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Biology major at LACs?

SunnyFlorida22SunnyFlorida22 Registered User Posts: 21 New Member
Pros & cons of being a biology major at one of the higher rated LACs? These schools were not on our radar at all until receiving a spiffy brochure in the mail from a highly rated but very small LAC that seemed to check off a lot of things on D's list. She's a junior looking at getting a PHD or going to med school. She had only research universities on her list up until this point. Medical research is very important to her. Also, how do these schools compare price wise for a middle class family income of around $75,000?
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Replies to: Biology major at LACs?

  • HootieAHootieA Registered User Posts: 43 Junior Member
    edited October 11
    I can give you feed-back based on direct experience with my niece and I am sure others will agree. LAC's are awesome for biology and especially for pre-med given the attention they receive and generally better resources on advisory through the process. Some are rural so that could theoretically limit medical EC opportunities but her's is rural and she has had no issue at all. Schools like Trinity, Wesleyan, Bates and Bowdoin are either quasi-city schools or close enough to major cities to generate EC's. Bates is located right next to a teaching hospital affiliated with Boston University Medical, for example.

    In terms of cost, the elite schools at that income level assuming there isn't a family business to mess up the calculation or massive amounts of non-retirement savings, will basically be just room and board or perhaps less.

    It is pretty common for students and parents to think this way, but many don't even know you can major in art history and still go to medical school if you take the prerequisites.
  • warblersrulewarblersrule Super Moderator Posts: 9,413 Super Moderator
    Though most people think of universities (especially those with medical schools) for biology research, biology is one of those majors that is often better studied at a LAC. Because biology is such a popular subject at almost every college, class sizes can be very large at the introductory level at universities, and labs and discussion sections are usually run by graduate students (TAs). Professors tend to supervise at least a couple of PhD students working on projects under a larger project umbrella, and in turn those graduate students supervise undergraduate students. University professors in the sciences are often (but not always) more disinterested in teaching than their counterparts in the humanities and social sciences.

    The degree to which a motivated undergraduate can get the funding and resources to carry out a project of his/her own design varies a lot from one university to another. LACs, on the other hand, have no graduate students for undergraduates to compete with.

    Price is going to vary depending on the LAC and how much financial and/or merit aid you can expect to receive. Run the Expected Family Contribution (EFC) Calculator for each college of interest.

    Based on your past posts, definitely take a look at the New College of Florida.
  • mamag2855mamag2855 Registered User Posts: 665 Member
    My D graduated from the University of Richmond in 2016. She had many research opportunities while there as a Biochemistry/Molecular Biology major. She started doing research with a professor during her freshman year, had paid summer internships, and attended academic conferences. She is currently at UVA working on a PhD program in Biomedical Science (was also accepted to UNC-CH and Duke PhD programs). LACs like UR often have strong science programs and good placements for med school/graduate programs.

    As far as costs go, be sure to run the Net Price Calculator for each college your D is considering. That is the best way to to get an estimate for your family's financial situation. Depending on your D's stats, there are also LACs which may offer merit aid to get you to budget.
  • SunnyFlorida22SunnyFlorida22 Registered User Posts: 21 New Member
    Thank you all so much for the fabulous advice as always! Very interested in checking out several LACs now. So glad to have more choices.
  • mikemacmikemac Registered User Posts: 9,517 Senior Member
    edited October 11
    As others have said, the close contact with faculty at a LAC since they typically don't have grad students to help thom out in the lab is going to pay dividends when it comes time to apply to a PhD program.

    Since you mention premed as a possibility, there can be a downside at some schools. There are colleges that boast impressive admit numbers to med school. Unfortunately many of them get these numbers thru screening. Large publics typically don't offer a committee letter to med school applicants but it is common at smaller schools. The way to control who applies (and hence manipulate the acceptance rate) is to screen applicants and only write favorable letters for the stronger candidates. They don't do this under the table; they actually *tell* each prospect whether the letter will be favorable or not, the reason being that those with unfavorable letters know they are wasting thousands of dollars in app fees if they apply so they don't. Voila, only strong applicants apply, and the accept numbers look great. So for the schools she is considering you should make a point of asking if the committee letter is evaluative and if so find out the criteria for a favorable letter.

    On the same theme, has she looked the medical field and considered the alternatives? Its almost a reflex action among HS kids, they think of a career in medicine and its "I'm pre-med!" Doctors are far from the only ones in the health field that help people. Physical therapists, radiology techs, nurses, speech pathologists, physician assistants, to name but just a few. Hae her spend a few hours browsing on http://explorehealthcareers.org As a junior this would be the perfect time to begin volunteering in a medical setting since experience is an unwritten requirement for med school admissions and by starting now she can find out if the field is even a fit.
  • merc81merc81 Registered User Posts: 7,151 Senior Member
    edited October 11
    She could heighten her chances for research opportunities by choosing a college at which supervised research has been established in the curriculum in the form of a for-credit course listing (which often can be repeated across several semesters).

    Regarding LACs for biology in general, they may offer more than three dozen courses in the field, which would offer your daughter more than adequate (really, much more) depth and variety.
  • momrathmomrath Registered User Posts: 5,652 Senior Member
    Like research universities, both public and private, the category of small liberal arts colleges covers a wide variation of academic rigor and financial support. Overall, biology is a mainstay major, and most if not all colleges with rigorous academic programs will have well funded biology departments. The points of differentiation will lie mostly in the cultural and environmental differences from school to school.

    Aside from functioning on different tiers of academic strength and selectivity, small LACs can have significantly different personalities. Often if you're able to identify an appealing environment on one level of selectivity, you'll be able to find others with the same culture on varying levels of selectivity, so that you have reach/match/safety options with overlaps in personality.

    The common thread across small LACs is a focus on undergraduate education: small classes, nurturing and accessible professions and lots of individual attention. Many have excellent track records for medical school admissions, science/math PhD programs and health professional advising. Professors know their students personally and advising relationships and alumni/ae networks continue to offer support long after graduation.

    Again it's the focus on undergraduate education that categorizes research opportunities at LACs. For example, his page is a link to biology research opportunities at Williams: https://biology.williams.edu/research/
    And to their health profession counseling: https://careers.williams.edu/healthstem/pre-health/
    Other LACs in Williams academic cohort would offer similar programs, though the overarching cultural experience may vary.

    Since it's still early in your daughter's college search and application process, spend some time on a few LAC websites. Look at the courses offered, the faculty backgrounds, the career counseling centers and where graduates have ended up. If you can, visit. This is the best way to get a feeling for the cultural differences from LAC to LAC.

    Selective LACs can be very generous with need-based aid. Some that are somewhat less selective (but still academically strong) offer merit scholarships as well. Run a few net price calculators based on "what if" scenarios to see how you do.
  • CrewDadCrewDad Registered User Posts: 1,550 Senior Member
    edited October 13
    The Association of American Medical Colleges has data to suggest that your major simply does not matter when it comes to getting accepted to medical school. According to their data, only 51 percent of students who enrolled in medical school in 2012 majored in biological sciences. That means the remaining medical school matriculants majored in humanities, math or statistics, physical sciences, social sciences or specialized health sciences.
    In the end, the right major for you truly depends on the balance of what you are passionate about, what you can intellectually handle and what is practical.
    https://www.usnews.com/education/blogs/medical-school-admissions-doctor/2013/09/11/choose-the-right-undergraduate-major-for-medical-school

    @SunnyFlorida22 If research is of paramount importance, some LACs offer research beginning the first year. For Example:
    Vassar students have multiple opportunities to engage in original research beginning as early as the first year. They do independent research for course credit, work as paid research assistants in professors’ labs, and do intensive summer work both on campus through the Undergraduate Research Summer Institute (URSI) and at other major research laboratories—NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Mayo Clinic, and Los Alamos National Laboratory, to name a few.
    https://science.vassar.edu/research/
  • SunnyFlorida22SunnyFlorida22 Registered User Posts: 21 New Member
    Thanks again for all of the helpful comments. Medical research is very important to D. She spent time last summer working in a medical reseach lab and LOVED it and has plans to continue research next summer as well.

    The problem is, she spoke to a beloved senior teacher she looks up to yesterday and mentioned LACs, Swarthmore in particular, and this teacher didn't see a fit for DD. Teacher told her she would like to see her at more of a top research university with more opportunity in her particular field of interest. After hearing this, D decided to take LACs off the table for now. I'm a little sad about that but I'm going to keep them on my radar. She has a year to decide so maybe I can convince her to take another look at them down the line.
  • HootieAHootieA Registered User Posts: 43 Junior Member
    Your daughter's teacher doesn't know what she is talking about, respectfully. Your daughter won't get close to those "top" research projects as an undergraduate. It is totally meaningless. What does "more opportunity in her particular field of interest" mean?
  • merc81merc81 Registered User Posts: 7,151 Senior Member
    edited October 13
    Quite literally, what is a top research university? Mainstream publications such as U.S. News do not recognize this as a category. I'd suggest that the teacher may need to define her terms of distinction in order for her perspective to be helpful. It seems as if she may simply be referring to a larger schools in general, as opposed to specific colleges (whether large or small) at which students would, per se, have access to research opportunities.
  • mamag2855mamag2855 Registered User Posts: 665 Member
    I second your comments, @HootieA . LACs focusing on undergraduate research are fantastic options for bio/science majors. My URichmond graduate had so many opportunities for research, publishing, and presenting at conferences during all 4 years there.

    She went on to a paid fellowship at the National Institutes of Health in DC, after graduating from UR, where she conducted research while she applied to PhD programs. The NIH investigator she worked for told her he was very impressed with her lab and research capabilities, and said she was already at the level of a 4th year graduate student.

    The close relationships my D built with her professors and mentors at UR have been integral to her academic success and acceptance to multiple Phd programs. She built an awesome CV/resume while at UR, and had excellent reference letters.

    Your D's teacher is doing her a serious disservice by dismissing LACs across the board for students interested in science. To be sure, LACs are very different from large research universities, but perhaps a smaller learning environment is better for your D. I hope you can take her to visit a LAC or two with strong sciences. She can sit in on a class or two, talk with professors and students and decide for herself.

    Perhaps she is feeling guilty that she will be disappointing her teacher if she attends a LAC, but it will be HER 4 year college experience, not her HS teacher's.
  • warblersrulewarblersrule Super Moderator Posts: 9,413 Super Moderator
    edited October 13
    The problem is, she spoke to a beloved senior teacher she looks up to yesterday and mentioned LACs, Swarthmore in particular, and this teacher didn't see a fit for DD. Teacher told her she would like to see her at more of a top research university with more opportunity in her particular field of interest. After hearing this, D decided to take LACs off the table for now. I'm a little sad about that but I'm going to keep them on my radar. She has a year to decide so maybe I can convince her to take another look at them down the line.
    A lot depends on how much of a go-getter she is. If she's willing to aggressively seek out funding and research opportunities, she may do perfectly well at a university. I majored in the sciences at a university and had a terrific experience. (Admittedly, I switched from biology to geology, which had about 1/10 as many majors.) I knew a lot of VERY impressive science majors in undergrad, including one young woman who had published as first or second author in multiple journals, including Nature (!), by graduation and had racked up awards like the Goldwater and Marshall like you wouldn't believe. Graduate programs were practically fighting to have her, and she wound up doing a PhD and postdoc at Cambridge and Harvard. The diversity and depth of research at universities allows such students to go very far.

    If she feels shy about hunting down professors for opportunities or competing with graduate students in the lab, a LAC may well be the perfect option. Likewise, if she feels uncomfortable in classes larger than 30 or 40 students, a LAC may be a terrific option.

    In my opinion, it's best to apply to a range of schools. High schoolers change their minds pretty frequently, so applying to both small and large schools could result in a good selection of options in the spring.
  • SunnyFlorida22SunnyFlorida22 Registered User Posts: 21 New Member
    edited October 13
    I'm going to show my daughter all of the comments, hoping that she will give the LAC's a chance. And yes, I believe her teacher meant for her to focus on slightly larger universities in general. That being said, our top state school, UF, is huge and I'm not positive such a great fit either, but she does have research connections there already. I would much rather see her at a small LAC with more personal attention but we shall see.
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