Questions about Chemistry Requirements

General Chemistry  

I’m not sure that I want to be premed, but I also want to keep the option open. Do I have to take Gen Chem in my first semester?

You can definitely still pursue medicine if you don’t start CHM 201 in your first semester at Princeton! Every student is on their own path and their own route toward their future, whether it ultimately includes medicine or not. As HPA advisers, we suggest that students start Gen Chem in the first semester because if you do decide to pursue medicine, then you’ll have five semesters of Chemistry to take (two of gen chem, two of organic chem, and one of biochem), each class builds on the previous one, and Gen Chem I (CHM 201) is only offered in the fall. But, we work with students who start their chemistry sequence in sophomore year or later, or who don’t do science at Princeton at all and enroll in a postbaccalaureate program to fulfill the med school prerequisites, or on many timelines in between.

If you wait and take Gen Chem later, it may affect your timeline to starting medical school, but there’s no one “right” timeline to be on (we have students applying to med school this year ranging from Class of 2012 to Class of 2022). We’d be happy to talk with you about your interests, your academic preparation, your concerns or questions about premed and classes in general, and anything else to help you decide on the best course of action for yourself. No one has to give you permission to be premed, to stop being premed, to return to it later on—figure out who you are or what you want to be on your own terms. We’re happy to talk with students who have from a 1% to a 100% interest in health professions, so don’t hesitate to stop by to learn more! 

I’m a first-year 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?

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 prerequisites 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.

I didn’t start Chemistry as a first-year, so I want to catch up. I could take Gen Chem this summer and Orgo in the fall, or Gen Chem in the coming school year and Orgo in the following summer. Is one better than the other for medical school?

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 coursework. Stop by to talk with us about your overall plans and we can provide some advice.

Organic Chemistry

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?

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.

Does HPA have a recommendation between CHM 302 and CHM 304 for Orgo 2?

Our Organic Chemistry courses have always provided students with an excellent background for doing well on the associated portions of the MCAT, and they teach you to problem solve in a unique way.  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 Biochemistry (MOL 345).  However, either course is a fine way to finish your Organic Chemistry.  We do not recommend one course over the other. 

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?

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.

Is CHM 337 acceptable for medical school organic chemistry prerequisites?

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 to prepare 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

Why do most premeds take Biochem in junior year?

Biochemistry knowledge is necessary for the MCAT exam and most premeds planning on one glide year take the MCAT during the summer between junior and senior year, so taking Biochem in either semester of junior year is fine.

If you might apply for direct entry, aim to take Biochem in junior fall so that you can take the MCAT in January, then focus on application prep in the spring semester.

If you are applying with one glide year, you could opt to take MOL 345 in senior fall and take the MCAT in January or the spring, but keep in mind that you'll have your senior thesis, job search, and application prep on your plate in senior year. 

Is CHM 538 acceptable for the Biochemistry prerequisite for med school?
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. MOL 345 is what you need to do if you are going to take Biochemistry at Princeton.