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Mar 2, 2018
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This is my first post so please bear with me.

I received a psychology degree from a state school and graduated with a 3.9 GPA. The last year of college I decided that I wanted to enter healthcare, specifically a doctor. I had toyed with the idea before but I think I was too emotionally immature as an undergrad, as well as my fear of failure, to commit to premedical coursework at the time during my bachelor's. However, once I graduated I began looking into post-bac programs to essentially fill in the gaps of my education.

I applied to many programs and received acceptances to all of them, except 1. I ended up deciding on Harvard University's program via their extension school. This program was cheaper and appeared to be decent. That being said, I just finished my first semester and it couldn't have gone worse. I took Physics 1 and General Chemistry 1. I struggled in physics in high school so I went into it knowing that it would need special attention, however, I found myself struggling with both courses. Harvard employs a "reverse classroom" style of teaching. In fact, there is barely any true lecture. Notes are open ended packets and the professors do not explain key concepts. In fact, they often say "we want you to be confused. It's how you learn." They will talk for about 5 minutes and then we get into groups and try to do the activities in the packet. Most of this time is comprised of students looking at each other blankly while staring at the packet and then trying to get help from the professor in a classroom of over 200 people. I've never seen a class taught this way and to be quite honest, I don't think I learn this way whatsoever. I am more of a take notes/traditional lecture, then work out some problems to understand the approach type of student. Almost all science classes at Harvard are taught like this, at least in the extension school. I feel like Harvard's program does not cater to people who have barely seen science, versus programs that truly cater to non traditional students/second degree students. The professors seem to make a lot of assumptions about student's familiarity with the concepts and tend to gloss over fundamentals.

That being said, I ended up hiring a tutor for physics (thinking I could manage to bring up my chemistry grade on my own. I was good in high school chemistry and vastly underestimated general chemistry at Harvard). However, I feel like he still did not break it down enough for me. I trudged on throughout the semester hoping things to get better. I had always pulled myself out of an academic hole on my own, so I figured this would be the same. Unfortunately I did not. I was still doing poorly in the physics course especially, while slowly increasing my exam grades in Chemistry by small increments. My last exam grade in physics, I completely failed the exam. I received a 50. It was devastating. I've never failed anything before and I felt like I had been kicked in the stomach. Panic was setting in. With only a few weeks to finals I hired a different tutor. We worked together everyday leading to the final exam and it helped tremendously, but obviously relearning an entire semester's worth of information in about 2 weeks is not an easy feat). Final grades are not posted yet, but with the curve in physics I am on track for a B at least (estimation). In Chemistry, I actually ended up feeling like I didn't do as well on the final and I think I am on track for a C (there's no curve). I know these are awful grades in regards to premed but I did the best with what I could given so close to final exams. ):

We are on winter break now and my tutor wants to work on physics and chemistry material this month leading to spring semester in addition to meeting during the academic semester. That being said, once I calculated how many tutoring sessions this tutor suggests for the students he teaches in this program I am up to a $19,200 bill (3, 2 hour sessions per week at $150 an hour; plus the cost of an Uber to and from his office).

To make matters worse, I feel like I have made a lot of financial mistakes in Boston. I live with my partner in a one bedroom apartment, without other roommates. Living costs here are sky-high. I have taken out about $32,000 to pay for the housing and the academics. To take out another $19,200 just for tutoring this upcoming semester is terrifying to me. I went to undergrad and graduated with relatively minimal debt (~$27,000 after scholarships, grants etc) and I feel like I am negating that with the cost of the tutor and such in Boston.

Back at my undergrad alma mater, they have a premedical post bac program that is about $19,000 for the entire program and I would be able to live at home with my parents to save money. I come from an extremely poor family with a lot of illness/hard times etc, so money is always in the back of my mind.

I suppose my question is:
Do you think it would be advantageous to me if I transferred to the program at my state school and finished out my post bac there with as highest grades as possible, and sneak in an upper level science class or 2 to make up for my 2 poor grades at Harvard? I am very concerned about the financial burden staying in Boston, the cost of the Harvard Program and then the extreme cost of the tutor. If you were in my shoes would you cut your losses and go with the program back home that will save money? Additionally, I am familiar with the teaching style at my undergraduate institution an it isn't the "innovative" style that Harvard employs. It is the presentation/lecture style that I have excelled in previously.

I know this is a very long post and I apologize in advance if it isn't the best organized. Any advice would be appreciated.

I know these grades are a dark mark on my transcript & I feel like my dream of medicine is slowly slipping out a reach.

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I'm sorry you're having a hard time. I'm in the same program and I like it, but understand it's not for everyone.

It sounds like transferring to your state school is not a bad option. You have to put yourself in the best position to succeed. Wait a few days for the grades to come and go from there, but if they are as you expected, doing it at your state school is completely valid.If you think there's a chance that you won't do medical school, you should consider finances. I wouldn't even think about taking the upper level classes at HES because it won't do what you expect. If you know these classes are easier, most likely adcoms will too and the name recognition will not do much.

Feel free to PM me with questions. Best of luck!

To anyone else reading, the extension school is rigorous but I feel like what they ask is reasonable. The instructors are good and they make an active effort to get you to learn the material. I feel like it's good prep for the MCAT and beyond. To OP's point about their style, they do emphasize critical thinking on top of memorization. But these are Harvard lecturers. Tucci, the chem instructor, is really good at chemistry pedagogy. From OP, it sounds like the instructors are out to get you but I do not feel like that's the case. And the quote about their wanting you to be confused (which I have never heard, it might be in Physics then), might be a way of encouragement. Also although it might not seem like it to some, it also is meant for people with little to no science background. Hope that provides another side of the story!
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Thank you for the response! I'm glad to hear someone likes the program! From the people I associate with from there, many seem disappointed with it lately. Very upsetting!

However, the comment about professors wanting us to be confused was in physics. I'm in both classes. It was pretty harsh and a lot of students weren't happy about it being said. I don't think anyone is "out to get" students. But I definitely think there is an underlying attitude by some of the faculty, at least in physics. Tucci is a total sweetheart and so is Justin in contrast.

I think the program is geared towards people who thrive doing independent learning and I don't think that facet is emphasized enough in the admissions materials and information sessions. I think it should be mentioned that Harvard employs a slightly alternative teaching style compared to a common lecture presentation. I've experienced this type of classroom before and find that I don't flourish in it and develop gaps in my understanding. If this was mentioned during the admissions process I would have sought a post bac elsewhere. Something like that isn't information you leave out .

Additionally, I think although the cost is fair for the program, the level of support is not as good as other programs in the same financial bracket. Again, not well advertised in the admissions process in my opinion. Many schools give MCAT prep courses, help with volunteering/heathcare experience etc. I think for most people, at least those I talk to in the program, it's all very enchanting on paper but there is a disconnect in the delivery overall.

I'm still set on medical school, but I know those grades will be an issue, but it also doesn't make things impossible either. I more so thinking of it as there being no guarantees. We can all go through this program and not be admitted to a medical school & it causes anxiety. Therefore, with costs adding up it makes me more inclined to reduce the financial damage as much as possible at this point in case things end up going completely sideways.

Also, I think coming from a state school that emphasized fundamentals in the initial stages I think certain ideas tend to get lost in the shuffle of Harvard courses. A friend of mine met with Tucci to discuss this and Tucci said it's embedded in the lecture. But personally, I feel as if I shouldn't be hunting between the lines of lecture. The information should be presented to me. I think I'm a little old school in that sense . I started off in an engineering program at my alma mater and obviously that involves heavy science. Classes were taught the standard way and I'm just not really sure why Harvard spins that.

Overall, I'm relatively disappointed in the program and obviously my performance. I don't think it's a bad program but I think it is a bit more "ad hoc" and haphazard than others out there. Of course hindsight is 20/20. I'd definitely suggest to others enrolling in a course individually before applying to this program because some people are not adept to that teaching style. It's very similar to problem based learning some medical schools have adopted and there is a percentage of people who do not apply to those schools because their learning style does not match.

I think it really comes down to knowing thy self.

My greatest issue is wondering if adcoms will think I went from an Ivy to a state school because I "couldn't hack it" at an ivy. But in reality there's a lot of factors at work here. I suppose that could be explained, but it seems suspicious at first glance.
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Again, really sorry that you're feeling down about this. I understand where you're coming from. I was not prepared for my undergrad courses and got whooped the first quarters but eventually got the hang of it, and I actually think that experience made me more prepared for future courses like these. I think an important thing for me was to believe that I can change in response to their curriculum as opposed to changing the curriculum in response to me. To put it in context, my undergrad GPA is a lot lower than yours, but I feel more prepared for HES courses because of my undergrad experience (haven't taken natural science classes since HS like 10 years ago though). I think it comes down to whether you think it's better preparation for your future, and what you think your chances are at being successful in it.

I know you don't want to hear me defend the program, but it might be helpful. The 2 classes you are taking do problems in lecture because the material itself is problem based. Chemistry and Physics require a paper and pencil to hash out problems, so the teaching style is tailored to that. It seems like you want the lectures to be explanation based and you can work on the problems yourself at home, but this is inherently not the material at hand, at least not at this level. Now, doing problems in class is more interactive, but I would argue it actually is more helpful for new students to have periods in the lecture to try out the problems themselves immediately after learning it. I actually don't like this because I feel like I can learn it on my own, but I do think it is more helpful to people who are struggling. I think most of your concerns are regarding the material and exam questions and not how it is presented. Bio at HES, for example, is more traditionally lecture based because the material requires more facts. I usually watch those lectures without a paper and pencil. If you are taking a physics and chem class elsewhere that is not problem oriented, I do not think you will learn the material as well.

Anyway, my suggestion is to not be so fixed on a particular learning style. The human mind is very malleable and just because you thrive in one does not mean you cannot excel in others. For example, I come from a more problem solving background so I suck at memorizing things, but I have worked harder to learn memorization techniques. I think if you adopt more of the growth mindset instead of fixed, you will be more successful in the long run.

But to answer your question, yeah if you are not doing well in the program and don't think you can improve, you have to put yourself in a position to be successful. The best case scenario is you improve in future courses at HES and adcoms will see the trend. But if you don't think this is possible (I actually disagree, I think you just need to take it more slowly perhaps just one class next semester), forget what schools will think about your switch to your state school. It will still look better than continuing to struggle at HES.

And a comment on HES, yes OP is right in that it is less hand holding. But this is advertised, it's a DIY postbac which is why it is so much cheaper. Their mentality is they'll accept almost anyone and give them the opportunity to succeed, but not necessarily hold their hand in the process. MCAT prep is on your own, and you have to be proactive about opportunities and scheduling check ins, but it's a quarter of the cost of formal postbacs.
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I went to HES and loved it, despite having been an arts major and never taken a science class before. Gregg Tucci and Logan McCarty are some of my favorite professors of all time. Justin McCarty is pretty much the sole reason I did well in OChem.

Who are you paying $150/hr for tutoring? Justin only charges $160 per 2 hours and he's absolute top shelf - I'd have a hard time justifying paying more than that, though sadly he can't tutor Gen Chem if he's the head TF for it...

I'm sorry you're going through this, OP. HES has a tendency to be sink or swim, and quite a few people do not manage to swim... It does seem like living at home and taking the pre-req's at your alma mater might be a great idea. You really want to avoid torpedoing your GPA is you can help it, and the cost of living in Boston is definitely absurd.
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Agreed $150/hr is way too high (MCAT tutor in my area charged ~$100/hr) for college Physics/Chem, but it is Boston/Harvard maybe they charge higher there. Agreed with what others said, obviously HES teaching style does NOT fit your learning habit and cost (with tutoring) is too high, plus your post-bacc grades are sinking <= this is permanent damage to your GPA. Cut your loss now.
My greatest issue is wondering if adcoms will think I went from an Ivy to a state school because I "couldn't hack it" at an ivy. But in reality there's a lot of factors at work here. I suppose that could be explained, but it seems suspicious at first glance.

Unfortunately I think this is how a transfer will appear. Sorry if this is harsh but isn't that what happened in your scenario? You have lots of excuses but ultimately you are responsible for knowing how you learn and learning the material.