Posts filed under ‘CA’

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

My son’s list

As of summer before senior year, here is my son’s short list (in alphabetical order):

  1. Carleton College, Northfield MN – the only small liberal arts college on the list.   A comfortable fit. Size-wise, Carleton is at the bottom of his preferred range.
  2. CalTech, Pasadena CA – Really small, but a fantastic school as long as he doesn’t change direction and decide he wants to major in something other than math or science.  Incredible job placement track record.
  3. Harvard College, Cambridge MA – We were more impressed than we expected.   Strong residential program makes the size manageable.   Financial aid is generous.   Boston is a plus.
  4. Northwestern University, Evanston IL – Has some special programs he wants to explore more.
  5. MIT, Cambridge MA – Like CalTech, but bigger and more widely known.  His original dream school when we started this process 4 years ago.
  6. Stanford University, Palo Alto CA – A little big for my tastes but he loves California and there are more options for majors than at CalTech.
  7. University of Chicago, Chicago IL – The intellectual’s school.   More discussion-focused.
  8. University of Oklahoma, Norman OK – Fantastic financial package for National Merit Scholars and, surprisingly, he feels comfortable at a school with 19,000 students.  Very compact beautiful campus, and he can live on an honors floor and get priority class registration rights.
  9. Yale, New Haven CT – The difference between Harvard and Yale comes down to whether he would take advantage of what Boston has to offer….like pro hockey games.

We’ve visited all of these and now he needs to do more research on their websites to see if he’s still interested in any of the special programs and happy with the course offerings….as well as to get more fodder for the question “Why do you want to attend XYZ University?”.

In case you’re wondering…

  • We never really investigated any other Ivy League schools, other than Penn, so don’t take this as a conclusion that Harvard or Yale are better than the others.
  • The schools with really lucrative merit scholarship programs generally did not appeal to him (which may be why they offer such great scholarships).
  • Originally, he was focused on MIT and CalTech, but, as time goes by, he’s seeing an advantage in leaving open his options for pursuing a non-technical major…even though that’s not what he’s interested in now.
  • My daughter is attending a college that, at one time, was on the bottom of her short list, so I’m well aware that this list could change.

July 20, 2009 at 11:12 am 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

Book Review: 3 meritocracies

* CalTech, the elite science and technology school
* Cooper Union, the NYC school of art, architecture and engineering, where tuition is free
* Berea, a school strictly for poor students from Appalachia, with free tuition

Continue Reading April 10, 2009 at 12:14 am Leave a comment

College Visit Report: CalTech, Harvey Mudd & Stanford

My son and I just returned from our trip to visit science & math-focused colleges in California.

CalTech: I expected CalTech would have extensive science labs & equipment, but they never showed off anything but the outsides of their academic buildings. The core requirements include lots of math & physics, but minimal biology & chemistry – is that an indication of something? Lots of summer research money and the possibility of doing research with a Nobel Prize winner (if all the grad students don’t crowd you out).

Eight dorms, which function more like frat houses in that everyone eats dinner in the dorm and social life revolves around the dorm. For a picky eater, like my son, it doesn’t sound real great that everyone (except vegans, vegetarians, and those eating kosher) has the same meal, served family style. On the other hand, for an introvert (75% of gifted kids), you’re forced to make friends. Each dorm includes equal numbers of freshmen, sophomores, juniors & seniors, so there is always someone older to ask for advice.

Harvey Mudd: One of the 3 best information sessions we’ve attended, because the admissions person had a very clear sense that Harvey Mudd is a unique place and a great fit for some but a lousy fit for others. Small, compact campus. No long treks from one classroom to another. Teachers seem involved with the students, if the stuff posted in the hallways is any indication. Math department is supposed to be #1 in the nation, although I don’t know what the criteria is, and the Putnam Competition team does exceptionally well. The 5 Clarement Colleges coordinate faculty hiring decisions, so they maximize the number of specialties and minimize overlap among faculty.

Social bonds at Harvey Mudd seem to be formed in project teams rather than dorms. HMC also offers “clinics” in lieu of a senior research project & thesis. In a clinic, a company brings a real-life problem to a team of students, and the students have to solve the problem by the end of the semester, while updating their company liaison weekly via teleconference. Clinics, and HMC in general, seem more hands-on and less theoretical, reflected by the fact that the most common major is engineering. Perhaps a great fit for kinesthetic learners and maybe visual learners. Everyone is required to take an engineering class and a computer science class, unlike any other school we have investigated. Interestingly, my son now thinks that would be a good thing and would introduce him to some fields that he has not yet investigated and which he might like. No automatic AP credit and don’t expect to test out of many classes here.

Dorms weren’t impressive, but each has a personality. Brand new cafeteria, and students can take classes or eat at any of the other Claremont colleges. Although Harvey Mudd has more guys than girls, Scripps College next door is a women’s college.

Stanford: What a contrast to Harvey Mudd! Stanford feels huge, well-endowed (based upon the amount of construction), and an all-things-to-all-people kind of place. The campus is so big that there are more bicycles than students and I only saw one person walking to class but nearly got mowed down by bicycles multiple times. Beautiful place. Lots of money for summer research projects. Famous people as professors and guest speakers. Students will find every type of group or club here, but will an introvert easily make friends in such a big place? Will the grad students get all the attention and best research opportunities?

The best part? Financial aid. Full rides for those with incomes less than $60,000; free tuition for incomes less than $100,000. The caveat: “provided your assets are in line with others with that level of income”, so those of us who did the right thing and saved for retirement and college get dinged.

January 17, 2009 at 1:16 pm 1 comment

Info Session: CalTech

We already knew that California Institute of Technology was one of, if not the, premier science & technology university in the country.  Still, it was really interesting when they put 3 local alumni on stage at the CalTech information session and they started talking about how tough the classes are and how CalTech does not give any credit (nada, zilch) for Advanced Placement classes.  Each student has to take CalTech’s own placement exams.  The three alumni told the prospective students not to expect to test out of any classes.  In fact, two of them said that even if you test out of calculus, you should still take the class because you’ll learn things in the basic calculus class at CalTech that were never even taught in AP Calculus BC.

Throughout the evening’s discussion, it was clear that 2 of the alumni considered the 3rd alum to be significantly smarter than them…turns out he skipped several calculus classes.  So even among the nation’s best students, teachers still have to differentiate.

Certainly it would be prestigious to send my son off to CalTech.  It’s disappointing, though, after all the hype about AP classes, to find that there are colleges that don’t give any credit whatsoever for AP tests.

September 18, 2008 at 8:20 pm Leave a comment

Info Session: Harvey Mudd

Last spring, a friend commented that her son, who wants to be an engineer, was applying to Harvey Mudd College.  Harvey who?  I went back and did some research and realized it might be a fit for my son, who is interested in math & science, so I signed up for tonight’s info session, even though neither of my kids could come.

Harvey Mudd is one of the 5 Claremont Colleges in California.  There is Scripps, a women’s college – near and dear to my heart, because I attended another women’s college, Stephens College, but not a fit for my kids.  I’m keeping my ears open as they speak about Pitzer and Claremont McKenna Colleges, to see if their focus on politics and public affairs might interest my daughter.  But it’s really Harvey Mudd that is of the most interest.

About 1/3 of their students pursue engineering, which explains why my friend’s son is applying.  No credit allowed for AP classes – you have to take their placement exams.  Clearly, purely, a focus on math, science & engineering…although you can also take classes at the other 5 colleges and they require fairly extensive exposure to the humanities.  And, if they get too advanced for their britches, they can take classes at Claremont Graduate University.  Having a women’s college next door helps even the male:female ratios.   One thing my picky eater of a child will like – he could eat at any of the 5 campuses.  A little variety in dining choices is a good thing.

Cute anecdote about athletics… between the 5 colleges, they have 2 football teams.  It’s the only place in the country where, at homecoming, both teams suit up in their home locker room!

Harvey Mudd strikes me as a place that truly has a vision, a niche, a focus.  I think this one is worth a visit…just have to convince my son.

August 25, 2008 at 8:18 pm Leave a comment

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