March 1, 2021

Every Question You Have About the Best Colleges for Pre-Meds

By: Savvy Pre-Med Staff

In 2019, we posted our list of the Top 25 Best Colleges for Pre-Meds, based on our extensive research into several noteworthy categories:

We also broke down our data into several smaller lists, including the Top 10 Most Underrated and Overrated Colleges to be Pre-Med.

Top 10 Most Overrated:

Top 10 Most Underrated:

And now we’re on the verge of releasing our Best Colleges for Pre-Meds Search Tool! So stay tuned for that sometime this month. 

However, first, we want to answer some of the many questions we’ve received about our Best Colleges for Pre-Meds lists and the data behind them.

We’re all about transparency here!

Every Question You Have About the Best Colleges for Pre-Meds

How can we trust your Best Colleges for Pre-Meds lists? Surely they’re biased in some way, right?

Any ranking system is created from a series of assumptions. From our conversations with pre-med advisors at colleges, veteran college counselors, and pre-meds and their parents, we created a list of factors we believed should go into the Best Colleges for Pre-Meds first, and then we saw what the data spit out.

Some of the results were a surprise, while others weren’t. For example, we have been skeptics of the University of California system’s pre-med programs for a while, based on the feedback from the undergrads that we’ve worked there. But we didn’t know how those schools would fare when we put together our rankings. As it turns out, they were among the lowest on the list.

Our list is biased toward:

  • Smaller schools, which we believe lead to better student-faculty interaction, better letters of recommendation, more mentoring opportunities, more research opportunities, etc.
  • Urban schools, since they typically have more clinical opportunities
  • Schools with great pre-med advising - as an advising company, we believe in the value of great advising
  • US colleges, since we couldn’t find equivalent data on Canadian schools or international schools

On balance, we think these biases are supported by the evidence (of what medical schools value, of what our students tell us, and what counselors swear by), but these criteria are not universal. For example, some students would feel stifled at a smaller college. Some students are such self-starters that they will be fine at a larger school (see the small fish in a big pond question).

It doesn’t seem like you factored cost into your Best Colleges for Pre-Meds lists. Why not? 

We deliberately left finances out of our rankings. We did that because:

  1. Like flying on an airplane, no two students at a college pay exactly the same price. Some colleges are great for students with financial need; others are great for students who want merit-based scholarships. We figure that you, dear reader, can evaluate whether each college on this list is “worth” the price of attendance for you.
  2. The job market for doctors remains strong. While it’s hard to determine a level of debt that makes sense, at least doctors (even in primary care) will generally make it up.

Of course, be careful about getting yourself into too much undergraduate debt if you want to be pre-med. At the time of this writing, the average medical school tuition is $41,200 for in-state and $52,900 for out-of-state. Multiply that by four years, add in some living expenses and fees, and the total cost of attendance for medical school balloons to well over $250,000 for four years.

How exactly do you define “quality pre-med advising” when constructing your Best Colleges for Pre-Meds lists?

Advisor:Bio Major Ratio - Not all pre-meds are biology majors, but this discipline of study still covers the vast majority. With this in mind, we think it’s important to measure the amount of available pre-med advisors in relation to the total number of biology majors. The amount and quality of this mentorship could be key for letters of recommendations, networking, and coveted research/teaching positions.

Published Success Rate - There’s something to be said for transparency. If schools publish the success rate of their pre-meds online for public viewing, that’s a good sign that they’re committed to attracting and fostering quality pre-meds. Right off the bat, it shows a vested interest in facilitating a strong pre-med education and experience.

Committee Letters - Overall, medical schools like pre-med committee letters, since they put you in context with everyone else applying from your college. About 50% of colleges offer them. For smaller schools, we think the availability of these committees and letters is a good indicator of the resources and guidance pre-meds will receive during their college experience. 

NOTE: At larger schools, the committee process could be a disadvantage to the average/below average candidates, who may be put at a lower priority by the committee and have their applications delayed.

What other factors do you consider when judging whether a college is conducive to pre-med life?

Early Assurance Programs - An increasing number of medical schools are offering conditional early acceptances to undergraduates. Through an Early Assurance Program (EAP), students typically apply at the end of sophomore or beginning of junior year to a program that only accepts applications from their undergraduate program.

EAPs are a great option for highly qualified candidates, since they could guarantee a seat in medical school without having to worry about the MCAT or running the application gauntlet. In addition, students who are accepted into EAPs don’t have to stress as much about maintaining a perfect GPA, allowing them to pursue other extracurriculars and interests outside the field.

Beyond being a great opportunity on its own, an EAP also indicates a school’s overall commitment to fostering pre-med success.

Not many schools offer these programs, but those that do get points.

Student:Faculty Ratio - Getting facetime with professors is crucial when securing valuable labs positions and obtaining solid letters of recommendation. These goals are far easier to accomplish when there are only eight or nine students per instructor, as opposed to 20+.

Pre-meds take many rigorous science courses (or at least the required ones), and these courses become even more challenging when the professors are flooded with other students looking for assistance. It’s not impossible to get noticed or find help at a larger school with more competition--it’s just a lot more difficult. 

Professor Accessibility - Like the US News and World Report and other rankings, this Princeton Review data needs to be taken with a grain of salt. Here’s how the methodology is explained on the company’s website:

“The list is based on how strongly students agree or disagree with the statement, ‘Professors are accessible outside the classroom.’”

It’s certainly subjective and vulnerable to the whims of cheerful or disgruntled students, but it’s a unique piece of data that deserves to be factored into our metrics.

Everybody says that getting research experience in college is crucial for pre-meds. How are research opportunities measured inside your Best Colleges for Pre-Meds lists?

Although not REQUIRED for medical school admission, a solid 6-12 months of research has essentially become a prerequisite for most applicants to remain competitive. It’s especially valuable if you have sustained focus or progress in one area or project. With that in mind, long-term research positions can be scarce, as pre-meds clamor to rub elbows with professors and PIs to secure a coveted spot. 

So, no surprise, the more labs and available positions per pre-med, the better. And while almost every college has a research position for the most entrepreneurial pre-meds (those willing to go out and apply for all the positions), some colleges make it really easy to get research experience. Some give credit for the research. Others have a research coordinator, whose job is to place undergraduates in research positions on campus.

All of these opportunities are bundled into a list of colleges that do an outstanding job in giving undergraduates research opportunities. We gave these schools bonus points.

Isn’t your “popularity for pre-meds” category a little subjective? What does that mean?

Pre-med Per Capita - This is a difficult thing to measure precisely, since pre-meds span a bevy of majors. But as we’ve stated before, the vast majority are biology majors. The number of biology majors is tracked by the U.S. Department of Education, so we used that as a fairly strong metric for the strength of the pre-med culture at a particular college. There is such a thing as oversaturation, leading to high competition, but the opposite is worse. Who wouldn’t want to be surrounded by like-minded peers for collaborations, academic support, and a thriving community?

Other Rankings - There are several websites that rank and sort undergraduate colleges, such as,, and We’ve used their search filters to see their top 25 recommendations for pre-med hopefuls. We’ve also examined the schools listed under Rugg’s Recommendations, a website that ranks schools as Tier 1, Tier 2, and so on. We figure that schools which consistently make these lists will likely provide a solid education for a competitive pre-med.

I’ve seen you write about how “prestige” doesn’t matter in your college selection, so why do you include it in your Best Colleges for Pre-Meds lists?

How do medical schools look at the prestige - or, in admissions parlance “selectivity” - of the undergraduate college? It depends on whom you ask.

Public medical schools (e.g. the University of California schools) list Selectivity of Undergraduate Institution as the least important academic metric evaluated as part of the application process.

According to that same research, private medical schools ranked selectivity as “Important” but either at or below 14 other factors (e.g. GPA, GPA trend, MCAT, etc.)

What accounts for the difference?

We’ve gotten reports from students interviewing at elite, private medical schools that it can feel like a country club, where most of the other candidates feed from Ivy League institutions. That’s not the whole story, of course, since these schools will still accept top students from lesser-known schools. It seems that if you’re dying to go to a Top 10 medical school, then just get into the Ivy League for undergrad.

So it seems that undergraduate selectivity matters some to medical schools, but it’s not the same across the board, and it seems to matter less than most pre-meds and their parents think.

How do you assess the quality of a pre-med college’s clinical and service opportunities?

To fulfill the typical pre-med checklist, you’ll need several hundred hours (200+) of clinical volunteering and shadowing. So you want to attend a college where you can find diverse and accessible clinical experiences. 

Nearby Medical School - Many medical schools have associated clinics/hospitals and offer opportunities for undergraduates. This offers a slight advantage over colleges without this affiliation or proximity.

Total Doctors Nearby - To measure the nearby opportunities for shadowing, clinical volunteering, and clinical employment, we decided that a rough thumbnail sketch is to look at the number of nearby doctors. This isn’t a perfect measure, of course, but it does allow us to compare colleges across the country. The more doctors for a given city/county/zip code, the more potential opportunities for shadowing and volunteering. We used to input the zip code for all colleges and record the number of internal medicine doctors in that designated area. This biases schools near urban areas, but we’ve found from experience that students from colleges in these areas generally have more - and better quality - clinical exposure.

Service Opportunities - You’ll need to accumulate several hundred hours (200+) of non-clinical volunteering to demonstrate that you’re committed to a career of service. As with all extracurriculars, you can find the opportunity for service on every college campus.

But medical schools don’t just measure the total hours: they’re looking for the quality of that service. And colleges where almost all of the students participate in service - indeed, where service is at the core of what the college does - are more likely to have high quality service experience, working on causes that matter to them.

To determine the extent of service-orientation, we used various lists, including the Princeton Review, Newsweek, and the Washington Monthly, which rank the best schools for do-gooders to get involved on campus and in the community.

Not many schools made the cut for this service-orientation, but those that did got points in our rankings.

Well, there you have it! A question-by-question breakdown of how we constructed our Best Colleges for Pre-Meds lists.

Like we said earlier, stay tuned for our Best Colleges for Pre-Meds Search Tool!

Have any questions that we didn’t answer above? Let us know in the comments, and we’ll respond to you personally!

Learn to be Savvy! Get creative pre-med strategies delivered right to your inbox.
FREE Medical School Application Timeline when you subscribe.

We follow the email Golden Rule: we will never send you anything without your permission.