Wednesday, July 12, 2017
College Tours, from the Other Side
- He’d get a three-dimensional image of each place, along with a feel for its vibe. Colleges that look similar on paper can feel very different in person. Starting early enough that it’s still low-pressure may allow for that.
- The whole enterprise might start to feel a bit more real. Some of the places he has named are relatively selective; if he really likes them, that can provide some useful motivation when the winter blahs set in.
- At this point, an excuse for some quality father/son time over a long weekend is a very good thing. He only has a couple more years in the house full-time. And for whatever reason, some of our best conversations occur when we’re looking at the inside of a windshield.
I'm not sure what "biggish" means to you, or "relatively selective" in that context, but I do know "biggish" and "huge". He won't get a realistic perspective of any university in the summer. The bigger they are, the more parklike they are when empty of anyone but grad students. (This is personal experience.) Visiting Rutgers for a football game, as I believe you did, would give more perspective if he also saw the same campus in summer! If there is a place he likes within a few hours, you might take in a basketball game to see it full of students in the winter and also see how students get around a large campus in the winter.
Now something you didn't ask.
The best STEM advising I can give is to take a good physics class in HS. If he can't take both a second chemistry class and physics, take physics. It is a critical subject on the MCAT, and undergrad classes can be so poorly taught that HS prep can be essential. Ditto for math preparation. I've seen students who took extra bio in HS at the expense of math and the physical sciences and were behind in all of those areas but had AP credit that didn't count toward a biology major. Getting some solid advising THIS summer at one or two target schools could help him a lot. Have him go over with them "this is what I am taking as a junior, what are your suggestions about my options as a senior?"
Finally, has he done any volunteer work in the medical field? That is often expected by med schools, who can be rightfully concerned that they will lose students when they discover what it is like to work with really sick and dying people and children on a regular basis. He should ask at least one advisor about their recommendations about when and what kind of experiences are best.
Presumably TB will have a major other than "pre-med". Perhaps a pre-med advisor can put him in touch with students who are studying a variety of fields. Having one he likes will be good in case he decides that medicine is no longer for him.
Like CCP wrote, medical experience is important--ask about opportunities. Rural locations make it more difficult to come by, unless the school also has a med school.
Somewhat less obvious--what's the opportunity to do undergrad research (and get his name on publications, not just lab-minion)?
More less obvious? Unsurprisingly, med schools want well-rounded people (who also have 3.9s and great MCAT score)--he needs to have one or two activities (preferably non-health) where he gets deeply involved and steps up to a leadership role at some point.
Finally, one of the better pre-health "to do" sections:
*Committee letters are generally a thing along the east coast, not so much a thing along the west coast. They're essentially a 2-page composite letter of rec written by the professional advising staff that also incorporates other stuff they've learned about the applicant through meetings and interviews. These are generally better when written by the professional advising staff rather than ghost-writers or part-timers because the staff should know him, while the part-timers read his file and write it up.
A decade ago (cough), going along on the tour meant she could process the tour at me instead of having to describe it first. Your Kid May Vary. She was dismissive of the parents who asked more questions than the students did, FWIW.
One thing we found worked well was looking in the bookstore. She dropped a couple of schools out because the Freshman English equivalent was covering books she knew from High School. Oddly enough, those were also ones where I thought the texts in my area were a bit weak.
He will want a place he can see himself volunteering with physicians, and it doesn't hurt to have research he can get into. For the former, I think it's ideal to try out physicians in a hospital *and* in other settings- I wrote off med school based on ideas about bubble tests in med school and ER surgery as a work life, and didn't realize what the courses in med school were actually like and that I could be a dermatologist in an outpatient setting (I would've done well in that kind of a role even if I'm totally unsuited for the ER).
As far as research- many PhDs can smell a box-checking med student a mile away, but genuine curiosity coupled with an open mind goes very far. If he can find himself an MD/PhD who is relatively young to work for, that'd give him the best possible mentor perspective (I say relatively young because the ancient ones often stacked med school and grad school instead of going through a medical scientist training program- if he's ambitious, make sure he knows he can get med school paid for in those programs. This is another way to winnow down the universe of schools into a manageable number- those that send students to MSTPs are going to be top tier).
If I were doing it in this day and age, I'd also consider looking for a school with a good Physician Assistant program (they are not super common and thus maybe harder to get into than Med school in terms of requiring patient contact time beforehand, but the ROI is better, and if what he really likes is patient care it's a better career path). Of course, if he does get bit by a research bug, than I'd recommend the MD. There's nothing you can do with a PhD you can't do with an MD as far as research, and you won't making a terrible life choice.
Don't let him get too attached to one school—my son, though a great student, did not get in at any of the super-selective schools he applied to. Luckily, one of his "safeties" was also a good fit and he has been happy at UCSB.
Like everyone else, I recommend going when classes are in session—campuses are very different places in the summer. Try to get an meeting with a faculty member in the desired field—that can be much more informative than just a generic tour.
If he is pre-med, be aware that very few pre-med students end up going to med school (some lose interest, some find more exciting possibilities, and some just don't make it)—he should have a backup plan from the beginning.
Also, at each of the schools we visited, I had him contact professors in the field he wants to major in. We got far more out of talking to these professors than we did from the tours and recruiting sessions.