Is "under" reaching really a big problem?

Hi everyone,

My family situation makes it very important for me to live at home or at least very close by. I want to go pre-med. I have a 34 ACT and a 3.95 UW GPA. I have high marks in AP tests. Lehman college is a CUNY school which is commuting distance from my house and would be basically free to attend. But I am getting a lot of criticism for “under” reaching. I have been told that I will hate it and that it won’t be good for me because my stats are too far above the other students. Honestly, I just want to get a good education and go on to medical school.

In another thread I posted, a few posters seemed to think my plan was fine. The flak I’m getting is from people around me. I’m trying not to let it get to me, but its hard. Is there any actual research or proof that “under” reaching is a problem? Should I take this criticism to heart or just ignore it?


Don’t worry about what other people think. Coming out of undergrad with no debt is a gift. There is also something to be said about being a big fish in a little pond. You have the opportunity to really shine which can set you apart for med school. IMO, if Lehman has a pre-health advising program and gets students into med schools, that’s all you need.

Under reaching is not a problem!

I would ignore what others have to say. You are clearly an accomplished person with a good head on your shoulders. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with “under” reaching, especially when you know that the next step for you will be medical school. There will be challenges and opportunities anywhere you go to college, because you will find them for yourself. It’s not at all about the school, it’s about what you get out of it.

Some students are more comfortable commuting to school. I have know a few people at work who have had their kids come home after the first semester - the residential college life just wasn’t for them. If going away to school is something you really want, perhaps you can compromise and do a few years at Lehman and then transfer.

Don’t let other people get you down though - it’s what you think and feel about it that matters.

Have you visited the school? Go spend a day on campus. Sit in on a couple of classes, eat in a cafeteria if they have one, go on the tour, sit in on the info session. Admissions should be able to help you arrange all of that. Poke around on campus after the tour to see any buildings that interest you that you did not see. Take a day off from HS if you must in order to go see it when classes are in session.

THEN you are in a good position to decide whether you would be comfortable or not. Make your own decision – I wouldn’t let yourself be pushed either way until YOU have spent time there (especially in classes) before making up your mind.

A friend of a friend sent their kid to college as a premed student spending well over 100k on a name brand school. Another high school classmate went to a local nonbrand school for little money. Both girls ended up in the same medical school. In retrospect the father who paid over 100k wish he had not spent the 100k + as the outcome was identical.

Have you checked out the sophie davis program at city college. It is a cuny in upper manhattan, not that far from Lehman. Undergrad is free (full scholarship) and you would be eligible for their medical school (I believe they have arrangements with a few schools) for very low cost and almost guaranteed acceptance. The students who go there are extremely smart and you would not have to worry about underreaching.

Most students don’t “reach” for the best school they can get into. They decide on a university or college based on things like proximity to home, expense, quality of its sports teams, or if their friends are going there.

Whether under-reaching is a problem depends on your goal. If your goal is something dependent on college prestige (e.g. management consulting), you want to reach as high in prestige as you can. But for pre-med, college prestige is of very little importance in getting into and going to medical school, especially compared to such factors as cost, since medical school is expensive and you want to avoid debt and save money in undergraduate. Also, being at the top of your class in undergraduate may help in earning a pre-med-worthy college GPA.

I would go there for a day and do a total visit as mentioned above - sitting in on classes, talking with students/profs, and seeing what they offer for pre-med advising, etc.

YES, underreaching can be a problem (emphasis on “can” - don’t replace it with “will”). There are two groups of students I hear college complaints about. One of those is from folks choosing a college way below their ability (not meaning “top half,” but way below). The other is from students who graduate with too much debt. There is usually a happy middle, though your limit on distance might affect that.

When it comes to med school, my med school lad has told me he has had it easier in class because some of the topics in med school were extensively talked about in his undergrad classes. Some of his fellow med school students wonder how he already knows about some things (making studying easier). He tells them he learned it in BioChem (or whatever class) in undergrad. It has surprised him that there isn’t more standardization in some classes, but he went to a higher level Research U, so it makes sense that they might delve more into things. We’re not sure, but we’ve pondered a little.

Note that the latter part is also Professor dependent I suspect.

Note #2 is that a pp is correct that pretty much any college is a path to med school, so if that’s your only goal any school should be able to work. The end path isn’t different (aside from the potential for knowledge going in), only the path to get there is. I have heard from students IRL who ended up in med school but still wish they had chosen a better fit academically in undergrad (one of them was a good friend of my own lad). They were bored compared to their peers who chose elsewhere. For some this isn’t an issue. For others it is. Only you know where you fit in that picture.

You do NOT want high debt. Remember that’s the other group who wishes they had chosen differently.

The issue is that ideally you want to be at a college of peers and you clearly are the top of the freshman class in grades and ACT scores at Lehman. i personally don’t like it when parents give their kids geographical requirements and limitations unless it’s because of finances. With that said, if you are dedicated to getting into medical school you will make it work no matter where you go to undergrad. Good luck.

Everyone can have an opinion, but you’re the only one with the right to your decision. Getting a full ride is a very prudent sound decision, especially when you have plenty of student debt waiting from medical school.

Since the OP asked about research on under reaching, I’ll point out that Caroline Hoxby and coauthor had a paper out a few years ago about the problem with high achieving low income students who fail to apply to selective colleges even though they could get aid to afford them. The concern was that the students were missing out on all the extra educational and career resources that are available to top students who attend better schools.

Thank you everyone for the great advice and support! I will definitely take the suggestions to sit in on classes. I’m sure that will help me decide for myself whether this is or isn’t an issue.

FWIW, I went to a college (a very good one) where my stats were above most of the students at the school.

First of all, especially with public colleges, there are always lots of high-achieving students present. Often they are there because of finances, or wanting to stay close to home, or not knowing about other options. Particularly with the Macaulay Honors College, you’ll probably find that’s true at Lehman and some of the other CUNY colleges.

Second of all, you’ll find that (especially at schools with large numbers of low-income and/or racial minority students) stats alone aren’t necessarily a great indicator of the students’ skill, intelligence, and knowledge. You may still be pushed intellectually and academically; you may also be pushed in other ways that you didn’t necessarily expect.

I will say, though, that you should expand out and try other CUNY colleges as well. If Lehman is commuting distance from where you live, I assume that you live in the Bronx or maybe one of the closer suburbs of NYC (Yonkers, Mount Vernon, New Rochelle, Bronxville, etc.) City College would also be in commuting distance - a little further away - but City College also has a lower average age (meaning more traditional-age students) and, as someone pointed out, the Sophie Davis program. And on the east side, you’ve got Hunter College, which also has an overall lower average age than Lehman.

I am with @juillet on suggesting looking at Hunter college and their honors program. There is quite a variety within the CUNY system, and a definite pecking order. You may also want to look at Fordham or Manhattan college. They may give enough aid , who knows?

Yes, your stats will put you way above the students at Lehman. I teach at a college with a similar profile to Lehman, and I need to gear my class level to the range of students in the majority. So very top students may feel less challenged as a result. It is worthwhile to explore options nearby and have Lehman as a backup.

There’s great evidence, that has been replicated, that students who are qualified to matriculate at selective programs based on their GPA and test scores are equally successful no matter where they go. It’s simply a myth that you have to be pushed by peers. You will achieve, what you will, based on your drive, work ethic, and organizational skills, no matter where you go. Do not accumulate debt. There’s no reason. As others have said, low debt burden is a gift. Within reason of commuting, visit, and pick the best fit. Good luck!

It’s your life, so you should decide it yourself and don’t get caught up with the noises from others. I have two cousins who went to the T10 schools for premed undergraduate. The demands of their schools were much harder and required study and research all the time. They did end up to top medical schools with full scholarship, but the way of their study habit and life style made them not to having a family and settle down until their 40s. Meanwhile, I have another cousin and his girl friend both were great students and went premed to the same state school. Both went to some medical school in NY (probably not that famous), and they were able to have a family and settle down in their late 20s to early 30s. If I were them and to have a path like theirs, I would definitely pick the cousin who went the the state school route without second thought. My take.

Yeah and while “those people” are at it, will they step up and solve the problem that necessitates you having to live at home or close by? Not likely. You do you, kiddo.You seem to have been doing just fine so far. Godspeed to you.

People who go to the highest-rated college they could get into are probably likely to be at the lower end of their class. There is nothing at all wrong with going to a solid college at which you are at the higher end of the spectrum. For people who want to go to med school, that is probably the best strategy.