Planning Your Coursework
Academic Strengths and Capability
The “right” schedule for completing pre-physician assistant coursework along with requirements for one’s major depends on one’s individual circumstances, preparation, interests, and capabilities. As you map out which particular courses to take and when to take them, consider the strength of your high school preparation in various course subjects. Also note that:
- Science courses with labs require extra time in class each week.
- The number of science courses you take during a single semester is up to you, although the logistics of scheduling them will likely limit you to a maximum of two per semester.
It is recommended that you:
- Choose courses that are right for you based on time-commitment, level of difficulty, and the rest of your schedule.
- Devote the necessary time, energy, and focus to your pre-med courses to ensure that you do your best as your performance in pre-med courses will be closely scrutinized.
- Challenge and push yourself to develop your potential. In general, medical school admission committees prefer that students take the more academically challenging course sequences if more than one is available.
- Don’t feel obligated to take the more advanced introductory course if it is not right for you.
- Don’t put yourself into a position where you are overworked, or overbooked.
- Stay on top of your work and get extra help at the first sign of trouble. If you need help with your coursework, there are a variety of on-campus resources available to help you, such as the Quantitative and Symbolic Reasoning (QSR) Center and the Writing Center.
Specific Requirements of Your Major
- The major you choose – in combination with your pre-physician assistant coursework — will determine how many electives you can pursue.
- Some majors have more course requirements than others.
- Some majors have greater time commitments than others.
- Some majors have greater overlap with the pre-physician assistant requirements than others.
- There is no “right” major for getting into physician assistant school, so concentrate in an area you are interested in and that allows you to have the educational experience you desire.
Advanced Placement (AP) Credits
In order for students to receive AP credit at Hamilton, they must take the next-level course in that subject and obtain a grade of C or above. It is important to note that most physician assistant schools will not allow Advanced Placement credits from high school to fulfill their biology, chemistry, mathematics, and physics requirements. Students must take the pre-physician assistant course requirements in college. Students that are confident of their mastery of the AP content (most departments require a score of 4 or 5) should take a higher-level class in the same department. For example, AP credit for psychology can enable students to bypass introductory psychology in order to elect an upper-level psychology course.
Involvement in sports, clubs, community service, and other extracurricular activities has many benefits such as the development of interests, skills, friendships, and more, and should be part of the undergraduate experience. However, extensive involvement poses challenges for the pre-physician assistant student. Successfully achieving balance between academic and extracurricular commitments requires excellent time management, examinations of priorities, and sometimes some difficult decisions.
Things to consider regarding extracurricular involvement:
- Science courses also include a laboratory component so each of these classes will have a time commitment equal to that of two normal courses.
- Activities that require a great deal of time and commitment (e.g. a varsity sport) may mean completing pre-physician assistant requirements at a slower pace.
- Devoting considerable time and energy to an extracurricular activity at the expense of academic work may result in weaker performance and lower grades.
Taking Pre-Physician Assistant Courses at Another Institution
There are advantages to taking all of your pre-physician assistant courses at Hamilton, and potential disadvantages to taking them elsewhere. By taking these courses at Hamilton, you will have professors on campus who know you well in the courses of greatest interest to physician assistant school admissions committees. Through these professors and their potential letters of recommendation, the Health Professions Advisory Committee will know you better and will be able to make a more convincing recommendation to the physician assistant schools that you are applying to. Summer school courses are usually not as thorough as semester-long courses, so you won't learn as much (particularly in pre-physician assistant courses that prepare you for the D.A.T.). Hamilton courses are also guaranteed to be of high quality and academic rigor. The same cannot always be said of summer courses from other institutions.