During my first semester of college, it seemed like everyone I met intended to take the necessary academic prerequisites to matriculate into medical school. Fast forward to spring or the next fall, however, and the number of prospective medical students precipitously dropped as students realized how difficult courses in biology, chemistry, English, mathematics, physics and the social sciences can be.
The tacit assumption was that if a student did not do well in an introductory science, technology, engineering or math, or STEM, course, he or she was doomed to fail premedical coursework. With that first B or C in general chemistry, students fled the premed track.
This reaction is common, but early academic struggle need not indicate that you are not cut out for medical school. Medical school is rife with academic challenges and being able to shift your approach to coursework is the key to success.
Instead of interpreting underperformance as a sign to steer away from medicine, consider these three remedies before abandoning your premed concentration.
1. Re-evaluate your study strategies: Some prospective medical students find that transitioning from high school classes to college courses is more difficult than anticipated. After four years of short class periods and frequent evaluation to ensure they understand the material, the more hands-off approach of college courses can challenge the effectiveness of established study skills.
For instance, while you may have been able to cram for a biology test in high school, cramming for a biology final in college is not advisable. The early recognition and remedying of ineffective study strategies can put you back on track to successfully complete your premed prerequisites.
Explore how you learn best, and do not be afraid to try new strategies. Does solving problems in a study group help you understand concepts you may have missed? Have you tried flashcards? Do you need to devote a block of time to each of your classes on a daily basis to ensure you do not fall behind?
Be mindful of the poor study habits you may have developed as well as how you best absorb and synthesize information.
2. Choose your major wisely: It is not uncommon for colleges or universities to lack a true premed major. Instead, these schools allow students to choose their own majors while incorporating premedical coursework into their schedules. Remember that medical schools do not require you to major in any particular field as long as you complete the necessary prerequisites.
With this in mind, choose a major that suits you. Do not feel obligated to major in chemistry, for example, if you find upper-level chemistry courses either uninteresting or unduly difficult.
Even though you may believe a certain major will look good for medical school, it is not worth risking a lower undergraduate GPA when simply completing the prerequisites would have adequately demonstrated your academic capabilities.
[Premed students: Consider these things when selecting a major.]
3. Use academic support resources: Most institutions offer advising and tutoring services to their students, and if you are not doing well in your premed coursework, consider pursuing academic assistance. It is a misconception that asking for academic help demonstrates your weakness as a student.
On the contrary, proactively addressing academic challenges by seeking recommendations and support from advisers or tutors shows your willingness to cope with challenges in thoughtful, mature ways. Tutors and advisers may have specific learning recommendations you have not yet considered and may be able to help you identify any learning differences that were not addressed when you were younger.
Further, you may qualify for academic accommodations, like extra time on exams, that you were not aware of.
If you have struggled with several courses in your premed concentration, adjusting your approach to your academics may be a better option than giving up on becoming a physician. Keep in mind, however, that if you are unable to perform well moving forward in key math and science classes, reconsidering your future might be appropriate.
Medical school necessitates an ability to excel in hard science courses, and evaluating whether you are able to address your academic weaknesses in premed coursework can help you decide whether to continue with this concentration.
Cassie Kosarek is a professional tutor with Varsity Tutors, a live learning platform that connects students with personalized instruction to accelerate academic achievement. She earned her Bachelor of Arts from Bryn Mawr College and is a member of the Class of 2020 at the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth College.