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Community College and Professional School Admissions

Created 04.27.09 by Elizabeth Losada, MD
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Prospective professional school applicants are often advised to avoid taking prerequisite classes at community college. Conventional belief among many pre-health students is that prerequisite classes taken at community colleges will be disparaged by admissions committees and could lead to the rejection of the applicant.

Such fears are expressed routinely in threads on the forums at Student Doctor Network; e.g., “Will taking a year of community college hurt my chances?” in the High School Forum and “Retaking at a CC after graduation/Chances?” in the What Are My Chances Forum. But are these fears and assumptions founded on actual admissions practices? Unfortunately, there is no clear consensus on this issue.

One school of thought suggests that students avoid doing prerequisites at community college because admissions committees consider a strong academic background essential to success. Such admissions criteria are supported by the findings of a 2007 study of medical students by Kleshinki, et al.[1]

Using a statistical model to examine the predictive ability of preadmission variables, including college selectivity as determined by the Peterson’s Four Year College selectivity index, on USMLE Step 1 and Step 2 performance, the researchers found that students from the most selective undergraduate institutions scored higher on Step 1 and Step 2 than students from minimally selective-nonselective institutions. College selectivity remained a predictor of USMLE scores even when undergraduate GPA and MCAT scores were included in the model.

 

Therefore, the stronger the academic institution an applicant attends, the better, says Judy Colwell, a medical school admissions consultant with more than 18 years experience as a premedical advisor and former Assistant Director of Medical Admissions at Stanford University.[2] “Particularly when looking at science prerequisite classes, medical schools want to make sure that an applicant can perform at a rigorous level. Rigor of the courses is very important and reputation of the school is important too.”

Generally, community colleges classes are viewed as being less rigorous than those taken at a four-year institution. According to Colwell, if an admissions committee were hypothetically debating between two nearly identical applicants, one of whom had done prerequisites at a community college and the other at a four-year university, the acceptance would go to the student who fulfilled prerequisites at the university.

While it is true that some community colleges are known by the medical schools in their local region to be strong in particular science disciplines, this reputation may not be known in other parts of the country. “What happens when the applicant who took his or her general science courses at a well-known local community college applies to schools out of state that are not familiar with the program? If they have not taken upper division courses at a university it may well be an issue,” Colwell says. She advises that students at community college focus on general education requirements, fulfill prerequisites in English and mathematics, and plan to take their science courses at a four-year institution.

Of course, this is not always possible given the array of basic and school-specific prerequisites and the limited time of students who need to graduate in four years. For students whose schedules make it imperative that they do prerequisites at the community college, certain cautions are in order.

The Pre-Health Advising Office at Florida State University College of Medicine advises community college students taking their basic science prerequisites at their community college to finish two semester course sequences at the same institution.[3] For example, students should not take first semester physics at a community college and second semester physics at a university after transferring.

The University of Kansas Premedical Advising Service advises community college premedical students to take actual medical school prerequisite courses, like general chemistry, and not biological sciences courses for nursing and allied health majors.[4]

Perhaps the biggest caution of all is that once students transfer to a four-year university, they should take upper division science classes that are not offered at the community college level. This recommendation is seconded by Premedicine Advising at the University of Washington. They advise students transferring from community colleges to take some advanced science coursework at a four-year school to help medical schools evaluate an applicant’s performance in relation to that of other applicants. Their website states: “the level of the coursework at community colleges is certainly comparable… [to] the equivalent courses at the UW. However, grades tend to run higher at community colleges than in comparable courses at the UW.”[5]

This brings us to a second school of thought, as explained by Dr. Amerish Bera, Clinical Professor of Medicine and former Associate Dean of Admissions at the UC Davis School of Medicine. Since medical schools are well aware that differences in grading practices have an effect on the GPAs of applicants, “in the end the MCAT becomes the great equalizer. Admissions committees will look for discrepancies between GPA and MCAT scores. For example, if an applicant has a 4.0 science GPA and 7s on the biological and physical science sections of the MCAT, it suggests that the coursework was not as rigorous as that taken by an applicant from another school with a 4.0 science GPA and 12s on the same MCAT sections.”

Bera advises that students take prerequisite coursework at the institution where they will feel most supported, can build their confidence, and have the best opportunity to learn the material. Whether this is a community college or a four-year institution matters less, in his opinion, than performing well in the classes and on the MCAT. Medical schools receive vast numbers of applications and develop thresholds to screen applications before sending out secondaries. “The initial screen is usually based on MCAT scores and GPA, which is calculated by AMCAS and includes community college classes. It is better to have an A in a class from a community college than a C from a class at a university,” he says. “If an applicant makes it past the initial screen, it is doubtful that committee members will scrutinize every course, given the sheer volume of information there is to review.” The composition of the student body at the UC Davis School of Medicine reflects these screening practices. According to Bera, an internal review of UC Davis’ admissions data in 2005-06 revealed that approximately 20% of current UC Davis medical students had completed one year or more of community college coursework at the time of matriculation.

Admissions practices can have more variation between schools once applicants reach the interview stage. Bera says some schools may assign extra points to applicants based on where their diploma was received or could re-calculate GPAs to put more weight on university classes. In the case of the latter, he agrees that there are benefits in community college students taking upper division science courses once they transfer to a university. “But keep in mind there is a growing recognition that with high tuition costs and cuts to direct university admissions due to state budget shortfalls, more and more students will need to get started at community colleges,” Bera said. “At the end of the day it is most important to have a good GPA that aligns with strong MCAT scores.”

Non-traditional premedical students, many of whom are working full-time in other careers, often ask if the same advice that is given to traditional students about prerequisite courses and MCAT scores applies to them as well. Bera would consider the low tuition and convenient schedule and recommend the nontraditional student choose the community college if the added comfort level will contribute to stronger academic performance in prerequisite classes and on the MCAT. Colwell, whose admissions consulting practice is focused on advising non-traditional applicants, has counseled many students who are considering taking medical school prerequisite classes at community college. The process, Colwell says, is the same for all applicants to both allopathic and osteopathic schools, and she encourages non-traditional students to “jump through as many of the traditional premed hoops as possible.” She advises all premedical students, whether traditional or non-traditional, to take their prerequisites “at the most rigorous four-year institution that time and money will allow,” and to do well on the MCAT in order to have the best chance of admission.

It is clear that among the advising sources noted above there is no clear agreement on the assessment of community college science prerequisites in medical school admissions. Having preparation in the basic sciences that leads to an applicant’s best possible performance on the MCAT is essential to gaining admission to medical school. At this point premedical students have to analyze their own situations and make their own choices. Much as we might wish it otherwise, even the experts are divided in their advice.

[1] Kleshinski, J, Khuder, SA, Shapiro, JI, and Gold, JP. (2007). Impact of preadmission variables on USMLE step 1 and step 2 perforamance. Adv in Health Sci Edu 14: 69-78.

[2] http://www.judycolwell.com/

[3] http://med.fsu.edu/StudentAffairs/advising.asp

[4] http://www.medadvising.ku.edu/prospective.shtml

[5] http://www.washington.edu/students/u…ap/premed.html

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  1. Mike D. says:

    I think this was a really well thought out and researched article, and address many points that community college students (such as myself) have regarding admissions to professional schools. I completely agree that tests such as the MCAT/DAT/OAT/PCAT really level the playing field and show exactly how much you learned, and not how highly regarded the institution you learned it from is.

    With a well thought out plan and a strong Community College system (such as the one in California), a pre-health student can do very well. I took nearly all of my basic pre-reqs at my community college and also did well on the DAT – I had absolutely no problem getting accepted to dental school, and it was only brought up at one interview, ironically enough about 5 minutes after talking about how amazing the community college system is and the opportunistic it provides.

  2. ESK says:

    I took every single pre-requisite at my local community college after graduating from the University of Virginia and was accepted to multiple medical schools as a first time applicant.

    1. Phil says:

      I would really like to hear your story in more depth. I am a 2009 Penn State grad and am starting the pre reqs at a CC while working full-time as an accountant in Houston.

      1. Brittany says:

        I am in the same boat. I am working at an accounting firm in Houston and will begin my basic science reqs at a CC. I have called the UTHSC and they stated it is recommended that you take your courses at the University level, but it most likely would not harm your chances of getting into the school. Have you heard of any other advise?

  3. bob says:

    Oh, FFS.

    No one cares where you went to school except the people who went to ~Ivies. Can’t have some two-bit CC kid showing Mommy and Daddy’s Little Prince(ss).

  4. Sara says:

    If Bob meant to say, “can’t having them show M&D’s LP up”, then I totally agree. I’d take a CC kid over any 4yr nosebleed any day…

    And have. Classes full of them.

    Booyah.

  5. Amy says:

    I also took all eight pre-reqs at night at community college after graduating (non-trad) student and got into every school to which I applied. People were warning me against it all over SDN but I think they were wrong…

  6. cb says:

    Commmunity colleges are convenient and cheaper than 4-year schools and depending on the community college just as rigourus as many 4-year schools. As a non-trad. student who graduated from a well known large school i find not having to cough up more money for a few prereqs is great. i can save my money for medschool. Really the point is do well on the prereqs, mcat and extracurriculars. Premed coursework isn’t really that complex, it’s just basic science. i don’t see how it is articulated any better at a larger university. Although, it is good to take a couple of upper divisions at a university. Yet thats pretty standard for any premed,upper divions are important to prove you can handle medschool.

  7. B says:

    Thanks for presenting both sides of this issue in an objective light.

  8. Anne says:

    For non-traditional applicants who have finished their bachelor’s degrees in another field and have to complete pre-requisites, choosing not to do coursework at a community college is just financially stupid. I don’t know what is wrong with admissions committees that they are so out-of-touch with real life. I live near Georgetown University and *could* spend $1,000/credit (I think it’s much higher than that actually) to do my science courses or take them at a Northern Virginia community college for less than $100/credit. The community college also schedules courses that fit with a working professional’s schedule.

    They obviously don’t live in the real world. It’s offensive for an admissions counselor to encourage applicants to spend more money on coursework. I hope they put more thought into what they’re perpetuating.

  9. Julie says:

    I’m a non-trad and I got accepted to UCSF and Stanford after taking all my pre-reqs at community colleges. They are a good value, don’t let the haters tell you otherwise. Just be sure to ace the MCATs. If you are a bad test taker, go to the best school you can get into. It won’t make you a good test taker but it will give you the credibility you need so the adcoms won’t summarily dismiss your application.

    1. dprk87 says:

      Julie, what community college did you go to, SMC?

  10. Audrick says:

    So, is it good then to take all of your pre-med courses at a community college and ace the MCAT (35+) then?

  11. A says:

    Yes, in order to “game the system” the way to go is to take all your hard, prereq courses at community college and ace them (this is also cheaper, far easier than taking courses at a competitive university, and likely much much less stress than trying to ace physics or organic chemistry at a really competitive university). A 4.0 is a 4.0 is a 4.0 and the med school admissions folks can’t know whether you’d have gotten that 4.0 at an Ivy or not because you have maxed out the grading system. Then all the eggs are in the MCAT basket, and all you’ve got to do is study the hell out of the MCAT (like study for 2 straight years or something, but don’t tell them that you did this) and do “well” on the MCAT. By “well” I mean that if you get the average score of the school you are targeting you’ll likely get an interview because your GPA, in their eyes, is “perfect”… just as perfect (or perhaps nearly so) as someone with a 3.9 from Harvard.

    This is a common racket and is the way to go for someone who might not be able to get A’s at a competitive university but still wants to go to medical school. In fact, surely many academically weaker and less capable students are accepted via this route over more capable, harder working (and higher paying for tuition) students who attend competitive/prestigious/expensive undergraduate universities for all 4 years.

    Are some med schools wise to this? Perhaps, but I bet the vast majority are not or if they are, their hands are tied because how can you punish someone with a 4.0 GPA? You can’t, so you have to rely on the MCAT, and if this person took all their spare time they didn’t have to spend studying for their hard prereq courses and instead prepared for the MCAT, and therefore do decent on the MCAT, they come out on top (probably unfairly).

    So, not only does it not hurt you to go to community college (or a noncompetitive university), it greatly helps you as long as you get all A’s. This is the unfortunate truth that many students who go to competitive Ivies for undergrad (or similarly competitive schools) don’t find out until it is too late and they are getting rejected from med schools while others who are far less capable are getting in because they played the game. And to rub it in, the ones who get in paid far less for their education.

  12. K says:

    ^^^^^ obviously somebody’s bitter ;)

  13. A says:

    Ha, actually not (I’m not affected by this at all actually). I just think this is the best kept secret of med school admissions. It really is a path to admissions to decent med schools (i.e. better than just “average” schools).

    I also think it is worth noting that upper level courses are usually graded easier than the weed out prereq premed courses, with a very small number of exceptions (perhaps courses like pchem, biochem and a couple others are of similar difficulty to get A’s at top schools). For the most part, any course that begins with “Advanced …” is going to have a lot of A’s being given out and not a lot of rigor, at least in my experience at a top 20 undergrad school. This is generally why premed students’ GPA always rises during their 4 years, because the upper level courses are actually easier than the weed out 1st and 2nd year courses like gchem, ochem, etc. So transferring from CC to a university for your 3rd and 4th years is the best of both worlds, you fulfill med schools’ desire to take science courses at universities, yet all that hard science courses are already done at a CC, presumably with easy A’s.

    I think very few high school students are aware of this early enough to purposefully go to CC instead for the first 2 years. Most high school students, even those sure they want to be doctors, think they should go to the most competitive school they can get into. But I’d argue that, unless you are a superstar and expect to be fighting for admission to top 20 med schools (which perhaps you could correlate to requiring that you have an SAT score over 1500 so that you will be more likely to have an MCAT score over 35) in which case you don’t need to worry about just getting into med school, this is a route worth considering.

  14. hal says:

    Boy A, you’ve got it all figured out, haven’t you? You sound bitter. Let’s see; if you go to a four year university, you are by default smarter and better, and you will only have to crack that MCAT prep book once a week, starting maybe a month before the test; but if you go to a CC, you’ll be studying for at least 2 years? You really believe that? We are talking about general college Bio, Chem, Physics and Calc. Why would they be so much harder at a four year, when your instructors at the 4 year (especially the wondrous Ivy League) are TAs? My instructor at my local CC has a PhD in Bio, and has been teaching for years. The class is an honors class you have to qualify for. Just because you went the 4 year route does not mean you are superior. It just means you paid a lot more money to be taught by a Grad student. The real secret to college education is that universities are charging tens and hundreds of thousands of dollars to students to get an education that they could get locally, at CCs and state colleges for much less, and they can do just as well in life, without going into double digit debt. Your right about one thing, students should be more wise about their options, but not because they are “easier.” Because they are smarter.

  15. SB says:

    I agree. I graduated sal from my hs class with a very high GPA and was drilled and drilled that 4 yr institutions are the BEST way! No way you are attending CC b/c that’s just extended HS is what I was obviously misinformed about. If I’d known what I know now..I would have just attended CC and applied to pharma school from there instead of attending a 4yr institution to get deeper in debt and come across some inept TA’s who are just trying to make their mark at a university.

  16. Todd says:

    My father strongly recommended that I take my first two years at local community college and then transfer to the state school. This would save thousands for tuition and thousands more because I would be living at home while going to the comm. college. This sounded good in theory and would have saved over 10k…but THANK GOD I did NOT do this. Transferring credits would not have worked out 100% and I would have been stuck taking certain classes over again. Also I got adjusted to living away from home and meeting tons of interesting people. A lot of people who go to comm. college end up dropping out and flaking out. Then there are a lot of people with careers and not interested in making friends in school. I went to the state school, met tons of friends and positive influences. The three people who wrote my recommendation letters were three people I met during the first two years. Also there were a ton of clubs, extras, volunteering, that I got involved in and I would have never done that at a comm. college.

  17. A says:

    hal,

    I think you completely missed my point on multiple fronts.

  18. Peggy says:

    Has anyone heard of nontraditional applicants having to repeat some or all of the prerequisite courses they already took in the past?

  19. DD says:

    I did bio and chem at a CC and got into multiple schools, including 2 full-rides, went on to rock >260 on Step 1. I honestly thought that my teachers were much better at the CC than the university that I went to.

  20. pimpdaddy says:

    I AP-ed out of Gen Bio and Gen Chem I.

    Took Gen Chem II, Orgo I and Adv. Orgo III, as well as some Inorganic, Analytical, Adv. Inorganic.

    Took Orgo II and Physics at community college. Nursing major with Bio and Chem minor, accepted into 3/4 medical schools I applied to – its not about where you take your courses. Its about how well you perform in them, what you get out of them, what experience you have, and how much you actually learn and take with you for your MCAT.

    Most people that were in my Orgo II class at community college had either dropped it or failed it from their respective 4-year university. It was in my opinion much easier than it would have been at my school. Not to diss on anyone, but admissions committees do indeed look at the institution, and type of coursework that you’ve done. If an individual has completed most of their requirements at a community college because he or she attended community college for the first year/two years to save some money – more power to them. They will ask you. I was questioned why I took the courses at community college- my major had constraints and I wasn’t able to take them at my school. but if you fail or withdraw and THEN go back and take it at a community college, they will catch on to you faster than you know

  21. Dr. says:

    Ok guys, the fact of the matter is that a 4-year college student is going to be more competitive in the eyes of an admissions committee because they are typically a relatively more well rounded student for going through 4 full years of a college/university than someone who has gone to a community college for two years. A lot of the school websites even say that you shouldn’t take more than a certain number of hours at a community college. It is obviously going to look better if a student did well at 4-year college than if another student did well at community college because the stereotype is that a student is not going to learn nearly as much and is going to be graded less harshly (lacks discipline). Of course there are exceptions for those who make straight A’s at a community and actually do well on the MCAT/DAT/OAT/PCAT, but that happens more rarely than one would think. I have first hand witnessed a student who cut it in a university gen. chem. class room (where a lot of people were doing well) so he took the course at a community college and made an A. This, and many other examples like this, let me know that community colleges are not challenging enough and an applicant who went to a community college should ever be considered over a student who worked their tail off at a four college.

  22. L says:

    The people crying out about MCATs being the great equalizer are correct; while the rigor of the applicant’s undergraduate institution is an important factor I think that (most) admissions committees won’t simply rule out a candidate because they have never heard of their school but will instead look to see if the student actually learned what their transcript says they did (i.e., MCAT scores…).

    I took my Orgo. and Gen. Chem. sequences at the local CC, and having talked to pre-med people from the big school down the road (Michigan), I’m certain that I came out of the courses with a deeper understanding of the material than them. I think a lot of people get overly caught-up by the minutiae of their academics rather than focusing on presenting an all-around solid application. If you think your pre-reqs are weak make sure you nail the MCAT at do some research, volunteer, etc….

    What the committees will notice and remove quickly is laziness, if you’re not willing to recognize the flaws in your application and compensate as best you can, of course you’ll get rejected, and for good reason. Getting accepted isn’t rocket science*.

    *excluding physics/engineering majors….

  23. James says:

    Let’s talk over-all stats instead of the few anecdotes we have here. If this is the new “scam” to get into med school then 1) I would be hearing a large thundering herd sound of people attending the local CC to get an “early” shot at med school. 2) More importantly is that we do not NEED potential doctors that “gamed” the system in order to cheat their way into a prestigious and rigorous profession. There is a reason why it is difficult to get into med school and to do well on those bio, chem, phys classes. The reason is it separates the wheat from the chaff, get it?

  24. D-Day says:

    I indeed saved my premed class (except Bio 1) for a 4-year institution. My undergrad experience at both a nationally ranked (believe it) community college and a [top-40] University has made me realize a few things. First, there are three types of educational institutions: research oriented, service oriented, and teaching oriented. Many of the top universities are rated specifically based on factors regarding research: grants awarded, # of post-secondary programs/students, etc. These universities also typically get the most funding from state/federal entities. The reality is that many professors at the top ranked universities are either 1) primarily interested in research, thus their teaching curriculum suffers, or 2) the research they are required to do to maintain tenure. Service institutions focus more on community service and humanitarian efforts. An example of these would be many religious institutions. Finally, teaching organizations are many universities, but also most Community Colleges fit into this category. While the teacher is not required to perform any significant research duties, they can provide a better curriculum and focus more on how they might be better able to convey certain topic of their science. The community college I attended in fact had 17,000 students, an Egyptian medical doctor that taught microbiology, and PhDs that taught Bio, Anatomy&Physio, Chem, and Physics. The classes were a lot more thorough, the tests were equally as hard as the University, but the more important thing, is the information was retained for a lot longer. While many of my friends who stayed all 4 years at the University level did the same classes, the amount of material they retained was not even close to what I remember from the same classes. Now that I have done gen chem and orgo at the University level, I appreciate the education provided at the COMMUNITY COLLEGE level. I wouldn’t say that it’s better to take premed classes at a CC, but I will say you have the potential to learn more if you do.

  25. DK says:

    Excellent debate on the virtues of University vs CC. It’s obvious that there are some case by case specifics. For example, I am a non-traditional applicant. I work full time and have a BA and a Master’s (business) from top universities. I can not quit my job to go to school at 10am and CC offers evening classes. Universities normally do not offer night classes with labs. Is this viewed differently? Thanks for any input.

  26. […] Here is an article regarding taking pre-med requirements while attending community college: Community College and Professional School Admissions|Student Doctor Network. Many people in my family have changed careers or started their degree programs late in life so I […]

  27. drew says:

    obviously… hal has not gone to a 4 year university with a good reputation to know that theres a big difference between community college and a 4 year institution.

    I go to a UC with a strong bio background the strongest infact, and when i went to a community college course it was a joke. Even 4 year institutions around my area the courses aren’t as tough.

    I agree with A in that its smart to go to cc and get a great GPA vs. going to a 4 year college and struggling with the crazy curves and competition. I see so many of my transfer friends get into great dental schools after community college with great DAT scores.

    I think the dental/med schools are saying this to discourage all the people thinking about taking the easier/smarter/cheaper way out.

    I admit I am actually bitter for using more money, having a harder time, and being stupid for going straight into a 4 year university. I should have saved that 2 years of money…. however one can argue that going to the university also increases your social network and the other blah blah.

    anyways. i am a bitter 4 year university student that realized it too late.

  28. drew says:

    DK, I think you have a GREAT chance.

    because not only are you showing your time management skills but you are also showing a hardwork characteristic.

    since i screwed up in my 4 year univerisity I hope to take night classes and work like you in order to show my strong motivational skills.

    working hard ANYWHERE to achieve your goals show more than most.

    gl to everyone.

  29. Gary says:

    I understand statistics, but college students cannot look at a large sample and make their educational decisons based on a sample.

    Admissions committees analyze students on an individual basis. If a student chooses to go to an accredited CC, they will study the same information. The tests may be easier, the classes smaller, and the teachers less qualified; but the student gets out what s/he puts in.

    I went to a CC for 3 years before pharmacy school and had a 4.0. Many fellow students made A’s, but it was obvious they did not put in as much effort as me. if you are like me, simply prove to the school that you know your information. There is a reason for standardized tests…they measure students the same.

    I proved my intellect by scoring in the 90+ percentile on the PCAT. I also had well written and planned personal essays.

    Simply put, if you make great grades, score a great standardized test score, deliver a great interview, and present a great (see the trend), you will be accepted to any professional school regardless of whether or not you went to a CC or an Ivy.

    My point, don’t let your undergrad school determine what you learn or what you do in graduate school. You have the books, the time(actually I worked 40+hours a week in a factory just to pay my bills and tuition at CC living on my own), and an opportunity. I was accepted to the #2 ranked (based on a scale I don’t completely understand) pharmacy school in the US.

    It’s up to you! Good luck fellow CC students, don’t attempt anything less than what you truly want

  30. Al says:

    I went to CC for my first two years and graduated from a university later on. Can i still take prereqs at a CC and then go to dent school even though you cannot transfer more than 60 to a university. Does it matter if i already have a bachelors degree that i take more classes in CC just to fulfil prereqs for the dent school?

  31. Justin says:

    Judy Colwell doesn’t really know what she’s talking about. I have had online chats with her, and she has demonstrated this well. I wouldn’t pay her one red cent to help me, and I’m glad I didn’t. I am a non traditional student, reapplicant, and had some failing grades due to a withdrawal dispute with the first college I attended. Despite everything going against me, I got into two top med schools, one my top choice, and had to turn down an interview at yet another top med school. I was even recruited by Harvard Med (I was flattered, but not interested) to apply to their school for my COMMUNITY COLLEGE grades before I ever attended a selective admission university. I have learned a thing or two about admissions through my experiences, and what I have learned tells me that everything I have ever seen Judy write or quoted as saying is 100% wrong.

    Medical schools generally don’t care where you did the prereqs, they just care that you took them at an accredited institution, and what grades you got.

    Community colleges, junior colleges, or whatever you want to call them, are generally MORE academically rigorous in the science departments than selective universities, despite popular belief. More and more AdComs are catching on to this.

    Given two applicants, with identical apps, except one did prereqs at a community college, it is a lazy cop out to just choose the one with the brand name on their transcript. Most AdComs understand this, and the decision isn’t up to merely one person, anyway. This is when they make good use of the more subjective portions of an app, such as interviews, personal statements, preprofessional experience, volunteering, etc. These are NEVER “nearly identical.” These parts of the application are so important, because it is these, and not grades or where you got them, that set you apart.

  32. Elsa says:

    I went to a CC for 5 semesters, then transferred to an Ivy League to complete my BA in Biology. The other three universities I applied to, after my blissful carefree CC years, were a state univ , an average private university, and a liberal arts college. Interestingly, I was rejected from both, the not so selective private university, and the liberal arts college, though I wrote very similar essays, and sent out LOR from the same professors! I think that my experiences as a recent immigrant were just looked upon more favorable by the top 10 school. In all case, community colleges, or any two institutions for that matter, do not offer similar educational experiences. So here is my own take on the matter:
    My first semester in the Ivy, I had a hard time getting decent grades. I had my first Bs and my first C. For the very first time in years, I felt that becoming a doctor might just be something out of my reach. In the CC I could work full-time and ace Bio and organic chemistry classes with no or small effort. All the sudden start of my junior year, I was barely working part-time 10 hours a week, but i was falling well behind in all my classes. The exams were incredibly long and the content way too detailed. Other personal and family circumstance might have also contributed to my sad 3.0 GPA that semester. Luckily, I still managed to get A-/ A s the next semester and I am working on improving my EC and research background (and studying for the mcats) before applying to med school next year. I haven’t given up just yet.
    So far, I cannot tell whether having gone to a CC have hurt or helped me(though it was at the time my only option because of family trouble and having zero financial assets). I also don’t know if transferring to any Ivy was the right move either. I guess I will find out once I start applying to medical schools senior year.
    Nonetheless, I feel that having taken CC pre-req classes and then having transferred to a more challenging university, I might be at disadvantage in some respects. My intro bio classes did not prepare me well enough for the upper level Bio course I had past fall (that would be the first C I had ), and my new post-transfer GPA suffered. I also did not need to work on things like time management skills, goal setting, or effecient studying for freshman and sophomore year: Somehow, I kicked ass after merely glancing at my books before a test. I owe that 4.0 GPA to a good short-term memory, and to the fact that tests did not require detailed review of the material, just broad understanding. This is the reason why the first course of Organic Chemistry I took at the CC and that I so easily Aced, will not be good enough preparation for the second Ochem course I will be taking this fall (along with 5 other challenging courses).
    On the other hand, I have a valuable educational experience in two very different, maybe extreme settings. I learned to let go of my all or nothing mentality, to stop trying to make do on my own, and to go seek help. And I also found out that I can work twice as hard as anybody else and make up for all the basic courses on my own, while taking a much bigger courseload (5-6 courses), more challenging classes, and working part-time. I also found out that the other students I’ll have to compete with before and during medical school are better prepared to take standardized, detail-focused tests than I am, they are more used to intense memorization, they can finish lengthy exams on time, and the list goes on. I also had the opportunity here to meet many pre-meds and learn all about the application process. In the CC, I was usually given the “you serious?” look when I would mention my medical school plans. I was worried I’d be laughed at when I applied to the ivy leaugue for undergrad. Indeed, I never met anybody who even applied to an ivy leaugue at my previous college, or any pre-med student who successfully attended medical school. I only know of my sister who just got into medical school this year, after having transferred to a state university three years ago.
    Anyway, sorry my input on the subject is quite lengthy. In a final note though, I would like to mention that my CC was small and isolated in the midwest, probably very different from many other community colleges you might have went to. I had the time of my life there, but did not learn much. Personnally, I like courses to be challenging. Sometimes all the excessiveness and competition gets annoying, but I cannot see myself settling for a different profession or a selection of less competitive medical schools. If if I am going to have to change plans or strategies, it would only be because I did not give the CC courses my best, and I was arrogant enough to think that I could do well in an ivy league without having to spend any friday and saturday nights in the library.

  33. Bruce says:

    It’s my opinion that community college is whatever you make of it. Don’t let social stigma influence your decision; do what is in your best interest, whether that be an investment in pragmatism or the desire to be able to tell people “I went to a 4-year year school first!”.

    As for me, I enjoy the smaller class sizes and more intimate environment junior colleges provide.

  34. Matt says:

    I’ll be honest, I was a believer of the negative perception of community college until recently. I am a non-traditional student who is going back to school to complete pre-requisites that are outdated…I simply had to go with community college because they schedule many classes with bundled labs and in the evening (I work during the day). I now have 3 courses completed that I can compare to a top university (I won’t mention the name). Here’s my take…just on my experience:

    1. Material studied. Results: The Same. Chem I (for example) is Chem I no matter where you take it. If you can consistently and confidently answer questions in the back of the chapters, you probably understand the material and are on your way to good preparation for MCAT or DAT. By the way, my CC and University used the same text in Chem I.

    2. Learning Environment: I can’t believe I’m saying this after spending what I did on college, but CC was better for me. 25 students in a class with a Phd professor…Class time 6 hours a week with the professor who is also there in labs. My university had 3 hours a week in a class of 400 students with a miked up professor. Another few hours recitation with a grad student who said “any questions” and a grad student ran lab….this is the university norm.

    3. Test difficulty….about the same, again the material is science, it’s not subjective…you get it or you don’t

    4. Competition. The results…competition is fiercer at universities….but I’m not competing with the other students, I have a degree from a university already. My CC didn’t curve so competition hasn’t been a factor…I’m my only competition (that’s enough)

    5. Perception….they say perception is reality and if that’s true..it will hurt (not kill) my chances by taking classes at a CC.
    Perception is validated by university students who sneak off in the summer in hopes of getting an easier A….this from what I hear stands out on interview…but if you start at a CC or are non trad…I think it’s justifiable……and I know many non-traditional who have been accepted taking pre-reqs at a CC.

    In summary, my experience is that CC’s not a walk in the park…these are science classes…..you learn it or you don’t…the material doesn’t change by location

    Just my experience…..my only other experience has been to limit times on “pre health” forums….to many know-it-alls who aren’t in school yet giving advice and offering plenty of reasons why someone won’t get in (sorry I had to get that in there)

  35. T. says:

    i’m still a senior in high school now.
    is it possible to take General Ed. and pharmacy technician classes in my first 2 years, and transfer to a pharm school??

  36. Chris says:

    POSTED BY AL: “I went to CC for my first two years and graduated from a university later on. Can i still take prereqs at a CC and then go to dent school even though you cannot transfer more than 60 to a university. Does it matter if i already have a bachelors degree that i take more classes in CC just to fulfil prereqs for the dent school?”

    I am in a similar situation. I was just wondering if anyone out there has made it to dental school via the same path? Or if anyone has any insight into our situation.

    Thanks!

  37. Tim says:

    I originally attended a community college in Sacramento before transferring to U.C. Berkeley where I received a Bachelor of Arts in English. I then transferred to San Diego State and am in my last semester of a Master of Arts in English program. I also became EMT certified last summer and am currently enrolled in a paramedic program, which will be complete in February of next year. I want to apply to medical school, but I am unsure as to whether I should complete my prerequisites at a community college or through an open enrollment program at San Diego State. The community college route is certainly more attractive because it is cheaper and more flexible, but I am also afraid of the stigma attached to community college. I currently do not have any of the prerequisites complete, and I have not taken any science classes at a four year university. I am wondering if anyone has some suggestions.

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