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Many parents of aspiring doctors have asked me how they can choose the optimal college for medical school acceptance.  The answer is simple -- there is no answer.

 By David Thomas, Photo by Damon Sacks

Recently, the mom of a high school student asked me if I could, as an educational consultant, supply her with a list of colleges and universities that had high rates of acceptance to medical school. She had found a number of them via Colleges That Change Lives. She stumbled onto others via internet searches.

In my capacity as both a college and medical school admissions consultant, I have been asked to supply lists like these many times. The problem is always the same; it's impossible.

Why?  Many colleges boast high medical acceptance rates that are practically meaningless, since each school uses its own methodology to calculate the statistics, creating wildly misleading results.

Some colleges only calculate the number of students who were accepted to medical school using the college's officially sanctioned Pre-Med Committee. So if 100 students declare freshman year that they are applying to medical school, 50 drop out after not doing well on prerequisites, 20 get a high-enough GPA to qualify for a Committee Letter, and 18 of those 20 get into medical school. So the school claims a 90% acceptance rate, but could as easily claim a rate of 18%.  Cornell is a great example of a school like this.

But wait, it gets more complicated.  Some of the students apply without a committee letter -- let's say 30.  And 10 of those get in, meaning out of the ACTUAL APPLICANTS to medical school, 28 out of 50 got in, which yields a 56% acceptance rate.  So depending on how you look at it, 18%, 56% or 90% of Cornell applicants get into medical school.

And of course, some colleges do not have a Pre-Med Committee. In those cases, schools usually publish simple acceptance rates.  Because of the statistical gamesmanship, these schools can appear to have worse rates of acceptance but actually have BETTER rates!

The sad truth is this; MED SCHOOL ACCEPTANCE STATS ARE UTTERLY MEANINGLESS. Medical school admissions usually starts with a computer-screening process, and computers don’t weight GPAs differently (at least, not yet). In other words, a 3.9 GPA from Fresno State will always trump a 3.5 from Cornell in this process. Once the Secondary Essays are received, and humans begin to get involved in the screening process, then the subjective factors are considered (as in all admissions).

So what is important? DO WELL AS AN UNDERGRAD—wherever you are. How well you do in college is more important than where you went to college. And the existence of a premed committee doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll get better advising there. In fact, the advantages and disadvantages of a premed committee can balance each other out.

Medical school admissions is incredibly nuanced and tricky, and I've just barely given the tiniest example of its complexities. But first and foremost? Ignore the acceptance-rate stats. They are meaningless.