UCSD (Roosevelt College) or Wash Univ. at St. Louis for pre-med

Hi Parents,

My daughter needs to decide between attending UCSD or Washington University at St. Louis in the fall.  She is currently planning on majoring in Molecular Biology and following a pre-med track (meaning meeting the various requirements to apply to med school).  As you might have guessed, WashU is a lot  more expensive than UCSD and it would be hard for us to afford it (but not 100% impossible). My question is whether it is worth it for us to stretch our finances and send her to WashU?  WashU has some impressive statistics as far as admission to med school, so that is a plus. However, our daughter is 18 y/o and I have told her to give herself permission to change her mind and pursue something else if she so chooses.  It seems to me that she would be able to pursue more options at UCSD.

I would love to hear from other parents on their opinions about which university is a better choice or what factors to consider.

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Hi Parents,

I posted the question above regarding UCSD vs. WashU for a pre-med student.  I haven't had any responses so I'm thinking the question was too general.  Any thoughts o a UC vs. a private college for a pre-med student?



If both schools are feasible from a cost perspective then I think the main factor is how set your daughter is on going pre-med. If your daughter is (for now) determined to go biology/pre-med than going to WashU might help her immensely. WashU has a well known pre-med program as well as a lot of connections in the medical field. Also, WashU is a large university so even if she does change her mind then there are plenty of options for her over there. But if she thinks she will likely change her mind in the future then a UC school might be better.

Another option that might work is your daughter spending 2 years at a UC and then transferring to WashU if she does decide to stay pre-med. I did something similar but for engineering (went from St. Mary's in Moraga to WashU).

I would recommend asking this question (and researching prior responses) on College Confidential. There are a lot of knowledgeable people willing to share information on there. Good luck!

If you daughter has her heart set on Washington U and you feel she can use the extra support she would receive at a private school, that seems like the best choice...and worth the money. Otherwise if she is a mature and assertive student who can do well in her Molecular Biology major without the extra support she could receive at a private school, I would go with UCSD. UCSD is a great school and a much more economical option....especially a good idea if you are planning on helping her financially during med school!

Hi - Congrats to your D for getting into two great school. I don't have experience with either school for pre-med, but I've spent over 15 years advising HS and college students. Both are great schools. I would not pick Wash U just because they have a "better" track record for graduates going onto med school. Plenty of students graduate from UCSD and go onto top tier med schools. A friend's son is there now as pre-med and loves it and thinks he's getting everything he needs to get into med school. I recommend that your D talk to the head of the MCB department and several students who are MCB majors and/or pre-med at each school. I think it'll come down to which school community feels like a better fit (unfortunately harder to discern during the pandemic). Will she thrive better in a smaller environment or a bigger one? Will she easily get all the pre-recs courses that she needs? Is what she will get at Wash U worth the extra expense? Is it better to go to a less expensive school and save the money towards med school? Have you gone back to Wash U and ask for more scholarship/aid/other to make it worthwhile? Tell them that you're deciding between a state university that will cost a lot less and see what they can do for your D. Colleges are pretty desperate to get seniors to enroll this coming fall. Btw, your D should make these calls, not you. You can prep her and listen in. Good luck!

I'm a professor of molecular biology at Cal and have colleagues/friends at both UCSD and WUSTL. In my opinion, their molecular biology programs are equivalent in quality - and that quality is quite high. The smaller size of WUSTL might be an advantage in terms of getting more attention from faculty, but the social environment is more homogeneous and - personally - I find the climate there rather unpleasant. (Hot and humid in the summers, mosquitoes, etc.) and it is not such an interesting place in terms of culture/food/environment. UCSD isn't so interesting culturally either, but at least it has a pleasant environment. It is also likely to have a more diverse student body reflecting more of the breadth of our society, although I haven't looked into the numbers. This means that your daughter will likely have a richer social experience, which I think is one of the most important learning opportunities of going to college. On balance, I would lean toward UCSD, with the one caveat that it is a larger school and your daughter may need to advocate for herself a bit more than she would at WUSTL. Good luck on the decision!

Students from both schools are successful in applying to med school. UCSD and Wash U are very different schools with UCSD having an undergraduate student body of about four times as many students. Does your daughter want to be in a small school or a larger one? The weather in San Diego and St. Louis could not be more different, does this matter? Classes are generally smaller at Wash U with less stress in obtaining  specific classes. It may be easier to meet professors, obtain support, and arrange internships and research experiences at Wash U.  What else does your daughter like? Will she want to come home often? Your daughter can be successful in pre-med as well as most other fields, at both schools. Where does your daughter want to go to school?

Hi, there Naughten. I checked with our 19 year old college sophomore on this one, and she recommends your daughter go to UCSD - which, btw, is also what I recommend. UCSD is a great school with a great reputation. Your daughter may very well change her mind on her major. Financially, why put a burden on yourselves you don't need to, especially in the current climate? Also, it's important to note: schools may very well be doing all on-line learning for the fall semester/s. How would you feel about paying private school tuition in that circumstance? Wishing you the best.

Speaking as a health care practitioner and as a person who teaches people to become health care practitioners--I would say that there are really two considerations: 1) is there a huge difference in money/debt? 2) Does one of them have an accelerated program that your daughter would be interested in ie: bachelors and MD in 7 years? Both schools have great reputations. I don't think that one would prepare her more for a career in the health sciences than the other. But, her work prospects change dramatically depending on her debt situation once done with schooling. For example: if she has a crazy amount of debt, she may not be able to hold out for the perfect job she would love because she needs to earn a significant amount of money now to deal with that debt. OR she can't go into the specialty area that really interests her because that field of medicine doesn't earn as much money as another field and she has lots of debt. So bottom line: two great choices, go with the cheapest for lots of reasons--which is probably UCSD, I'd imagine. 

Washington University is a really great school but St. Louis is not a great city. My dad moved from SF to go there and had a very hard transition. It's just not a cool town like Chicago and the weather really sucks. The racism is really bad also. I had no idea what racism really meant until spending time there. There are two different societies and they do not mix. I'd go visit and spend time touring St. Louis on your own to get a real feel for the town. I've spent a lot of time there and have no desire to go back. I love Chicago but St. Louis is a very different city for some reason.

How set is your daughter on pre-med? There are a number of factors to consider. One if financial. UCSD is of course cheaper and if your daughter is considering med school there's some money that might be saved and could be applied toward med school as it is a very expensive proposition. Do keep in mind though that the US's are impacted and that could result in your daughter graduating in 5 years vs. 4. Wash U is an a great school where your daughter will probably get closer interaction with her professors and thus perhpas ssbetter access to research opps and of course knowing her professors better should result in stronger recommendations: critical for med school. At UCSD there is a great deal of research and there are of course opportunities but you're daughter will really need to be a strong self advocate and there may not be as much available for the undergrad who is not at the very top of the class or does not strongly compete to get those opportunities. UC's are great but very competitive and students really need to self advocate. stay on top of it to graduate on time and be ready to compete for opportunities. Wash U will cost more but perhaps foster stronger relationships with professors and perhaps open more doors to research or internship opportunities. The environment is quite different also in terms of student outlook and participation. It really depends on your daughter and what you can afford.

I have no personal experience [although a friend's daughter went to WashU for med school and loved it], but this is a question that often comes up on the College Confidential website, and I recommend you add that to your list of Favorites or Bookmarks [or whatever browser you use] as you go through the college search/application process.  I like going through this portal best:  https://talk.collegeconfidential.com/discussions

The almost-universal advice there is to save your money for med school and go to a school where you can get good grades.  Prestige/ranking of the undergraduate institution seems to matter very little as compared to GPA and MCAT score.  Sounds to me as though UCSD fits the bill.  Good luck.  ATS

I went to medical school.  She should choose the school that is the best fit for her personally lands her in the least amount of debt.  Also, whatever the admission statistics are saying may not apply to your daughter.  There is no way to predict 100% how she will do in college--it can be a very tricky time for a young person.  If she doesn't get in, or changes her mind and wants to study art, you'd be better off not owing a ton of money...although, you can be an art major and still go to medical school!  My husband screens medical students and says he finds the ones in nontraditional premed tracks often become the best doctors. Even if your daughter wants to do research, the same advice would apply.  UCSD would be cheaper and have research options.  Good luck.      

That was my major and I loved it. Can't comment on Washington University at St. Louis.  But UCSD's Molecular Biology program has a good reutation and some distinguished professors.  You should be more concenrned about the cost of med school than undergrad. 

My youngest daughter is finishing her freshman year at Washington University in St. Louis and we highly recommend it! WashU is an exemplary educational institution. We have continually been impressed by all aspects of the school, especially how they are navigating the COVID-19 crisis. Their medical school is highly regarded in the country. My daughter is a History major, but she has many friends who are pre-med. Her best friend is studying Molecular Biology. She also has friends who want to be artists, engineers, business leaders, teachers, etc. The options are abundant and switching majors is common and even encouraged. Good luck with your decision.

I think your question is too specific and This is such a personal choice. Speaking for ourselves- our daughter chose a private college, costing more money & requiring student loans but because the school is a top school, has smaller class size, easy accommodation for her dyslexia, easy access for advisors to change majors (which she has) and change minors (which she has) it has been worth it to us rather than a large well known well ranked public university. It’s such a personal decision, I think it’s hard for others to assess your child/family priorities.

The original question you posed has too many factors for me to give you advice. All I can tell you is that I attended UCSD in the 80s and I wish I had gone to a different school for undergrad. (I went to UCSB for grad school, and maybe I should have done the reverse.) I say this because at the time (and things may have changed since then) UCSD was really a commuter school and didn't provide the kind of undergrad experience I would have wanted. After freshman year in the dorms, I lived off campus as did everyone else. There was no neighborhood or commercial area anywhere near the campus so people just came to campus for classes and then went back to their far-flung homes. There was no real community spirit or focus of activity around the university. I can't tell you if that is worth the cost of private school though. I will only say that I was disappointed with my undergraduate experience at UCSD. 

I imagine (and the comments seem to support) that both schools will give her a strong background academically. But they are very different schools--her experience is going to be hugely affected by the small vs. large school environment, and which is "best" depends largely on who your child is. Is she a kid who thrives on being known? Or is she skilled at navigating situations where she needs to be self-directed? What are her extracurricular interests, and how would they fit at each school? Sadly these are the kinds of things a campus visit would help her suss out if you're not sure, and of course that's not the way this year's seniors are going to be making their decisions. But I'd think about what her personality is like, and what kind of experience she is going to want outside of the classroom. (I'd also consider what level of loans she will graduate with--that matters too.) She is fortunate to have two great choices, and I'm sure she will thrive wherever she lands.