Posts filed under ‘medicine’

So You Want to Be a Doctor

Does your student really want to be a doctor?  I”m not talking about someone who wants to be McDreamy or McSteamy on Grey’s Anatomy, or whose parents want her to be a doctor for the money or the prestige, but a student who truly is ready to head down the med school track.

Several of the schools we have visited – Washington University in St. Louis, Northwestern University, and CalTech/UC San Diego come to mind – offer programs for students who are sure they want to go on to medical school.  Usually these are highly competitive programs in that they only admit a handful of students.

What do they offer:

  • Guaranteed admission to the university’s school of medicine (assuming grades, etc., stay up to par).  In other words, you won’t have to sweat out med school admission…assuming that’s still your med school of choice 4 years from now.
  • A little extra handholding, attention, lectures, mentoring, shadowing, or other opportunities that you might or might not get if you were not in that program.
  • At some schools (such as Northwestern), save an entire year of college, because they condense the curriculum.  This could save you $50,000.
  • Bragging rights, which might help a student get other fellowships or scholarships or research opportunities along the way.
  • The opportunity to start a longitudinal research project as an undergrad and continue work on it through med school.


  • Will a student feel locked into that medical school or not explore other options that might have been a better fit or enabled exposure to a wider variety of professors, more ways of doing things, more challenges – simply because she doesn’t want to hassle with the med school application process?
  • Worse, will a student feel pressure to become a doctor when that’s really not the best fit?  They won’t force a student to go to med school, but I suspect there would be some serious “convincing” going on if a student wanted to drop out of the program.

Note that those drawbacks are things the student can control, so they aren’t real big issues.  I was really reaching to come up with some drawbacks.

Northwestern’s program also offers the option of becoming an MD/PhD and, in general, the program is geared toward more gifted students than the general NU student body, with accelerated courses in the science curriculum.


December 10, 2009 at 7:38 pm Leave a comment

College Visit: McGill University

Montreal Convention CtrIf you can’t qualify for either financial aid or merit aid, there is still a way to get a world-renowned brand-name education at half the price of a private U.S. college.  And, for extra measure, it offers immersion in another language in daily living, but English-language classes.

McGill University in Montreal, Quebec, is generally viewed as the best university in Canada and The Times ranks it as one of the top 12 colleges in the world.  A popular T-shirt reads “Harvard: the McGill University of the USA”.

Because Canadians believe that every student is entitled to post-secondary education and because it is a public university, tuition, room & board is more reasonable than the top schools in the U.S., running from $23,000 to $32,000 for “international” (including American) freshmen living off campus, and less for upperclassmen.  That’s in Canadian dollars, and right now the US dollar buys about $1.15 Canadian, so that’s like getting a 13% discount off the stated tuition.

Admission is based more on grades and test scores and less on extra-curriculars than in the U.S., or perhaps it would be appropriate to say it is more like applying to a public university in the U.S.

For a student interested in foreign languages (particularly French), or international studies or comparative government, McGill offers a different perspective without living on another continent.  About 18% of the students are francophone.  We heard conversations on campus alternate from English to French.

For a student interested in a pre-med track, McGill has relationships with 7 hospitals.  In fact, a neurological institute and birthing center are practically sandwiched between the dorms and the academic buildings.

Montreal is a beautiful, exciting, bike-and-pedestrian friendly city.  The university is tucked between downtown and a large park at Mont Royal, so it has the advantages of both convenience and green space.

Still, with all that going for it, we walked away with the impression that the education and experience would be inferior to what a student can expect at a top U.S. college:

  • Class sizes even for upperclassmen run about 30 students.
  • The university only has housing for 2200 of 24,000 undergraduates, so only some of the freshmen can live “on-campus”.  One of those dorms is 4 metro stops away.  Another is about 5 blocks from campus.  Since the university estimates that living off campus saves $5000/year, there is a big incentive to move off-campus.
  • When the preponderance of students don’t live on campus, they are less involved in extracurriculars on campus.  McGill has 150 clubs….a lower number than some U.S. liberal arts colleges with 1/10th as many students.
  • The cheapest dorms are old cinderblock buildings with tiny single rooms, which we found less appealing than dorms at Texas State University or NW Oklahoma State.
  • Two students described McGill students as “independent, or at least they become independent after coming here”.  That may be a function of a university with large classes, little housing and few clubs…you have to find and create your own opportunities.

Maybe a better way of looking at it is that McGill offers some interesting twists on a typical U.S. public university education.

July 13, 2009 at 6:51 pm Leave a comment

College Visit: Univ of Chicago

Univ of ChicagoIt was pouring rain when we got to the University of Chicago, but it was beautiful nonetheless. Impressive stone architecture.   As my husband put it, with all the ivy climbing the buildings, it should be an Ivy League school.  The admissions office is in a building with huge rounded wooden doors.  A visit to the restrooms requires a hike up the stone staircase and through the famed Chicago School of Economics.  It gave me chills to think about the people whose footsteps I was following.

[If you’d like a more modern dose of U of Chicago economic thinking, read the book Freakonomics, which was started by a grad student’s research.  You’ll understand the HBO Series, The Wire, much better.]

The curriculum really impressed me:

  • U of Chicago has an incredibly low faculty to student ratio of 6:1.
  • They leverage that low ratio to focus on discussion-based classes.  After all the lecture halls we have toured elsewhere, I was so surprised at being taken into a classroom that was arranged into a circle that I walked up and down the hallway to check.  Every classroom was arranged in a circle!
  • There is a bit of the Great Books approach to learning, similar to what you’ll find at Reed College or St. John’s.  Our tour guide said that students can pretty much count on reading Marx, Aristotle,  and maybe Kant and/or Smith.  Thus, every student has a shared fundamental understanding of philosophy, ethics, and economics.   And by reading Marx, they get their biases and assumptions challenged.
  • Our tour guide talked about interesting classes, engaged professors and grad students, and being challenged to explore big picture themes like war, love & happiness.  Never before have I heard a tour guide talk about a class not wanting the semester to end!
  • I had always thought of Chicago as the brainiac school of Illinois, where the real intellectuals – the ones who love to learn and discuss and debate – study.   So does our tour guide.  So did an admissions counselor quoted in the New York Times recently.   The University of Chicago admissions counselor spoke about looking for “scholarly curiosity”.
  • As evidence that it is truly a liberal arts college and not a pre-professional place, they offered up the fact that there is no engineering program.
  • Of course, the city of Chicago is used as a resource for classes, with all the exhibits, plays, etc. that the city has to offer.
  • There are some accelerated programs (math, chemistry, & med school) and AP credit options that might allow a student to graduate almost a year early.

Drawbacks?  As my son pointed out, if the classrooms are designed to be interactive, you’d better be good at participating in discussions.   And the professors better be adept at preventing one or two people from monopolizing the conversation.

The University of Chicago offers about 12 full-tuition scholarships and 200 1/3 tuition scholarships.  To win one, you have to impress the faculty, not the admissions office.

From a residential standpoint, Chicago has “houses” like Hogwarts.  Students can dine in their house or, in the main dining hall, eat at their house table…or hang out with friends from other houses.

One advantage at Chicago is the availability of research opportunities.  The medical center is next door.   There are strong ties to physics research facilities.  This year they will open a new chemistry building that is designed to implode – after evacuation – if something goes seriously wrong…which makes you wonder what they are working with in there!

Up until now, I have been leary about sending my child to a research university.  My bias has been that an undergraduate student – particularly an introverted one – will get more opportunities and more attention from professors at a small liberal arts college.  But I’m now realizing that, at a research university, an undergrad can get to know some grad students, see what they have to do, and get a sense for whether that is a path he or she wants to take.

By the way, CalTech and University of Chicago consistently send out the most interesting direct mail pieces – at least as far as this nerd is concerned.

July 9, 2009 at 8:27 pm Leave a comment

College Visit: Northwestern University

My husband describes Northwestern University as the biggest medium-sized college he’s ever seen.  It seemed like we walked for miles and still didn’t see half the campus.  The sciences are primarily in a complex called the Technology Institute, which has an incredible 17 miles of corridors.  (Guys, you’d better learn to ask directions if you want to arrive at class on time.)

My son is intrigued by some of the accelerated programs (HPME for medicine, Integrated Science Program, MENU for accelerated math).  Be careful about choosing NU for these special programs.  Not only are they very limited in numbers but some are incompatible with each other or other programs.  For example, engineers can’t be in MENU, yet those who want the Kellogg certificate (the only business-oriented option for undergrads) MUST be in MENU.

Engineers: take note of Northwestern’s innovative approach.  Freshmen tackle a real-world problem as teams.  At places like Harvey Mudd, these hands-on projects are done as seniors.  Northwestern wants to give freshmen a good feel for whether engineering is really for them. NU also offers engineers a one-year (handsomely) paid internship program called Co-op, that often results in an employment offer.

My daughter originally was interested in Northwestern because of its journalism program, but ended up deciding that she didn’t want to attend there unless she was going to major in journalism.  After interning with a newspaper, she decided journalism wasn’t for her.  Now here we are again…my son thinks he’s only interested in NU if he decides he wants to be in one of their special programs.

July 8, 2009 at 6:36 pm Leave a comment

Info Session: 2 Ivies + 3 nearly Ivies

5 colleges are hosting the “Exploring College Options” college tour this spring: Duke, Georgetown, Penn, Harvard & Stanford. My son and I attended the presentations in Dallas. Afterwards, we concluded that he was still interested in Harvard and Stanford, admittedly in large part because of their reputation and financial aid offers (plus the California sunshine), but the presentations didn’t get him to add any new colleges to his list or provide any more compelling information about Harvard or Stanford that he didn’t already know, perhaps because they really did not address any majors that are of interest to him.

Here are the key points they covered in their 10-15 minutes presentations:

Continue Reading May 15, 2009 at 12:52 pm Leave a comment

Colleges for future Ph.D.s

If you think your child is destined to be a researcher or college professor, which colleges and universities should you investigate?

Try this list of the top 25 baccalaureate colleges and top 25 research universities, measured on the basis of the number of their students who go on to earn Ph.D.s in the sciences or engineering.  Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) put this list together.  HHMI is a non-profit that funds biomedical research and has also taken on the mission of improving science education.

The headline of HHMI’s complete report, “A Wellspring of Scientists”, is that “when it comes to producing science Ph.D.s, liberal arts colleges are at the head of the class”.

February 16, 2009 at 7:52 am Leave a comment

College Visit Report: Wash U.

Over Thanksgiving, we took my daughter on a return trip to Washington University in St. Louis to attend the architecture school’s information session, and brought along her cousin & our son to hear the regular info session.

The architecture session was interesting, but by the time we visited the studios, saw the complexity of the models the students were building, and heard that they are often in their studios until 3 a.m., my daughter had concluded that she wasn’t cut out for architecture.  I’m not sure if it was the calculus requirement or – more likely – the late hours, but she’s decided she’s more interested in urban planning or urban studies than in actually designing the individual buildings.

The general info session was just as incredible as the first one we attended, mainly because they had the same environmental engineering professor as one of the 3 speakers.   I was surprised, though, that my son didn’t get more excited about their science and medicine offerings.  Wash U has one of the better med schools in the country.

November 27, 2007 at 8:37 pm Leave a comment

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