Upenn vs Dartmouth vs Cornell ED

Hi all,

I’m a junior in high school and I’ve been researching colleges. I was wondering if I could get some insight on these colleges (Upenn, Dartmouth, Cornell) about their premed programs, advising facilities, resources, GPA maintenance, grade inflation, and preparation for med school, in addition to drinking lifestyle (I don’t drink and I don’t want to be pressured to), competitiveness, and general vibe. I want to apply ED1 to one of these three schools, but am having a hard time deciding. I would also appreciate any tips to get accepted. My top choice for now is Upenn, but I wanted to get a couple other opinions.

I’m applying ED2 to Tufts University and my RD schools are: Georgetown, Boston University, Northeastern, Colby College, Brandeis, and UMass Amherst. If you know of any other schools that are good for premed, please let me know.

There are about 220 schools in the US that supply 50 or more applications to med school each year.

For med school go where you are more likely to get a high GPA.

Posters will have different thoughts on this, but IMO that means take Penn and Cornell off the list…it’s really difficult to get at the grade deflation issue, but both those schools are known to have tough curves and highly competitive students (some would say cutthroat) in pre-med required courses.

There will be significant drinking at most colleges, but you will be able to find those who don’t drink just about anywhere. Many students go to parties and do other social things, but don’t drink.

LACs can be great for pre-meds, and I see that you have one LAC on your list, Colby. Take a look at some more LACs and see if they might appeal. Many LACs have smaller classes, good pre-health advising, don’t limit committee letters, and ample opportunities to get patient facing volunteer experience in the surrounding community.

Disclaimer: I’m an incoming First-Year at Brown, but my ADVICE regarding applying ED should still apply. I will also be splitting my post into 2 parts due to length. :smile:

Part 1 of 2: ADVICE for applying ED.

@smanikandan2022 All three Ivies you’ve included are highly competitive and selective as well as VASTLY different, so small discrepancies between acceptance rates shouldn’t form the basis for your selection of where to apply ED 1. I do highly recommend applying ED, however, if ALL of the following are true:

  1. You LOVE the school and would 110% attend if admitted.
  2. You're extremely confident that you can present a well thought out and crafted application by the early deadline of November 1st. As a current Junior (Class of 2022,) this means that colleges will likely revert back to test-required admissions: you NEED to have taken your ACT/SAT and relevant subject test scores by August/September of the year you are applying, and likely earlier if you need to retest (Math II and Biology/Chemistry for prospective pre-med track/biology major students.)
  3. You and your family can afford your ED school if admitted (run the financial aid calculators if applicable.)

If you do get deferred from your top choice school, I DO NOT recommend that you apply ED2 if it’s not also a school you love. From my personal experience, I was deferred from Brown ED and was planning on applying to Vanderbilt ED2 (my 2nd top choice,) but I decided against this because I still wanted to go to Brown and this year, unlike the previous, Brown deferred ~25% of the ED applicant pool vs. ~60% last year, meaning I had a higher chance.) I ended up being accepted to both Brown and Vanderbilt RD, proof FOR ME (YOUR MILEAGE MAY VARY :smile: ) that if I hadn’t waited, I would have always regretted not waiting for Brown RD. Also, I was admitted even though another student had been accepted ED already, so don’t feel discouraged that it’s not possible if that happens: you STILL have a chance, and make sure to reiterate your interest in the school (look-up what a letter of continued interest is for students deferred/waitlisted.)

Disclaimer 2: HOWEVER, I was willing to wait and risk the lower chance that I wouldn’t get into either of my top choices because I had other options (safeties offering generous scholarships: APPLY TO SAFETY SCHOOLS, ESPECIALLY ONE THAT IS AFFORDABLE AND OFFERS ADMISSIONS ON A ROLLING BASIS etc.) that I would have been happy to attend if not admitted anywhere RD. At the end of the day, every applicant’s admissions journey is their own, so it’s up to you to weight the pros vs. cons of applying ED2 or waiting for RD decisions to release.

Furthermore, applying ED2 shouldn’t be used just to increase your chances of getting into a “prestigious school.” If anything, the second early round is more competitive than ED 1 given that it includes students who applied early to HYPSM etc and weren’t admitted/deferred, and want to go to another school that’s a bit lower on their list. ONLY do this if you’re extremely confident that, like with your ED1 application, you can present an application that shows you’ve done your research and would fit well at the school.

Also, this year in particular, multiple students from my school (and from YouTube videos etc.) were deferred ED 1 and ultimately accepted RD. Even for schools like the Ivies that don’t consider demonstrated interest on paper according to their admissions websites/Common Data Sets, applying ED is THE ULTIMATE form of demonstrated interest: you’re essentially telling a school that if you admit me, I’ll go, and if you’re able to show through your application (essays, letters, interview etc.) that you’ve thoroughly researched the school and are confident that THIS school and its particular resources and would be a “good fit” here; the school is more likely to accept you, given that you’ve taken more time to show interest than a student applying with rushed essays 1 hour before the deadline.

Part 2A of 2: The Ivy League (Go Brown Bears!!) :smile:

@smanikandan2022 As I noted in my earlier post, ALL of the Ivies are different in terms of school culture, academic curriculum, location etc. though they all will offer you some form of a liberal arts education and personalized instruction/small class sizes (definitely not for intro courses that are taken by every pre-med student like Bio or Chem, but especially at the higher level courses.)

Here’s my PERSONAL opinions of the Ivies. Note that I did not apply to all of them, but I do know students going there. Also, Harvard, Yale, and Princeton are Restrictive Early Action schools, while the rest are Early Decision schools.

  1. Urban Schools:

a. Harvard: Boston’s HUGE and has a ton of hospitals/medical schools and a ton of opportunities as a results. However, there are also a ton of colleges (MA has the highest # of educational institutions per capita, I believe,) so expect there to be competition for these opportunities: not ONLY from fellow Harvard & MIT students. I believe Harvard has distribution requirements for general education, so expect the flexibility in the curriculum to be in between Columbia’s CORE (which has little in their general ed, given that most Columbia College students have to take the same common courses regardless of major,) and Brown’s Open Curriculum (where you essentially have no requirements, except for 2 Writing designated courses offered in multiple fields.) There was an article from a Harvard professor a few years back about grade inflation running rampant here, but it’s also extremely hard to gain acceptance here, so idk…that’s not a discussion to have in this thread.

b. Columbia: NYC is NYC. Like Boston, tons of opportunities, but also a ton of college students and competition. The CORE curriculum (Columbia’s version of general ed) is SUPER rigid but ensures that students are exposed to ALL of the traditional aspects of liberal arts.) There is grade deflation (or at least not inflation) here because there’s no “easy” general ed courses like other schools, given that everyone’s taking the same courses.

c. Penn: Philadelphia, Boston, and NYC are the three biggest cities in New England. Penn’s location is amazing in that the hospital/medical school system is right next door to the undergraduate school. Penn’s College of Arts and Sciences has a distribution requirement system as well I believe, and coursework is definitely rigorous (like all the Ivies, but more grade deflation/lack of inflation than being inflated.) A Penn degree will prepare you well for med school (see their pre-health advising website for stats,) but be prepared to WORK HARD throughout the next four years, though this should be true no matter where you go. I’ve heard it called the most pre-professional ivy, given the Wharton Business School and the high percentage of pre-health students.

Part 2B of 2: The Ivy League Schools (Go Brown Bears!) :smile:


  1. Sub-Urban/Smaller Urban Cities:

a. Brown: I’m extremely biased because I go here, but Brown’s amazing for pre-health students given the dual advantages of an undergraduate-focused curriculum (the Open Curriculum gives you the freedom to study pre-med while also whatever else you’re interested in, and many students create their own liberal arts curriculum by sampling different fields) and a smaller graduate student population/a small state where Brown has like 5+ affiliated hospitals and its med school right in the city of Providence (Brown students have a shuttle to the med school and some of the hospitals.) The grading system is w/o +/-, so while this isn’t ideal for students who have a B+ vs. a B-, an A+ or A- is an A no matter how you look at it. Also, students can S/NC (pass/fail) any course, so you have the freedom to take a language elective course, for example, w/o the risk of a bad grade stopping you from taking it.

b. Yale: New Haven’s more like Providence and Princeton in size than Penn/Columbia/Harvard. Amazing academics and world-renowned professors combined with a distribution like general ed curriculum and a shopping period similar to Brown (at Brown, students can sample multiple courses for the first 2 weeks of the semester before deciding on which to take.) Yale’s medical school is AMAZING, and the resources here combined with the smaller-city vibe would make it easier to build bonds with peers and professors alike.

c. Princeton: Like Brown and Yale; Princeton’s home is on the smaller side, but there’s definitely tons of things to do here. Princeton’s unique among the ivies in that it doesn’t have a medical or law school and a smaller (might even be the smallest) graduate school population of all the ivies,) so the school’s very undergraduate focused. Princeton has distribution requirements for general ed, but is also known for very rigorous academics and grade deflation/lack of inflation, so like with Penn, prepare to work hard. I believe Penn Medicine has a hospital in Princeton/close-by, so opportunities exist for students to gain clinical experience, as well as at Rutgers Medical School (idk how far New Brunswick and Newark are from Princeton, but I believe one of two is close by.) I’ve heard Princeton be called the most “Ivy” ivy, given the abundance of these leafy creepers dotting the buildings of campus.

  1. Small-town/city vibes/more than an hour away from major cities:

a. Cornell: the largest Ivy undergrad-wise in Ithaca, New York, which is renowned for the beautiful gorges here. I’ve visited here and 110% recommend the ice cream (which is made on-campus, and has too high of a fat percentage I believe to be sold outside of campus,) and walking the trails around the campus which include bridges over the gorges. The architecture is gorgeous: you’ll get to see modern architecture interspersed with more traditional college brick and stone. Contrary to my expectations, Ithaca itself has many of the features of a more larger city, given that it’s home to many, many, many college students; such as diverse restaurants (and traditional fast-food including multiple Chipotles and Starbucks,) as well as some small skyscraper-like buildings. Cornell does have a medical school, however, it is located 3 hours away in NYC, but there is a local hospital nearby (Cayuga medical center I believe) and many students at Cornell successfully go on to medical school every year according to their pre-health website. Cornell does have grade deflation/lack of inflation, so expect to work hard. During the summer, you will find many students here as well (idk if they are all Cornell students or other undergraduates visiting/high school students,) exploring Ithaca and the beautiful campus.

b. Dartmouth: like Ithaca, Hanover, New Hampshire is on the smaller site, but is home to a ski resort that is owned by the campus and gorgeous scenery. Dartmouth’s medical school is located here as well, so students have opportunities to gain clinical experience. Dartmouth has the smallest undergrad population of the ivies, and is unique for the D-plan and a quarter-based academic system (where a quarter’s worth of credit is equivalent to a semester credit somehow I think, read the registrar’s website for specifics,) where you’ll find students studying on-campus at all times of the year. Dartmouth’s doesn’t have inflation, but does list on student transcripts the median grade for courses. The D-Plan leaves a lot of freedom up to students to decide when they want to spend their summer (study abroad in the Fall? work in the spring? the possibilities are endless,) and the smaller size would make it easier to build connections w/professors and among your peers.

TL; DR: All of the Ivies are different from each other, but all are connected by amazing academics and world-class professors. At every school, expect to be challenged, but a student interested in a smaller town like Ithaca or Hanover is not likely to enjoy living in NYC or Boston and vice-versa. Make sure to do your own research in addition to what is available on College Confidential and Admissions websites (talk to current students if you know any, and admissions offices can arrange these for you in many cases,) before deciding on the school that’s the best fit for you.

Hope this helps! Good luck with admissions! :smile:

@PikachuRocks15 This is an amazingly helpful post. Thank you! My D21 sounds a lot like you - interested in bio for possibly pre-med track but would like a lac. May I ask what other colleges were on your list? She is having a difficult time rounding out her list with target and safeties. (Easy to pick the reaches!) Thanks again!

@momartist14 Sure! Below are some of the LAC/LAC atmosphere like schools I applied to and was accepted at:

Reach Schools-Research Universities:

  1. Brown: See above. Brown's Public Health & pre-med advising programs are very strong, and the Open Curriculum makes it extremely easy to sample multiple fields.
  2. Vanderbilt: The Medicine, Health, and Society major is AMAZING for pre-med students; and Vanderbilt's neuroscience program is extremely strong.
  3. University of Florida Honors: Even though the undergrad population is HUGE, the Honors program courses are quite small and in different areas (writing in medicine, for example,) and I was admitted to the University Research Scholars Program which assists students w/finding research opportunities.) Definitely look into state school honors programs for small classes w/o the costs of a private lac or a small private school.
  4. Tulane Honors: Small class sizes in Honors classes, generous w/half-tuition merit scholarships, and extremely strong public health program; primarily applied here b/c it was free to apply to and for its BS/MD program (interviewed but withdrew from pre-decision release b/c I knew I wanted to go to Brown more.)

Match/Safeties LACs: Applied to these b/c application was free to apply to/offered merit scholarships/small class sizes and school in general, which I desired coming from a large public school to have those 1 on 1 discussions w/professors.

  1. Oberlin College
  2. Juniata College
  3. Allegheny College
  4. Southwestern University
  5. Trinity University

Hope that helps! Good luck with admissions!

Why are these 3 your top 3?

Imo, I would never recommend a pre-med collegekid to apply to Cornell- and I am a Cornell fan! Standing out as a pre-med star there is really, really hard work. If the ethos of the place suits you- great. But if it isn’t a good fit, it can be really painful. Dartmouth is also tough going unless it’s a good fit. Everybody I know at UPenn is happy there- but they are all super-ambitious pre-professionals, so they are with their people!

Imo, for most pre-med students, their state flagship (great prep, usually cheaper & therefore less debt) or LACs (great prep, lots of support, less brutal) are the best bet for pre-med.

@smanikandan2022 I agree with everything @Mwfan1921 had to say. Especially cut throat and deflation wise. You need a high GPA most importantly.

Your ED2 is Tufts…I might be biased, but part of the reason I chose Tufts is the “non-party” atmosphere and its also more collaborative than cut throat.

Every school on your list is great, but you need to look into grading policies of each (deflation)

Also for ED you should visit and go with the school that is the best fit. I knew when I stepped on Tufts campus 3 years ago it was the best place for me. I was going to ED…then changed my mind…Cornell was in the mix.

Luckily I got in anyway. Now looking back it’s the perfect for for me.

@PikachuRocks15 great advice…especially about ED2.

@PikachuRocks15 not to disparage your comments, but in the future could you PM this huge summary of the ivy league schools from your perspective? It takes up a lot of space on what is supposed to be a community chat.

Also the OP has not been active since they started this thread. Be sure to check that before commenting.

@Gogreen19: Note that @PikachuRocks15’s posts on this thread were referred to as “amazingly helpful” by one poster, and “great advice” by another.

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For ideas, you can search “The 25 Best Colleges for Pre-meds,” in which Bowdoin, Bates, Bryn Mawr, Swarthmore, Union, Carleton, Hamilton, Amherst, Middlebury, Williams, Centre and Colgate appear.