Weed-out WashU vs quirky Carleton for premed

Hiiah! I’m a rising senior in HS very interested in both WashU and Carleton. I scored a 34 on the ACT/1540 on SAT and am a pretty good and involved student, but nothing exceptional. To get into WashU I’d have to ED, but I’m not sure if I’m committed enough to do so. I feel like I have a college decision looming with the Nov 1st deadline, not the May 1st one.
**Do you have any advice between WashU and Carleton??? I like the small, friendly feel of Carleton but the many opportunities and resources of WashU, especially for PreMed. That being said, being a good but not exceptional student, the sciences at WashU seem very intimidating - weed-out, even. Would it be better to go to the big name school with all the PreMed resources, students, rigor…and despair…or the small, quirky, rural college with no huge hospital or research center but plenty of professors who know my name? **

I know WashU has a high Med acceptance rate, but I also think there’s a LOT of students who drop off the med track. Not sure how it is at Carleton, for succeeding in science.

If you would like to view something independent, this site supports the choice of Carleton for your interests:

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Your SAT is exceptional - I don’t know the rest of your portfolio. While med school is a great goal, most end up taking a different tact.

To me, you’d excel at the best school “for you.” Have you been to one or the other? WUSTL is in the city (well near the city)…Carleton is not. Obviously one is mid size, one is small. While both in the midwest, they are very different.

I would say no to ED to WUSTL for the simple reason that in reading your post you have a ton of doubt. If you ED, two things need to happen:

  1. You have to 100% want to be, be committed to be there.

  2. You have to be able to afford it - so while you didn’t ask about that, are you sure you can afford $80K a year - or rather do your parents want to - with med school expense looming thereafter. Or have your parents run the net price calculator to see if they’ll get an offer you can afford? Often times, going to a state school or private where you can get merit will be a wiser choice - in the sense of less financial stress.

If you haven’t been or have any doubt, don’t ED. WUSTL will send you an app waiver, if you’re on their email list, btw. They push and push and push ED to the point that it’s sort of - sleazy to me. And yes their ED rate is higher but don’t forget, that includes athletes and other recruit - so it is overstated.

Good luck to you - make the right decision for you - don’t guess (i.e. apply ED without knowing if it’s the right school for you). There’s tons of fantastic schools out there.

Good luck.


What is your budget FOR A FULL EIGHT YEARS OF UNIVERSITY? Would you need to take on any debt at all to attend either WUSTL or Carleton?

What state are you from? Are you a US citizen or permanent resident?

Medical school acceptance rates can be gamed. Premed classes will be both very good and very demanding at a very wide range of universities. You might be surprised how strong both students and professors are in premed classes at a wide range of universities.


Hi, my child is a rising junior at Wash U, and I just wanted to chime in in response to your concerns about”weed out” culture of the pre-med science classes… that’s not the culture at all at Wash U, so don’t worry about that!

My son has found Wash U to be an extremely collaborative environment, not at all cutthroat, and the school has every resource to allow you to succeed, if you seek them out! Tutors, peer mentors, multiple faculty advisors, study groups, etc. Wash U helps it’s students succeed and reach their goals! Professors are wonderful and accesible and pre med students all study together and help one another.

That said, a small top-notch liberal arts school like Carleton is wonderful for undergrad, and can definitely give you a wonderful foundation for whatever path you decide to take! Good luck. I think your decision is really between research university or liberal arts college. Both have pros and cons, but there is no wrong path here. All the best!


Either college works - go where you’re the happiest because content students are better students. Make sure where you pick is affordable because students with a ton of loans aren’t generally the happiest and med school is super expensive.

Also keep in mind that roughly 60% of all applicants to med schools don’t get accepted anywhere (this doesn’t include any pre-med wannabes who don’t apply for whatever reason). You’ll need a Plan B - all premeds do. Which school is better for your Plan B?

There are many more schools out there than just those two. Why is your choice solely between those? (Not a problem with either school, but an interesting curiosity.)


I’m a Carleton alum and know nothing about WashU, so I probably have a Carleton bias. It was a million years ago, but seven of my closest friends there all majored in STEM fields and got into great grad/med school programs. I know of two more recent grads: one is at the Mayo Clinic and another has some kind of applied physics fellowship in the Bay area.

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I’m curious, what do you love about WashU?

My son is considering an ED app there based on a recent campus visit and week of engineering webinars. He is debating between 3 possibilities for ED and creating lists of why he loves each one. He’s also considering Carleton in the RD round. They are very different schools :slight_smile: I wonder if you could tell us what appeals to you about each one?

I agree with the affordability concerns, but to clear up a few misconceptions about the ED pool at WashU:

-due to its size (larger than most D3s and even half the Ivies) and limited sports offerings compared to the Ivy League, D1 and NESCAC schools, there are far fewer athletic admits in the ED pool.
-unlike the Ivies and NESCAC, UAA schools like WashU, UChicago, CMU, etc are much less of a sure thing for athlete EDs. Admissions has turned down highly sought after athletes that are squarely between the 25th and 50th percentiles wrt GPA and test scores
-WashU also doesn’t place a lot of weight on legacy—the other common ED hook. Legacies as a percent of the entering freshman class is very low there (closer to 5% than 10% historically).
-the one area where there is an ED boost is children of faculty members. That’s standard across all selective universities.

So while there is some acceptance rate inflation via ED, given its low athlete/student ratio, lower sports emphasis compared to D1 and smaller D3 powers and lower emphasis on legacy, that ED acceptance rate is probably less inflated than any other of the 50 or so most selective schools in the country with ED. If not the least inflated, then certainly in the bottom few.


If that’s true, that makes them even less desirable to me. Yes, it’s a business - but their admissions counselors are uber sales people and their sales efforts and implied pressure don’t match the mission.

I would not let my son apply ED there. He loved it - but without knowing the price and being on the hook for $320K, I wasn’t going there.

He applied RD and was waitlisted - so likely would have gotten in ED.

But their techniques were the worst of all the schools we dealt with into how they present themselves and the pressure they put on unknowing kids.

If what you said is correct, it makes them even less appealing.

Thanks for the correction though.

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I don’t know much about these schools specifically but will note one thing I checked. Many private colleges give med school applicants something called a committee letter. By not writing a favorable letter colleges can effectively control who applies; that’s how mediocre U can boast a 90+% med admit record. These schools of course are not mediocre, but selecting a college based on med school admit rates leads down this path.

Fortunately WUSTL does not do this. They say

We do not rank applicants; we support everyone . Your advisor will use the PIR materials to understand your narrative and to give you constructive feedback.
Application Support & Letter Service (PIR) | PreHealth

Carleton says

Pam Middleton, the pre-health advisor, composes the letter, with input from the committee. Pam incorporates the supporting letters (see below) into the body of the committee letter or, if the supporting letter is excerpted into the body, then the supporting letter is attached to the committee letter.

This doesn’t exactly say they screen, but the phrase “with input from the committee” may imply it. I suggest you speak with the premed advisor at Carleton to understand what a student must do in order to get a favorable rec; in fact you should understand this at every school you are considering. You don’t want to spend $300K (the Carleton price) only to find out senior year they won’t recommend you because they don’t want to pull down their admit rate.


There’s one thing that ought to be added to any thread about premed. Is it the right choice, or might something else in the medical field (physician assistant, nurse, etc) be a better fit? Is medicine a fit? It’s worth thinking about before starting down a path that takes 11+ years of school and training and involves hundreds of thousands in debt.

There’s an interesting thread on another forum I follow in which many actual physicians have posted. That thread is at Calling all doctors, kid wants to be a doctor!? - Bogleheads.org and has some useful advice

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It’s difficult, if not impossible, to compare the culture at two colleges accurately unless one has attended both.
Other than expense-noted above-the single most important factor for success is attending a college at which you feel comfortable. Unless things have changed since you first posted, I’d recommend against attending a school you find to be “intimidating” before you’ve attended your first class.

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S17 considered both these schools but ended up at LAC in Northeast. You can’t go wrong with either. We never experienced any pressure to ED at WashU. Actually was pressured at several other schools. Unfortunately, I think ED is going to be used more and more in the future especially if test optional continues past the next admission cycle.

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I’m very sorry you had a negative experience with the AO. After reading through others experiences, it seems like folks have either a very negative or very positive experience with WashU admissions. I’ve heard “hard sell” and I’ve heard “super friendly, informative and communicative”. I would like to hear more about your experience via PM if you’d like to disclose. And again, I’m sorry.

Personally, I have mixed feelings about ED. It’s useful for high interest/high information/ready to do those applicants. The downside is that this can preclude price sensitive “doughnut hole” families from going ED. If you’re full pay it is an easy decision. Conversely, if an applicant is lower income, the cost is also well defined. Personally, I do prefer that they don’t use ED to admit less qualified candidates on the basis of their lineage or their ability to hit a baseball 400 feet. That to me is a good thing.

But back to the original questions by the OP. I’m probably the only person here who has entered WashU as a pre-med and completed the gen Chem, bio and organic chemistry sequences. Those classes aren’t picnics. Organic chemistry in particular. But there is a lot of support there (much more than when I attended) and if people have the appropriate level of commitment, they’ll make it through. Five of my closest friends did just fine for themselves. Oncology at Sloan Kettering, medical genetics at Hopkins, Cardiology at a major research hospital in Louisville, psychiatry at Arizona and another in gen Peds. I don’t know anyone who went through the entire pre-health sequence who wanted to be an MD who is not currently an MD. People who can’t cut it do wash out. But more often than that, I think most of the people who drop get exposed to other things that resonate with them more. The curriculum is open enough that people are drawn to things that are better fits for them personally. That was my situation. So I wouldn’t let the “weed out” talk dissuade someone from applying. If someone is good enough to be admitted to WashU and they have a general aptitude for math/science (but they’re not a “star” by any means) then that person is capable of meeting the rigors of the prehealth concentration…provided he/she will put in the work. I can’t speak to the LAC experience, so I won’t even try.

I also am in the rather unique position of have a spouse sitting on the AdCom of a major medical school. Like highly selective undergrad admissions, med school admissions are holistic. Would the same pre-med applicant getting a 3.75 at WashU get a 3.85 at another school because prehealth at another school is slightly less of a grind? It’s entirely possible. Would the AdCom attempt to adjust the GPA across schools? Assuming you’re comparing two repsected institutions (like Harvard vs say Marquette) the answer is (almost always) no. A 3.xx is the same at all schools. BUT, once an applicant hits certain GPA/MCAT thresholds, applicant success depends on everything but GPA/MCAT. Lab/clinical shadowing experience, public health ECs, the ability to articulate why a school + your background will get you to a goal and what that goal is. Evidence the applicant has undertaken a significant degreee of self-reflection, etc. WashU is very good at providing those out of class opportunities to its pre-health students.

Frankly, I don’t think it matters which school someone chooses. There are resume building advantages to going to WashU as a pre-health. There is also some degree of additional rigor and a higher chance than average of a student getting distracted by other academic pursuits. Which can be good or bad. Bad if it’s a true distraction. Good if that distraction means finding your true calling. Where you go to undergrad does not have as much bearing on med school attendance as people generally think and there’s something to be said for going to an instate flagship, keeping undergrad costs down, and using that savings to manage debt/quality of life for the lean residency and fellowship years.

Find the overall school match that’s right for you at the price point you’re willing to pay for that experience.


Not convinced about this list of “The 25 Best Colleges for Pre-meds” as it does not include WashUStL or any West Coast schools except for #15 Stanford. The methodology seems shaky & unconvincing.


Personally, I’ve never found any of those lists to be very helpful. They just seem to pick popular or high ranked schools and consider them to be good for everything.


I like lists which are assembled based on clear factors. I enjoy US News rankings because US News shares the ratings or results for each category that make-up the ultimate ranking.

I do not understand the methodology used for the list regarding 25 Best Schools for Pre-med. And I was unable to find any component ratings that resulted in the rankings.

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They do mention that they favor smaller programs. But two red flags:

  1. they don’t disclose their methodology/weightings

  2. they said they spent a “whole month” on this and they haphazardly assembled their school list. A month is nothing. If you want to look at schools, a better approach is to start with the schools the AAMC cites as producing the highest number of applicants (200+ undergrad schools produce 50 or more applicants per year) and then adding smaller schools with a significant bio/pre-health program from there. This is just a blog post. The schools on that list are in all likelihood very good places to do pre-med, but I have zero faith they’re ranked accurately or that many schools omitted are “better”.

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Agree the list is pretty worthless, but here’s the biggest red flag:
“Hmm. It seems colleges don’t release data on their acceptance rates into medical school, at least not in a form that’s easy to compare.”

So…they can’t get real numbers…which means everything else is supposition, at best.

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