Questions About Other Coursework
Question: I’ve taken a couple of 500-level grad courses at Princeton. They’ve been great, actually among the best classes I’ve had. When I apply to med school will the grades I got in these classes be counted in my undergraduate GPA or will they be separate since they’re technically grad classes?
Answer: This is a great question. Graduate coursework done at your undergraduate institution, while you are an undergraduate, will be included in your undergraduate GPA’s when you complete your generic AMCAS application as Step 1 of applying to medical school. As long as you have not yet graduated from college, 500-level course will still be counted as work done toward the completion of your bachelor’s degree. If you’ve done well in these courses, that’s good news!
Certificate in Gobal Health & Health Policy
Question: Hey HPA, I’ve heard about this new certificate program in Global Health & Health Policy (“GHP”) and am wondering whether I should do it. Will it strengthen my med school application? Also, is this program really just for pre-meds who want to do health work overseas?
Answer: We get asked about the GHP a good bit. The GHP program is for all students (pre-meds and non-pre-meds) who are interested in the multi-disciplinary factors and dynamics that affect health, including economics, politics, anthropology, ethics, history, molecular biology, policy, ecology and evolutionary biology, philosophy, engineering, religion, etc. It addresses local, national and international issues (i.e., it’s not just for those hoping to work abroad). You should do this program if you’re naturally inclined to take the GHP courses, conduct health-related summer research and integrate health into your senior thesis—and not solely because you hope it will strengthen your medical school application. If you do plan to pursue the certificate, you can prepare by looking over the prerequisites that must be completed by the end of your sophomore year. Read more about the program’s philosophy and curriculum at www.princeton.edu/ghp. The deadline to apply to enter the program for this year is Fri April 2. We consistently hear great things from the pre-health students who have chosen to do this certificate.
Question: Hello HPA, I just had a quick question about certificates. I’m currently a junior and I’ve been taking Chinese every semester since I came to Princeton (including one summer). At this point, I have enough language-related coursework to obtain a Language and Culture certificate in Chinese; however, if I decide to do it, I will need to produce a substantial piece of independent work (exclusively for the certificate) next summer, which might interfere with my other plans as well as MCAT preparation. My question is, how are certificates viewed by medical schools? In your opinion, would there be any value in getting the certificate in addition to my seven semesters thus far of language study? This impacts next summer and also my course selections for next year.
Answer: It’s difficult, if not impossible, to tell you how all medical schools might view certificates. We’d advise you to weigh the importance of doing your MCAT (and gaining clinical experience, if you haven’t done much) against the independent work. Also, consider: when are you thinking of applying to medical school? Is this coming summer the last possible time to take the MCAT or could you do it during senior year if you’re applying after you’ve graduated? Do you have significant health and service experience already? We’re sure most medical schools would value seeing a certificate on your application in addition to your concentration, but they would not value it highly enough for you to risk putting yourself at a disadvantage in other ways just to complete the certificate’s requirements. Remember, too, that the committee letter we write for you in the spring before you apply discusses academic anomalies and trends on your transcript—things such as focus of coursework in a particular subject that may not get immediately noticed without our highlighting it. If you were to skip getting the Chinese certificate, we could certainly address in your letter how much Chinese you’ve studied, and why, and what you’ve gotten out of it.
Question: I know that Princeton is all about challenging oneself and taking full advantage of a true liberal arts education, but sometimes I wonder if I made the right choice in taking the humanities sequence (HUM 216-219). While I’ve been enjoying myself and learning a lot, it is very challenging. Occasionally I wonder if it’s all “worth it.” I’m certainly not failing or struggling too much in the class, but I could have possibly substituted it with a freshman seminar and some other less-intensive course. Plus, it counts as two courses so it’s eating up a lot of my time. I really want to continue it next semester, but I can’t judge the benefits vs. the cost. I know I’m getting a bit ahead of myself as I’m only a freshman, but I was wondering if med schools somehow understand/acknowledge the weight of one class vs. another; in terms of some of the most competitive med schools, would it be a better strategy to go for the “easier A” or to stick to my guns and push myself through something like the HUM sequence, especially for a student exploring subject matters completely out of his “safety zone”? Thanks so much!
Answer: Hang in there. Princeton can be tough—whether it’s the HUM sequence or any one of our many other unique academic opportunities. We urge you to refine your perspective and not think in terms of how medical schools will view each of your choices (and the schools are all “competitive,” by the way!). They do respect the challenging course selections that students make, but we believe that it’s very difficult to survive four years at Princeton without demonstrating your courage in the face of academic challenges—and the possibilities are endless. You seem already aware of the value of your liberal arts education. Make the most of it by going after intellectual endeavors that excite you and work as hard as you can to perform well. That’s all anyone can ask.
Dropping to Three Classes
Question: Hi, I have a question about dropping to three classes in a semester. During sophomore year, I dropped down to three classes because I felt overwhelmed in the classes I was taking and I was not doing well in this one class. This spring as a junior, I am taking a language class that I am considering dropping. I just received my midterm grade, and it is very poor. I am trying to pull my grades up this semester, so I don't want to continue in this class. I have taken two classes over the summer, so I will not be course deficient by Princeton standards. I wanted to know, how do med schools view this? Do med schools pay attention to the number of classes you took per term? Or, do they look at the classes you did take and how you performed in those classes? I am meeting with the professor to go over my midterm and to see if there is any way to bring up my grade. However, I’m not hopeful that this will work out. I'm not really sure how to proceed at this point. Thank you for your help!
Answer: Yes, medical schools will look at the number of courses you take each term as well as the course level—but only broadly. We don't think most admissions committees have time to dissect every course selection you make, but they do look for evidence of rigor. In light of this, we recommend that you drop below the standard Princeton course load only once during your four years here, if at all. If you've already dropped down to three classes in the past then it would be best if you maintain a full course load now. While dropping down to three courses can be explained to medical schools when you apply, it is harder to explain your doing so more than once. It might appear, perhaps rightly, that you are being overly cautious, and focusing more on your GPA than necessary. Please come talk to us after you speak with the professor, and we can discuss things in more depth. In the end, with the proper guidance and planning, you’ll be OK either way.
Question: I tend to take a lot of 100-level courses, sometimes because I want an easy fourth or fifth class but many other times because I’m truly interested in the field and want some exposure to it. Classes like art history and civil engineering are classes I’m never going to be able to take during the remainder of my education, so I’d hate to miss out. Do medical schools look down on students who take so many intro-level courses? I’m nervous about taking any more in my junior and senior year because I don’t want to appear like I’m worrying too much about my GPA and not enough about actually learning. Should I stick to my concentration and other departments of strength rather than branch out? Or is taking a variety of courses in a variety of fields OK?
Answer: There seem to be at least two questions here: are intro-level courses OK for upperclassmen, and is variety OK? The answers are “yes, in moderation” on both counts. While medical schools have been known to look at the trend in both performance and rigor on a transcript (with the ideal trend being upward from freshman year to senior year), the very nature of your departmentals and independent work requires you to engage in higher-level work as a junior and senior. The level of your courses will naturally rise as you progress through Princeton. Med schools do value academic challenges; they also value breadth of knowledge, risk-taking, and cultural competence. Among your electives, it’s fine to have some 100-level courses if they serve to diversify your education. It’s also fine to PDF a couple of courses that might be higher-level. All in all, you may be worrying a bit too much about how you will be perceived as an applicant.
Question: Hi HPA – I have to declare a concentration soon, and I still don’t feel like I know what direction to choose. I love my psychology courses, I’m taking sociology now and enjoying that, but I’ve always been a “science person” and I can’t seem to leave my interest in MOL or EEB behind. Can you tell me more about what medical schools might prefer? Am I at an advantage if I’m a social science major instead of a science major, since there are fewer non-science majors going into medicine? Am I at a disadvantage if I don’t do a lot of science while I’m at Princeton? What if I don’t get into medical school -- I don’t know what to do with a major outside of the sciences when it comes to careers.
Answer: These are all great questions to be considering as you commit to a concentration at Princeton, and beyond what we can answer in a simple email, or probably even in a single meeting, but here are some places to start: Medical schools want you to study what you love, delve deeply into your discipline of choice, and think about how studying it is helping you develop skills and perspectives that will inform your future practice of medicine. Every discipline provides certain habits of mind, ways of looking at the world and interacting with it, and connections to others within an intellectual community. It will be up to you to think about and learn to articulate the connections between the things that you do and who you want to be as a physician, and HPA will work with you on how to do that.
Medical schools expect you to come in with certain pre-requisite courses, or scientific competencies, which will provide a foundation for success. Our non-science major alums who come back to campus have all found medical school rigorous but manageable. Taking one or two extra MOL or EEB courses along the way, though, especially if you have AP credit, will give more evidence of your ability in the sciences. Similarly, if you major in a science, we recommend some of the health-related gen ed courses, like Race and Medicine, Medical Anthropology, and many others (we create a list of suggestions every semester) to round out your preparation for medicine.
Come by and talk to us about your interests and we’ll be able to provide more food for thought. There are also many other resources that can shed light on major choices, many of which are listed on Princeton’s Major Choices website. A few more to consider: HPA Peer Advisers, who can talk with you about their majors; Major Choices Alumni Perspectives, which includes profiles of alums from the 90s and 00s; HPA’s Majors & Medicine Panel on Tuesday; Career Services majors advice.
Question: I’m planning my classes for next semester. Does HPA suggest any courses other than the usual pre-health pre-requisites?
Answer: We hope that you’re using your time at Princeton to explore new possibilities, and generally just expand your perspective – every course that you take is a course that is informing your perspective as a future health professional! In addition, you might consider the core personal competencies that medical educators think are important (described in our “Preparing for a Career in the Health Professions” handout)– some of these competency areas can be developed through classroom exposure. For example, you could expand your cultural competence by examining the diversity in race, ethnicity, socio-economic status, age, religion, etc., within the society that you hope to serve as a physician. Many of the GHP electives (including Mortality at the Margins: Race, Inequality and Health Policy in the US, GHP 409, and Health and Human Rights, WWS 453) will expand your cultural competence in a health care context. Oral communication skills can be honed in small, discussion-based courses. Teamwork and service orientation might be cultivated in a course that offers a service component through the Community-Based Learning Initiatives program. Your written communication skills will be critical when preparing your applications, so if you know that you struggle with writing, take courses that help you improve. In addition to the sciences, there are a number of courses that offer unique perspectives on health and health care from a social science or humanities perspective. We looked through the course offerings and identified a number of these courses, which are compiled in every semester in our Health-Related Courses document on our website and available in the HPA office.
Question: Dear HPA: When do you suggest retaking a class? And if I repeat the class how does it affect my GPA?
Answer: This is a case-by-case situation – we encourage you to come in or email us about your situation more specifically. If it was not a pre-requisite for health professions school, a repeat is not required. If the course in question is required for admission to medical school, we encourage you to come into Health Professions Advising and discuss your situation more holistically: one weak grade needs context for us to be able to advise you properly. Generally speaking, though, a grade of C- or lower (D or F) warrants a repeat, at Princeton or another institution. Most schools will not accept C-'s, D's, or F's because these grades do not indicate mastery of the subject. A grade of C or better usually indicates basic understanding of the material, and the student should generally go on and take more science at a higher level, and perform better, to correct the problem. In some isolated instances, after consulting with the student, we do suggest repeating a course even with a grade of C or C+; this is usually because the student does not feel prepared to perform well on the corresponding section of the MCAT. As for your Princeton GPA, the grade you receive when repeating a class at Princeton does factor into your Princeton GPA, but you do not receive credit toward graduation for the repeat. Your AMCAS GPA (the one med schools will view) is comprised of all grades earned at all US colleges and universities.
Science or Non-Science Major?
Question: My parents are telling me that I need to major in Mol Biology or another science if I want to go to med school, but I've heard from other places that it doesn't matter. Some of my friends even say the opposite of my parents - they think I should not choose a science. I'm a sophomore and have to decide very soon. Which do you recommend?
Answer: When it comes to your life as a pre-med student, please remember: admission to medical school is not affected, positively or negatively, by your choice of major. Princeton pre-meds majoring in the humanities or social sciences had just as much luck getting into med school last year as the science majors did. Many of you still major in the sciences, but that is because you enjoy these subjects, not because these subjects are somehow more attractive to med schools. Non-science majors need to demonstrate a proficiency in science, yes, but that can be done through their pre-med coursework and any additional science coursework - regardless of major. Reflect on your favorite classes and professors, and choose a major based on that. It's also a good idea to meet with the directors of undergrad studies or 'department reps' in a couple of the departments you're considering, and try to get a feel for how available they'll be during your junior and senior years, and how enthusiastic they seem about ever seeing you again (!). And don't forget to consider the smaller majors, such as the languages, Classics, Philosophy, etc. If and when you apply to medical school, those who evaluate you will look for intellectual depth and rigor, strong letters from faculty, and genuine intellectual curiosity, not for any particular subject of study. Your question certainly comes at an opportune time for the freshmen and sophomores considering their concentration. Thanks for asking it.
Question: I want to learn Spanish in addition to German. I know that some medical schools prefer that applicants have knowledge of Spanish. Which path would you recommend, Spanish or German?
Answer: It’s not so much that medical schools prefer applicants with Spanish but that students at many medical schools these days are asking for Spanish classes to be added to the course offerings at their schools. Many of expressed frustration over not knowing basic Spanish when they have begun having patient contact. Med schools do their best to offer Spanish, especially if their hospitals treat a high number of Spanish-speaking patients, but these courses tend to fill up quickly. We do not see your situation as an “either/or” dilemma. If you have some talent and love for German, and already have some of your language requirement done in that subject, then by all means stick with it. Don’t forget that some knowledge of Spanish can be gained through summer course work, often through study abroad programs, and can also be gained during the “glide” year that many people take before entering medical school. Do not worry so much about what medical schools “prefer” and think more about the subjects you love—or, in this case, the cultures and countries that spark your curiosity.