Academic Strategies for Premed Students

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Maintaining a high GPA in college should be your first priority as a premed student. Your GPA is one of the first things medical school admissions committees look at because of how much it reveals about you as an applicant. They will analyze your GPA by breaking it down in various ways such as overall GPA, science GPA, nonscience GPA, freshman year GPA, sophomore year GPA, junior year GPA, senior year GPA, etc. Your overall GPA can show the committe your work ethic over a long period of time. Your science GPA can show your strength in the sciences. Your nonscience GPA can show that you have strengths outside of the sciences as well. If your nonscience GPA is much better than your science GPA, it can show that you may not be the best candidate to pursue science. Your GPA by year can show any upward trends in grades thus showing an improvement. For these reasons, it is imperative to keep your grades up if you plan to apply to medical school. You can do this through applying certain study skills and academic strategies.  

So how do you get those A's in college? Well, it's a little harder than you think. College is an entirely different playing field from high school, especially if you're attending a top 100 four year university. Your science courses will be some of the toughest classes you take, so get ready to tackle them. Many of these early science classes will be "weeder" courses meaning there will be hundreds of students in your class (depending on which school you attend) but not everyone will move forward when it's over. The courses are usually curved, and inherently some students will fail. This is compounded by the fact that many science departments have strict policies regarding the percentage of students that can receive A or B grade designations. So even though some of the best and brightest students are in a class together that doesn't mean everyone can get an A. For example, if there are 300 students in a biology course and the department has determined that only the top 20% may receive A's, then despite how well everyone does on the exam, only 60 people will get that top grade. In general, science courses are more difficult to get A's in than nonscience courses. Below is a list of academic strategies you can use to help protect your GPA.

  • Limit the number of science courses you take concurrently. Start off by taking one science course alongside your nonscience courses. Once you get a feel for how to prepare for these weeder courses, you can begin to take two science courses concurrently. Try to cushion your course load by taking particularly easier courses alongside your science courses.
  • Take your premed courses off track. When you start college, you will notice that the majority of premed students start certain course series at the same time (for example, Biology in Fall). Avoid this by starting a series at a different semester (for example, Biology in Spring). It may be harder to work into your schedule, but it will allow you to focus on learning rather than competing.
  • Research your professors before signing up for classes. Use tools such as Rate My Professor or the equivalent at your school. Find science professors who are passionate about teaching and who grade fairly. This can prove to be difficult, but they're out there. Remember, you are in college ultimately to learn. You will have to take the MCAT eventually and the more you learn in your college courses from high quality teachers, the easier it will be when you sit down and start studying for it. And make sure to avoid professors who are notoriously unfair and difficult! They have that reputation for a reason!
  • Consider taking summer school. Take 1-2 science courses during summer after your first and second years of college. Summer school courses are shorter and more condensed. You will still learn the same amount of material required during the regular school year. However, the courses are usually easier to do well in. This can be for various reasons such as the class having a more reasonable curve and less competitive students. You may also perform better because you're only focusing on one class. Before committing to summer school, make sure the medical schools you plan on applying to look at summer school courses favorably.

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