Swarthmore College V.S. Washington University in St. Luois

My son is finalizing the Early Decision school in between Swarthmore College & Wash U in St. Louis. He is going to major in Biology ( pre-med route). Which school will help to prepare him better after 4 years? Thanks!

If it was my collegekid I wouldn’t recommend either for pre-med :wink:

& I am fascinated that your son is equally drawn to both WUSTL & Swat! Such strikingly different environments.

But to your actual question- there is no meaningful difference in how well the 2 schools can prepare him- what he does with the opportunities at either place will matter much much more than any differences.

If the question were limited to the study of biology, then I’d say these schools offer equivalent opportunities, with Swarthmore offering the stronger undergraduate emphasis.

Both have a reputation for being competitive in premed required courses, making it tough to maintain a high GPA. I might give an edge to WUSTL’s prehealth advising, but YMMV.

Thanks for all your input!!

Thanks for your reply, just curious which other schools you would recommend for pre-med?

If your son is a strong candidate for Swat & WUSTL he has lots of possibilities! Important factors:

$$: avoid debt at undergraduate

Plan B: the conversion ratio of students who start college in the pre-med track v the ones who actually go to med school is terrible. The school should have other aspects that he likes as well, just in case.

Star power: many colleges have committees that write all the LoRs for their med school applicants. If your son is a star at college that will come across in the committee letter / any LoRs. Remember that the first cut is on numbers (GPA & GMAT) and that with the exception of a few outliers, the prestige of the college is not a factor (Harvard & Yale do seem to favor their own & each other’s undergrads).

So, a lot comes down to where your son will thrive. Is he the kind of competitive that is happiest testing himself against the best? A more introverted soul who might need a supportive environment to keep developing the social skills that will be important? A hail-fellow well met sort of fellow, for whom social time is the oxygen that keeps his academic flame going?

For further ideas you can search “The 25 Best Colleges for Pre-Meds.” Though the ranking may be subject to justifiable criticism, portions of the methodology appear substantive. Bowdoin places first, with NESCACs in general highly represented (Bates, Hamilton, Amherst, Middlebury, Williams). You will find Swarthmore included. For an applicant who would enter with the capability to excel at the listed colleges, they may represent a nice array of choices.


@yellowmaple. Like @collegemom3717 I am curious, why these two schools? They seem so very different to me. Swarthmore is extremely liberal politically, very intense academically, and a bit nerdy. Wash U is more moderate politically, has Greek life, seems to offer more work/life balance, and the students seem more mainstream. The academic standard at both is very high. Either would be very challenging and would prepare your son well.

I have seen many parent and student comments on CC that report that the pre-med student culture at Wash U is very collaborative. I don’t have a point of comparison for Swarthmore. A search for “pre-med” in the Swarthmore and Wash U threads here might provide some additional information.

Good luck! They are both fine schools.


My son was recruited by both schools as a student-athlete. That’s why :wink:

That makes a lot more sense. Assuming that he likes them, have him choose the one that he likes better- even if he can’t give you a good reason for it. Trust him & tell him to trust himself.

sounds good, thank you!

@Yellowmaple - If your son cares a lot about athletics and attending a college with students who also care about sports, neither of these schools will be a good “fit” for him. Getting good grades in science courses will be very tough at both schools. And if he isn’t certain about majoring in Bio, then he should look at the course offerings and faculty in other departments, since many students who go on to med school major in non-science fields, or even change their minds about applying to med school because they develop different interests in college. And to echo observations above about these two schools, they have extremely different cultures, so your son will know where he feels more “at home.” Best of luck to your son!

Good point, thank you!

Also, biology graduates (many of them failed pre-meds) are plentiful, so that competition for biology-major-specific jobs at the bachelor’s degree level will be fierce.


Pre-med committees could be beneficial to:

a. Star pre-meds who get the strongest endorsements in the committee letters.
b. Marginal to no-hope pre-meds who get refused committee letters, sparing them the expensive and stressful medical school application process, so that they can pivot to plan B earlier.

Pre-med committees could be harmful to:

a. Marginal pre-meds who get refused committee letters, but would rather apply even with a low probability of success.
b. Potential pre-meds who get deceived by the high medical admission rate of applicants at the school (such rates can be high if the pre-med committee weeds out marginal to no-hope pre-meds from applying).

Wow, very tricky. Statistics could be deceiving !!

Thanks for the catch on the MCAT, @ucbalumnus

Also, biology graduates (many of them failed pre-meds) are plentiful, so that competition for biology-major-specific jobs at the bachelor’s degree level will be fierce."

One can major in anything and still be on a pre-med track, however.

Either one (or dozens of alternatives) could provide excellent preparation for med school. What about costs? Have you run their online net price calculators?