How Medical Schools View Community College Credits

Years ago , there was a myth that you shouldn’t show credits from community college classes on your transcript when applying to medical school. Fortunately, that myth is dead, but there are pros and cons to consider.

Most med schools are happy for applications from students who have one or two years from a c ommunity college and then transfer to a four-year university to complete a bachelor’s degree. Keeping a good GPA in both settings is very important.

Students may decide to start at a community college for many reasons, including finances, need to live at home, opportunity to continue in a well-paying job, caring for family members or not being uncertain about a career choice.

[READ: 3 Tips for Premeds Who Transferred From Community College.]

I recall one student who hadn’t done well the second term in a four-year school and was asked to leave during the third term. He dropped out until the next fall and began at a community college, earned an associate’s degree with honors and transferred to a different four-year university. He graduated magna cum laude and went on to very prestigious graduate training. He shook off the trials and tribulations of his first school and started believing in himself again at the community college. It made a huge difference in this young man’s successful journey.

Some aspects of planning require your attention if you’re considering a start of one or two years at a community college. One question is the quality of the premed counseling offered at the community college — or will you mainly find advice on your own?

The Medical School Admission Requirements online database offered by the Association of American Medical Colleges is an excellent reference, and many med school admissions offices will answer other questions that come up along the way. It is important that you begin taking required courses during these initial one or two years at the community college as well as begin to volunteer, perhaps shadowing a doctor or participating in research at a hospital.

[Read: How to Make Sure You Fulfill Medical School Requirements for Admission.]

You won’t be able to easily squeeze in all that is needed in the final two years after transferring to a college or university. Spacing out courses and activities over four years is much easier at a four-year school and allows students to maintain excellent grades.

I always encourage students to take only one science with lab the first semester in any new institution to better adapt to the level of performance that will be expected. These courses attract a competitive group of students, and you want to shine. Students who try to squeeze in all extracurricular activities and shadowing after transferring may find it a challenging adaptation to the time demands required to earn those A’s. If you consider that most students take the MCAT at the end of their junior year, it is clear why planning is essential.

Other students may initially attempt to get around the more challenging organic chemistry at the original school. Readjusting priorities to allow more time for studying the tough course there is better than being seen as one who tries to avoid challenging courses. Whichever pathway is taken, expect to be asked about your transcript. Although this may not happen, it often does.

[READ: How High of a College GPA Is Necessary to Get Into Medical School?]

For a student who has been accepted to med school and wants to complete a requirement like biochemistry or a recommended course like psychology, it will make no difference to take it from a community college and save some money. Let’s say you would like to take a statistics course before starting med school and you have time to complete that at a community college — go for it, it will be very helpful.

There was a big jump in med school applications this year. While some students had taken courses at community college, they are always fewer in number than those who took only courses from four-year schools. This current cycle has been quite different in that most universities offered online courses.

Community college courses may have offered less advantage or convenience than in other years. If a student was already taking an online course sitting at his or her parents’ home, it was just as easy to avoid applying or transferring to take a course from a community college. My conversations with friends in med school admissions offices suggest that this was the case.

Another scenario that may occur is when a student completes four years at a college or university, graduates and then decides to apply to med school. If that student doesn’t have all the prerequisites — and he or she likely will not after having decided so late — taking those required subjects may depend on cost and how many academically rigorous options are available.

Perhaps an aspiring med student has been in the workplace for several years. How many required science courses will need to be taken to do well on the MCAT? Taking one challenging science and lab before trying to overload is a wise move. If you are in this category and are really rusty and need to boost your confidence, start at a community college and then transfer the credits. You want to take your hardest courses at the university, but work up to it.

If you have been out of an academic setting for a period of years, it will be like training for a marathon to get back to your scientific prowess. If more prerequisites come from a community college, take more time to prepare for the MCAT. The MCAT is the equalizer, and if you score well on that no one will question which school awarded your college credits.

Remember that in the end, your academic journey will say a lot about what you have to offer. Resilience with transitions, demonstrating the ability to adapt academically and socially to different environments, and perhaps coping with adverse circumstances may not be what other students can demonstrate. If you have shown passion and persistence in the richness of your journey, that will be noticed. There are many hurdles to jump to become a physician, and you will have demonstrated that you are prepared to handle the challenges ahead.

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