We just released a complete guide on how to be a pre med, but wanted to follow up on some common questions we’ve heard frequently from students in more detail. The first concerns liberal arts colleges, and whether or not a student can get a good preparation for medical school at them.
This is a common concern due to a lack of understanding of what liberal arts colleges are, and what they offer. While their opportunities and offerings are very different from research universities, they still do a stellar job preparing students for the rigors of medical school. In this article, we’ll cover the basics of liberal arts colleges, and how they can help pre med students. We’ll conclude with a case study of two prestigious liberal arts colleges, and their options for students interested in pursuing medicine. Let’s jump in!
What are Liberal Arts Colleges?
Traditionally, the difference between a college and a university is that a college only educates undergraduates, while a university also serves graduate students. Of course, this does not translate perfectly to the real world, as Boston College serves many grad students. This is why the undergraduate divisions of schools like Harvard are called “The College” however.
Liberal arts colleges are subsets of the general idea of college, focused on the idea of a classical education. While this leads many to believe these colleges only offer courses in the humanities, most have strong offerings in both the social and physical sciences as well. Most of these colleges do not offer engineering at all, though some have partnerships with other universities to allow their students to study engineering.
The focus of these colleges is providing a small academically focused community. They usually have smaller class sizes and closer knit communities than are possible at larger universities. Students who do well in a smaller environment with more support often do better at liberal arts colleges.
Larger universities often try to mimic the benefits of liberal arts colleges. Some prestigious schools simply have a small and insulated undergraduate college, such as Harvard or Yale (UChicago even has three times as many grad students on campus as undergrads). Other schools use honors colleges to copy the benefits of liberal arts programs, especially larger state schools. This is the idea behind UT Austin’s Plan II Honors program.
While these programs are not the right fit for every student, they do have advantages that some students will benefit greatly from.
Can You be a Pre Med at a Liberal Arts College?
Pre Med in college requires you to do a number of things to properly prepare yourself for medical school. These are:
- Take courses in math and science that will give you the foundational scientific understanding and laboratory skills.
- Complete extracurriculars that show your dedication to medicine. These include research, volunteering, and healthcare related extracurriculars.
- Form relationships with professors who will write your letters of recommendation.
- Prepare for, and pass, the MCAT exam.
For more detail on these requirements, please see our guide to applying to medical school. Now, we’ll go through how you can satisfy each of these requirements at a liberal arts college.
Liberal arts colleges have strong offerings in math and science, and have the same style of pre med course plan that the larger universities provide. Just as with most universities, you can take your required pre med courses during undergrad regardless of what you’re majoring in. Indeed, it may be easier to major in a subject that isn’t biology while studying to be a pre med at a liberal arts college.
Many students worry they will not have the same research opportunities at liberal arts colleges that they can find at larger universities. The labs at these colleges are generally smaller, due to a lack of graduate students, but all professors are still required to undertake research as part of their jobs. The lack of graduate students also allows for more positions for undergrads to perform research with professors.
Other volunteering and healthcare opportunities are often slightly more limited, but this depends on many factors besides the school itself, such as location. Barnard College in New York, for instance, likely has many connections for healthcare volunteering that Dartmouth, with its rural milieu, does not.
It is often actually easier to form a close relationship with a professor at a small college, as there are fewer students per class, and the professors have a better chance to get to know each of them. You do still need to put in the effort to form a relationship with your professors, but it may be easier to get noticed initially.
Passing the MCAT requires a solid academic foundation and rigorous preparation. The coursework you take to master the material is equally relevant regardless of where you take it, and preparation is equally accessible regardless of which school you attend. Attending a liberal arts college won’t hurt your chances in this regard.
Liberal Arts Case Studies
Now, we’ll go through two liberal arts colleges to demonstrate what they offer for pre med students, and how they may prepare you for medical school. (There are more than just these two colleges of course, but we only have so much space).
Located in Williamsburg MA, Williams was founded in 1793, and is the #1 ranked Liberal Arts College by US News. Their acceptance rate is 12.6%.
Williams has an office for pre-health advising, which collects their resources for students who are interested in eventual careers in medicine. 85-90% of their students are accepted into medical school each year. Their specific offerings include:
- Guidance for planning courses.
- Healthcare internships, and additional summer opportunities in healthcare.
- Research opportunities.
- Application support.
This support is offered both to current undergrads, and to alumni of the school (many universities offer this). Even after you graduate, you can contact this office for help crafting a resume, preparing for interviews, or understanding medical school applications.
Despite its name, Wesleyan is a liberal arts college located in Middletown CT, and founded in 1831. It is the #17 ranked Liberal Arts College according to US News. It has a 16.5% acceptance rate.
Wesleyan maintains an office of pre health advising, which serves to help students interested in a career in medicine. Their students see varying success at medical school by year, ranging from 55-77% acceptance rates. Students with GPAs of 3.5 or more have acceptance rates of 75-80%. Their advising office offers the following:
- Summer and gap year health care opportunities.
- Guidance for med school applications.
- Course work requirements, including sample schedules.
- MCAT guidance.
The purpose of these resources is to ensure that you are prepared for medical school. The office also gives advice on choosing courses, where to apply to school, and how to ask for letters of recommendation.
We hope these two schools have given you a sense of what liberal arts colleges can offer, but here’s some other schools with great pre med programs:
- Bates College
- Bowdoin College
- Carleton College
- Pomona College
- Smith College
- Swarthmore College
Medical school is hard, and the road to get there is hard as well. Many high school students seeking to study medicine feel a great deal of stress over where they should attend college, as this will heavily impact their potential careers. We hope this article has shown you additional avenues for you to pursue your education, and reassured you of the plethora of resources out there to support students on their way.
If you’re looking for more information on this topic, check out our guide to pre med, or our guide to applying to medical school. If you have questions about your specific case, or want to hear how we can help you find the perfect college, schedule a free consultation today. We’ve helped many students take the next step towards their career in medicine, and are always happy to hear from you.