The Best Pre Med Schools in California

Learn how California’s top colleges prepare their students for medical school

The best pre med schools in California offer students pre-health advising support and a wide variety of opportunities to gain research and clinical experience

The best pre med schools in California offer students pre-health advising support and a wide variety of opportunities to gain research and clinical experience

Introduction

If your child is hoping to become a doctor, choosing what colleges to apply to can be particularly stressful.

In addition to searching for a school that’s a good fit with regard to academics and extracurricular activities, your pre med student will be planning for their professional future. You might also be considering how much to save or spend on an undergraduate institution while putting aside enough for the complex and expensive process of applying to medical school later on, plus the cost of medical school tuition.

Moreover, with medical school admissions becoming increasingly competitive over the past five years, your child may feel pressure to choose the undergraduate institution that will give them the best chance of a med school acceptance down the line. In a state which boasts hundreds of private and public four-year colleges, it can be challenging to determine which of them are the best pre med schools in California.

The goal of this guide is to give you a sense of which schools your pre med child should consider, and to offer some strategies for getting your child into their dream program, whether that’s in California or somewhere else.

Part 1: What colleges should premed applicants consider?

While compiling this list, we took several factors into account:

  • Overall U.S. News and World Report ranking (Why this matters: Despite well-documented issues with these rankings, high-ranked schools continue to be viewed as elite by medical school admissions committees, thereby increasing your child’s odds of getting into a great program.)

  • Availability of medical career advising, faculty support, and peer community (Why this matters: There is plenty of misinformation online and elsewhere about what it takes to get into medical school. Having access to supportive faculty, advisors, and peers can help reduce some of the associated stress.)

  • Availability of research opportunities, fellowships, and medical career experience (Why this matters: Your child will have to accumulate significant hours shadowing physicians, providing patient care, performing community service and volunteering, and conducting research. Whereas some colleges offer a wealth of such opportunities, others offer fewer.)

  • Medical school acceptance rates (Why this matters: After years of hard work, your child will be disappointed if they don’t get into med school. This factor accounts for school prestige and institutional support.)

  • Unique advantages of certain institutions (Why this matters: Certain school-specific opportunities can help make your child’s path to medical school much easier.)

High-level takeaways:

  • UC schools, like Berkeley and UCLA, while prestigious, have fewer faculty advisors and more students to support, and so might not be the best fit for students seeking individualized attention. Smaller, private institutions like Pomona, Harvey Mudd, Caltech, or Pepperdine boast high faculty-to-student ratios for advising.

  • Many California colleges and universities like Stanford, UCLA, and Berkeley have close associations with major medical centers and highly ranked medical schools, especially those in the Bay Area and in or near LA. This is a great opportunity for premed students to gain clinical experience, which is strongly encouraged by most medical schools.

Here’s a list of colleges your child should consider applying to as a premed student:

Stanford University

  • US News and World Report Rank (National Universities): 7

  • Location: Palo Alto, CA

  • Public or Private: Private

  • Unique advantages: Offers proximity to a top-ranked medical school; Stanford Pre-Medical Association is one of the largest and oldest student-run organizations on campus

  • Undergraduate acceptance rate: 4.3%

  • Medical school acceptance rate: not public. Rumored to be around 70%

  • Advising & faculty support: 3 designated premed advisors

  • Research & fellowship opportunities: Stanford Immersion in Medicine Series (shadowing program); clinical experience through volunteering; research opportunities

University of California—Berkeley

  • US News and World Report Rank (National Universities): 22

  • Location: Berkeley, CA

  • Public or Private: Public

  • Unique advantages: Connection to prestigious Bay Area medical centers

  • Undergraduate acceptance rate: 15.1%

  • Medical school acceptance rate: 50-60% (consistently higher than national average)

  • Advising and faculty support: 2 dedicated pre-health advisors

  • Research & fellowship opportunities: Undergraduate Research Apprenticeship Program; Extensive opportunities to gain clinical experience at Bay Area hospitals, clinics, and nonprofits

University of California—Los Angeles

  • US News and World Report Rank (National Universities): 19

  • Location: Los Angeles, CA

  • Public or Private: Public

  • Undergraduate acceptance rate: 14%

  • Medical school acceptance rate (from 2014; more recent data not available):51%

  • Advising and faculty support: number of advisors unspecified

  • Research & fellowship opportunities: Volunteer work at UCLA medical center (see the Care Extender Program); undergraduate research opportunities

Pepperdine University

  • US News and World Report Rank (National Universities): 46

  • Location: Malibu, CA

  • Private or Public: Private (nominally Christian)

  • Unique advantages: High med school acceptance rate; 85% of pre-med students end up in med school after graduation

  • Undergraduate acceptance rate: 35%

  • Medical school acceptance rate: “For the past several years” the rate has been 70% to 80%. “The acceptance rate for those students who have high grade point averages (GPAs) and competitive Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) scores is almost 100%.”

  • Advising and faculty support: 1 pre-health advisor (350 current students in pre-health program)

  • Research & fellowship opportunities: Undergraduates have the opportunity to conduct research with a faculty member; various opportunities to gain clinical experience at LA area hospitals, clinics, and nonprofits

University of Southern California

  • US News and World Report Rank (National Universities): 22

  • Location: Los Angeles, CA

  • Private or Public: Private

  • Undergraduate acceptance rate: 13%

  • Medical school acceptance rate: not found

  • Advising and faculty support: at least 3 designated pre-health advisors

  • Research & fellowship opportunities: Undergraduates may conduct research with a faculty member; various opportunities to gain clinical experience at LA area hospitals, clinics, and nonprofits (see Trojan Health Volunteers); study abroad programs

The California Institute of Technology (Caltech)

  • US News and World Report Rank (National Universities): 12

  • Location: Pasadena, CA

  • Private or Public: Private

  • Undergraduate acceptance rate: 6.6%

  • Medical school acceptance rates: not found; According to their website, a majority of Caltech’s students score above the 90th percentile on the MCAT

  • Advising and faculty support: One designated pre-health advisor for ~900 undergraduates; opportunities for mock-interviews, advising, application workshops

  • Research & fellowship opportunities: Summer Preceptor Program: physician shadowing in LA hospitals; Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowships

Pomona College

  • US News and World Report Rank: 5 (among National Liberal Arts Colleges)

  • Location: Claremont, CA

  • Private or Public: Private

  • Undergraduate acceptance rate: 6.9%

  • Medical school acceptance rate: From Pomona’s website: “in 2018, the average acceptance rate of Pomona alumni to medical schools was 85%”

  • Advising and faculty support: 1-2 pre-health advisors;

  • Research & fellowship opportunities: physician shadowing, Summer Undergraduate Research Program

  • Similar California schools to consider if you’re interested in Pomona: Harvey Mudd, Scripps, Occidental College

University of California—Santa Barbara

  • U.S. News and World Report Rank (National Universities): 30

  • Location: Santa Barbara, CA

  • Private or Public: Public

  • Undergraduate acceptance rate: 32.3%

  • Medical school acceptance rate: “About 42% of all UCSB students who applied to medical school--and 62% of students who were in the College of Letters and Science Honors Program--were accepted from 2011-2015.”

  • Advising and faculty support: 1 pre-health advisor and 1 pre-health peer advisor

  • Research & fellowship opportunities: Faculty Undergraduate Research Assistance Program

  • Similar California schools to consider if you’re interested in UCSB: University of California, Irvine; University of California, Davis

University of California—San Diego

  • U.S. News and World Report Rank (National Universities): 41

  • Location: San Diego, CA

  • Private or Public: Public

  • Undergraduate acceptance rate: 30.2%

  • Medical school acceptance rate: 40%

  • Advising and faculty support: number of advisors unspecified

  • Research & fellowship opportunities: Undergraduates may conduct research under the supervision of a faculty member; Summer Research Program (SRP)

Part 2: Strategies for getting into your dream college as a premed applicant

California colleges and universities provide a range of great opportunities for premed students in a variety of different learning environments.

Now we’ll focus on a few strategies for increasing your child’s admissions chances. Of course, these hold true for students applying to college anywhere, not just in California.

Strategy 1: Demonstrate an interest in and aptitude for math and science, in and out of the classroom

As a premed student, your child’s main focus will be on math and science courses. Though it’s not required, many premed students choose a science major.

(Further reading: The Best Pre Med Majors to Get Into Medical School)

Even if your child doesn’t major in the sciences, they’ll likely be doing research or volunteer work to prepare for a medical career. To get ready for science-heavy learning in college, it’s a good idea to demonstrate ability in the sciences in high school: your child should take science AP classes offered by their school, and participate in extracurricular activities like science Olympiad, robotics teams, competing in the Intel science fair, or pursuing other clubs, teams or competitions at school.

(Further reading: Extracurricular Activities for College Admissions: The Ultimate Guide)

Strategy 2: Seek out volunteer and research opportunities

Conducting research, shadowing a physician, or volunteering at a hospital look impressive on an application. These activities demonstrate to admissions committees a serious interest in the medical profession.

Volunteering, research, or shadowing can also help your child get a sense of what interests them, and what they might want to pursue in college. This can help focus your child’s essays, and also help them get specific about which research opportunities at which institutions might appeal to them. Many colleges and universities offer summer programs for high school students such as the Medical Youth Science Program at Stanford, or the prestigious Research Science Program at MIT.

Strategy 3: Demonstrate fit by mentioning specific opportunities

Your child should explain why they think they’d be a good fit for this particular school in their ‘Why us?’ college essay. They should think about this broadly.

Your child can and should mention specific premed opportunities that the college or university offers: maybe Stanford appeals because they’ve grown up in the shadow of the Bay Area’s innovation centers and hope to be a part of life on the inside. Or maybe Pepperdine’s Summer Research Program in Biology really interests them.

Your child should also think about the other ways in which they’d contribute to the college or university community as a whole, beyond premed requirements. What are some of your child’s other interests, talents, or extracurricular activities? How will they take advantage not just of the school’s premed opportunities, but also the rest of their liberal arts offerings?

For instance, if your child is interested in attending the University of Southern California, maybe they’re excited about the possibility of double-majoring in cinematic arts and biology, and spending a summer working in a medical television show’s writer’s room. Or perhaps they’d like to pursue global public health alongside their research into basic sciences, and are interested in augmenting their studies through Berkeley’s Integrative Science study abroad program.  

Strategy 4: Develop and demonstrate work ethic and study skills

It might seem like a no-brainer, but the premed track involves long hours studying and a lot of multitasking.

In their application, it’s a good idea for your child to highlight their dedication to the things they do inside and outside of the classroom. They should show commitment to projects and activities, even if those projects and activities aren’t necessarily science related.

Say your child stays late every night at school rehearsing for plays, or spends hours researching debate briefs, or passes weekends laying out the school paper. Maybe they went above and beyond the requirements for a history class presentation the same week they organized their campaign for class president. These things are worth mentioning: all require discipline and follow-through and display the drive necessary to meet the demands of being premed.

Frequently Asked Questions

If my child is a California resident, should they be applying to medical schools in California?

Given the state’s high-ranking programs, reduced in-state tuition at public institutions, and warm climate, California is an attractive destination for many medical school applicants. However, with the high volume of applications and large state population, admission to California medical schools (both MD and DO programs) is difficult. When your child is ready to apply to medical school, they should apply to a mix of California and non-California schools, to maximize their admissions odds.  

Are some schools more likely to “weed out” prospective premed students than others?

Some schools (like those in the UC system) grade their science classes on a curve. Others (like Pepperdine) don’t. Moreover, schools vary with regard to class sizes, which may impact the level of attention and support your child receives.

While the highest-achieving students at each school will enjoy the greatest odds of getting into med school, it’s important to consider how competitive each school is. At the same time, keep in mind that the same GPA at a higher-ranked school will look more impressive than at its lower-ranked counterpart.

Final Thoughts

California is full of great undergraduate institutions—public, private, big, small—that can prepare you for a career in medicine. As with all college admissions, a competitive application depends on demonstrating fit, preparation, and interest.