Hi HPA – I have AP Biology and I’ve taken MOL 214 and no other Biology courses yet. Are there certain courses that you recommend? Do I need to take more than one extra Biology course?
"Extra" biology (EEB, MOL, NEU) coursework is always valued in the admissions process (and required by some schools, including the University of Texas medical schools). Some schools may require two lab-based biology courses if you have AP Biology, so if you’re only going to take two courses, we’d recommend MOL 214 plus a 300- or 400-level course with a lab component – Comparative Physiology (EEB 314) or Ecology: Species Interactions, Biodiversity, and Society (EEB 321) are two options. Alternately, if you’ve done a summer of biology lab research or worked in a Princeton lab, you may be able to make the argument that you've had sufficient lab experience within biology to satisfy their requirements. Check with individual schools of interest regarding their requirements. If you have lab experience, courses that touch on biomedical sciences or human biology may be especially valuable; for example, Genetics (MOL 342); Molecular Basis of Cancer (MOL 423); Psychopharmacology (MOL 458); Neuroimmunology (NEU 447).
MOL 214 as a First-Year?
Question: HPA – I’m a first-year who is thinking about taking MOL 214 in the spring. I’m also in Chemistry right now. I heard that it would be hard to take two sciences together but I also heard that you should take more than one science at a time. Should I do MOL 214?
Answer: Whether or not you’re comfortable taking MOL 214 as a first-year will depend on the strength of your background in biology and on how successful you’ve been so far in your classes. If you’re struggling in CHM 201 right now and you’re working as hard as you can—and seeking help—then it probably wouldn’t be a good idea to add MOL 214 to the mix (wait and take it with EEB 211 as a sophomore). However, if you’re doing fine in CHM as well as your other courses, and you’re up for the challenge, then go for it. What you’ve heard about taking more than one science course at a time is generally true. It is wise to “double up” on science courses at some point during your college career, if at all possible. Of course if you concentrate in a science, then you’ll certainly do that automatically, but for the humanities and social science majors out there, just remember that the 1st-year med school curriculum is vastly science-oriented, and to indicate to Admissions that you’re ready for that much science coming at you all at once, it is a good idea to demonstrate your ability to handle two hard science classes at once. Let us repeat, however, that this shouldn’t be done at the expense of strong performance.
MOL 101 as a Premed?
I need to raise my science GPA and I was thinking of taking MOL 101 and Math Alive next semester. Do you think med schools would have a problem with this?
Please do not take courses that are designed for non-science students as a premed. This will look like blatant GPA manipulation and will not serve you well in the eyes of admissions committee members. Instead, choose health-related courses in and outside of the sciences that cover topics of interest that will expand your perspective of medicine and health care: the more you enjoy the courses, the more time you’re likely to spend and thus the better you’re likely to perform. Here are a few that we recommend from spring 2020:
- To learn about the US health care system: Inequality, Health and Health Care Systems (SOC 217) or Health Reform in the US (WWS 393)
- To engage with issues like physician-assisted suicide, abortion, and health inequalities: Bioethics (CHV 333)
- To approach medicine from a humanistic perspective (and fulfill your premed English and EM gen ed requirement): Literature and Medicine (SLA 368)
- To approach medicine from a humanistic perspective (and participate in a service project and fulfill your EM requirement: Medical Anthropology (ANT 240)
- To take a hands-on approach and cover many MCAT biology topics (and supplement AP Bio credit with a lab class): Comparative Physiology (EEB 314)
- To shadow doctors and work with patients at eye clinics in Ecuador over spring break: Spanish for a Medical Caravan in Ecuador (SPA 204)
HPA’s complete list of medical- and health-related courses is available online here: http://bit.ly/HPA-Spring2020
EEB: Can I Place Out with IB credit?
Question: I am currently a first-year international student hoping to pursue premed with a concentration in WWS. I took the International Baccalaureate my junior and senior year and ended up with a 6 in Higher level biology, and a 710 on my SAT Ecological Biology test. I have emailed a couple of EEB professors who confirmed that I can place out of EEB. Is this okay for premed?
Answer: As a non-science major, who will not have as many upper-level science courses and lab experiences as a major, and as an international student who is already going to be limited in the number of schools where you can apply, better to just have MOL 214 + EEB 211 on your transcript. There is no transcript notation provided for a score of 6 on the IB Biology test, so you’ll need to have two semester of biology with lab on your transcript. Since EEB is satisfied with your preparation, you could consider EEB 314 (Comparative Physiology), which other premed students have enjoyed. There may still be some medical schools, though, that are looking specifically for course credit for an introductory/ general biology sequence, so be sure that you're checking schools that you may apply to and ensure that they would be satisfied if you bypassed EEB 211. We would also recommend taking additional science courses if you can find room for them! We’re happy to sit down and work through potential graduation timelines with you.
Question: Dear HPA, Do I really need to take EEB 211? I don’t have any AP credit in Biology but I have a very strong background in it, and I’ve done MOL 214. I know other students who have skipped 211. I also have plans to take more Biology in college. Is it really necessary to do 211 or can I skip it?
Without AP credit in Biology, we recommend that you take EEB 211. Though some medical schools have moved to competency-based requirements or have a broader “one year of biology courses” prerequisite, many schools still require one year’s worth of “introductory” or “general” biology for applicants who entered college without AP credit. At most colleges, your year would be made up of “General Bio I” followed by “General Bio II.” At Princeton, that sequence is MOL 214 and EEB 211. If you’re sure that you won’t want to apply to schools that want the year of intro course work, you could choose to skip it, but just know that it might limit your options moving forward. We especially recommend checking the wording for your public state schools since those schools are your best bet for acceptance and are among the most affordable options for medical school.
You could double-check with schools of interest to see if they’d be satisfied with MOL 214 plus core lab, since that will give you a year of Biology with lab and you’ll be taking significant additional biology courses, but to keep all of your options open, the safest bet is to take EEB 211. As an aside, be sure to check your public state schools’ requirements to check their specifics when it comes to Biology requirements – some Texas, California, and other schools require additional Biology coursework.
Two Semesters Bio Lab
Question: I was looking at the websites of some of the medical school I’m interested in, and I noticed that most of them require one full year of biology with lab, and some note that AP credit cannot be used for this requirement. I took MOL 214 with lab, I am now taking a MOL that doesn’t have a lab, and I have no other biology classes with lab. Do I need to take a biology class with a lab next semester?
Answer: In past years, we have had students accepted to medical schools with AP + MOL 214 + advanced MOL, regardless of lab. That said, we are glad that you are following our recommendation to check the websites of schools of particular interest, since prereqs have diversified in recent years.
If you come across a school and are unsure of their requirements, you can touch base with us. We will look at your preparation as a whole, and advise you based on your specific situation. We may ask you to be in touch with the school directly for clarification, or we can contact them on your behalf. That said, taking a Biology course with a lab (such as EEB 211, EEB 314, MOL or NEU core lab) would complement your preparation, and leave you less negotiating that you might have to do with schools later on. Doing a summer of Biology-based research may also help you make an argument to schools that you have sufficient knowledge and experience in a lab setting.
Question: I have AP credit in Biology. I took MOL 214 and did another Biology, 400-level, but got a C+ in it. If I take another upper-level Biology class and earn a better grade, can I use the new course as my upper-level Biology for med school or do I have to use the class I originally planned to count?
Answer: Interesting question. It would be a good idea for you to take more biology, given your grade in the 400-level course. On your secondary applications for med school some day, the schools may ask you to list which Princeton courses you’re “counting” toward their biology requirement. In your case, you could list MOL 214 + the new course. This would be a wise thing to do if you performed better in the new class. However, the positive effect of this is limited. On your AMCAS application (the med school common application), your science GPA will be computed using ALL science courses, so the C+ will be factored in.
Question: I have a quick question regarding my course load this fall. I originally was pursuing a neuroscience certificate, but have recently found out that as a premed, I must take 2 semesters of biology and that AP credit does not count as one of those semesters; it only allows you to take a higher level class (without a lab). In light of this, I wanted to take EEB 311, but as a result would probably drop my neuro class this fall (MOL 408). I am DYING to take some humanities to balance out my schedule. I am leaning toward dropping my certificate in neuroscience so that I might be able to take some other classes of interest to me throughout the next two years, but I wanted to make sure that I am not missing anything, or not thinking of any reason (med-school-wise) that I should think twice about dropping the certificate. Is it something that is beneficial when applying to med schools? Or am I just as good a candidate without it?
Answer: The MOL 408 course will fulfill your requirement for a second semester of advanced Biology -- you do not need the EEB course in addition. You may take EEB 311 if you like, but in light of your desire to take more humanities courses, do so! You could always take EEB 311 next fall if you wish. But more generally speaking, it's absolutely okay if you do not pursue the neuro certificate. As it turns out, you have taken a number of neuro courses, and you can convey your preparation in the discipline to medical schools with or without an official designation of a certificate on your transcript. So no, you don't need to pursue the certificate for them.
Do Neuroscience Courses Count as ‘Science’?
Question: I’m interested in going for the certificate in Neuroscience. I know that medical schools will look at my science grades when I apply to med school. Will NEU courses be counted as ‘science’ or as psychology?
Answer: With the ever-growing popularity of Neuroscience courses at Princeton, this type of question is ever-increasing at HPA. Generally speaking, Neuroscience is listed among the subjects that AMCAS will count as “science” when you apply (AMCAS is the common application for MD programs). AMCAS figures all courses whose content are primarily Biology, Chemistry, Physics, or Math into the “science GPA.” You can see a list of which departments fall within different AMCAS categories in the AMCAS Course Classification Guide online.
It has been our experience that Neuro courses labeled “PSY” are considered on a case-by-case basis, and may be categorized as “biological science” or, possibly, “behavioral and social science.” If you feel the majority of the content of the course was biological in nature, then you should label them as such when completing your AMCAS. Whether or not these are re-classified during the AMCAS verification process is hard to predict.
PDF'ing a Biology Course
Question: Hello, I am a sophomore and signed up for an EEB class this semester in order to decide whether I should consider EEB as my concentration. I now know that I do not want to be an EEB major. I would like to take the class under the PDF grade option because I am enrolled in 5 classes, one of which is Organic Chemistry. I have not had enough time to do well in each of my classes. However, I am concerned that med schools may wonder why my biology class was not taken for a grade. Would it be worse for them to see a low grade in the class? Thank you!
Answer: Generally, the spirit behind the pdf option is “to encourage exploration and experimentation in curricular areas in which the student may have had little or no previous experience,” and that sounds aligned with how you’d be using your PDF, but we’d still like to chat with you a bit further. It depends on what you mean by low, and we’d be interested in talking with you about your entire course load, other responsibilities on campus, etc., before providing definitive advice here. You do need to do well in Orgo, so your logic does make some sense, and PDF’ing as a sophomore will cause less concern than if you did so in a science course later on in your Princeton career. It sounds like you may be leaning toward a non-science concentration, so if you do decide to PDF, be sure to continue taking science courses for grades and doing well to provide additional evidence of your ability in the sciences. Please come by during drop-ins or make an appointment with us before the PDF deadline, or consult with your adviser or Dean/Director of Studies to talk more holistically about the situation!
Standing Out as a MOL Premed
I am truly passionate about learning about molecular mechanisms and can’t imagine not becoming a MOL concentrator, but I’m afraid that so many premeds are MOL that it’ll seem “generic.” What can I do to really stand out since there are so many MOL majors?
It’s absolutely fine to love MOL as a premed! Here are some ideas as far as differentiating yourself:
- Learn how to articulate that passion to others in a genuine way. Think of examples of what you love about it; think about how studying MOL will enhance your practice as a physician. It can seem like a no-brainer that a premed would like MOL and in some ways that makes it harder to really tease out unique, thoughtful answers to these kinds of questions.
- Choose a thesis topic that you’re drawn to and an advisor with whom you mesh well. Princeton students distinguish themselves by completing this impressive undertaking. It may not feel as special while you’re here since everyone is doing it, but within the larger applicant pool, it will stand out. The letter of recommendation from your thesis advisor is one of the best chances to get a very personal, detailed, positive letter, and letters are one of the most important factors that medical schools consider in evaluating candidates.
- Take on a leadership role that allows you to share your interest with peers. Serving as a Peer Academic Advisor in the residential colleges, a HPA Peer Adviser, a representative on the MOL Undergraduate Student Committee, or a tutor or Learning Consultant for McGraw will show your commitment and passion, add another dimension to the way that you interact with the discipline, and help you develop leadership and communication skills.
- Since MOL and premed requirements overlap so much, you have a lot of room for electives that can distinguish you from others. Consider certificates, or even just a few courses within one area that highlight another aspect of your intellectual interests.
- Push yourself out of your comfort zone in electives. If you recognize that you gravitate toward MOL because it comes easily to you, think of ways to challenge yourself to grow in ways that you might not within the major. Doctors are not purely scientists; develop your humanism, empathy, cultural sensitivity, and other competencies that may be fostered more in other disciplines. Some of our science-focused students admit that they dislike or don’t feel comfortable with writing; remember that being able to portray yourself in writing is required to get your foot in the door as a medical school applicant via your essays, so be sure that you tend to your written communication skills!