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Do adcoms put enough weight on courseloads?

Discussion in 'Pre-Medical - MD' started by lady bug, Jul 18, 2002.

  1. lady bug

    lady bug 7+ Year Member

    Jan 3, 2002
    There is so much talk about GPA, but i rarely hear enough emphasis on GPA vs. my undergrad school, our premed advisor won't even write us a strong supportive letter unless we've maintained a classload of atleast 15 hrs. per semester, cuz otherwise he doesn't think we'd be able to handle med school courseload. For some reason, I don't see adcoms putting enough emphasis on undergrad courseload. Here is a scenario of two people (in the same major) I know applying this year- one has a 3.5 having took 17-21 hrs. every semester, another has a 4.0 having took no more than 12 hrs each semester. Now the guy with a 4.0 will probably shine more in eyes of the adcoms.....not really fair I think.
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  3. Darth Vader

    Darth Vader Banned Banned

    Part of being a good med student is not biting off more then you can chew. 17 vs 12 credits, med schools do not have the resources to even know how many credits you are supposed to be taking a semester (it's different for different schools). Take what you can to get a high grade.
  4. Diogenes

    Diogenes Succat 7+ Year Member

    Jan 30, 2002
    Part of being a good med student is being able to hack it with a full course load. Do you think you will be able to take a light load in med school?
  5. DW

    DW Fix me some sandwiches Moderator Emeritus 10+ Year Member

    How does this apply when everyone is taking the same standard curriculum over the first two years, and it seems like all medical schools give you more than you enough to "chew". Wouldn't it say a lot more about someone's character if they can hold a 3.5 with a killer courseload in a tough major at a hard school and challenging ECs rather than a 4.0 with a light load doing something easier?

    I honestly dont know, I'm just asking.
  6. atsai3

    atsai3 10+ Year Member

    May 15, 2002
    Not only is there the question of XX credit hours vs. XX+3 credit hours, but there is also the question of easy classes vs. hard classes.

    Bottom line is, courseload doesn't matter a great deal. Admit committees are not sophisticated enough to be able to tell the finer differences. (That said, on a rough cut, majoring in "biomechanicokickyourassengineering" is a bit more impressive -- at least on paper -- than "underwater basket weaving". You get the idea.)

  7. ckent

    ckent Banned Banned

    Jul 31, 2000
    Believe it or not, classes beyond your pre-med req are not required to succeed in med school. So you could totally slack off and take easy courses (preferably with difficult sounding names) and get good grades in them and do fine in med school. You don't need to build up your endurance by taking a lot of credits during undergrad because almost everybody is "over-whelmed" when med school starts, but they quickly adapt. I was actually one of the few who had more difficult semesters in college then in med school because of my course-load, but it was completely unneccessary because a lot of my friends (non-bio majors, or from "easy" colleges who said that they had it so easy during college) quickly adapted and did just as well as I did or better during the pre-clinical years. Darth Vader is right, take as much as you can handle to keep your high GPA.
  8. oldman

    oldman Senior Citizen 10+ Year Member

    Feb 3, 2002
    did you do BME? I did, i don't think i learned a lot except for how to program in MATLAB and do lots of math! hmm will that help me in med school?
  9. Street Philosopher

    Street Philosopher freebird 10+ Year Member

    Aug 10, 2000
    ann arbor
    Part of being a smart student is to know what people are looking for and to plan a strategy in order to best meet those goals.

    I could study a little by little through the quarter and get an A in the course, or I could study like mad for a week and get the same result. Should I be rewarded or punished for either strategy? I think not. I believe the point of my example applies in course load as well.
  10. mikegoal

    mikegoal rebmeM 10+ Year Member

    Jul 31, 2001
    I think the point of this all is that the adcoms are measuring the students abilities based on criteria that do not match.
  11. lola

    lola Bovine Member 7+ Year Member

    Mar 22, 2002
    i think we are all a little naive if we think adcoms don't look at how many credit hours you took/semesters, and the type of courses. sure, they may not always look as critically as they should, but in the end i really really doubt the person who took easy courses and very few at a time will win out. adcom members may be busy, but i do think they're probably pretty intelligent. they don't JUST look at your GPA.
  12. Diogenes

    Diogenes Succat 7+ Year Member

    Jan 30, 2002
    Seeing as how some of my interviewers asked about specific classes I took, I think that you would be fooling yourself if you said that they only look at GPA and not the courses that constitute that GPA.

    If I was on an adcom, I'd look for students that took a full course load of difficult classes AND did well first, students that took a light course load of easy classes and did well would be a distant, distant second.
  13. neofight

    neofight Senior Member 7+ Year Member

    Feb 22, 2003
    Bay Area
    Adcoms were not born yesterday. They really look to see whether an applicant has challenged him/herself. Whether this means taking difficult courses and/or taking near maximum units, adcoms know the difference of a tough or easy schedule.
  14. lola

    lola Bovine Member 7+ Year Member

    Mar 22, 2002
    loyola puts weight on courseload. they have you fill out a form at the interview about the rigor of your courses, major, etc...
  15. SolidGold

    SolidGold Florida winters are the best! 10+ Year Member

    Jan 8, 2002
    Tampa, FL
    As simple and cold as this may sound, I pretty much agree. I believe that adcoms will think that a person with a high course load (say a person who decided to get two majors) that does not do well (say with a 3.3 GPA) is more likely to do worse with the higher course load of medical school. Adcoms will likely take more of a chance with a person who has a lighter course load and a better GPA because they show the "potential" to do well in a higher course load in medical school.

    Thats not my opinion though. I can almost guarantee that a person used to a higher course load, but with a lower GPA, will be the better medical student than the one who was used to taking 12 credits a semester with a 4.0.

    Let's face it, adcoms can only get a sense of an applicant's potential. There is no way for them to know how well an applicant will do in medical school.

    That's my fifty cents....
  16. scifi

    scifi Member 7+ Year Member

    Mar 12, 2003
    this is all speculation but...

    with all the factors going into your application (science gpa, overall gpa, MCAT VR, WS, BS, PS, letters of rec, personal statement, secondary application questions, extracurriculars) something like whether applicant X took 5 courses or 1 during a semester is not going to make a huge difference. of course, if they look at the section of the AMCAS carefully enough they can compare your GPA from each year with the #units you took and speculate on it if they so choose. they may also be so wowed by your extracurriculars that they don't pay attention to anything more than an overall GPA plus cumulative MCAT score. i personally think courseload would be relatively trivial.

    if you do better taking fewer courses per quarter/semester, do it.
    (i wouldn't recommend, however, taking 6 years to finish the minimum requirements for your major )

    if you do better with a heavier courseload, do that. either way i doubt it will make or break your application.
  17. 2ndave

    2ndave Member 7+ Year Member

    Feb 26, 2003
    What about grade inflation? Do adcoms take into consideration that the same grade does not mean the same thing at all schools? I went to a small undergrad that has very little grade inflation. Almost ALL the classes were very hard, and the profs took pride in this, I think. A B was something you really had to aspire to! The few people who graduated with a 3.9 or so each year were really unusual--no one ever saw them because they studied constantly. Hardly the types you'd envision going into medicine, where you work so much with other people. Anway, does anyone know whether adcoms factor that in when they're looking at GPA's?
  18. manicmaven

    manicmaven all aboard the nerd train 7+ Year Member

    Aug 25, 2002
    I seriously doubt they consider grade inflation much. Some of the more well known schools that inflate, maybe...but I doubt they have the time for or interest in researching every small liberal arts college and whether or not they inflate.

    I think previous posters were right regarding the 'bottom line' of your application. They may have time to check out how many courses you were taking every term, but most of the time, they're looking for those two GPAs, your MCATs and what makes you unique and prepared. If you interview 1000 applicants, there just isn't enough time to debate the merits of taking 15 credits over 22 during winter term of sophomore year, if your numbers are fine. If you had particularly bad grades that quarter and didn't explain why somewhere in your app, as an adcom member, I'd probably question your judgement in taking on that many classes and not being able to handle it.
  19. VienneseWaltz

    VienneseWaltz 10+ Year Member

    Jan 26, 2003
    While I seriously doubt that adcoms will NOT notice if you take only 12 hours a semester and avoid difficult courses, I agree that their research time is limited, although that's why some adcoms are divided into regional committees, so that applications can be evaluated by people who know something about the schools in that region. If you have taken a particularly difficult course load, your committee or one of your recommenders might mention this. One of my recommenders has remarked several times to me on the ambition of my undergraduate course loads--I would be very surprised if he didn't mention this in his letter.
  20. Flack Pinku

    Flack Pinku U lookin at my glasses?? 7+ Year Member

    Jun 5, 2002
    Depends on the person you ask... but if you asked me:

    The person who took 12 credits every semester and managed a 4.0 is very smart because not only does he know that he's just a human (and can't be like Rambo), but he knows his limits. Not everyone can maintain 4.0 taking 21 credits every semester, and not everyone can maintain 4.0 taking 15 credits every semester.

    Added to that, the guy who takes 17-21 cr. each semester is pushing himself. Thats fine, but he obviously doesn't know his limits and is in a hurry to finish up--he has a 3.5.

    Most schools say take 15 cr./sem. If you take less than 15, better do well. If you take more than 15, better do well also... since by taking more than 15 you're saying you can handle it. And by repeatedly taking more than 15 cr./sem, you are saying to me I can do it, I can do it repeatedly.

    Bottom line--no matter what credits you take, do full justice to them. Also don't forget, most people taking 12 credits have to work or want to do research or sports or whatever.

    Working 15+ cr. each semester is fine--you can't use that as a reason for getting less than 3.6 gpa or for not having time to do other stuff.
  21. lola

    lola Bovine Member 7+ Year Member

    Mar 22, 2002
    do adcoms know how long it took you to finish college? at my school EVERYONE graduates in 4 years, and you must do this by taking 4-4.5 units at a time (1 class = 1 unit).
    when you fill out your amcas, can they tell if you took 5 years to complete the degree vs. 4? i can't remember how they do it, because mine fell into the fresh, soph, junior, senior categories very neatly. if they can tell, i'm sure the person who finished in 3-4 years will look much better than the person who took 5-6 years. i'm sure adcoms would dig more deeply if they can tell you took 6 years by looking at how many classes you were taking, if you graduated with extra units, or if you were just taking the bare minimum to get by.
    anyway, as someone who has been granted 9 interviews with a pretty crappy mcat and a good but not stellar gpa, i have a really hard time believing that things like course load and reputation of school are not considered. and i'm glad they are, because i worked my ass off in college :)
  22. Neuronix

    Neuronix Total nerd Administrator Physician PhD Faculty SDN Advisor 10+ Year Member

    Mar 14, 2002
    the beach
    I never took more than 14 credits per semester and I often took 12 credits. I took summer/winter special sessions all the time to make up for it. Meanwhile I was either working or doing research 20 - 30 hours per week and volunteering much of the time.

    My point is that there are other, more important, factors to consider than courseload. Maybe they weren't taking all those classes because they were busy with other things? What ckent said is what I've heard other med students say. It's hard for everyone. How many credits you took as an undergrad isn't a real useful indicator of how you're going to do.

    Besides, I'm not looking to burn out quite yet thank you. I've got another 8 years ahead of me in MD/PhD.
  23. Gleevec

    Gleevec Peter, those are Cheerios 7+ Year Member

    Nov 24, 2002
    I am inclined to disagree. While I believe that people who spend a lot of time with extracurriculars will be viewed favorably by admissions, I also believe that doing well in an academically challenging curriculum is something that is seen.

    From what Ive read and what my friends have told me, interviewers tend to ask about courses. Furthermore, med schools do know how many total credits you took. So the question isnt whether med schools know, because they do. As people have already stated, med school adcoms weren't born yesterday. It is jow they choose to evaluate this information is what is important.

    Since everyone in med school takes the same courses, if you have two applicants who only differ in the # of credits they took (same MCAT, GPA, decent ECs, etc) then it would make sense to take the student who took the harder courseload. Even though both students could adapt to med school quickly, the one who managed to take more courses in the same amount of time is probably better likely to adjust to the med school curriculum.

    So Im not saying taking extra courses at the cost of your GPA and ECs will benefit you. But if you are already doing the ECs that you enjoy and you are taking more courses along with that, it would be naive to assume that medical schools wouldnt notice. These guys have been analyzing applications for decades. In fact, according to my premed advisor, the rigor of one's undergrad curriculum is one of the top 10 considerations for adcoms. Undergrad premed advisors, if they write a letter of rec for their applicants, often include information about how they viewed a particular student's curriculum. Since they work at the undergrad and see a ton of apps, they can adequately inform adcoms of the relative rigor of a students curriculum.

    While the benefits of taking extra/hard courses might not be obvious, it is still an important consideration. Not as important as the standard criteria (MCAT, GPA, LOR, EC, etc) but an important one nonetheless.
  24. jwin

    jwin Senior Member 7+ Year Member

    Sep 21, 2002
    within reason--not taking basketweaving I, II, and III--course load will not matter. almost no one reads your application that carefully. someone might say that their interviewer remarked on their high load, but i think this is atypical. what most interviewers do with applications could hardly be called reading:
    they skim your ec's and personal statement and look for your major(s), gpa's, and mcat.

    the cost of carrying 21 units is not worth the payoff.
  25. Neuronix

    Neuronix Total nerd Administrator Physician PhD Faculty SDN Advisor 10+ Year Member

    Mar 14, 2002
    the beach
    I have been asked about my courses, but never about the load. The things I have been asked are about what I was taught in those courses towards a Neuroscience PhD.

    Sure, it probably is one of the top-10 considerations for adcoms. Behind GPA, MCAT, ECs, LORs, interview technique, ugrad institution, and probably some others I'm forgetting. Also, my undergrad advisement wrote me the strongest letter they could write on my behalf, despite my courseload. Perhaps that just reflects on my undergrad, I do not know. It might also reflect on the poor high school education I received, that even medical school adcoms recognize. I got into several top 20s (including one top 10) with the method I just talked about, so I refuse to believe the number of courses taken per semester is a real important factor in admissions consideration.
  26. lola

    lola Bovine Member 7+ Year Member

    Mar 22, 2002
    yeah... but you were working 20-30hrs/week while taking a light-moderate load. that is a lot different from someone who is taking an easy load and volunteering a few hours a week or goofing off the rest of the time.

    i wouldn't suggest overdoing it with course load but taking a full load is expected unless you are working a lot or have in EC (e.g. Div I sport that requires you to travel all the time) that takes up a lot of time. i have a hard time believing that adcoms won't take notice of someone who is not taking a full load and look for an explanation of why they aren't. it depends on the school of course, but from that form we had to fill out at loyola, some definitely look at it.
  27. Gleevec

    Gleevec Peter, those are Cheerios 7+ Year Member

    Nov 24, 2002
    Im not saying that class selection is the end all be all of admissions, not at all, but it is another indication of how hard someone is willing to work. Whether it is intense involvement in ECs, volunteering, working, research, whatever, these are all important because they represent time commitments and vested interest. Just like these activities, taking a more difficult courseload/overloading also shows an extended ability to handle the med school workload.

    The reason athletes do so well in the med school process is that they are excellent time-managers and spend a great deal of time on their activites. To a much lesser extent, taking extra courses that interest you also involves such aspects of time management.

    Im not saying if there are two professors teaching the same course and you get the easier one that med schools will be able to determine that, but I am saying that if you have two applicants who are very similar in all other regards, the GPA and the perception of time-management and work ethic will favor the student who took a harder courseload or more courses.

    So while Im not saying courseloads should be weighed anymore than they are (probably ranked somewhere between 5-10 in importance), it would be underestimating adcoms to think that they dont look at HOW someone got their GPA.

    How adcoms determine course load and difficulty is probably nothing more than looking at total # of credits, glancing over your courses and major(s), and if your school has it, reading the premed advisor's recommendation which will spend some amount of time discussing your academic rigor.

    Basically, im not saying courseloads should be more important than the standard MCAT/GPA/ECs/LOR/Personal Statement, but that they are in fact considered by adcoms to a greater extent than those who say "there is no way adcoms could analyze that information" believe.
  28. NE_Cornhusker1

    NE_Cornhusker1 12" Member 7+ Year Member

    Aug 6, 2001
    The Cornhusker State
    How might an AdCom member fairly decide between some guy who takes 18 credits/semester and gets a 3.8 GPA and some guy who takes 12 credits, worked 30 hours a week and got a 3.5 GPA?

    The MCAT is about the only fair way to decide. Most schools don't report GPAs on the 100 point system and where the difference between a 92 and a 93 are not big but that point could be a big difference on the 4.0 system and be the difference between a 3.67 and 4.00 GPA. That's my rant for the day. Peace.
  29. Gleevec

    Gleevec Peter, those are Cheerios 7+ Year Member

    Nov 24, 2002
    The question of fairness is moot, we are just addressing whether adcoms look at data regarding courseloads or not.

    In the same way that its "unfair" as you put it for an adcom to weigh 100 hours of research over 100 hours of shadowing over 100 hours of volunteering, this too falls into the subjective ranking schemes of med schools.

    While the MCAT may be "fair" in that it is numerical and standardized, having that be the only factor in admissions would create some pretty boring med school classes.
  30. rajneel1

    rajneel1 Senior Member 7+ Year Member

    Oct 29, 2001
    i agree with neuronix. i took 3 classes/quarter for about 7/12 quarters in undergrad (finished in 4) and did a bunch of extracurriculars which was more exciting to talk about at interviews then my coursework. i think you should take the minimum possible to graduate in 4 (one summer of summer school) and do research, lots of volunteer and leadership etc.
  31. Neuronix

    Neuronix Total nerd Administrator Physician PhD Faculty SDN Advisor 10+ Year Member

    Mar 14, 2002
    the beach
    I spoke with my boss today about this topic. She was an adcom at UCLA Medical School for many years before she left. She told me the following:

    The only time the committee ever looked at coursework was when the graduation time for the applicant was unusual or it was referred to in a letter of recommendation. In the first case, she recalls an applicant who completed his undergraduate degree in three years. The committee looked over his classes and his undergraduate school, and found it particularly impressive that he was able to take such a high and rigorous courseload with all of his ECs, and so his application looked better. On the other hand, she recalled an applicant who took 7 years to complete her undergraduate degree and took light courseloads every semester with no "good" excuse. That person was red flagged post-interview and rejected.

    In the case of those who had their coursework referred to in an LOR, it was always people who had taken a large number of credits per semester. My boss cannot recall ever receiving a letter that referred to an applicant taking too light a courseload or too few classes. This makes sense, becuase at my undergraduate institution they try to sell you as an applicant. Because of this, they just do not mention any negative aspects of your application unless they can make a good excuse for it. If your application is that poor, they will encourage you not to apply, and will not give you a letter of recommendation. I imagine that other undergraduate schools do the same, considering how much schools try to brag about their success rates.

    In any case, she recalls an applicant who took 19 - 21 credits per semester, worked, and did research in a lab for all four years of their college career. That applicant was especially impressive post-interview for her time management and focus.

    She noted that any applicant who did not meet the intial cut for GPA, MCAT, and ECs would be cut regardless of their courseload. Courseload was not looked at before interview invitations were sent out.

    So in summary, courseload/major was a rare consideration when it came to the applicant. Only in extreme cases was that factor taken into account at all. I understand that she is just one person representing the view of one medical school. I have talked to other adcoms (one faculty, a few student) in the past about this topic and heard similar responses.
  32. carrigallen

    carrigallen 16th centry dutch painter 10+ Year Member

    Feb 27, 2003
    I agree with Neuronix - I don't think that a course load of 6 classes vs. four classes significantly influences the evaluation of an application. (BTW - who dredged this old thread up? :laugh:)

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