Question: Hi, I just enrolled in the integrated sciences curriculum, and I was wondering how it fit into the pre-med curriculum. Will it fulfill the medical school requirements? Are there any disadvantages (or advantages) to me choosing to take the ISC instead of the normal freshmen science classes for pre-med students? Thank you.
Answer: The Integrated Science Curriculum (ISC) was designed originally for those top scientists who would probably end up in doctorate programs, earning their PhDs. However, several premeds have done the program and applied to medical school successfully. We would advise you to take the full Organic Chemistry sequence (CHM 301 and 302/304), along with at least one semester of Biology (preferably with lab) and one of Biochem. Everything else -- math, physics, bio, general chem -- is covered sufficiently to count for medical school requirements.
I took AP Chemistry as a high school sophomore and received a 4 on the exam. I'm not really sure that I'm prepared to take CHM 202 or CHM 215 in the spring, but I also have a lot of interests and would rather not take a course where I already know a lot of the information. What do you recommend?
We'd recommend chatting with a faculty member in Chemistry to see if they can help you gauge the strength of your AP preparation. Generally, we recommend moving forward rather than repeating material that you've already received credit for, especially since, as you noted, there are so many interesting courses and disciplines to explore, prerequisites take up quite a bit of space, and we want you to make the most of your liberal arts curriculum. But, we also don't want you to struggle through chem in the spring to such a degree that in hindsight you wish you had taken CHM 201.
Consider sitting in on the first class, reading through the syllabus to see how much of it is familiar, chatting with HPA Peer Advisers or other older peers about their experience with the class, and discussing you preparation with the CHM 201 professor and/or the Director of Undergraduate Studies. If you're fairly sure that you'll decide to use your AP credit, it doesn't hurt to also attend the course you'd take in place of CHM 201 -- you have the first two weeks of classes to decide what you want to do, but starting two weeks behind in that replacement class can be challenging. We're happy to talk this over in more detail with you if you'd like to come by!
AP 5 + Advanced Chemistry Requirements
Question: Dear HPA, I have to take an advanced chemistry class to fulfill my premed pre-requisites. I am a little bit confused about what could count for this requirement. Do you have any suggestions? Can I use a CBE course to fulfill this requirement?
Answer: Medical schools are generally looking for students to build on the knowledge gained in the Advanced Placement course at the college level. The easiest way to provide evidence of this kind of building of knowledge is to take a course that lists Chemistry (Gen Chem or Orgo) as a prerequisite. Physical Chem (CHM 306); Global Air Pollution (CHM / CEE / GEO / ENE 311); and Geochemistry of the Human Environment (GEO 360 / ENV 356) are a few examples offered in Spring 2018.
If you’re interested in taking a course that doesn’t list Chemistry within its prereqs and want to know whether or not it will “count” for medical schools’ advanced chemistry requirement, our recommendation is to research a few schools of interest to see what they have to say about supplementing AP credit with additional course work. If a school requires additional course work, reach out to them directly to ask them – it’s always going to be up to the medical school to say whether or not you’ve met their requirements, so best to hear directly from them!
If you’re a CBE concentrator, it would be hard for us to imagine a school not feeling that you’d had course work to supplement your AP – much of what you do within your program of study hinges on Chemistry concepts. If you’re a non-CBE and thinking about taking one CBE course, it becomes less clear. When it comes to engineering courses “counting” as science, you are trying to assess whether (based on the syllabus, etc.) the course has more basic science content than engineering content (or at least equal amounts of each), since engineering isn't counted toward BCPM science courses. If you feel that the course is at least half chemistry, you can designate that course as chemistry on your medical school application. If the application service or an admissions officer has concerns, they will reach out to you and ask for justification/evidence that you identified your course correctly (i.e., that it is appropriate to call the course a chemistry course). Again, it’s worthwhile to reach out directly to schools to see what they would say – it can be a very case by case decision.
Question: Hi HPA – I’m a freshman and didn’t do well in CHM 201, so I think I’m going to take the semester off from Chemistry and finish it up over the summer. My friends told me this is a bad idea. What do you think?
Answer: This is a complicated question. We wouldn’t be able to answer it without a lot more information: What do you mean by “didn’t do well”? Did you use all of your possible resources and still ran into trouble or are there ways that you could adjust and take CHM 202 with the potential for more success? What other summer plans do you have? How might this affect the rest of the Chemistry sequences that you have to take here? How are you feeling about your prehealth plans in general?
Generally speaking, we don’t recommend splitting sequences if you can avoid it – schools teach the content differently and have different expectations, so you may miss material and may have more difficulty adjusting mid-sequence than students who took the first course and are going directly into the second. We also recommend minimizing the number of pre-requisites that you take outside of the regular course load, and would be concerned that summer Gen Chem may put you at a disadvantage coming back for Organic Chem at Princeton. All of that said, we’d still want to talk with you about your specific situation and help you come up with potential next steps moving forward – please don’t hesitate to talk with us, or with your faculty adviser, director of studies, or our HPA peer advisers for some other perspectives.
Question: Hi HPA – I plan to take orgo next year and all my friends told me to take CHM 303, but I don’t see it in the Course Offerings. I see CHM 301, but no 303. What do I do?
Answer: As of Fall 2018, the Chemistry department will renumber the Organic Chemistry sequence courses. CHM 301 takes the place of CHM 303 (same course, new number). It will be followed by either CHM 302, taught by Prof. Semmelhack (formerly CHM 304B), or CHM 304, taught by Prof. Sorenson (no numbering change).
Question: I got a C- in the first semester of organic chemistry. I’m worried about taking the second semester and not doing well because of it. What should I do?
Answer: This is a hard question to answer without more background information. Do you feel like you did everything that you could? Did you have trouble with the first midterm but it got better toward the end? Was it a time management issue that you could address this semester? In any case, most medical schools will require a C or better in your prerequisites, so you’ll need to retake Organic Chemistry I, either at Princeton or elsewhere over the summer or after graduation. Talk it over with an advisor, director of studies, or orgo professor for additional opinions on whether it makes more sense to take the full sequence elsewhere or to continue on to Organic Chemistry II and repeat Organic Chemistry I later.
Question: I got a C- in the first semester of organic chemistry. I’m thinking about taking Orgo II over the summer near home instead of at Princeton. Is this advisable?
Answer: Since most medical schools will require a C or better in your prerequisites, keep in mind that you’ll need to retake Organic Chemistry I as well as Organic II. This can be accomplished in a single summer, but first consider how sure you are of your interest in medicine or another career that would require Organic Chemistry. The two-semester sequence will require a significant time and money investment during a time when there are meaningful internships and job opportunities out there that may help you explore your interests. It might shift your timeline if you take a break from premed and then come back to it, but many students do this and come back refreshed and more motivated, while going into an orgo repeat doubting your future plans can make it hard to stay engaged and to do as well as you want to. If you’re reasonably sure of medicine, a summer course can provide a chance to focus on the material with fewer competing obligations—come by HPA and we can discuss your interests, plans, and implications in more detail! With any summer course, be sure you’re following the Princeton pre-approval process and remember that you must report any grades for courses taken at any college/university to medical schools whether or not you transfer the credit to Princeton.
Question: Hi, I'm a current sophomore enrolled in Organic Chemistry. I noticed that there are two Orgo II classes -- CHM 302 and CHM 304. Their course descriptions look very different. I was wondering if you had a recommendation between the two to take: which would fulfill the premed requirement (and assuming both do, which would be more helpful in preparing me for the MCATs).
Answer: You assume correctly – both courses fulfill the requirement for medical school and both will prepare you as well for the MCAT. Our Organic Chemistry courses have always provided students with an excellent background for doing exceptionally well on portions of the MCAT where you are tested on your knowledge of Orgo. The course descriptions look different probably because they were written by two different professors with two different emphases in mind. CHM 304 will be the one with more of a biological emphasis, more similar to what you’re doing now in 301, and we are told will possibly link up more smoothly with MOL 345: Biochemistry if you plan to take that course. However, either course is a fine way to finish your Organic Chemistry. We do not recommend one course over the other.
Do I Have to Take Orgo II?
Question: I’ve noticed that a lot of medical schools no longer require two semesters of Organic Chemistry and will accept one semester of orgo and one semester of Biochem. Is it okay if I skip Orgo II if I don’t need it for my major?
Answer: At Princeton, Orgo II is a pre- or co-requisite to Biochem (MOL 345), so we would not recommend skipping it. Generally, though, it’s true that schools’ prerequisites are diversifying. Of schools most popular with our applicants, Columbia, Rutgers NJMS, UCSF, Northwestern, and Baylor are among those that still require two semesters of Organic Chem; on the other extreme, Penn, NYU, Jefferson, U Chicago, U Michigan, and UVA have no specific prerequisites and focus on scientific competencies. If you are thinking about skipping courses that are common prerequisites, at the very least, check with the state medical schools in your home state of residence and ensure that you’re completing the prerequisites needed for those schools: your state schools are almost always your best chance for acceptance (since they are mandated to accept a certain percentage of in-state residents) and it’s best to keep them as an option in the application process.
Summer Gen Chem or Summer Orgo?
Question: Hi HPA – I didn’t start Chemistry as a first-year, so now I feel like I want to catch up and either take Gen Chem this summer and Orgo in the fall, or Gen Chem in the coming school year and Orgo in the following fall. Is one better than the other for medical school?
Answer: This will be easier to discuss in person, but here are a few things to consider:
- How premed are you? If you’re still debating whether to pursue premed, it’s a lot of time, money, and effort to take this course when you might never need it. Plus, it can be difficult to do well in prereqs unless you’re pretty committed to the premed track. You may be better off spending this summer on activities like hospital volunteering and shadowing that will help you determine whether premed is for you, then if it is, you could look at Orgo (or Physics) after sophomore summer (or another timeline that we could help you create that didn’t involve summer courses at all).
- How rigorous are the summer science courses you can access? Organic Chemistry here is very rigorous and many summer Gen Chem students find they don’t have an adequate foundation for Orgo after their summer Gen Chem. Try to take the most rigorous course you can find and do some self-study of Organic Chem this summer in anticipation of the academic year. When you return, start using your McGraw resources, office hours, etc., as soon as the semester begins so that you can stay on top of the work.
- Do you really need to take summer science? We can work with you to look at potential graduation timelines that work around summer courses, taking all of your academic and other interests into account. Medical schools want to know that you can manage rigorous science courses in the context of the academic year and the more science that you move into the summer, the more that this can be called into question. Plus, summer is the time students tend to focus on gaining research, work, and clinical experience, which can be challenging (but not impossible!) on top of course work. Stop by to talk with us about your overall plans and we can provide some advice.
Question: I noticed there’s a new Organic Chemistry class offered through ISC – can I take this to fulfill medical school prerequisites?
Answer: CHM 337 has been designed as a one semester alternative to Organic Chem I & II (CHM 301 and 302/304) with engineers in mind. A little more than half of the medical schools require two semesters of Organic Chemistry with lab, so students who are interested in any of these schools would have to take CHM 337 plus CHM 302/304. The CHM 337 course does not provide appropriate preparation for CHM 302/304, so students would need to self-study or otherwise find ways to be prepared for the second half of Organic Chemistry if they opted to take CHM 337. If you're thinking of forgoing the second semester of orgo and only taking CHM 337, we recommend checking the prerequisites for schools of interest to see if this would work. This includes maintaining eligibility for the public medical schools in your state since they're among your best bet for chances of admission.
Biochemistry as a supplement to AP Credit
Question: Hi. I have a question regarding chemistry requirements for medical school. I understand that if we use our 2 units of AP to place out of introductory chemistry, then we should take an upper-level course in chemistry to fulfill the requirements for med school. I was wondering how many such upper-level chemistry courses you would recommend we take, and whether they ought to include a lab. Does Biochemistry count as one of these upper-level classes, and is it sufficient (even though it doesn't have a lab at Princeton)? Also, is it all right to take the upper-level class during my senior year while I'm applying to med school, or should I take it earlier? Thank you.
Answer: Until recent years, Biochemistry was a great choice. Now that so many medical schools require Biochemistry, though (see MD Program Biochemistry Requirements (pdf) for a list of schools requiring or suggesting Biochem), we would recommend taking an upper-level course other than Biochemistry to fulfill upper-level course requirements. We recommend taking Biochemistry before taking the MCAT, but you could take your additional supplementary courses after the MCAT.
Question: Hi, I am a sophomore and will have completed MOL 214 and Orgo by the end of this year. I noticed that in HPA’s suggested course plans Biochemistry is listed as something people take in the junior fall (if they take it). Is there a particular reason for this? Or would it be OK to take it senior fall? The reason I ask is I will already be taking a heavy science load next fall, and one of my courses does have a time slot conflict with Biochem.
Answer: Biochem (MOL 345) is most commonly taken junior year because of the demands of the senior thesis as well as other departmental responsibilities that come up senior year. Most premeds also take MCAT junior summer and Biochem knowledge is necessary for the MCAT exam. If you are applying with one glide year, you could opt to take MOL 345 in senior fall take the MCAT in senior spring. We should add that there aren’t any other courses (other than MOL 345) at Princeton that would be “counted” as biochemistry by medical schools or that are appropriate for undergraduate premedical students to take with the intent of “counting” it as their biochemistry. MOL 345 is the course to take if you’re going to do Biochem.
Question: Hi, I am a junior pre-med. I have yet to fulfill my biochemistry requirement for medical school, and I heard a rumor that CHM 538—Biological Chemistry which is being offered next semester is going to be adequate for medical school purposes. While it is likely that I would take CHM 538 if it fulfilled the biochem requirement, I’m contacting you not only on my own behalf but also to alert you that I heard this rumor from a friend of mine who has already enrolled in CHM 538. I thought you should know that there may be other pre-meds signed up for this class because they believe it’s sufficient biochemistry for medical school.
Answer: Good to hear from you. As for CHM 538, after corresponding with the professor who teaches the course as well as some other CHM faculty, it has been determined that this is not a course to take for any fundamental instruction in Biochemistry. This isn't a course designed to fulfill medical schools' requirement or recommendation, nor is it the right course for the purpose of preparing you for more advanced Biochem in med school. I'm so glad you contacted us directly; I wish your friends did as well! MOL 345 is what you need to do if you are going to take Biochemistry at Princeton.