Frequently Asked Questions

  1. I’m confused about which math sequence to take. How do I decide? What is “enough”?
  2. I’m not doing well in Chemistry (or Math 157/160 or both!). What do I do now?
  3. The grade I earned for Chem 110 is not high enough to allow me to go on to Chem 112. What should I do?
  4. I’m a sophomore and I got a C in Chem 112 last year. Should I retake that course?
  5. I’m having trouble doing everything I want to do, but I have been told that medical schools won’t take a “quitter”. What should I do?
  6. I’m doing well in all my classes. Is there anything else I should be doing?
  7. I’m thinking of taking organic (or physics) in summer school. I’ve heard it’s really hard and this way I can concentrate on doing well in this one course. What do you think?
  8. I want to study abroad. Can I do this as a pre-med?
  9. I am a junior (or senior) and I know I can’t go directly to medical school. Should I try a post-baccalaureate program, get a job, or go to graduate school?

I’m confused about which math sequence to take. How do I decide? What is “enough”?

The answer to these questions depends on a couple of factors; this is not a “one size fits all” situation. If you plan to go to medical, veterinary, dental, podiatry, PA, PT, or optometry school, you will need calculus. Most schools do not place a restriction on the number of credits, just the general requirement of calculus. A couple of MD schools, popular with Alleghenians, require one year of math – 2 courses. So, we recommend that you take a full year. This can be satisfied by 159 & 160, or by 157 & 158, or by 160 & 170, or by 170 & another upper level math class. The sequence you take depends on where you begin.

The second part to this answer lies in the major you intend to pursue. If you plan to major in chemistry, biochemistry, physics or math, you should take the Math 159/160/170 sequence, starting with whatever course is most appropriate.

If you plan to major in biology, neuroscience, or any major other than the ones listed previously, you have the option of taking Math 157/158. This should prepare you adequately for the intro chem and physics sequences. It will not, however, be adequate for many of the upper level courses in those majors. Math 158 does not prepare you to take Math 170, a pre-requisite for a number of chemistry and physics courses. (Note that organic chemistry has no math pre-requisite) This only becomes a problem if you decide after staring the math sequence to change your major to chem, physics, biochem or math. If you are unsure about your major or just want to keep an open mind, then it is safer to take the 160/170 route.

I’m not doing well in Chemistry (or Math 157/160 or both!). What do I do now?

This is a tough one. If you are a freshman accustomed to getting all A’s with minimal effort, this could mean your first B or C. Although it may come as a shock, it may not hurt too much in the long run if you learn better study skills, get over your homesickness, or finally find a quiet place to study. Try talking to someone about any adjustment problems you are having. If, however, you are really failing (or doing D work), there may be a bigger problem. Seek out your professor(s) and departmental tutor(s). They can usually pinpoint your trouble spots and make helpful suggestions. Many freshmen have a tough time asking for help or worry that faculty will think less of them because they don’t understand everything immediately. The sooner you realize that asking for help is just the most sensible thing to do, the better. The Learning Commons may be helpful if study skills are the problem or you suspect a learning disability.

The grade I earned for Chem 110 is not high enough to allow me to go on to Chem 112. What should I do?

First, you should continue to work on your math sequence. It is a necessary foundation for both chemistry and physics. Beyond that there are a couple of options in this situation. First, you could opt to take chemistry (one or both semesters) in summer school. If you choose this option, be sure to take the course(s) at a school comparable in rigor to Allegheny. It may be tempting to take it at a less rigorous school to earn a higher grade, but, in the long run, this is not a good strategy. Second, you could simply wait and retake Chem 110 next fall. Presumably, with a stronger foundation in math and better study skills, you will be more successful. To round out your second semester consider taking English 200 or some other English literature course as well as a fourth course that will satisfy the requirements for you minor (or major if it not in the sciences). Consider, also, taking four years to complete your pre-health core. Allowing yourself the extra year may have some real advantages.

I’m a sophomore and I got a C in Chem 112 last year. Should I retake that course?

Too many C’s are, of course, a problem for the pre-med. But, one C in a core course, especially during the freshman year may not be a real problem. If this is followed by C’s in organic or physics or biology, though, this becomes increasingly problematic. D’s and failures really should be repeated for a better grade. An alternative to the repeat might be an upper level course to “replace” the original. For example, inorganic chem might substitute for a poor intro chem performance; animal physiology or cell biology could substitute for an intro biology. Of course, if you did poorly in an intro course, your performance is unlikely to be significantly stronger in an upper level course unless there has been some major change in your life (better health, better study skills, resolution of serious personal problem, or maturity).

I’m having trouble doing everything I want to do, but I have been told that medical schools won’t take a “quitter”. What should I do?

This is really quite easy. Quitting the time-demanding activity may very well be the mature response to an overextended schedule. Although you need extracurricular balance in your life, a less time (or physically) demanding one may be more appropriate. For example, a club level or intramural sport will allow you to enjoy a sport, release some stress and stay in shape, but won’t be nearly as demanding of your time and energy as a varsity sport. You may decide that in a particularly demanding semester, you can volunteer a few hours a week, but you don’t have time to organize events. You need to become an excellent time manager and learn that you simply may not be able to do everything you want to do. You must make good use of your new “free time”. It can’t be spent watching TV or cruising the internet; it needs to be spent in productive work.

I’m doing well in all my classes. Is there anything else I should be doing?

I love this question! And, yes, there is more. Since you are handling well the academic work, you should start adding some extracurricular activity. Anything will do; I encourage you to be involved in something you love – music, sports, theater, religious life, volunteerism, etc. Activities which involve working with other people are especially good, but it’s really more important to do something you like. Getting some experience in your chosen field is another excellent way to spend your “extra” time.

I’m thinking of taking organic (or physics) in summer school. I’ve heard it’s really hard and this way I can concentrate on doing well in this one course. What do you think?

In general, it is best to take the core requirements at Allegheny. We know that our courses will prepare you well for the MCAT and for the medical school curriculum. There are good reasons to do otherwise, though, and they include scheduling problems resulting from overseas study, a late decision to pursue medicine, or some other extenuating circumstance. Fear of a challenging course, however, is not a good reason. An A or B in the course is only the beginning. The rigor of the Allegheny courses will prepare you better for dealing with the MCAT and for facing future, tougher courses – like biochemistry and pharmacology, even if it means a somewhat lower grade.

I want to study abroad. Can I do this as a pre-med?

Sure! But, you need to schedule carefully. It is important that the core courses for medicine be taken at Allegheny (or a least a U.S. institution). Quite a few medical schools prefer U.S. coursework and some insist upon it. Completing organic and physics in the sophomore year is one way to do this. Taking Physics 101 freshman year and Physics 102 in the sophomore year is possible. Delaying Bio 221 until spring of junior year might be helpful. It’s probably best to try to go abroad fall semester because the MCAT is offered in the spring and it’s preferable to take one of the spring tests if you want allopathic medicine. For osteopathic or dental medicine, the spring semester abroad (and a summer MCAT or DAT) would work just as well. Consider using all four years to complete your core coursework and apply after your senior year rather than rushing through life. Meet with both K. Peterson and Jenny Kawata as soon as possible.

I am a junior (or senior) and I know I can’t go directly to medical school. Should I try a post-baccalaureate program, get a job, or go to graduate school?

Well, it depends. This can be a fairly involved decision making process and I encourage you to make an appointment to discuss this. But, in general, you must assess where your weakness is. If grades are good and MCATs are low, then getting a job and really studying hard for the test may be the best approach. Post-bac programs are also useful for low MCAT testers, but if your GPA is rather good (3.3 or better), then the post-bac program may be a waste of quite a lot of money. I counsel graduate school only for students who have a genuine interest in research. The exceptions are public health or social work masters programs which may enhance your candidacy, or one of the few one year programs that is intended for the pre-med who hasn’t been accepted and could benefit from additional science courses (usually in physiology). Finally, there are excellent post-bac programs for the “career changer”, ie: the economics major with few or no core science courses who has suddenly decided that medicine is the perfect career.