GUEST COLUMN MIT is good for doctors — not premeds

Find a place with better academic and extracurricular balance

As a premed senior who will be headed to medical school this fall, I agree with many of the points in last Friday’s article by Rachel Bandler entitled “MIT — the premed’s choice?” However, I must caution that the article is overly optimistic on a few levels.

The great strength in MIT’s premedical education lies in the fact that undergrads have such plentiful access to research opportunities. Watching premed friends at Berkeley and Johns Hopkins clambering and begging PIs for research positions, I am often surprised at how easy it is to find meaningful UROP positions here just by sending off emails to faculty. This strength supports the fact that we produce so many successful MD-PhD candidates.

However, the scientific curriculum at MIT does not, in fact, prepare students well for the MCAT or help build a successful premedical application. For example, the organic chemistry instruction here is by far too difficult, as the MCAT only requires a rudimentary knowledge of chemical structures and reactions. Furthermore, the difficulty of the science classes here often forces premeds to study for long hours to get that magical one standard deviation above the mean, sacrificing essential time that could be spent exploring valuable clinical experiences, joining extracurricular activities, or spending time in the laboratory. A successful medical school application is not all about the academics — it’s just as much about your extracurriculars, clinical work, and summer activities.

A simple analysis of the accepted GPA data released by the premedical office shows that MIT students are still held at almost the same standard as premeds from other leading universities, indicating the “slack” that medical school cut for MIT students is truly not as great as it is often advertised.

Don’t get me wrong, MIT is an excellent place to train doctors — our problem-solving oriented biology curriculum mirrors differential diagnosis in medical school and our status as a research powerhouse will open many doors for you in academic medicine. Despite these advantages, it is not the best place for many premedical students, especially those that do not want to venture into research medicine. This distinction is important, because how do you become a doctor if you are disqualified academically right from the start? It almost seems useless to be among the company of the brightest and the most talented students if you are not successful in jumping through the basic hoops of getting into medical school (a good GPA, excellent MCAT, well-balanced application). It sounds unfair and does not reward learning for the sake of learning, but welcome to the realities of applying to medical school.

Prospective premed students will do well to consider the pros and cons that an MIT education offers. A successful, well-rounded premed education incorporating plenty of learning and activities can be just as easily obtained at other top colleges. Depending on the type of student that you are, you may find being a premed at another college would offer you the same GPA, but allow you much more time and energy to pursue passions or fulfilling activities. Premed students should neither view college simply as a stepping stone to medical school and take extremely easy classes, nor attend a school that is needlessly difficult. There exists a happy medium between the two.

Chris Su is a senior in Courses 7 and 21H.

Mary M. about 13 years ago

I completely agree with you Chris. It's really difficult to have a "balanced" life at MIT when you are fighting to get a good GPA, up against a ton of other premeds who are in the same boat and in the same curve as you.

Anonymous about 13 years ago

I'd actually go a step further and say at MIT it's hard to have a 'balanced' lifestyle, period. This is partly due to the workload but, I think, due even more to the culture. A certain amount of imbalance -- of spending all your time on 1 or 2 things at the expense of everything else, and then, when that gets to be too much, turning around and doing something totally different for 24 hours -- is tolerated and encouraged at MIT to the extent that (to my mind) many who might naturally have had more 'balanced' or measured lifestyles just didn't.

Maybe at the end of 4 yrs your total 'time spent working' and 'time spent on other interests' would be consistent with a balanced life, but I don't think it really feels like that when you're going through it...it alternates between exhilarating and exhausting. Whether this is good or bad is a matter of individual opinion, but I felt it was a defining feature of the place. So yeah...something to keep in mind if a balanced life is a high priority in your college decisions....