding on which undergrad to attend as a premed.

In the same Yale thread you can see data further on on how prestigious UGs and LACs have much higher admit rates than you expect for all, and especially lower, stat ranges. That the same does not appear to be true for Vandy is surprising.

This does actually appear to be true for Vanderbilt as well. With a little manipulation of the 2013 Vandy data we can see that there were 42 first-time applicants from Vandy with GPAs between 3.3-3.5, and this group had approximately a 62.4% success rate. This is much higher than we'd expect from this GPA cohort based on the AAMC charts (somewhere between a 16 and 25% success rate). However, I'd expect this group of Vandy applicants to have higher overall MCAT scores than the average applicant, so it's unclear how much of their advantage is conferred by higher MCAT scores and how much is conferred by having the name "Vanderbilt
on their diplomas.
 
Interesting post! If we can generalize from this data, it would seem that the boost a premed applicant gets from attending a highly prestigious undergrad that falls just outside of the upper elite only applies when they apply to the lower ranked medical schools. This should be informative to anyone deciding on which undergrad to attend as a premed.



This does actually appear to be true for Vanderbilt as well. With a little manipulation of the 2013 Vandy data we can see that there were 42 first-time applicants from Vandy with GPAs between 3.3-3.5, and this group had approximately a 62.4% success rate. This is much higher than we'd expect from this GPA cohort based on the AAMC charts (somewhere between a 16 and 25% success rate). However, I'd expect this group of Vandy applicants to have higher overall MCAT scores than the average applicant, so it's unclear how much of their advantage is conferred by higher MCAT scores and how much is conferred by having the name "Vanderbilt
on their diplomas.

Yah we would need the McAT score to know but I would wager that at all LizzyM bins Vandy students tend to outperform the national average. When I get the time I'll take a closer look at the data efle was kind enough to link
 
Yah we would need the McAT score to know but I would wager that at all LizzyM bins Vandy students tend to outperform the national average. When I get the time I'll take a closer look at the data efle was kind enough to link

So I broke it down further to look at the Vandy applicants who had both GPAs between 3.3-3.5 and MCATs between 27-30 (which I'll roughly equate to 502-508). These applicants had an approximately 47% success rate, which was still higher than that of the national applicant pool (between 20-36% success rate). This means there does seem to be a minor success bump irrespective of MCAT and GPA for Vandy applicants. How much of this boost is due to the prestige factor and how much of it due to better resources (advisors, accessible EC's etc) would be the next question, though that is probably unanswerable.
 
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So I broke it down further to look at the Vandy applicants who had both GPAs between 3.3-3.5 and MCATs between 27-30 (which I'll roughly equate to 502-508). These applicants had an approximately 47% success rate, which was still higher than that of the national applicant pool (between 20-36% success rate). This means there does seem to be a minor success bump irrespective of MCAT and GPA for Vandy applicants. How much of this boost is due to the prestige factor and how much of it due to better resources (advisors, accessible EC's etc) would be the next question, though that is probably unanswerable.

Here's the thing though, in terms of ECs that will make a difference for most applicants and varies roughly along with school 'rank' there is only one such EC: research. Now, that EC isn't as big a deal outside of research medical schools. Everybody has some research experience, but the quality or productivity of that experience will only matter to a handful of med schools. The other EC which is most like to make a big difference in getting into medical school or not is clinical experience which varies geographically much more than it does with school rank. Vandy has a hospital associated with it, but even someone attending any given school in NYC is going to have access to a lot more clinical opportunities, or say someone attending the University of Houston. Less prestigious, but close to one of the largest medical centers in the country where research and clinical opportunities abound.

Secondly, we should remember that there are plenty of "less prestigious" undergrads with far more resources devoted to networking and/or research opportunities than even more prestigious schools. Kenyon is more prestigious than Ohio State, but in terms of resources for research and networking with industry / medical schools / hospitals, Kenyon can't compare with Ohio State. The Kenyon name might help a student obtain a position at a competitive summer program that could compensate for that, but my argument is essentially that we should not just assume that "more prestige" = "more resources relevant to pre-med success".

I'm just being brief, but for those and other reasons I think the "prestigious schools have more resources" argument doesn't really explain what we see. The only thing that could explain it other than first-order selection for prestigious undergraduates by medical schools is better MCAT scores....but as you and others have shown, even at equivalent LizzyM students at more selective UGs are outperforming the national average. Lastly, we already know from the old adcom survey that adcoms are doing this, in particular at private medical schools more so than public medical schools (even there I suspect some outliers exist; UCSF for example is replete with Ivy alums), so I think the fact that this selection exists is a settled matter in my own mind. Proving it and to what extent it exists at one place versus another is a complicated matter tho.
 
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I think this illustrates that just within the "top 20" or whatever undergrads, there are different levels of "boosts" or whatever. Just because your school went from 21 to 20 in the 2017 version of USNWR doesn't mean you're going to automatically get a bump or whatever (this should be obvious but it's SDN so I feel like I have to say it anyway).

Also, just within that table, the schools that are in the negative differences section (Yale, Harvard, Stanford, Columbia, Penn, etc) tend to heavily select for Ivy/Stanford in terms of undergrad (I made a post a year and a half ago that totaled the undergrads for one year of Yale's class so n=110 or something, and it was like 45-50% HYPS alone, with another 25-35% Ivies+Duke - I also did an analysis of like 6 months of interview invites to Columbia and it was extremely heavily selected for HYPS + Columbia and then the next group was other Ivies+Duke/WashU - I can dig it up somewhere probably).

Ivies like Ivies, HYPS likes HYPS, Vandy likes Vandy, WashU likes WashU, probably UCLA likes UCLA, and everyone loves Harvard. That seems to be the takeaway.
 
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Here's the thing though, in terms of ECs that will make a difference for most applicants and varies roughly along with school 'rank' there is only one such EC: research. Now, that EC isn't as big a deal outside of research medical schools. Everybody has some research experience, but the quality or productivity of that experience will only matter to a handful of med schools. The other EC which is most like to make a big difference in getting into medical school or not is clinical experience which varies geographically much more than it does with school rank. Vandy has a hospital associated with it, but even someone attending any given school in NYC is going to have access to a lot more clinical opportunities, or say someone attending the University of Houston. Less prestigious, but close to one of the largest medical centers in the country where research and clinical opportunities abound.

Secondly, we should remember that there are plenty of "less prestigious" undergrads with far more resources devoted to networking and/or research opportunities than even more prestigious schools. Kenyon is more prestigious than Ohio State, but in terms of resources for research and networking with industry / medical schools / hospitals, Kenyon can't compare with Ohio State. The Kenyon name might help a student obtain a position at a competitive summer program that could compensate for that, but my argument is essentially that we should not just assume that "more prestige" = "more resources relevant to pre-med success".

I'm just being brief, but for those and other reasons I think the "prestigious schools have more resources" argument doesn't really explain what we see. The only thing that could explain it other than first-order selection for prestigious undergraduates by medical schools is better MCAT scores....but as you and others have shown, even at equivalent LizzyM students at more selective UGs are outperforming the national average. Lastly, we already know from the old adcom survey that adcoms are doing this, in particular at private medical schools more so than public medical schools (even there I suspect some outliers exist; UCSF for example is replete with Ivy alums), so I think the fact that this selection exists is a settled matter in my own mind. Proving it and to what extent it exists at one place versus another is a complicated matter tho.

All very valid points that I would tend to agree with! However, I will say that my idea of "resources" in the undergrad context has more to do with access to high quality mentorship/advising -- access to information on how to successfully apply -- moreso than it does access to prestigious research facilities/hospital systems. Though the latter certainly doesn't hurt, I feel as though the former is much more important to have as a premed, the majority of whom I would say are not as informed as many of the users here on SDN, Reddit etc. It is almost assured at the top undergrads that one will have access to strong premed advising that will be able to properly convey the necessity of the clinical experience, volunteering, teaching experience etc. that is so valuable to creating a strong application -- not to mention advice on how to write about these experiences, which is an under-appreciated part of the process. Of course a strong advising office is not required for an applicant to make a strong application, and I'm sure many students who do have strong advising offices might not even utilize them. But my theory is that, generally, strong undergrad advising -> less likely for an applicant to "fall through the cracks" and apply with an underdeveloped profile. Prestigious schools like Vandy that outperform the national success rate by wide margins are more likely to have strong advising, which plays a role in the success of their applicants (in addition to what the "prestige" of the school is adding).
 
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Looking at this post from the Yale thread, clearly there is a boost in overall MD admissions for people with decent MCATs but lower GPAs. There's no way the "top 20" MD programs are responsible for this, since a 3.3-3.5/31 is far from competitive there.

...from comparing the WashU internal data a few years back to the AMCAS national data:

AMCAS overall admit rate, 3.6-3.8/30-32: 61%
WashU overall admit rate, 3.6-3.8/30-32: 92%
Difference: +31%

AMCAS overall admit rate, 3.4-3.6/30-32: 47%
WashU overall admit rate, 3.4-3.6/30-32: 80%
Difference: +33%

AMCAS overall admit rate, 3.2-3.4/30-32: 35%
WashU overall admit rate, 3.2-3.4/30-32: 68%
Difference: +33%

For each WashU bin, n = 50+

Best explanation I can see is that private medical schools outside the "top 20" do give some brownie points and forgive slightly lower GPAs, even for schools at the WashU/Vandy level rather than HYPS.

It's pretty crazy to think an undergrad with a 10% admit rate and 99th percentile SAT scores isn't selective enough to impress top 20 adcoms. But maybe it's true that an app reader at Columbia P&S doesn't include Vandy in the same mental category as, say, Cornell or Dartmouth colleges.
 
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All very valid points that I would tend to agree with! However, I will say that my idea of "resources" in the undergrad context has more to do with access to high quality mentorship/advising -- access to information on how to successfully apply -- moreso than it does access to prestigious research facilities/hospital systems. Though the latter certainly doesn't hurt, I feel as though the former is much more important to have as a premed, the majority of whom I would say are not as informed as many of the users here on SDN, Reddit etc. It is almost assured at the top undergrads that one will have access to strong premed advising that will be able to properly convey the necessity of the clinical experience, volunteering, teaching experience etc. that is so valuable to creating a strong application -- not to mention advice on how to write about these experiences, which is an under-appreciated part of the process. Of course a strong advising office is not required for an applicant to make a strong application, and I'm sure many students who do have strong advising offices might not even utilize them. But my theory is that, generally, strong undergrad advising -> less likely for an applicant to "fall through the cracks" and apply with an underdeveloped profile. Prestigious schools like Vandy that outperform the national success rate by wide margins are more likely to have strong advising, which plays a role in the success of their applicants (in addition to what the "prestige" of the school is adding).

Maybe. I think its far more likely that adcoms at Harvard are more likely to, consciously or subconsciously, select for prestigious undergraduate institutions.

We should also think about the generation that is making these decisions. It's not us. It's people who were undergrads / young professionals when Harvard had a 20-25% admit rate. Nowadays, the honors programs at mid-tier public schools have average SAT scores at or above the 97th percentile, "southern Ivies" have class compositions totally indistinguishable from HYP, and people are starting to prep for college admissions from middle school or even younger. To us, it seems absurd that any selection should happen for prestige alone in medicine or the sciences, fields with a reputation for being at least more meritocratic than finance and business. Maybe not so much to the important people in admissions today? I'm only speculating.
 
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So I think the proper conclusion here is that Vandy is for plebs.

I'd actually like to see these kinds of data but without the schools that are "above" Vandy. As in, compare Vandy's admit rates to all the USNWR 25-100 ranked colleges. Then compare Hopkins to the USNWR 20-100, HYPSM to USNWR 10-100, etc.
 
One of the common topics here on SDN is the role that your undergrad's reputation might play in medical admissions, particularly when gunning for admits at "top 20" medical schools.

There's a pretty convincing case to be made that a bias exists - for example see Lucca's much more thorough post about the class compositions over recent years at Yale SOM (tl;dr: ~75% of matriculants are supplied by just the "top 20" universities and LACs). Or, take a gander at the AAMC survey of medical adcoms a few years back, which found that private med schools rated "selectivity of undergrad" as a high-importance academic metric.

But what happens if we approach the question from the other direction: looking at how successful the pre-med graduates of a selective college are at getting admitted to "top 20" MD programs?

Normally, this data is provided by the AAMC to each undergrad in a "Designated Medical School Aggregate Report" and is not accessible to the public. Luckily for us, the Vanderbilt pre-med advising office publishes their report each year (example here).

From there, it's very straightforward to tally up the number of Vandy applications and Vandy admits to each "top 20" medical program. I did this for the 6 cycles spanning 2011-2016.

So, here are the values, Vandy-specific accept rates, and national accept rates at the current "top 20" medical programs*:

There was one thing that did not surprise me: Vandy SOM inbreeds a lot, with an admit rate that is nearly tripled for applicants from their own undergrad.

What did surprise me was the rest: there was not a big boost in success rates for Vandy premeds elsewhere, in fact most of the time they were almost identical or worse than the nation.

Vanderbilt is certainly a "selective undergrad," with admit rate and test scores similar to Ivies. It's also a major feeder into medical schools, similar to places like Stanford and Harvard and Brown with approx. 15% of the student body (~280 people) applying each year. The average MCAT scores are high compared to the nation (511 / 85th percentile) and overall MD admit rate is much higher (70% admitted).

And yet, TL;DR - the data does not seem to support the idea that Vandy premeds have a leg up within "top 20" MD admissions.

I could speculate a bunch on why this might be the case, but won't make this text wall any longer.

*You might notice some programs missing, like UCLA, UCSF, or U of Washington. That's because there wasn't really any data - across all 6 years, 0 or 1 person got in.

**Almost every school had a year with zero Vandy admits. For example in 2015, no Vandy premeds got into Hopkins or Penn. Since the schools did not appear in the report in these cases, I marked down 0 admits but had to estimate the number of applicants by averaging the other years.

I do find it interesting that Vanderbilt Med gets by fat the most of the applying Vanderbilt students (they get 190-200 a year) while other top 20 schools get in the ~35-60 range a year, which indicates at least to me that the 'inbreeding' rate is probably much higher assuming that the number of Vanderbilt med applicants that are actually competitive for Vandy is around the number that apply to other top schools.

Not that I blame applicants for applying to their alma mater, but it is Vanderbilt.
 
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I do find it interesting that Vanderbilt Med gets by fat the most of the applying Vanderbilt students (they get 190-200 a year) while other top 20 schools get in the ~35-60 range a year, which indicates at least to me that the 'inbreeding' rate is probably much higher assuming that the number of Vanderbilt med applicants that are actually competitive for Vandy is around the number that apply to other top schools.

Not that I blame applicants for applying to their alma mater, but it is Vanderbilt.
My first thought was similar, that Vandy lowers the bar significantly for their own applicants. But alternatively, it could just be much easier for their premeds to be competitive for Vandy than for other top 20s. For example having letters of recommendation from faculty that are well known within Vandy, or being much more likely to matriculate if accepted, could make for a lot more students crossing over the "admit" threshold without needing any relaxation of expectations elsewhere.
 
I think some of it comes down to recognition as a difficult school. For example I was interested in Vandy for undergrad and read a lot about it, and while Vandy is reasonably well-known in UMC/upper class circles, it's not really known for its academic rigor. It's more seen as a rich kid school that's good for employment at southern firms than anything else. I think lower ranked schools like Berkeley, Michigan and Georgia Tech might get more of a boost because they're known for being more difficult. Might also be valid for schools like Rice that also aren't too known period.
 
Vanderbilt is certainly a "selective undergrad," with admit rate and test scores similar to Ivies. It's also a major feeder into medical schools, similar to places like Stanford and Harvard and Brown with approx. 15% of the student body (~280 people) applying each year. The average MCAT scores are high compared to the nation (511 / 85th percentile) and overall MD admit rate is much higher (70% admitted).

Thank you for putting this data together. The only problem I have with using Vandy is that the results will be quite specific to Vandy. But I understand that this is a relic of not having the data from other top schools. However, I would point out that Vandy simply isn't spoken of in the same breath as schools like HYPSM. If you had the HYPSM data and did this analysis and achieved the same results, then I think it would be much more convincing. I do know from having seen some of the admission data from those top schools that the MD admit rates for their undergrads are on the order of 90% or so.

Vandy is a great and top school in its own right but it's a relative newcomer to the elite school scene and I don't think its reputation has caught up with its rise just yet. For example, Notre Dame is only a few places down from it on the US News ranking and it's not considered at the tippity top of the "elite" colleges.
 
Thank you for putting this data together. The only problem I have with using Vandy is that the results will be quite specific to Vandy. But I understand that this is a relic of not having the data from other top schools. However, I would point out that Vandy simply isn't spoken of in the same breath as schools like HYPSM. If you had the HYPSM data and did this analysis and achieved the same results, then I think it would be much more convincing. I do know from having seen some of the admission data from those top schools that the MD admit rates for their undergrads are on the order of 90% or so.

Vandy is a great and top school in its own right but it's a relative newcomer to the elite school scene and I don't think its reputation has caught up with its rise just yet. For example, Notre Dame is only a few places down from it on the US News ranking and it's not considered at the tippity top of the "elite" colleges.
I think some Vandy level schools also claim ~90% success rates, like Rice.

("For the matriculating year of 2011, medical school applicants from Rice had an 89% acceptance rate, with an
88.3% acceptance rate averaged over the past ten years.")

Agreed though that we can't tell for certain from this whether the prestige boost is absent/muted in t20 admissions, or whether the list of "selective undergrads" tends to omit Vandy. Wish I had the same data for others.
 
I don't have a lot of faith in school websites reporting success rates because frequently they do not report how they categorize applicants. Some schools do and provide very thorough information on everyone applying from that school that year, but I don't know if others are only counting those their office deems "pre med" because they some criteria or other. My honors program in undergrad had a 100% success rate of getting into medical school but also u couldn't be in the program with lower than a 3.5 and our average MCAT was ~35/517. The number becomes a lot less useful then. If you looked at people from the same undergrad at lower stats their acceptance rate might not be any different than the average. That's why I'm more interested in how applicants of certain LizzyM bins at one school compare to the national average.

The info is certainly not useless but there are reasons to be skeptical.
 
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