SUNY University at Buffalo vs. University of Rochester

I am a transfer student, graduating from community college this semester and looking for my place this fall. I have narrowed down my choices to UB or UofR (made a post in Chance Me a while back here and while I haven’t heard back from Hamilton or Columbia yet, Hamilton has dropped on my list and Columbia is very unlikely).

I have until May 16 to decide, but I need to pay housing deposit for UB by May 10th if I want guaranteed housing. It’s kind of the public vs. private debate.

I am looking for: a college that has good research opportunities and chances for me to volunteer/shadow in medical settings, as I am considering either research related to the medical field or going on to medical school. I need both types of experiences to make my career decisions. I don’t think the cities either college is in will affect my decision much.

My major: At UB, I would major in Biomedical Sciences. At UR, I would major in Cell and Developmental Biology.

Costs/Living: UB is around 29.7k, which becomes about 28k after a tad bit of aid. UR is 74.7k with off-campus living, which becomes 29.7k (16k of that is a merit scholarship). I know. It’s pretty identical, give or take some variation in the estimates for living/transport and school supplies. But my family’s finances will be better during the next aid year, and my older sister, currently in college, may or may not (she has no idea) graduate during my senior year. Her graduating would also drive up my costs for the last year.

The issue is, from what I have personally found out, I think UB and UR actually offer a pretty similar breadth of opportunities. I just need opinions and people’s thoughts to help me figure out what I’m really looking for and what’s important to me.

Other pros/cons:

  • I do like the major at UB. It’s a more specific towards human related biology, and it’s in the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, not Arts and Sciences. You can take courses from the health science departments, not the general bio department. I can’t find many courses like that at UR, they all seem like pretty general biology stuff. I might be able to grab a minor at UR though, while at UB I don’t think I could manage it.
  • It would be easier to find research and support from UR, as it is a smaller school and the vibe seems more friendly and supportive, but I don’t think it’d be impossible to find at UB either. I would just have to work harder for everything–from talking to professors, finding research, shadowing, etc.
  • I would (most likely) have to live off campus at UR. They do have shuttles, but it’s a tad more inconvenient. On the other hand, I might have to commute between campuses for UB, and on campus living isn’t always super fun either. So maybe it evens out.
  • I really don’t know what kind of interpersonal connections I need in the future, as I don’t even have my path (research or premed) lined up. I think UR would make it easier to get good connections, whatever those may be.
  • My credits for UB will transfer almost perfectly. I have no idea how my credits transfer into my major at UR, as all major courses need departmental approval. It’s possible, as I come from a community college, that they’ll be hesitant to accept some.

Buffalo is safer. Seamless transfer, done in 4 semesters. No risk of needing to do a fifth year of college because some credits didn’t transfer. No risk of losing your merit money if you don’t do well (huge difference in academic competition, community college vs U Rochester, and I assume that you have to keep your grades up to keep the merit scholarship). No risk of the price going way up because of your sister graduating or your parents making more money.

Worst case scenario, Buffalo costs you 60K to finish your degree (unless you flunk classes, which I’m sure is unlikely). Worst case scenario, Rochester is 15K for your first semester, but 23K for the next, if you do very poorly and lose your merit scholarship, and then 75K per year for another two years, because your family’s earnings go up, your sister’s no longer in school, you don’t get back the merit money, and you require an extra year because of it not being a seamless transition. So, worst case scenario, it could be as much as 185K to finish at Rochester.

Of course, if Rochester continues to give you all the fin aid they’re giving you now, and if you do well and keep the merit money, and if all your classes transfer seamlessly, you could finish there for 60K, too. I’m not saying that this couldn’t happen - you absolutely can make it happen. I’m just weighing worst case scenarios.

I think that you are going to be stunned by the difference in academic level at Rochester, vs what it was at the community college. Buffalo will be harder than the community college, too, but the level is unlikely to be as challenging as Rochester. SUNY Buffalo accepted about 61% of applicants in 2020, vs Rochester which accepted only 29% that year. The students at Rochester are likely to have had significantly higher high school GPAs and SAT scores than the students at Buffalo. You’re planning on majors that attract highly motivated premeds - the competition will be fierce.

I would say take Buffalo. I think that your chances of making a good transition, and getting through cheaply, and quickly, are better there than at Rochester.

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Note that the OP appears to have been offered need-based financial assistance, not a merit scholarship, from UR.

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Sorry, slight confusion here. Let me detail it out a bit more:

  • UR total cost, without any aid: 74.7k
  • Amount of merit scholarship aid: 16k
  • Amount of need-based aid: 29k
  • UR cost after merit and need-based aid: 29.7k

If all goes well, I’ll spend two years at the college I transfer to. The first year will cost about the same at each college, while the second year the tuition cost for UR is a gamble.

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Our daughter went to UB with the intention of going to medical school. She found out that it wasn’t what she really wanted to do and ended up in Engineering.
That being said, the staff in the med office were amazing! About Us - Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences - University at Buffalo
UB graduates are well prepared. She enjoyed her time there and had housing all 4 years.
Her choices were similar to yours: UB with a full ride or UR at full pay.
We gave her the budget and she ended up at UB.
She didn’t have a problem finding employment after graduation and is happily employed here in SoCal.

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A few somewhat older friends I spoke to seemed to think that private could be worth it for the connections with people I might be able to make, and I think they believe very strongly in the importance of networking. They also thought there’d be less competition at a private college.

I guess something that is bugging me is, UB might be safer, but will it still allow me to have comparable opportunities? Could it be worth it to pay more now for better guarantee of this opportunities?

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I think that you are going to be stunned by the difference in academic level at Rochester, vs what it was at the community college. Buffalo will be harder than the community college, too, but the level is unlikely to be as challenging as Rochester. SUNY Buffalo accepted about 61% of applicants in 2020, vs Rochester which accepted only 29% that year. The students at Rochester are likely to have had significantly higher high school GPAs and SAT scores than the students at Buffalo. You’re planning on majors that attract highly motivated premeds - the competition will be fierce.

I see this a lot, and I don’t doubt it (transfer shock) is real. But won’t the next graduate school or med school I apply to know the difference between SUNY rigor and UR rigor as well? They’ll see a, say, 3.8 GPA at a SUNY as less than a 3.8 at UR, and therefore not view my application as highly?

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I think you are grossly underestimating UB. It’s a STRONG school.

I didn’t know anything about UB, since we’re on the West Coast, in the land of the Stanfords, USC’s and UC’s. Our “UB” daughter got into the UC’s but she wanted to try the Northeast. (“Everyone” knows that the UC med schools don’t guarantee to accept their own undergrads. It’s uber competitive for med schools on the West Coast.) Our local California high schools offer biotech courses so she had an “internship” with a neighbor PI on hypertension and diabetes. Needless to say, she got into several schools, but we were full pay everywhere except Buffalo.

She did get into Johns Hopkins, and we were considering paying full fees but we reminded her that we would have to pay for med school, as well as two upcoming younger siblings, so she chose UB and its affiliated Hospitals.

When she took a couple of bioengineering courses, she realized that she REALLY liked the engineering aspect of the courses. So she switched. Since graduation, she has worked for well-known, international engineering firms and has moved quickly up the management ranks. Apparently, the engineering courses, at UB, practice a lot of problem solving techniques and hierarchies which she incorporated into her own teaching binders. Her company VP met her and was impressed and they went company-wide with her binders. She trained engineering graduates from UCLA, Berkeley and USC. This was all from her UB education. From what I remember her bio and related courses were difficult.
It’s all what you make it.
Our middle daughter graduated from the med school program at UCSF. It’s all about GPA’s, MCATs, PI work, and LOR’s.
If you plan to do research, the affiliations at Buffalo look strong. Just my opinion, but my husband and I were really impressed with UB.

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You dropped Stony Brook from consideration? It offers some of the characteristics of Buffalo (e.g., offers majors in health sciences) and, reputationally, notable research opportunities: https://www.usnews.com/best-colleges/rankings/undergrad-research-programs. Nonetheles, I could see you at UR or UB as well.

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I don’t think that a med school would look askance at high achievement at Buffalo, plus a high MCAT. Maybe if you were coming from a non-selective SUNY college, but Buffalo is one of the 4 top SUNY universities, and the med schools won’t “ding” you for coming out of Buffalo. But they would ding you for lower grades, coming out of Rochester. I don’t know why you started at community college, but it is going to be a whole new ball game when you get to Buffalo or Rochester, much more competitive.

I’m not denigrating Buffalo, but it is a much less selective school than Rochester. Overall, the academic rigor and competition will be tougher at a highly selective private school than at a SUNY (and it’s not the flagship - Binghamton is), and they are both going to be MUCH more rigorous than community college classes!

Buffalo is safer for you, financially. Seamless transition, no risk of an extra semester or two, no risk of losing merit money. And I suspect that academically, it will be a bit less competitive than Rochester. After all, it is far less selective than Rochester.

As for connections, unless you meet at Rochester and marry the child of the head of the admissions committee at a medical school, I don’t think that connections that you make at Rochester vs Buffalo are going to open up med school admissions for you.

One thing to keep in mind about UB is that like all public universities, the highest achieving students will be enrolled in pre-med and engineering. You’ll be challenged there just like you will be at UR.

Med school admissions officers aren’t impressed by the name of the school on your diploma. It carries very little weight with adcomms… They want to see your grades in key pre-reqs, your GPA ad your MCAT score. Networking won’t help you if you don’t have the stats (GPA, MCAT) needed to get past the computerize first round of screening. In fact, I recent heard that at least 1 med school is now using AI to do all their screening with only a cursory human review to pick up outliers.

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I see no realistic comparison here and, especially since finances are more or less equal. UR is much more rigorous and much better regarded. It’s a school people from all over the world aspire to attend, but that isn’t at all true of UB. I wouldn’t even call UB a higher-level SUNY. Solidly mid-level. UR is known for its research offerings and has its own hospital (a good one at that). You need to think of the quality of peers as well. Whereas UR draws a wide pool of intellectuals from all over the US and boasts a healthy international student population as well, UB is made up mostly of mediocre New York kids. It’s a safety with zero intellectual vibe, if that matters to you.

I weighed Buffalo vs. Stony Brook for a while, but ultimately wanted to narrow it down more and preferred Buffalo. I think both advertise their research pretty highly, and while SBU made it to that list while UB didn’t, there were other factors that kinda threw me off SBU a bit.

Somewhat isolated (I know it’s suburbs, but still) location where I won’t have a car, and the majority of commuter students. The extremely high concentration of premeds, which could help me as a premed student too, but could also hurt with the competition, huge bio classes, etc, while UB offered the more specific major of Biomedical Sciences which I decided I’m more interested in. It was more a personal decision than a strictly statistical one.

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I don’t know why you started at community college

I chose community college because I wanted to save money! Four year school for four years was/is very financially daunting. I’ve made the best of it that I could, with a 4.0 GPA and as president of my college’s Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society, which got me the 16k merit from UR. I know that you all are pointing it out as a well-meaning warning, but I know that classes at a four year are harder. I know it’s going to be an adjustment, and I’ll find a way to deal with it. I just couldn’t go to a four year from my freshman year.

I’m getting some conflicting messages here, so I want to clarify a bit. On one hand, you say the college shouldn’t make a difference when I apply for my next step of education, yet on the other, you do point out lack of selectivity, lack of rigor, and also list Binghamton over UB as the real flagship. That makes it seem, to me, that you still believe UR is a better school?

(I also got into Bing, but I couldn’t see myself happy there. As I am already in the SUNY system as a community college student, with a 4.0 GPA and honor society I basically could choose any 4-year SUNY I wanted. Bing just… didn’t seem like it for me.)

Is the main concern that I’ll crash and burn academically at UR and ruin my financial aid, and therefore I should choose the less selective, less competitive, and therefore safer, school?

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I don’t believe this should matter to you much, but this is how I see the SUNYs that have been discussed. Binghamton has set the standard for SUNYs by academic profile for decades. Buffalo, however, offers the characteristics and attributes of a traditional flagship university. Stony Brook has been on the rise.

Regarding UR, I see no reason why you would experience academic barriers there. Based on your background, this would be the case only if you somehow did well in community college without having applied yourself. If you worked to master the material in CC beyond a desire for good grades, then you would succeed academically at UR by applying the same ethic.

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I’m NOT criticizing you for having made a totally sensible decision to do your first two years at community college. I’m trying to help you to figure out your best path to successfully completing your degree with high enough grades to get into medical school, which seems to be your goal. I’m not saying you shouldn’t have chosen to start at community college. I’m saying that I don’t know the reasons behind that decision, but if the reason was that you weren’t a competitive applicant who was well-qualified to get into a highly selective school like Rochester coming out of high school, the reality is that the academic level of community college classes is so much lower than that at Rochester, that community college, even with a 4.0 there, is unlikely to have prepared you to compete at a place like Rochester.

Rochester accepts less than 1/3 of its applicants. Buffalo about two thirds. The kind of students who go to Rochester took mostly honors and AP classes, were probably in the top 10% of their high school classes, and probably had SAT scores of 1400-1500, or even better. They might have finished a year or more of dual enrollment or AP credit before they entered college, not that Rochester would give them credit for it. Buffalo students would probably be more like in the top third of their class, with SATs of 1150-1350 range. It’s a big difference. These are the students against whom you would be competing for grades, plus they will have had their first two years of college in competitive classes, while you will have had largely non-competitive classes that probably covered less material, in less depth, than at Buffalo or Rochester.

When you were in high school, which profile did you match up with? Were you a top student with high SAT scores? Were you a pretty good student with above average SAT scores? I realize that there were probably other things going on that caused you to choose to go to community college, but unless things have drastically changed, highly selective colleges have more competitive classes! Just because they took you at Rochester doesn’t mean that you’re likely to get the kind of grades there that you need to get into med school. And if you’re applying to med school with a 4.0 from Buffalo, vs a 4.0 from Rochester, and the same MCAT score, you will definitely be in the running no matter which school you’re coming from. And you’re more likely to be able to get that 4.0 at Buffalo, because they are less selective than Rochester, and hence the classes will have less competition.

I know a very intelligent man, son of U professors, who was a rebel in high school. Didn’t do well. Eventually went to community college, and from there, to MIT. When he finally decided he wanted to do school, he did very well - but he had a very high IQ. He just went through a prolonged adolescent rebellion. He’s the only person I know of who went from community college to MIT.

My degree is from an Ivy, but I’ve also taken classes at the top CUNY school and at a community college. There is a tremendous difference in level of rigor and competition for grades for each of them, with the Ivy far, far more rigorous and competitive than the CUNY, and the community college level being far below that of the CUNY.

I think that you should choose Buffalo because all your credits will transfer seamlessly, because you cannot ruin your fin aid, because it will probably only take you 4 semesters to finish, and because I think you will come out with a higher GPA than at Rochester, possibly a 4.0 and hence might be in a position to apply to medical school. I am afraid that, unless you are a highly intelligent person who just was completely unmotivated in high school, you are likely to have a very tough time adjusting to the level of rigor and competition at Rochester (and might never be able to achieve at that level). Your community college classes are unlikely to have prepared you for the level you would find at Rochester. I think it’s going to be challenging enough to move up to the level at Buffalo.

So yes, I think that you have a high risk of crashing and burning academically at Rochester, with all its consequences. I think that there is less risk for you if you transition to Buffalo. I think you have a better chance of achieving your goal of getting into medical school if you choose Buffalo, because you’ll probably wind up with a higher GPA at Buffalo.

UR will not guarantee you better opportunities in some unspecified future. Finding/making opportunities is your responsibility no matter where you go to college. No one at UR is going to tap you on the shoulder and ask if you want a research job. No one at UR is going to schedule a physician shadowing slot for you. That’s all on you.

There isn’t less competition at UR. UR is filled with ambitious pre-meds who will be competing with you for grades, lab positions, and clinical/shadowing slots at Strong Hospital.

On one hand, you say the college shouldn’t make a difference when I apply for my next step of education, yet on the other, you do point out lack of selectivity, lack of rigor, and also list [Binghamton] over UB as the real flagship. That makes it seem, to me, that you still believe UR is a better school?

I will mention that selectivity of undergrad matters very little for most med school admissions.

And you don’t have to believe me–here’s a survey of med school adcomms where they rank the “selectivity of undergrad institutions” as being of “the lowest importance” when making decisions about who to interview and admit.

See p. 15.

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I’m not worried about you crashing and burning academically, at Rochester or Buffalo. Grads from less selective schools (public or private) get into medical school every year, so the quality of their education seems just fine.

What I am worried about is the finances at Rochester for your 2nd year, as a significant amount of your aid is due to financial need, and your family’s financial situation will be changing substantially next year. Also, there is the risk of not all of your classes transferring the way you want them to. Combine that with the potentially much larger financial cost of Rochester, and I vote for Buffalo.

Best of luck to you!

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My vote is UB. Work hard for 2 years and get yourself into a prestigious medical school program. You went the financially safe route for the first two years - continue along that path - you are focused student who likely will thrive at UB. Nothing about UB will prevent you from achieving your goal of both research and medical school - no reason to take unknown risks at UR ( eg transfer credits, financial aid, housing)

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This. UR will drop your need based aid when your parents’ financial situation improves.

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