Health Professions Advising


Course Planning


Most students at Hamilton take four courses per semester, so the pre-med course requirements will comprise around one-third of your coursework. Unless your major has course requirements that overlap with the pre-med requirements, you may be wondering how you'll be able to fit everything into your schedule. The truth is that you'll easily be able to fulfill your pre-med and major requirements as well as pursue a broad spectrum of other courses that interest you as long as you take a moment to do some careful course planning early on, whether or not you've decided on a major.

The Golden Rule of Course Selection

The liberal arts focus at Hamilton, coupled with its open curriculum, offers you an astounding opportunity to delve deeply into a vast array of subjects during your time on the Hill. Focusing solely on the pre-med requirements or choosing a major based on them at the expense of your other academic interests will mean denying yourself the many intellectual and personal satisfactions afforded by a broad-based undergraduate education. Taking this approach will also render you colorless and indistinguishable from thousands of other med school applicants a few years down the road, and it will cheat you of one of the most formative experiences of your lifetime.

You'll be studying medicine in one form or another for the rest of your life. College may be the last time you'll be able to actively study something other than medicine. Take advantage of your four years as an undergraduate to educate yourself broadly and explore all that human knowledge has to offer. Explore Hamilton's diverse curriculum and seek out new horizons in areas you didn't even know existed. Yes, it will be a juggling act to seriously pursue other areas of interest while hammering away at the pre-med classes, but they won't prevent you from taking classes in the arts, humanities, or other academic disciplines unless you let them. In the end, though, pursuing the courses you are interested in will pay off not only in making you a well-educated, well-rounded person, but also in extending the scope of your medical school application into important non-medical arenas that are especially attractive to today's admissions committees searching for well-rounded "human" applicants.

Although science may not be the subject you feel most passionate about, you must nonetheless still strive to find personal relevance, interest, or real world applicability in the pre-med curriculum. You're learning stuff at a fundamental, often abstract level, but all of this stuff applies to what you'll be doing as a doctor one way or another. Seek out examples of those applications. Specific references to clinical medicine in your classroom lectures will, unfortunately, likely be few and far between, so focus and invigorate your studies by drumming up your own clinically oriented examples for projects and papers. Most professors will be happy to help you explore the clinical application of your basic science studies during office hours. Make the time to find these connections and even your pre-med course requirements will go a long way toward fostering a true liberal arts education.

Meet with the Health Professions Advisor ASAP

Making an appointment with Leslie North right away is a good way to begin your course planning as she can help you to identify college courses that satisfy pre-med requirements, determine an appropriate sequence for completing those courses, and plan an academic schedule to accommodate both your pre-medical coursework and other educational objectives.

Create a Tentative "Master Schedule"

By creating a long-term "master schedule" for the courses you plan to take during your four years at Hamilton, you will easily be able to visualize what your pre-med workload will be and determine how to best arrange your coursework so that you strike the critical balance between the courses you need to take and the courses you want to take. While making your master schedule, keep in mind that it should always be tentative. It is okay to change it and juggle courses around. In fact, it is very likely that you will have to modify your schedule to take into account not getting into a class due to a bad registration time or changing your mind about what major you wish to pursue.

To make this schedule, first print out a blank master schedule. Next, write down your pre-med courses under the semester you want to take them in. Schedule these courses in whatever sequence will allow you to best master the material. Medical schools don't care whether you choose to take the pre-med courses within the first two years or spread them out over all four years. Take them at a pace you are comfortable with and that best indicates your ability to do well in a challenging curriculum. Finally, fill in the other classes that you want to take (or need to take for your likely major, if you know it) semester by semester.

When making up your schedule, remember that your pre-med science courses will all include a laboratory component, so each of these classes will have a time commitment equal to that of two normal courses. How many of these 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. The right schedule for you will ultimately depend on your individual circumstances, interests, and background. Students who love science, are confident of their study skills, and are eager to attend medical school directly after college should feel free to take two science courses per semester. Do not feel pressure to conform to any formula that doesn't feel right to you. Take the classes that you are excited about, and make a commitment to do your best in them.

Factors to Consider When Planning Your Courses

While you are planning your college coursework over the long term, there are several important factors you should consider:

How strong was your high school preparation in various subjects?
What are your academic strengths and weaknesses?

When enrolling in your required pre-med courses, you will have to frequently choose between two different course sequences. For example, when you register for your first semester in biology, you have the option of taking either Bio101 or 115. Both courses will satisfy the pre-med requirement and prepare you for the MCAT. Yet, as its course description states, Bio115 is designed for students with a strong background in biology and chemistry and offers a more intensive study of biological principles than does 101 (indeed, you need the Biology Department's permission to enroll in it). Consequently, Bio115 is appropriate for those students who have had extensive biology preparation in high school and have scored well on the AP Biology exam. This is not to say that other students should not take it, but rather that they should carefully consider which course will allow them to excel and really learn the material. Even if you do have a strong background in biology, there are many reasons why you may not want to take Bio115. For instance, you may be taking it during a particularly busy or challenging semester. Don't feel obligated to take the more advanced course if it is not right for you.

A choice similar to that for Bio101 and 115 must also be made when deciding between Chem120 and 125 as well as Phys100, 190, and 200. In general, medical school admission committees prefer that you take the more academically challenging course sequences if more than one is available; however, it is unlikely that the medical school admissions committee reviewing your application will be fully versed as to the course sequences offered by Hamilton, or that it will actually reward you for having chosen the harder sequences for each pre-med requirement. What is more likely to be true is that your application will be considered based upon your academic performance without regard for whether or not you took the more difficult sequence. Does that mean you should try to "pad" your GPA by taking the easiest courses available? Of course not! But it does mean that you should think carefully. Challenge yourself and push yourself to develop your potential, but don't put yourself into a position where you have no hope of succeeding academically no matter how hard you work.

The bottom line is that your performance in the pre-med classes will be closely scrutinized when you apply to medical school, so you should devote the necessary time, energy, and focus to them to ensure that you do your best. This doesn't mean you need maintain a 4.0 average in these classes, but it does mean that these classes should be taken seriously. Don't overload yourself, but also don't try to make college a cake walk either. Medical schools like to see that you can thrive in a challenging academic environment so try your best to do that during your four years at Hamilton in a way that is comfortable to you and shows off your abilities.

If you ever need help with your coursework, remember that there are a variety of on-campus resources available to help you, such as the Q-Lit Center and the Writing Center. Stay on top of your work and get extra help at the first sign of trouble.

What are your likely majors?

The major you choose will determine how many classes you can take that are not required for either admission to medical school or graduation. Some majors have more course requirements than others. Some majors have greater time commitments than others. Some majors have course requirements that overlap with the pre-med requirements while others don't. This is not to say that you should concentrate in one area over another (indeed, there is no "right" major for getting into medical school), but rather that your major will determine to what degree you can spread out your pre-med course requirements and how many electives outside your major you can pursue.

Do you want to spend a semester or year abroad?

If you want to study abroad or away for a semester or two, then by all means do it. Just make sure that you block out the appropriate amount of time on your master schedule. Studying abroad or away does mean that you won't be able to spread out your pre-med courses as much as you might otherwise be able to do and that you may have additional language or other course requirements to fulfill on top of your pre-med and major ones.

Are you planning to participate in any extracurricular activities that require a great deal of time and commitment, like varsity sports?

Becoming involved in sports, clubs, community service, and other extracurricular activities is an excellent way to develop your personal interests, get the most out of your undergraduate experience, and build your resume as a well-rounded, unique medical school applicant. Yet, if these activities require a great deal of time and commitment, then it may mean that you'll have to complete your pre-med requirements at a slower pace. For example, you may only be able to take one pre-med class with lab per semester when you might otherwise be able to take two. Remember, your performance in the pre-med classes will be closely scrutinized when you apply to medical school, so you should devote the necessary time, energy, and focus to them to ensure that you do your best. It will be difficult to do this if you have three hours of lecture, three hours of lab, and three hours of practice all in the same day.

When do you plan on taking the MCAT?

When you decide to take the MCAT will determine how soon you have to take your pre-med requirements as you really should complete all of your pre-med coursework prior to taking this test. If you choose to take the MCAT in the summer between your sophomore and junior years, for example, then it means you will have to complete at least 2-3 pre-med courses per semester beginning in your freshmen year. On the other hand, if you take the MCAT after your graduate, then you will only need to complete 1 pre-med course during most semesters. Please refer to the "MCAT" section for advice on when to take the MCAT.

When do you plan on applying to medical school?

Before you can matriculate into medical school, you will need to have successfully completed all of your pre-med requirements. If you plan on attending medical school immediately after you graduate, then you will need to complete them within no more than three years so you can take the MCAT no later than the summer between your junior and senior years as you will be applying during your senior year. This means you will have to double up on pre-med courses somewhere along the line and that you should try to start taking these courses during your freshman year. Alternatively, if you plan on taking a year or more off following graduation before applying to medical school, then you can take these courses over a longer time period.

AP Credit and Taking Pre-Med Courses at Another Institution

AP credit does not substitute for a course taken in a college environment. If you intend on apply college credit earned through your AP coursework to meet pre-med requirements, then you should be aware that some medical schools restrict the use of such credit. In most cases, the restrictions involve the official reporting of AP credit on the college transcript, establishing an upper limit of such credit toward courses required for admission, or requiring additional upper-level courses in the science areas where AP credit was received. You should check with each school you plan on applying to in order to learn more about their policies toward AP credit.

If you are confident of your mastery of the AP content, take a higher level class in the same department (i.e. Bio115 or Chem125). You can also choose to retake any introductory science class at Hamilton if you are not certain of the mastery you obtained over the material in your high school AP class. Remember that the MCAT is an achievement test based on the required pre-med science classes. Medical schools want evidence of your ability to perform at the college level and in a college environment within the required subjects. Hamilton's curriculum is designed for students who bring with them advanced high school preparation, and our advising system and placement tests will make certain that you continue to find an academic challenge here.

All other things being equal, it is better to take your pre-med courses at Hamilton. First, by taking these courses at Hamilton, you will have professors on campus who know you well in the courses of greatest interest to medical 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 medical schools that you are applying to. Second, summer school courses are usually not as thorough as semester-long courses, so you won't learn as much. This is particularly important in the pre-med courses, since these courses prepare you to do well on the MCAT and in medical school. Finally, Hamilton courses are guaranteed to be of high quality and academic rigor. The same cannot always be said of summer courses from other institutions.

Sample Schedules

View several sample master schedules that are tailored to specific types of students.