By Cristina Olteanu, HBSc, MD Candidate (Class of 2017)

Cristina obtained her HBSc in Human Biology from the University of Toronto in 2012 and is currently an MD Candidate at the same institution (Class of 2017). She has helped numerous students with course selection to reach their academic potential more effectively and to identify their career aspirations.

Here she shares some thoughts on picking the right undergraduate program and courses.

Deciding on a program of study and selecting the right courses for an undergraduate degree has been described by many students as challenging, unnerving, and even daunting. If medicine is your calling, you should apply to medical school regardless of your undergraduate degree, as long as you have all the prerequisite courses. If you do not have the prerequisite courses, speak to medical schools for their input on which alternative courses you may take as substitutions in order to be exempted from these requirements. Once you fulfill the prerequisite requirements, let your passion and academic skills guide the rest of your course selection process.

Your undergraduate experiences should be fulfilling and exciting, but also challenging enough for personal growth. I took a variety of Human Biology courses, including genetics, physiology, and anatomy, simply because I enjoyed the subject and strongly felt that these courses would build a strong foundation for the study of medicine. Not only did they serve that purpose, but IĀ also enjoyed each one of them.

Having said that, do not feel that you must take biology courses to be accepted; you can take courses in any number of fields because medical schools encourage students from diverse academic backgrounds to apply.

Getting into medical school is not a race, but rather a long journey that involves continual learning and growth. Do not be disappointed if you feel your chosen program of study is not working out for you. You can speak with your counselors or senior students about switching programs, or even take extra time to explore your passion further by pursuing a Masters or Ph.D. degree before medical school.

Another key aspect to consider is how your courses can help prepare you for alternate careers. Acceptance into medical school is competitive due to the high volume of candidates and not everyone will be accepted. Through your experiences during your undergraduate studies, you may find another career path that you are passionate about. Many prerequisites for medicine can also apply to other professional programs such as pharmacy, dentistry, and nursing. Therefore, you may wish to take into consideration the common prerequisites required for various professional programs. Knowing you have a viable backup plan will allow you to also focus your energy on plan B.

Most importantly, pick courses that you can excel at. This may involve doing some research by talking to senior students, mentors, and professors to fully understand the content and evaluation process for a course of interest. Ultimately, you need a competitive academic record of accomplishments for admission into medical school. In other words, a strong academic profile is a very important factor for medical school admissions committee. An important focus should be on fulfilling the academic prerequisites for the medical schools of your choice while picking courses that align with your professional and personal interests, all while achieving academic excellence.

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