Of all the pre-med students, who knew I would be the one to embrace a challenge and take a semester to study abroad amidst the million pre-requisite courses required to go to a health professional school? If you had asked me during my freshman year of college if I’d study abroad for a full semester, my response would have been, “No, there are too many classes I need to take, and I need to take these classes AT Berkeley. There’s just no time.” But with a little bit of planning (or, in my case, luck) and encouragement from friends, I was able to embark on a journey that I consider as one of the best times of my life.
How did I plan and how was I able to finish all of my requirements in time for graduation?
As a typical pre-med student, I had a laundry list of courses I needed and wanted to take during my undergraduate years. Just to list a few, General Chemistry, Organic Chemistry, Physics, Biology, Math, Biochemistry, Physiology, etc etc. No pre-med wants to stack these difficult weeder courses together into one semester and risk getting a bad grade. Everyone is looking to take these courses during the easiest semester with the easiest professor. For me, it just so happened that taking the second half of OChem during summer school was considered to be one of the easiest times to take this deathly course. What this meant for me, in terms of studying abroad, was that I was one semester ahead of schedule to complete my requirements in time for graduation (coincidentally).
Come fall semester of sophomore year, when I was toying with the idea of studying abroad, I planned out which courses I would take during which semesters to complete my major on time. Sure, I had to stack a few science courses together in the same semester, but did I think this experience would be worth it? To be honest, I wasn’t sure at the time. But all of my friends who had studied abroad previously kept assuring me that it would be worth it and more.
When it was time to get approval from my department advisor to go abroad (I majored in Molecular and Cell Biology – Immunology), I was absolutely positive I wouldn’t be able to take any of my requirements abroad. I had already finished all of my lower div requirements at school and all that was left were my upper div courses, which I believe had to be finished in-house. But to my surprise, my advisor told me that I could take my elective courses abroad! All I had to do was find a course similar to the ones offered as my elective courses at my home university and bring back the work that I completed and the syllabus. Easy peasy! That left me with one or two less courses to take when I came back. Did that help my decision and ease my worries of studying abroad? Yes.
Even with the vast amount of requirements needed to apply to health professional schools, it is definitely possible to study abroad and take advantage of the opportunities you have as an undergraduate student. The number one regret I hear from people post-college is, “I wish I studied abroad…”
So, can you study abroad as a pre-med? Yes. It may take a bit of planning and asking different advisors if you can transfer credit from abroad, but it is more than doable. Was the experience worth it? More than I can say. Does it help with my med school applications? YES YES YES! Medical schools, more than ever, are looking for well-rounded students who are more than just their GPA and MCAT scores (but that is another topic for another time…)