Is taking pre-med classes at a community college boneheaded? Or a brilliant stroke? There’s a clear answer to this burning question.
The question has two distinct tracks, for:
(1) students who begin their college career at a community college; and
(2) those who attend a university.
1. Enrolled in a community college
If you’re in the first category, and plan to attend a community college for a year or two before moving to a 4-year university, admissions committees may be a tad more understanding about your having taken core pre-med classes at a community college. That said, you should know that adcoms will automatically assume your CC classes were less rigorous than those taken at the university level. This is an inconvenient (but certain) fact of life—even if you took the pre-med courses at a CC for excellent reasons (it was geographically and financially feasible, it was more efficient, and even if the classes were of equal difficulty, with nationally-acclaimed professors).
2. Taking pre-med classes as “a side dish”
The second category of students are those who show up having taken lots of core pre-med classes at a community college, though they were enrolled at a university for four years. If this is you, think again! You’re putting yourself in a precarious situation when it comes to being judged against your peers. Adcoms know there really are conniving pre-meds who would take all of their pre-med courses at local colleges in order to pad their GPAs. On their college transcripts, you’ll find a sprinkling of critical science classes every summer, with only a few taken at the university level. This looks a lot like pre-med “grazing” (treating your core classes as a side dish, rather than your main diet). Trust me on this, trying this will make you a much less competitive applicant in the long run.
Proving your mettle
Whether or not you take core pre-med classes at a community college, you’ll have to present evidence on your application that you’re capable of excelling in rigorous science courses. Just like your fellow pre-med students, you’ll need to show you can take a substantial course load and get good grades notwithstanding. A summer school schedule built around a part-time job, internship, or tanning schedule will look like just that. If you want to play it safe but you absolutely need to take a pre-med course over the summer, sign up for a full schedule of classes.
Although I don’t think taking a class or two at the CC level once will doom your application, doing it more than that indicates to adcoms that whether you intended it or not, your pre-med course load was not nearly as demanding as it was for other students in your application cycle. It’s better to take your core class load where you’ll be challenged most, and save the most difficult classes for the university level.
Of course, your sGPA is just one aspect of your med school application. Other critical factors include your MCAT score, extracurriculars, clinical and leadership experience, personal essay and personal interview. Letting any aspect lag will diminish your competitiveness, no matter the med schools you’re applying to.