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The value of difficult classes.

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May real name is...

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This is a ramble of what made me come to the question. The real question is at the bottom.

I'm joining a research lab at a medical school and while talking to the person that's teaching me, I noticed that he was really excited to know which classes I've taken. He was really interested in specific subjects at the university level. He was excited to hear that I had taken math up to differential equations and linear algebra. He said it would be difficult for me to understand some of the data I'm going to be interpreting otherwise.

I know that difficult classes don't matter much in the application, but I'm thinking that, at least in the research environment, specific classes and combinations of classes might qualify you for certain projects.

I'm also thinking that if I take some biosystems, microbiology and chemical engineering classes, I might be able to engineer systems for the refinement of biological matter, which might lead to a cool career if I don't become a medical doctor, or even if I do.

I'm not sure if this is how it works... maybe classes are just busy work... I thought about taking the read a bunch of books route. The plan is to enjoy undergraduate though.

Also, my 3 chosen subjects might not be optimal in my endeavors. I determined microbiology to be a better choice than biochemistry based on the hours I'd have to take. It'll give me everything I need for the mcat, but I won't have any more advanced knowledge in biochem. Any advice on how well the subjects will mesh together and if other subjects would be better would be appreciated. (I go to an ag school, so maybe learn some of that?)


The question:

With only the goal of medical school in mind. Do you think that the material learned in difficult classes can be applied with a reasonable level of difficulty in a way that benefits you more than the extra hours spent to get the A could have done if spent doing other activities like volunteering or part time work?

EDIT: Also risk is a thing, what are the chances that I don't get As and just lose? or if these classes are just useless?
 

efle

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So if I understand this correctly, you're asking if difficult classes in the hard sciences are worth the GPA risks and opportunity cost of extra study time?

Short answer: Nope. Your GPA and ECs matter more than your major/classes. You're more competitive with straight A's in soft science and humanities classes than A-'s in BCPM, or with more hours in clinics or working.

Longer answer: Could be possible, if the classes pave the way to a better app/ECs. If, for example, you take a second major in computer science, you may be much more useful in a research environment than if you'd taken a minor in philosophy. Maybe you impress a professor in a difficult subject and get a great letter. Maybe you take on a very time-intensive senior thesis project that is interesting on your app. Etc.
 
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MD Squared

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I agree with efle's answer, and would like to add that at most schools you can enroll in difficult classes at the beginning of the semester, try them out for 2-3 weeks, and drop them if you feel like they'll be too difficult or that you won't gain useful knowledge. At my undergrad, you could still drop without a W until almost halfway through the semester but I think that was rather generous.

Additionally, if you're planning on applying straight out of undergrad and fairly confident that you'll be accepted somewhere on your first try, you can load up on all the difficult classes you want for your senior year. Then you'll have that knowledge for use for the rest of your life! Or if you're like me, until you forget it all right after the final exam.
 

Lost In Transcription

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Unfortunately, just getting good grades matters the most. Having a high GPA and sGPA will be what gets you into medical school.

That said, do you believe classes in medical school will be easy? Do you think that your intellectual abilities will not be tested there? You should be taking harder classes for the purpose of improving yourself.

Then again, if your only goal is to get into med school...take easy classes. If your goal is to grow intellectually, take hard classes.
 
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bananafish94

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Getting good grades is the most important thing. It's okay to get a B here and there in tough courses that really interest you, but if it is consistent then it's considerably better to take classes you can get As in. Unfortunately, this is just the way the world works.

However, if you can do well in difficult classes, I would absolutely do it. You improve yourself and become more assured of your academic abilities. Each of my semesters was harder than the last and I am a better person for it. There are also some schools (like Creighton, I think) who really examine your course schedule to determine how it reflects your ability to succeed in medical school.

Food for thought: I took a graduate level course in a very esoteric field that happened to be what one of my interviewers got his Ph.D which led to a very interesting conversation!
 
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AccessoryNavicular

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Getting good grades is the most important thing. It's okay to get a B here and there in tough courses that really interest you, but if it is consistent then it's considerably better to take classes you can get As in. Unfortunately, this is just the way the world works.

However, if you can do well in difficult classes, I would absolutely do it. You improve yourself and become more assured of your academic abilities. Each of my semesters was harder than the last and I am a better person for it. There are also some schools (like Creighton, I think) who really examine your course schedule to determine how it reflects your ability to succeed in medical school.

Food for thought: I took a graduate level course in a very esoteric field that happened to be what one of my interviewers got his Ph.D which led to a very interesting conversation!

This. Unfortunately it is far better to take an easy course load and do well than to do average under a difficult one. In my experience, the same applies to the undergraduate institution you choose to attend


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studentdocftw

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It's truly a numbers game. There's no real way to compare universities let alone classes. Keep a full load of courses, but keep it light in difficulty. No adcom will complain if you are taking 14hrs+ every semester and acing it all.
 

JustaDO

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I know that difficult classes don't matter much in the application
The plan is to enjoy undergraduate though.
Also, my 3 chosen subjects might not be optimal in my endeavors.
With only the goal of medical school in mind.
EDIT: Also risk is a thing, what are the chances that I don't get As and just lose? or if these classes are just useless?

Your answer was in your own post the entire time.
 

Goro

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You should be taking classes that interest you, and will help you on MCAT. Having some some subjects will help in med school as well, like Anatomy, Biochem, Physiology, and Immunology. Stop trying to get into our heads and doing things you think will impress us. Doing well always impresses us.



This is a ramble of what made me come to the question. The real question is at the bottom.

I'm joining a research lab at a medical school and while talking to the person that's teaching me, I noticed that he was really excited to know which classes I've taken. He was really interested in specific subjects at the university level. He was excited to hear that I had taken math up to differential equations and linear algebra. He said it would be difficult for me to understand some of the data I'm going to be interpreting otherwise.

I know that difficult classes don't matter much in the application, but I'm thinking that, at least in the research environment, specific classes and combinations of classes might qualify you for certain projects.

I'm also thinking that if I take some biosystems, microbiology and chemical engineering classes, I might be able to engineer systems for the refinement of biological matter, which might lead to a cool career if I don't become a medical doctor, or even if I do.

I'm not sure if this is how it works... maybe classes are just busy work... I thought about taking the read a bunch of books route. The plan is to enjoy undergraduate though.

Also, my 3 chosen subjects might not be optimal in my endeavors. I determined microbiology to be a better choice than biochemistry based on the hours I'd have to take. It'll give me everything I need for the mcat, but I won't have any more advanced knowledge in biochem. Any advice on how well the subjects will mesh together and if other subjects would be better would be appreciated. (I go to an ag school, so maybe learn some of that?)


The question:

With only the goal of medical school in mind. Do you think that the material learned in difficult classes can be applied with a reasonable level of difficulty in a way that benefits you more than the extra hours spent to get the A could have done if spent doing other activities like volunteering or part time work?

EDIT: Also risk is a thing, what are the chances that I don't get As and just lose? or if these classes are just useless?
 
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May real name is...

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So if I understand this correctly, you're asking if difficult classes in the hard sciences are worth the GPA risks and opportunity cost of extra study time?

Short answer: Nope. Your GPA and ECs matter more than your major/classes. You're more competitive with straight A's in soft science and humanities classes than A-'s in BCPM, or with more hours in clinics or working.

Longer answer: Could be possible, if the classes pave the way to a better app/ECs. If, for example, you take a second major in computer science, you may be much more useful in a research environment than if you'd taken a minor in philosophy. Maybe you impress a professor in a difficult subject and get a great letter. Maybe you take on a very time-intensive senior thesis project that is interesting on your app. Etc.

So the longer answer was the goal. It seems like solid advice from everyone to not try for it though. I was thinking it could be a way for me to spend time improving myself before expanding my ECs past clinical volunteering (My research project is projected to take around 4 weeks so it's not long term). I'm thinking I'll try the specialized course load for a semester or two, take a weak first semester for my junior year to gauge how well I do in predominantly upper level courses, and after that choose how it's going to be. If I don't get the As next semester, I may give it up. Thanks for the advice. Also D.O school would be just as great. So I've been thinking about that being a factor in how I'm going about this. I don't know what GPAs they want. I've heard it's a bit less.
 

efle

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It seems like solid advice from everyone to not try for it though.
This would be my advice. The odds of hurting your GPA are much higher than helping your ECs, especially if you're not getting heavily involved in some research related to the classes.

Also D.O school would be just as great. So I've been thinking about that being a factor in how I'm going about this. I don't know what GPAs they want. I've heard it's a bit less.
What's your GPA currently at? Are you dead set on a primary care / no interest in competitive specialties?
 

Swish16

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No one is going to know how hard Chem 460 at your school is so don't take it just to challenge yourself. A friend of mine really wanted to take upper level physics so he picked up a minor in it after applying to med school in his senior year so it couldn't really hurt him since he got accepted early into the cycle.


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May real name is...

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This would be my advice. The odds of hurting your GPA are much higher than helping your ECs, especially if you're not getting heavily involved in some research related to the classes.


What's your GPA currently at? Are you dead set on a primary care / no interest in competitive specialties?

It's currently a 3.9 with 1 B. I just finished my freshman year. I wouldn't say I'm dead set on it, but I certainly would be grateful to be a primary care physician (probably not psychiatry). For next semester the more difficult route is a microbiology class and lab, a microbiology career class (to qualify me for higher level microbiology and microbiology lab work at the school) and a biosystems modeling class. The semester after that would be a genetics centered microbiology course (Genetics is needed for my state medical school) along with a biosystems class. The alternative would be zoology next semester, then the normal genetics class during the one after. It only totals to 18 hours this semester so I'm thinking I'm going to try it out. My school's W policy extends pretty far into the semester.

This is all on top of the chemical engineering program and university and medical school pre-reqs.
 

efle

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It's currently a 3.9 with 1 B. I just finished my freshman year. I wouldn't say I'm dead set on it, but I certainly would be grateful to be a primary care physician (probably not psychiatry). For next semester the more difficult route is a microbiology class and lab, a microbiology career class (to qualify me for higher level microbiology and microbiology lab work at the school) and a biosystems modeling class. The semester after that would be a genetics centered microbiology course (Genetics is needed for my state medical school) along with a biosystems class. The alternative would be zoology next semester, then the normal genetics class during the one after. It only totals to 18 hours this semester so I'm thinking I'm going to try it out. My school's W policy extends pretty far into the semester.

This is all on top of the chemical engineering program and university and medical school pre-reqs.
If you've been finding it manageable to pull those straight As then yeah, try the tougher option and just swap out if it's overwhelming. My guess is that the MCAT will determine your competitiveness for MD vs DO much more than grades.
 

DingoPingo

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My saying goes, "take the easy class. use the extra time to actually learn the material."
 

The Knife & Gun Club

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I'd say go for it but knock out your pre reqs first. Once you have those locked down with As then you can risk your GPA knowing that at least your pre-req grades are secure.

Don't want to spend all that time struggling for a B in mechanical engineering at the cost of also getting a B in gen chem/orgo. Just FYI few adcoms if any will ever look at the actual classes you take.
 

efle

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^ what I hear more often is that adcoms may look, but will never be impressed enough by rigor to make up for lower grades. Is that accurate in your experience?
 

Affiche

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I'm going to go against the grain here and say that taking a few difficult classes out of interest is absolutely worth it, provided you are capable of getting a B or higher. If you're planning to take a class that you may or may not be able to pass, that's a different story entirely, but possibly getting a B/B+ is fine.

I took a lot of graduate level bio courses in undergrad because they genuinely interested me. I ended up with a B+ and some A-s, but they were completely worth it. The bio section on the MCAT was incredibly easy for me and I actually enjoyed that part of the test. In browsing through the first few chapters of my med school textbooks for biochemistry, it is literally all review. I don't expect it to stay that way, but it's a relief to know that I've seen this material before and have done well in rigorous courses.

In the grand scheme of things, a couple of grades of a B or higher will not drag your 4 year gpa down too much, but the work ethic you develop and knowledge you gain may be worth it. It was for me. Besides, I think people on SDN really overestimate how much schools care about a gpa of 3.78 versus 3.72.
 
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Sardinia

@Affiche Were the first few chapters amino acids, spectroscopy, enzyme kinetics, and lineweaver-burk plots?
 
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Sardinia

No haha I wish. That stuff is more organic II material than graduate level biochemistry.
Imo the hardest part about Biochemistry wasn't what was taught, it was predicting what would happen if there was a kink at intermediate A/B/C in pathway D/E/F without it being covered as a particular instance. I don't think that it's worth it though to take harder classes if you're trading away a guaranteed A if the end goal is to become a physician. There's a lot of clinical experience that could be gained in the same period that would be more beneficial over worrying about whether you profiled your enhancer sequence correctly in your fruit fly.
 

Med Ed

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^ what I hear more often is that adcoms may look, but will never be impressed enough by rigor to make up for lower grades. Is that accurate in your experience?

What would you consider rigorous? Upper level biology classes? Those are common as dirt, and most applicants with those classes have done well in them. Or were you thinking more along the lines of theoretical physics at MIT?
 
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Sardinia

What would you consider rigorous? Upper level biology classes? Those are common as dirt, and most applicants with those classes have done well in them. Or were you thinking more along the lines of theoretical physics at MIT?
I thought they stopped teaching that class because they realized the physics was only theoretical.
 

efle

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What would you consider rigorous? Upper level biology classes? Those are common as dirt, and most applicants with those classes have done well in them. Or were you thinking more along the lines of theoretical physics at MIT?
I was thinking engineering, upper level physics and chem, very high credit loads somewhere tough. So yeah, lets say somebody double majors in physics and computer science at MIT and makes a 3.6, do they win any brownie points in your eyes to close the gap with a 3.9 psych major? The answer I usually see on these boards is no, the number comes first and foremost.
 

Affiche

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I was thinking engineering, upper level physics and chem, very high credit loads somewhere tough. So yeah, lets say somebody double majors in physics and computer science at MIT and makes a 3.6, do they win any brownie points in your eyes to close the gap with a 3.9 psych major? The answer I usually see on these boards is no, the number comes first and foremost.
How did you jump from a 3.6 to a 3.9 over 1-3 classes? I was under the impression that we were discussing whether or not it's worth taking 1-2 difficult classes out of interest versus loading up on easy bs classes.
 

efle

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How did you jump from a 3.6 to a 3.9 over 1-3 classes? I was under the impression that we were discussing whether or not it's worth taking 1-2 difficult classes out of interest versus loading up on easy bs classes.
Not asking about 1-3 classes, rather different majors (not related to OP). Just curious to hear what happens in the extreme
 
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Sardinia

I'd prefer the physics and computer science double major from MIT to be my psychiatrist over someone with a psychology major. Only they can understand my angst and sorrow of being a pre-med and will be more pliable to indulge in my attempts to sequester dextroamphetamine for the big final coming up.
 

Med Ed

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I was thinking engineering, upper level physics and chem, very high credit loads somewhere tough. So yeah, lets say somebody double majors in physics and computer science at MIT and makes a 3.6, do they win any brownie points in your eyes to close the gap with a 3.9 psych major? The answer I usually see on these boards is no, the number comes first and foremost.

In my experience the double major would absolutely get brownie points. Saying the number comes first and foremost is true, to an extent, not unlike looking at the publications on someone's CV. The number of publications is typically the first piece of information internalized, and it frames the subsequent evaluation of the record. That said, anyone doing a detailed examination will not simply look at the raw number. Someone with 20 Cell papers will outshine a colleague with 80 case reports.

The problem with fixating on the number is that one can end up with a transcript that shows minimal effort, and that isn't very appealing. Taking one prereq per semester in the midst of 11-12 credits of easy-A doesn't bode well. In general we do not like accepting people who will be hitting their first real academic academic challenge as a medical student. They tend to unravel.

A nice approach would be a balanced one.
 
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Sardinia

@Med Ed I think one of the biggest gaps that adcoms will never make pre-meds understand is that there are no shortcuts. Padding an application with no intrinsic interest in any of the classes/activities is debilitating to their own growth in appreciating medicine which I would like to believe invariably will affect their ability to adapt when they are saturated with medical information.
 
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