College sophomore and switching majors
January 21, 2014 10:58 AM   Subscribe

I am a second semester sophomore, pre-med student who has been reconsidering his options for the past few weeks. My grades in pre-med courses, no matter how hard I try, are extremely lackluster and my GPA in those courses barely hovers over a 3.0 (luckily, this is calculated after only four eligible courses). Furthermore, when I calculated my non pre-med courses I found that I had a 3.8, which was both encouraging (since I go to a top 10 school; I was a little happy that I had a GPA like this) and demoralizing because I've pretty much convinced myself that my academic strengths lie in anything BUT the natural sciences.

Logically I should switch right? The problem is that it's my fourth semester in this school, so I'll be extremely far behind if I switch. In addition, registration is almost over and I literally have three days to decide what feels like my future. AND I still have no idea what to do with my life. All my life I've been told to become a doctor and I agreed, and although I still have interest in that profession, I'm now convinced my grades aren't strong enough to stick with it I have no idea what else I can turn to. I've always been interested in academia and would like to spent time both in the workforce and as a professor but without an academic disciple to focus on I'm completely screwed.

Not to mention it's internship season... and my work experience is very research-focused... there are also some student jobs I have on my resume but I can only go so far with that.

I need some help and FAST, because my unversity's career services department is booked until next week and I can't wait that long. I haven't felt so anxious in so long.
posted by JYuanZ to Education (17 answers total)
You can still apply to med school if you don't major in pre-med.

Science courses are often more demanding and require more work. 3.0 is not bad.

You could switch to something related that would prepare you both for work after college if you don't go to med school, and be appropriate for applying to med school. Look at bioinformatics, biology, chemistry, or nursing.

If you want to be a professor, it seems like there's a shortage of nursing profs, unlike many other academic areas.

You might not have to change majors to take classes this term in the new direction you are considering. This is just one semester! You can take some other classes this term and stay in or switch back to pre-med if you decide it's for you.
posted by yohko at 11:11 AM on January 21, 2014

The problem is that it's my fourth semester in this school, so I'll be extremely far behind if I switch.

Unless your MCAT scores are incredible and you fill some sought-after demographic, a 3.0 in pre-med does not bode well for admissions, anywhere, for med school, unless you take time between graduation and applications to compensate with MORE coursework. Do not fall prey to the sunk cost fallacy.

Would you be interested in becoming a Physician's Assistant, APRN, statistician, counselor, social worker, physical therapist, etc, if health care still appeals to you? Doctoring isn't the only way to enter the field.
posted by blue suede stockings at 11:12 AM on January 21, 2014

Don't panic. You absolutely do not have to figure out the rest of your life in the next three days. Many careers don't require a particular major, and you probably will not be extremely far behind if you switch now, especially if you aren't planning to major in a science field. At many universities, it is entirely possible to get a psychology or sociology major even if you don't get started until junior year.

Do you have an academic advisor? If so, make an appointment with him or her as soon as possible.

I would recommend that you sit down with a list of the classes you've already taken and think about what classes you have really enjoyed. Does that exercise point to a particular major? If not, what do those classes have in common, and do the commonalities point to a particular major?

I think your goal for the next three days should be to come up with a list of two or three majors that you would like to explore. Then you should figure out one class that you can take in each major that would both help you work towards the degree and help you figure out if it's the right major for you. You can sort out the rest of your life over the course of the semester (and later, as an ongoing process, because most people don't sort out the rest of their lives as sophomores in college), but right now you just want to get into a schedule that will help you figure things out.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 11:15 AM on January 21, 2014

"All my life I've been told to become a doctor" is the worst reason to be pre-med as an undergrad. It also unfortunately seems to be the most common reason. Good for you for questioning this while you still have time left in your undergrad career to explore your options.

3.0 isn't terrible for early pre-med courses depending on the school, and especially if you're showing improvement. The real problem here seems to be that you aren't sure what you want. You can always go back to medicine if you realize that's the thing for you, but you probably won't be sure until you explore some other options.

Let's flip this around: which subjects are you getting the 3.8 in? I think it would be worthwhile to spend some time working on your strengths, not your weaknesses, so that you build up some academic and personal confidence. Take courses that really interest you and that you think you'll do well in this semester, and then see how you feel when spring rolls around. Maybe you'll have a new career path, maybe you'll realize that you feel better prepared to take on your pre-med requirements.
posted by oinopaponton at 11:15 AM on January 21, 2014 [3 favorites]

Hmm. 3.0 after four courses is 3.5 after eight courses if you could get four A's. You are not in a too deep of hole. How much do you want to be a physician? There are a number of ways to make up for such a deficit including biomedical graduate degrees. If you want to be a physician badly and you can pick up your game a little, keep at it.
If you don't want to be a physician that much, consider what your future you want. (Other medical professional, other career) I can't advise you there, not enough info.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 11:20 AM on January 21, 2014

There are two questions you're thinking about right now: "Do I want to continue on the pre-med track?" and "If not, what will I do with my life?" I think it might help you to realize that those are two separate questions, and to know that even if the answer to the first question is "no", you don't necessarily have to answer the second question in the next few days. Most careers other than medicine don't require you to devote yourself to them from your sophomore year of college; if you don't want to do medicine, you have some time to figure out what you want to do instead.
posted by Johnny Assay at 11:20 AM on January 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

Hi, I was premed. I lost interest and didn't pursue going to med school.

I lost interest for a few reasons that aren't really relevant here, but it was probably my third year in school before I realized that it wasn't what I wanted to do. I went ahead and finished out the premed reqs anyway, even took the MCAT (just in case), but my grades weren't stellar and my MCAT score was average.

I happened to find a major at my school that I loved to which I was also able to apply most of the premed courses I took. For me that was something called History, Philosophy, and Social Studies of Science and Medicine. I loved it. Wrote a thesis, took my hard science courses right alongside my liberal artsy courses, and it was a great experience for me.

I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life and just decided I was going to take the classes I wanted to take and figure it all out later. I graduated thinking I would possibly work for a museum or a health-related nonprofit, but I graduated in 2008 and that didn't...pan out. Not gonna lie, I was un/der employed for a really long time. I briefly considered going to grad school for public health, which still I guess sort of appeals to me except that I have approximately zero desire to ever get back in a classroom.

These days I'm working somewhere great that has absolutely nothing to do with what I majored in, but that's ok. I was able to do and learn a lot of really fascinating stuff in college, and I only got to do that because I stopped focusing on the premed thing. I was a docent for a while at a museum specifically relevant to my major, which I did just for fun.

Long story short: go ahead and drop the premed ambitions if it's not what you want to do. When you've lived your whole life assuming "I will be this thing" then it's hard, mentally, to make the transition into "well, what now" but it's not impossible.

Continue working your lab job if you like it! Lab work is good experience no matter what you do. Just because you're not going to be premed anymore doesn't mean you have to give up science entirely. There are a lot of options out there. Make an appointment with your student adviser to talk about it.

Good luck!

Being premed sucks baaaaallls. If you're like me you're probably feeling a bit of dread and guilt right now. For what it's worth, I think you're making a very sane decision here and I do not blame you one tiny bit for wanting to give premed the boot.
posted by phunniemee at 11:21 AM on January 21, 2014

Are you interested in something else specifically?

I don't think anyone will be surprised that your non-pre-med GPA is higher than your science GPA. Science courses are harder (really, they are). Part of pre-med students having to take a year of physics and such is merely a weeding-out process. They count on a certain number of people to give up on it. A 3.0 in your pre-med pre-reqs will not automatically disqualify you from entry into med school. Really it won't. It isn't amazing, and I would work hard this semester, but med school entry is about more than just your GPA.

Also keep in mind that all smart people start college wanting to go into academia. This tends to change as people understand the realities of that career path. The world is changing quickly and it's to your benefit to try to position yourself to be pretty flexible, career-wise.

Here's my standard advice these days to undergrads: if you aren't completely sure what you want to do, career-wise, and most kids aren't, do a general science track, including all the pre-med requirements (so physics, bio, chem, orgo, calculus). There are very few careers, if any, that you will qualify for with a non-science undergrad degree that you won't with a science undergrad. But there are plenty of opportunities you will kiss goodbye (or have to do a lot of make-up work later) with a non-science degree that you could have with a science degree. With your pre-med stuff done, you have the option to go to med school one day if you wish - or PT school or nursing school or many other things. And it won't preclude you from, say, going into marketing or becoming a writer or a lawyer or whatever if you change your mind. It's much harder to go the other way though, from getting an English degree with none of the science prereqs to going to med school.

If I were you, I would stick with the pre-med pre-reqs, because they aren't just 'pre-med.' They are the standard basic B.S. courses you can do many things with. Take classes you really enjoy and are really good at for your electives.
posted by Lutoslawski at 11:22 AM on January 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

First of all, don't panic.

You don't have to decide anything right now. I took a first round of pre-med courses as a first-year undergrad, got Bs (and one W in gen chem), then switched and did a history major. I enjoyed it and did well.

Later, after college, I decided I really did want to be a doctor, so I went back and did a postbac program and went to med school.

Relax, take courses that interest you, and do your best in them. Do some shadowing and/or some scribing in an emergency department (an awesome pre-med experience I never knew was available when I was in your shoes) to keep involved with medical stuff. Really, it will work out if you want it to, a couple of Bs in gen chem or orgo notwithstanding.
posted by killdevil at 11:26 AM on January 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm going to let you in on a little secret.

Most of us grown-ups didn't figure out what we'd do for a living during undergrad. Shoot, most of us still wonder if we ever will figure that out. School isn't a video game where you are trying to win with good grades. Take some time to explore some other topics you might find interesting. Take a few courses and talk to some people to find out where that might lead you. Even if you decide that you want to get back on the med school track, that path will still be there.
posted by advicepig at 11:34 AM on January 21, 2014

I just wanted to mention that the bummer with the post-bacc thing (which I myself did) is that it is expensive and can be much more difficult to do after you've graduated and have a full-time job and such. College is crazy expensive, and it's nice to pay only once. Hence my advice to sort of get them out of the way now, just in case.
posted by Lutoslawski at 11:42 AM on January 21, 2014

Response by poster: I wanted to make add much more detail after I posted this question so I'll leave it as a comment here.

First, regarding my pre-med status. I've already started to look into other programs that could serve as decent alternatives to being a physician - my interest in the occupation is still there but it's not at the level where I can't see myself doing anything else. For example, I've exposed myself to various professions like physician assistant, chiropractor, physical therapist, anesthesiologist assistant, dentistry, etc and they seem like pretty good alternatives to being a physician (and to be honest, slightly more favorable... I guess calling myself pre-med was a bit inaccurate wasn't it). The thing is that I feel that since there's a common pattern with me performing poorly in natural science classes healthcare isn't the best field for me. Not to mention that studying biology classes at times seems so bland and boring... although maybe that can be attributed to my professors (maybe not however).

I did exceptionally well in global culture and economics classes and did alright in math and computer science classes and have always held an interest in economic theory. My current schedule looks like this:

Bio class
Bio class
College requirement

I am thinking of swapping the physics for a math course though, but it's currently really difficult to find one that fits in my schedule.
posted by JYuanZ at 11:55 AM on January 21, 2014

Um... that's an insane schedule. That's three lab sciences plus two other full courses, right? It's no surprise if you're struggling when your workload is that heavy.

I have to say, doing poorly in pre-med courses is much worse than not taking them at all, in terms of leaving your options open to pursue a healthcare career (MD included). You can always take the pre-med curriculum after graduating as a post-bac and then apply to med school, but once you have a C in orgo on your transcript, it is there forever.

I would think of your decisions now as less of "I am deciding what to do for the rest of my life!!!" and more of "I am deciding what I'm interested in and what I can excel at right now."
posted by telegraph at 12:03 PM on January 21, 2014

What do you actually like doing? If you're more of a verbal, communications, humanities type person, it doesn't matter that some other person in your life wishes you'd become a doctor. You're always going to be miserable and probably not as good as people who actually enjoy the hard sciences. If you love something else, go major in that. Don't worry too much about what jobs said major qualifies you to do, right now.

Where do your academic strengths lie? You mention struggling in your hard science courses. Have you always been more of a math and science type of person, or did you find yourself struggling with math and more math-oriented science coursework in high school?

I think your best bet for a major is to find something you're naturally good at, and which you enjoy. Ideally it will also be something with some job prospects, but again I wouldn't worry too much about that unless you find yourself tempted to major in something completely absurd like dance. It's OK to be an English major or a psych major or a political science major. You don't have to be in the hard sciences to get a job. This is especially true if you're at a very prestigious school.

Some more specific thoughts:

I know a surprising number of people who've combined experience in the hard sciences with more "soft skills" type specializations. One old high school friend of mine has a PhD in Biomedical Engineering and now works for a science publisher. Another old high school friend has an undergrad degree in engineering followed by a law degree, which she uses for some highly specialized corporate thing I don't entirely understand. A friend of mine in college double majored in Women's Studies and Biology, intending to go on to be a midwife. What I'm getting at here is that it probably won't hurt you to have some experience in the hard sciences against a background in a different area. Nobody's going to look at a lab internship you did before you turned 20 years old and think "oh well obviously she can't have a place in our MBA program", or whatever you're worried about.

As far as "falling behind", if you've only taken four courses for your major so far, you can't be that far behind. You're a sophomore in college, for chrissakes! Better to reevaluate your skills and interests and find something that would make you happier now, rather than five or ten or twenty years from now.

Also, re your worry that not doing well in hard science classes means you aren't a good fit for a healthcare career, is there someone at your school who you could talk with about this? Does your school have a medical school, or any associated program that trains nurse practitioners, physician assistants, pharmacists, dentists, or the like? I don't want to sound like a snob, but... there are plenty of people who work in healthcare fields who are not science geniuses. You may want to have a sit down with someone who works in your Nursing School or Pharmacy Institute or whatever and talk about whether you'd be a good candidate, rather than jumping to conclusions about it.
posted by Sara C. at 12:24 PM on January 21, 2014

Response by poster: Math wasn't terribly bad for me but I never got an A in my natural science courses during high school except for freshman year Bio. And to think I threw myself to competing against the brightest minds from around the world in these same subjects....
posted by JYuanZ at 1:03 PM on January 21, 2014

Go talk to your econ professors. Ask them about careers with an economics degree, and where recent graduates have gone. Ask them about econ research and health care. Ask them about grad school and the academic job market.
posted by yarntheory at 7:02 PM on January 21, 2014

Here's the thing: the skills you need to succeed in a hard science course are NOT the exact same skills you'd be using in a STEM career. The skills you need to succeed in a humanities class are not exactly the ones you'd use in a "humanities" career, whatever that is (law? journalism?). As long as you're not completely incompetent at a subject (and it doesn't sound like you are), then your experience taking classes in an academic field is actually a rather poor predictor of your experience working in a related job out in the real world. Millions of great students find this out every year upon graduation, much to their dismay. There's not necessarily a linear and unswerving path from major-->career. If the career part is what's important to you, then do as yarntheory and Sara C. suggest and directly research careers in various fields, don't just try to infer stuff about the career from the classes you're taking.

Also, don't assume that getting A's in non-science courses and B's in science ones means that you're destined for greatness in history or folklore studies or whatever. The unfortunate fact is that there's quite a bit of grade inflation all over U.S. undergraduate institutions, and that grade inflation/relaxation of standards just happens far more easily in a "soft" class with discussions and term papers than it can in a big ol' lecture course with curved multiple-choice exams and accountability to a set of fixed med-school entrance requirements.
posted by Bardolph at 3:43 AM on January 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

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