Pre-Med Undergrad Choices and a Plan B

Hi all
My 2023D is another high stats student planning to be a Bio major/pre-med track. She is also an athlete and really wants to play her sport in college. She has numerous offers to play, but is having a hard time deciding where to commit.

Her top two choices are high academic private schools, D3, that are out of state (she likes the idea of that.) The costs are high (47K a year for one and 58K a year for the other) and that’s after her merit scholarships (we anticipate she will receive the maximum)

She is also being recruited at a newer in state school, Cal State San Marcos. It would be D2 for her sport, so all year round mandatory practice. There are many positives for this - its local, family member has a home she can live in right by campus, it takes ALL of her AP and dual enrollment credits (the others only take one or two, so far she has only gotten one 5, the rest 4 &3’s) which would put her on track to graduate in 3 years. I like the flexibility of this as she wants to dual major (Spanish/Biology/w/pre-med) so she should be able to do it all and still graduate on time. Its located by two newer large hospitals so there should be opportunity for her to find volunteering, etc. She loves the campus, its really nice. The cost is a fraction of the other schools, we could pay as we go, being able to save the 225K+ for med school or graduate school.

My questions:

  • Will a lesser known, smaller state school still make her look competitive if she pulls off a 4.0 GPA or close, providing she does the added shadowing, internships, etc to boost her application?
  • Do the med schools look at workload such as dual majors and playing year round sport as a positive relating to time management, etc?
    *I’ve heard that it doesn’t matter where you go for undergrad for pre-med, but these choices are quite different.
    *She would love to hear suggestions for backup plans for Bio major. She’s especially interested in Radiology, genetics, DNA.

I appreciate any feedback. My D is really struggling with the decision.

@WayOutWestMom your thoughts?

1 Like

There are others far more knowledgeable than I on the pre-med front, so I will let them speak to that aspect of your post, though my impression is that a high GPA accompanied by a high MCAT score are the initial screens for med schools. If your daughter speaks Spanish fluently and has excellent time management skills, I would imagine that would only help, but don’t know how heavily those factors would weigh in the med school admissions process.

There were two things I wanted to address:

  1. Although staying at a relative’s house can certainly save money, I would urge your daughter to live on-campus for at least the first year. I think that’s where a lot of the social connections are made for first-year students and although your daughter would have her sport’s teammates, it’s also good to build a non-sport friendship base (for a number of reasons, including if she decides she no longer wants to play or gets injured and can’t play).

  2. If your daughter is interested in something like radiology as an alternative Plan B, then perhaps attending a school where that’s a major would be beneficial? Cal State Northridge seems to offer it as well as California Baptist. I don’t know what the requirements are for genetics, but UC-Davis and UC-Irvine seem to offer some possible majors in those areas.

Being able to save money for grad school is a wonderful idea if you think your daughter would be happy at the less expensive school. But it’s also great to be able to have other choices of majors should your daughter change her mind or become more focused on something besides bio (whether radiology, genetics, etc). Are there any schools that offer those other majors and a chance to play her sport?


I think everything is secondary to this.

School doesn’t really matter to the medical school, but different schools have different resources. I think being a D2 athlete will actually help in that regard, because athletics are much more central to the student’s purpose there and they want to retain them.

Medical schools will look at a total application and consider heavier extracurricular loads.

As for major, it can be anything, even art or music, if she fulfills all the prerequisites. Biology is an easy choice, because the curriculum aligns with the prereqs. It is in no way necessary though. She should major in something that interests her 1) in the event medical schools doesn’t pan out and 2) so she enjoys the process.

Circling back to the quote, I discuss this with every one of my patients that is also in any facet of healthcare. Essentially it goes something like “how long do you think you’ll work, has it been a good career, and would you recommend it to the generation entering school now?” We all concur that we’ve had a good run, but some look back under heavy debt load, and aren’t sure they’d do it again. None of us think it’s a good idea to be heavily leveraged.

TL;DR: if you can pay for her medical school and she’ll be able to graduate debt free if she chooses CSSM, that’s unquestionably the way to go. if you can float it all even with a private education, that’s a family discussion with no right answer. The wrong answer is to let her saddle herself with a huge debt.

Congrats to her and her options!


If she needs to commit due to sport scholarship, what are the earliest dates?

She shouldnt be worried about making a decision this early without all the offers on plate to choose from.

Athletes do have some weight on the medical school applications. Not sure if that alone gets them in but I am of the impression that they dont have to have perfect GPAs and MCATs but they wont get in either with a 3.0 and 500 because they are athletes.

1 Like

Non-medical-school in radiology would be radiology technician, which typically requires an associates degree in the subject, commonly offered at community colleges.

Genetics is commonly offered as a subarea of biology. Course offerings at CSUSM would include BIOL 328, 352, 452, 502, 561. However, a genetic counselor job typically has a master’s degree in the subject as the entry-level degree requirement.

Research jobs in biological sciences are likely to be very competitive, and need a PhD in the subject.


I have concerns about her AP scores. Only one is a 5? Scores of 3 and 4 indicate significant deficits in mastery of the material. Even if her chosen college will allow her credit for 3s and 4s, it would be a bad idea to accept the credits and begin with UL coursework. Having a weak foundation in the material means she’s going to struggle with UL material. And for pre-meds. GPA is key.


My questions:

  • Will a lesser known, smaller state school still make her look competitive if she pulls off a 4.0 GPA or close, providing she does the added shadowing, internships, etc to boost her application?

Normally I would say yes, but since your daughter is a California resident, this changes my answer. California is the largest producer of pre-meds in the US. Med school applicants from UCB alone could fill every single seat in every public and private CA med school and still have applicants left over. Those 4.0 UCB/UCLA grads are going to be your daughter’s competition for those California med school seats. CA med schools demonstrate a strong preference for UC grads.

RE: out of state med schools. Unfortunately your daughter will still be competing with those UC grads for those OOS med school seats too. (More than 2/3rd of CA residents accepted to med school end up matriculating OOS.) While the UC preference will be less prevalent at OOS med schools, the UCs are known commodities for med schools which tend to be risk adverse when it comes to admitting students. Your daughter’s CV would need to be killer in order to stand out against those UCB/UCLA/UCSD grads.

NOTE: ALL premeds are expected to have significant amounts of physician shadowing, clinical volunteering with patients, community service with disadvantaged communities, leadership roles in their activities and clinical or lab research. A few hundred hours of community service and of clinical volunteering at a minimum. Your daughter has to have all those ECs or her application will get round filed. Having a internship or maybe some shadowing just isn’t enough and hasn’t been for a couple of decades now. Med school admission has gotten super, super competitive. Last application cycle only 36% of applicants were accepted.

Not at all. Neither a dual major nor a year round sport will get your daughter any brownie points/special recognition with med school adcomms. Strong time management skills are a baseline expectation for every applicant.

And I’ll note here that speaking a foreign language fluently is a plus, but it is never enough to tip the scales in favor of an acceptance. If she’s taking Spanish only because she thinks it looks good on a med school application–then she should rethink her plans.

Generally speaking, it doesn’t, but the undergrad one attends is not of zero importance either. It’s just much less important than GPA, sGPA, MCAT scores, LORs, ECs. Students coming from unknown/unfamiliar-to-adcomms schools need to have really, really strong application portfolios. (Which mean a high GPA reinforced by a very strong MCAT score plus outstanding LORs from her professors.)

[quote]*She would love to hear suggestions for backup plans for Bio major. She’s especially interested in Radiology, genetics, DNA.

Have your daughter look through this site. It’s a database of other healthcare careers. She can search by the years of education required for entry and by salary ranges.

Explore Health Careers

Note most of these careers I’m listing below require additional training beyond a basic BS/BA biology degree

Radiology-- radiation therapist, health/medical physicist, medical dosimetrist, nuclear medicine technologist

Genetics/DNA-- genetic counselor, clinical laboratory scientist/medical technologist, cytotechnologist, research lab technician

I have a friend who makes designer mice for medical and pharmaceutical research. She manipulates their DNA and breeding so the mice have certain genetic characteristics. Her job requires a PhD.


I would strongly disagree with this statement. I know 4 current med students, none of which had all 5s. It’s a test, not a measure of mastery. If you want to know if you’re up to the level expected of the institution, follow @ucbalumnus’ advice and get the old tests. Do well, move on. Rusty, bone up, and move on. Totally over your head…repeat.

In fact, the opposite can be quite true. A 5 is in no way a guarantee of mastery. My son started college in an honors section of Calc III. A 5 on BC was required for an invitation. On the first test, there were scores in the 30s. He got an A, but he didn’t skip I & II until he went through the steps above. Ditto Chemistry and Physics I.

Thank you for your reply.

She speaks fluent Spanish due to being in immersion since first grade. The program runs through high school and her diploma will have a seal of bilteracy. She wants to take it in college (even though she can test out) to maintain her skills. She’s fluent and can read and write it well also.

She is planning on living on campus the first year or two, regardless of where she goes…for the reasons you listed.

We are going to research other majors at her choices to see what options there are. She feels strongly about attending a smaller school where the class sizes are small and she can get to know her professors. Because if this, the UC schools aren’t a good fit.

1 Like

Thank you for your thoughtful response.

She wants to be a biology major because she loves the topic. She cannot see herself anywhere but working in the medical field. From a young age she has always been fascinated with the human body. She knows she needs a back up plan for med school.

She will have med school mostly paid for, if not fully…but probably only if she doesn’t attend one of the more expensive schools on her list. If she attends the state school it shouldn’t be a problem. We have several MD’s in the family (and a couple RN’s) and they are all encouraging her to go to the state school to save money. One of the MD’s also steers her away from large schools as an athlete (she was a D1 athlete at a very prestigious public school and her GPA suffered.) and also my D heard about 500-800 students in some of the classes. That is not what she wants.

1 Like

A couple of the coaches are pressuring her a little for a commitment. She wants to wait as there’s two more schools she likes that she’s hoping to get offers from.

She’s a strong student as is committed to getting at least a Masters Degree.

Thank you for your reply, you always have good responses. Yes she got 3’s during Covid when school was online with the exception of Spanish (5.) Her Jr year she took AP English Lit (4), AP Bio (4) without any studying. AP US Hist she got a 3. School has always been easy for her and she rarely studies. She’s gotten straight A’s all through high school with the hardest courses available. She is very busy as she trains for two sports year round. Her WGPA is 4.8 #2 in her class of ~400. I also have concerns since she’s never had to put effort in, how will she do when against only strong students like herself? Time will tell. We will look into the options to see if any of them spark her interest.

She’s fluent and wants to maintain her skills for whatever career she ends up with. She doesn’t have close family to speak Spanish with and knows it’s a perishable skill.

Not sure if it makes any difference, but she is more attracted to a DO program instead of MD.

1 Like

Buy the book linked below for her. She’s already an A student, but like my son did, achieves it through brute horsepower. That won’t work at the next level. There’s too much volume. He was able to graduate Magna Cum Laude in Mechanical Engineering from a school that sends off a 4.0 once a decade, while working 12-20 hours per week. Plus, it’s a fun read.

Thanks for the recommendation, I just purchased it.

1 Like

In southern California, it should not be hard to find Spanish speaking environments. Spanish language media to read should not be hard to find online.


My daughter was a biology major. Please PM me if you want to chat.

Biology majors can get research positions without a PhD (not suggesting the experience will be the same), they can get positions as research coordinators, genetic counselor assistant positions (competitive), teaching jobs (even without an education background). I need to caution you that many of these positions will depend on the student’s undergraduate experience, drive, and resume.

Biology majors can go to med school- they may also decide to do this several years after graduating. They can go into genetics (GC is very competitive, other masters programs in genetics are less competitive), public health, public health genetics, nursing, NP, PA, PT, OT, SLP, teaching, etc.

There is really no shortage of opportunities for a motivated individual who loves biology, if they decide not to attend medical school. Keep in mind that they will likely need to complete prerequisites, volunteering etc for the programs noted above.

1 Like

There’s many more on here more knowledgeable about the med school front - I am just posting to make sure she absolutely knows and understands the potential team/coach’s support of an intense, lab based major. This varied tremendously in discussion with coaches from D1-D3. With some offering additional early morning practice times specifically to support students with labs and others who expected summer school for the ones that interfered with practices/meets.


She talked about this with the coach on their phone call. I agree it seems like a lot. It’s D2 where she has been specifically focusing on D3 and NAIA until this came up. If there weren’t so many positives to this school she wouldn’t be considering it. We’ll see what she decides but I know it’s factoring into her decision.

Biology majors do not have to spend endless hours in a lab, and it doesn’t have to interfere with other activities. It really depends on the school, the student, interests, etc. My daughter did have lab experience and was able to choose hours that suited her needs, but once she realized it was not for her (had no interest in a lab based career) she was able to tailor her research.

The hours she spent in the lab did not interfere with her activities (she was very involved) except for one summer when she chose a lab based research position. During that summer she was in the lab for 12 hours a day.

1 Like

But this student isn’t just a biology major - she’s premed. So she has 4 semesters of lab based chemistry, 2 semesters of biology with lab and 2 semesters of physics with lab at a minimum. My daughter also has 2 more required labs for her major. It’s a whole lot to fit in around a heavy sport commitment. And again, depending on the school - the number of available slots for the required labs can be very difficult to fit around a set practice schedule. It’s something that I would suggest looking very carefully at for the specific schools and the practice (including necessary weight training etc) schedule.

1 Like