Thursday, March 15, 2012

Thursday Tip: Taking Science Classes over the Summer

Every Thursday I write a tip for premed students, talking about my experiences being a traditional premed. If you like my advice, please leave me a comment or follow me!

To all my premed cohorts out there,

We all know the usual premed track: take general biology and chemistry freshman year. Take organic chemistry and upper level bio classes sophomore year. Take physics junior year, just in time for the MCAT. It's been ingrained in our brains by our advisors. What happens when you step off the track? Will med school never accept you, will you never be able to become a doctor? Is your life just going to be horrible from here on out?

This is my experience of "veering from the track", ever so slightly. And how I got back on: via summer school. Was it the best decision? You'll see.

Freshman Year
Frankly, I messed up choosing classes. I didn't test into a high enough math class to take general chemistry, which is embarrassing but true. Math is not my strong suit. I was upset at first, but in the end I decided just to take general biology and other classes that I needed to graduate during my freshman year. I would take two math classes that would get me up to speed, and then I would take chemistry over the summer.

It was a good choice to take the two extra semesters of math. General chemistry uses a lot of equations and unit conversions, so the practice was good for me. As far as my other classes went freshman year, they were a breeze. I watched my other premed friends struggle with their two science classes while I studied for my intro level  French class and pre-calc. I earned a great GPA both semesters, and I figured that, since I had come from a rigorous private high school, college was just naturally less of a challenge for me than my peers.

Summer between Freshman/Sophomore Year
Chemistry over the summer was fairly straightforward. The professor went fast and I had to sit through daily three-hour lectures, but the tests seemed easy enough. Once again, I slid by. The only problem is, due to the fast pace of the class, I felt that I didn't learn anything by the end of the summer. Everything was muddled inside of my head. I memorized the material for the weekly tests we had every Friday. I did not have enough time to read the book and actually learn it, like I would in a normal twelve-week long class.

Sophomore Year
I'm a sophomore now, and school has been extremely challenging. For the first time, I doubled up on science courses, taking an upper level genetics course as well as organic chemistry. The first semester of organic chemistry was brutal because I simply didn't have the understanding of general chemistry as well as I should've. I felt like I had a crash course in it, but it wasn't enough. I didn't fully grasp the concepts of acids and bases and buffers, so predicting organic reactions was a challenge. I felt like I had to work twice as hard to keep up. Though I'm good in biology, the extra course as well as my other classes gave me less time to study organic chemistry, and I couldn't manage my time like my friends who took two science courses the previous year. 

I made it through and gradually accumulated to the workload. Organic chemistry II and my upper level cell biology course aren't quite as challenging, but I'm still spending many late weekday nights and some Friday nights studying. My friends and I reserve Saturday afternoon and all of Sunday studying. I received good grades from all my classes last semester, but I was completely burnt out.

So, what's the verdict? I say if you can, if you think you're ready, take general chemistry with general biology freshman year. You may learn different than me, but for my situation it would've been better to get a full year of it rather than a condensed course. I would say try to stay away from summer science classes, at least if it is a prerequisite course and you will need the knowledge later for a different class. Like I said, over the summer you're memorizing the information, not learning it, just because there's not enough time. 

If you don't think you can handle general chemistry and general biology freshman year, take only general biology the first year and then double up general chemistry and physics your sophomore year. I have a few friends doing this and they are handling the workload very well. Though it varies from person to person, many think that physics generally requires less studying time than organic chemistry does, so you can handle taking it along with general chemistry.

This summer, I am taking a religious class and a philosophy class in Rome, then coming back to the United States to take an upper level English course for my major and another religious course. I think that summer school is important (especially if you need it to graduate on time, such as in my school!), so take classes like these over the summer: non-science classes required for graduation. 

Please let me know if this information has helped you. I will gladly answer any questions on my experience. Thanks for reading!


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