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Big school (USC) vs. Small school on a merit scholarship (Pepperdine) for UG studies

kdon07kdon07 Registered User Posts: 3 New Member
edited May 2011 in Pre-Med Topics
Hello guys. I've been accepted to both the University of Southern California for Biochemistry as well as Pepperdine University for Biology, and I'm having a hell of a time making up my mind on which to attend so I'm looking for a bit of advice. Although I received the largest merit scholarship Pepperdine has to offer, USC gave me an extremely generous grant so in the end the tuition at each school is nearly the same (I think USC comes out to be like 2000 dollars more a year).

I'm trying to weigh the pros and cons of each and I'm hoping that you guys will be able to chime in and help me out.

Pepperdine is a very small school with an undergraduate enrollment of ~3500 students. As such, they don't have the resources of a large school like USC. They do offer undergraduate research programs, but I'm not sure to what extent. On the same note, I'm sure they're also lacking in extracurriculars. Pepperdine is in Malibu, CA, and although it's a gorgeous city, its incredibly small and there's nearly nothing going on there which I feel really limits my options for extracurriculars even further. Finally, I'm worried that their pre-med advisers don't have the same ability as the advisers from a large school in terms of being able to help me find internships/volunteer positions and ultimately help me get into medical school.

With all that said, I really like the idea of the small classes at Pepperdine. I'm honored and humbled that the school chose me for the regents' scholarship and I feel like that's something that I can proudly display on a medical school application. Overall I think it would be easier for me to earn a high GPA at Pepperdine than USC.

USC is a big school and I'm really scared I will get "lost in the shuffle". It has ~18,000 undergaduates which is enormous for a private school. I like to think of myself as a very independent student, but I've gone to small schools all my life, so it remains to be seen how I will actually be able to function in classes of 200+. I definitely don't feel like I will be getting any special attention from the professors there during my freshman and sophomore years, no matter how well I perform in their classes.

Paradoxically, What draws me to USC is also what scares me away. I'm eager to see how well I'll be able to perform in a big school. Moreover, I'm excited to take advantage of all that a big school like that has to offer. They offer extensive undergraduate research programs and a large number of clubs that I've taken an interest in. It's situated in a urban area so that greatly increases my options for volunteering/interning.

Overall, Pepperdine feels like the safer choice, but I think I stand to gain more from going to USC, though it may be a gamble.

I'd really appreciate any and all insight from you guys! Thanks in advance!
Post edited by kdon07 on

Replies to: Big school (USC) vs. Small school on a merit scholarship (Pepperdine) for UG studies

  • WayOutWestMomWayOutWestMom Registered User Posts: 9,793 Senior Member
    A few things:

    1) don't assume that you will get higher GPA at Pepperdine than at USC. Pre med is tough no matter where you go. There are smart kids at every college--and they WILL be in your classes.

    2) don't assume that you won't have large lectures for your intro sciences at Pepperdine. Intro science classes everywhere use the large lecture format. Don't assume you won't get personal attention at a large school. It's UP TO YOU to make contacts with your professors.

    3) you can find ECs just about anywhere.

    The things should be considering are:

    1) where will you graduate with the least debt? (Important since you will be taking on serious debt for med school)

    2) which school do you feel most comfortable at? (You have LIVE at the school you choose for 4 years. If you aren't happy with the campus/student body, you're going to be miserable)

    3) does Pepperdine have adequate research opportunities for undergrads in an area of your interest?

    4) if you were to change your major, which school offers you the best/most alternatives? (the sad truth is 60-75% of high schools students who think they want to be doctors end up never even applying to medical school)

    Also see: http://talk.collegeconfidential.com/pre-med-topics/1122176-bluedevilmikes-ten-step-guide-picking-premed-school.html

    And now tale of two daughters. I have 2 girls. One went to huge state uni; one goes to a small private uni (with huge merit). Both have had similar opportunities for ECs, research, leadership experiences, community service, medical volunteerism---and guess what? Both will likely end up in the exact same med school!

    (D1 starts med school in July; D2 will apply next summer.)

    MORAL: choose a school because you'll be HAPPY there.

    P.S. If the finances are really, truly equal--my inclination is to suggest you challenge yourself. Part of the purpose of going away to college is to learn how to deal with everything life throws at you, good and bad. And how can you know what you're capable of unless you move outside your comfort zone?
  • mom2collegekidsmom2collegekids Forum Champion Financial Aid, Forum Champion Alabama Posts: 84,432 Forum Champion
    It has ~18,000 undergaduates which is enormous for a private school.

    You're concerned that you'll be "lost in the shuffle".....hmmm...I'm not sure about that. Larger schools often mean offers of more colleges, more majors, and more profs.

    My kid's school has about 25k undergrads and my son hasn't been lost in the shuffle. He's easily gotten great LORs for research opps. A student does need to be pro-active for any prof to know you - no matter what. If you're a wallflower, no prof is going to "know you".

    I agree with WOWmom that smaller schools ALSO can have large lecture classes for those intro classes.

    I don't know USC's specific policies on labs, but often those are much smaller...so more individual attention.

    And...anytime you're in a large lecture class...sit towards the front or in the front. You'll feel as if you're in a much smaller class. When you raise your hand to ask a question, the prof will surely see you.

    Since the money is almost the same, I think you should go to USC.
  • bluebayoubluebayou Registered User Posts: 25,642 Senior Member
    One other issue besides the possibility of changing majors....what if you decide medicine is not for you? Which degree gives you the most bang for your buck while looking for a job? Which degree has a really active alumni network in SoCal? (hint: it ain't called Trojan Family for nothing!)

    But yes, there is no doubt that 'SC has a lot of gunners, (which is standard premed). There are some great reasons to choose Pepperdine, but assuming it would be easier is not one of them.

    Suggest you post on the USC board and ask students how their class sizes work out.

    btw: The scholarship really won't add any value to your resume. What is will do is give you first dibs at all the great stuff Pepperdine offers.
  • kdon07kdon07 Registered User Posts: 3 New Member
    Wow! Thanks for all the excellent responses so far, guys!

    @bluebayou -- why don't you think the scholarship will add anything to my med school application? Is it because it's more of a reflection of my high school academic achievements and not my college ones?
  • somemomsomemom Registered User Posts: 10,956 Senior Member
    Funny, my DD attended a UC and I was envious of some of the personal attention her HS friend at 'SC received. They are both private and that makes them more likely to be responsive. Go to the one that feels like a better fit for your personality and style
  • MiamiDAPMiamiDAP Registered User Posts: 16,184 Senior Member
    Choose the one that makes you feel at home. It will be your home for the next 4 years. If you are not happy living there, it might affect your academic performance. You got to get a feel for yourslef, nobody can do it for you. What fit one, will not fit another. That was D's way of choosing, looking back it was correct way. Has worked for UG better than expected , will see how it will work for Med. School, which she has chosen the same way.
  • windbehindwingswindbehindwings Registered User Posts: 282 Junior Member
    Within the larger school, look for the smaller programs. Check out the Freshman Honors Science program at USC. It provides smaller classes and opportunities to network with professors.
  • bluebayoubluebayou Registered User Posts: 25,642 Senior Member

    If you undergrad scholly was a national one, such as as Robertson, it might add a little value to your app. But the simple fact is that the first cut is gpa+test scores for med school. And once you are in undergrad, it's matters more what you do while you are there. Look at it this way, the Pepperdine scholly was given to you based on your achievements in high school. Do you think med schools care about what you did while in your teens?

    btw: many schools grant 'scholarships' in the form of need-based aid. Indeed, I know of several Ivy Leaguers who have a named "scholarship", but it is really just a way to parcel out need-based aid, while honoring the donors. There is no merit involved, other than being admitted to the college (since the Ivies meet full financial need).
  • mcat2mcat2 Registered User Posts: 5,942 Senior Member
    Indeed, I know of several Ivy Leaguers who have a named "scholarship", but it is really just a way to parcel out need-based aid.
    This is indeed true (I asumes you are talking about UG financial aid here.)

    Somewhat tangent to the discussion here: I suspect it may be quite different for medical schools. I do not know how it works here (not much experience yet), but it appears much fewer percentages of medical school students get significant grant/scholarship (free money) as compared to UG's grant/scholarship. In general, "Social engineering" (aids to the poor) often stops after UGs, as they expect to get loans mostly, and after you graduate from a professional school, you pay it back over several decades.

    If this is true, grab the money while you still can. Statistically speaking, there is not much "free money" at the professional school level.
This discussion has been closed.