An overzealous high school student, I was quick to assume that research experience would be the most comprehensive and easiest to acquire at top-tier research schools with a highly regarded medical school and hospital. However, in my college search, I found that there were so many other dimensions to schools and the pre-med experience than the three I mentioned above; and there now were so many more colleges that appealed to me that I never would have originally considered.
After finishing my first year of college, I realize that I did the exact opposite of what I originally planned: I turned down a major national research university and I matriculated to a school with no directly affiliated medical school or hospital. I know. What?!
Fordham University is a school with a strong liberal arts core curriculum, requiring students to take around 17 courses in 9 different fields of study, as opposed to many other national universities, some of which don’t require any courses at all. Although the core may seem daunting, and stressful during scheduling, I get the chance to make my major more interdisciplinary, something I may not have thought to do elsewhere. After taking only 5 of the required courses, I’ve changed my major, added a minor, and even shifted my career and educational goals.
Many small colleges actually boast higher acceptance rates to medical school than large research schools. Fordham, over the past couple of years, has reported a medical school acceptance rate of more than 80%, which is almost double the national average. Putting this into perspective, one of the top-20 research schools I was accepted to reported a 65-75%, which is surprisingly lower than that of a school with no med school or hospital, so I knew there must be a reason. (However, it is important to note that the higher the acceptance rate is, the harder the school may be on its pre-medical students; only students who do end up applying to medical schools are accounted in the figure.)
My school’s undergraduate enrollment is extremely small. Distributed among several campuses, students are given much closer contact to teachers and studies than at large universities. My general chemistry class consisted of only around 80-90 students! This way, students can receive more adequate (and actually helpful) assistance from their professors. Professors who know you better are more likely to write better recommendations for medical schools as well, which is a huge advantage.
Last but not least: in the increasingly competitive atmosphere of medical school admissions, finding a way to dip your feet in research experiences is definitely a worthwhile and necessary experience. It may seem counter-intuitive to go somewhere without a medical school or hospital in order to get involved in some cutting-edge research, but the truth is, it may even be easier. At Fordham, and many liberal arts colleges, since there are few/no graduate students in line for research opportunities, all the opportunities go to you, the undergraduate pre-med student. At a large research university, graduate and undergraduate students both will be competing for research, and chances are, the freshman isn’t going to stand much of a chance.
Admittedly, I was apprehensive when beginning my college experience. But like most liberal arts colleges (although Fordham isn’t one, it shares many characteristics), the small college atmosphere has actually helped me in more ways than one. Looking back, I realize now that there isn’t just a single stereotype of schools that will pave the way to medical school. Although schools like Fordham may not be the best for every pre-med, for me, it was the way to go.