WashU Med bulletins: 1920 vs. 2020

The close of a decade often triggers retrospective pieces recounting changes over the previous ten years. But in the world of special collections, we tend to look back further. So as we start 2020, we thought it would be fun to take a look back at what the admissions and tuition requirements for the School of Medicine were like one hundred years ago.


To be eligible for acceptance to the School of Medicine in 1920, an applicant was required to have completed at least two years of university coursework representing at least 60 semester hours of credit. In addition to courses in physics, chemistry, and biology, applicants must have completed at least six semester hours of English, and at least 10 in either French or German. These language requirements were especially important because the majority of the relevant medical literature for medical students at the time would have been written in either German, French or English.

Female applicants in 1920 were in luck. Washington University School of Medicine had changed its official policy as of April 3, 1918, clearing the way for women to be admitted. But black applicants would have to wait another 27 years to gain the same privilege.


In 1920, the fees and expenses for a year of study at the School of Medicine were:

  • Matriculation fee: $5.00 (payable only once by an entering student)
  • Tuition fee: $400 (payable in two equal installments)
  • Student activities fee: $6.00 (for the support of athletics and other student activities)
  • Microscope rental: $7.50
  • Breakage deposit: $10.00

Renting a room in the university dormitory building, which contained rooms for 60 (exclusively male) students, would have set you back $120/academic year. Continuing to rent the room over the summer cost $15/month.

In 2020 dollars, the basic tuition fee of $400/year is equivalent to about $5,140!

Finally, here is a chart from the 1920 bulletin illustrating the summary of the entire four-year curriculum by hours, exclusive of examination hours:

If you are interested in seeing the 1920 Washington University School of Medicine bulletin in full (which we highly recommend because it includes descriptions of all courses of instruction by year of study!), it is available for download at Digital Commons @ Becker. Today, all WashU bulletins are published online, and you can find the 2019-20 bulletin at bulletin.wustl.edu.