My contribution to the Community College Debate--for what it's worth

Hi, guys–happy Friday! I know a lot of new visitors come to this site as they are just beginning their journey, and many are trying to nail down the details of their start.

We all know one of the biggest dilemmas we face–how to take those pesky pre-reqs and keep our current job (money source) at the same time? For many of us, the only option that allows us to take classes we need at night are local community colleges.

I am re-taking biology and general chemistry at a local community college, because it’s been 10+ years since I’ve seen the material, and I want to refresh before the MCAT and before moving on to Organic and Physics. For the new material that’s not on my transcript already (from my original 4 year university), I will be transferring to a 4 year state school in the fall…because I just don’t want those credits from a CC.

Having said that–I now have a semester at community college under my belt (almost), and I thought I’d let you know my thoughts. In all honesty, I’ve found my professors and the material presented to be extremely thorough, challenging, and well taught. Both my bio and chem professors have brilliant backgrounds and are simply working at the college part time after retiring from more auspicious careers. But they are good teachers. And the text will more than prepare me for the MCAT. In that regard, I’ve been pleasantly surprised.

My one, huge, whopping regret: LAB. This school just doesn’t have the budget for it. I call what we do “playing at Lab” instead of actually doing “real” lab. Equipment is sub-par, materials are often old, contaminated, or prepared incorrectly…and we’ve even had labs that basically said, “ok, because we don’t have the material to actually do this lab, I’ll just give you hypothetical data and have you analyze and report on it as though you actually did it.” Yes, folks–hypothetical scenario lab.

It’s kind of a joke. Last night, my bio teacher discovered that the lab tech hadn’t prepared the materials at all–so she said, “oookay…well, read these 2 sections in the book to prep for the questions on the practical, and I guess we’ll be skipping this one.” Huh?

So I find myself googling procedures, looking for videos on gel electrophoresis, watching youtube lab stuff…anything I can get my hands on to actually see the way it “should” be.

So it’s just a thought to add to anyone’s decision making. I didn’t have a choice, and it is what it is…I am learning to make the best of it and compensate in some ways, but it’s definitely my only regret of the experience thus far.

Certainly not suggesting that all community colleges have bad labs–but it’s a question to ask, for sure!!!

Best of luck on your journey, all!

Hmm. And to give the other perspective, at the state 4 year college in Biology we ran ELISA tests, did gel electrophoresis, Western blotting, did recombinant DNA - altering bacterial DNA with a plasmid, did forensic DNA matching, and some cultures and bacterial identification. 2nd semester it was a lot more observational /dissection of plants and invertebrates/ identification.

Inorganic, don’t remember too much exciting…did do a fair number of titrations which helped when doing Organic Lab. Some of the standard “identify the mystery compound” labs.


I guess each school is different. At the community college where i took both Bio one and two,i had PHD prepared teachers. One spent a few years doing research at UT South Western University, and the other teaches the similar class at a four year university where he presently works full time. He is a part time/adjunct at the community college. My experience was similar to Kate’s at a four year school.

Kate said

“4 year college in Biology we ran ELISA tests, did gel electrophoresis, Western blotting, did recombinant DNA - altering bacterial DNA with a plasmid, did forensic DNA matching, and some cultures and bacterial identification. 2nd semester it was a lot more observational /dissection of plants and invertebrates/ identification.”

I’ll chime in, too. I was taking a class at the local JuCo when I made an appt to speak with the dean of admissions at the med school. Not only did she graciously make time for me, she explained how that particular junior college was one of the best in the country (it totally is!). The med school didn’t have any problem accepting credits from there, and I genuinely don’t believe that those credits were viewed as inferior by the admissions committee. Another old pre-med from that Chem I class also got into med school this year. I went on to finish the post-bacc at a four-year school…but the instruction was actually not as good IMHO. I missed the JuCo and its high standards. (The daycare was fantastic, too.)

It probably doesn’t hurt to talk to the admissions office about your plan for pre-reqs and see how they feel about it. I didn’t apply to Yale, and they may have felt differently about my JuCo credits.

I know that there are some OPMers who are very anti-JuCo for pre-reqs, but sometimes it’s appropriate. The most important thing is that one has a plan and a time line (at least a Plan A, anyway).

I feel pretty comfortable with the STEM classes I’m taking at my local community college-inorganic, physics, stats and pre-calc (tested into calc but, seriously, it’s been literally 20 years since I took a math class).

Here’s my reasoning: my chem teacher has his PHD, was the pre-med coordinator at his last school, has one published textbook (on forensic chemistry, headed into 2nd edition) and is currently writing a general chemistry book. We’re also doing research projects in the second semester of chem 1007, with poster presentations at the end of the year.

Stats is, well, stats. Lower level college math doesn’t change much no matter where you go and it fit into my schedule easily.

Pre-calc, can’t take physics without it.

Physics: I’ve talked to a couple pre-med students at the 4 yr college I’m planning to go to and they’ve universally had horrible things to say about the gen physics teacher there. He should have retired 10 years ago, still teaches the material he taught 10 years ago and then uses tests and labs that are based off the up-to-date material in the textbook. Yeah, no thanks.

This is the last year the comm college is using the old gen chem, org chem and physics lab, they’re completely rebuilding it over the summer (they just did the Bio lab remodel last summer). So I’ll get to use brand new equipment for physics lab next year. Oh, and, best of all (for my busy life), all our labs are open lab hours.

Honestly put some serious thought into staying yet another year to do biology and org. chem at the community college, but it’s a concession I’m making to the Adcom bias against them. Even though Illinois comm colleges are generally considered excellent (about the only thing in this state that is, sadly), I just don’t feel like making it any easier than necessary for an Adcom to summarily reject my application.

IMO, the debate about community college vs a 4 year school really isn’t about the quality of the education. Many community college courses are indeed of equal or better quality than 4 year colleges. The debate is in how the courses are viewed by Adcoms. At one time, community college courses were largely regarded as inferior and for people who couldn’t get into or couldn’t hack a 4 year school. Although that is changing, there still is a bias that definitely exists against community colleges.

If you plan to take your pre-reqs at a community college you need to 1. Get A’s (a B at a CC is not equal to a B at a 4 year); 2. Rock the MCAT; 3. Take some upper level science courses at a 4 year and do well in them; 4. Contact the med schools you are most interested in (particularly if you are geographically limited) and ask them how they view courses taken at your CC and if it will be a disadvantage.

Not saying it’s right or fair, but a bias against CC courses still exists. You are competing for med school seats against lots of other students who have taken all their courses at a 4 year school and excelled. That being said, people do get into medical school with CC pre-reqs.

Agreed on all counts–and I want to reiterate that my professors have been fantastic. I know the CC debate has been well discussed, and Emergency–you’re absolutely right. It boils down to how the ad-coms at your prospective schools see these credits. I’ve talked to the admissions people at mine, and all were fine with my plan. So my comments aren’t really with regard to admissions… Rather, about an underlying problem that I didn’t see coming (admissions issue was one I was familiar with, thanks to all of my OPM friends and all of your wisdom!)

I have the highest grades in both classes and hope to continue the strong GPA as I move on… My fear, though, (and what I didn’t consider to begin with) is that I will be really deficient in overall lab skill and lack the foundation that I need. Lab is a lot about practice and application…and we just aren’t applying a lot of knowledge in my labs. So–admissions issue aside… in terms of being as prepared as possible for next steps, I think lab will be the thorn in my side…

It’s really great to hear that not everyone has had this same lab experience–that’s awesome news!

The ironic thing is that the 4 year school I’m moving to in the fall has a bad rep for organic chemistry…but it’s still looked on more favorably by my med schools, because it’s a “4 year” school. Ah, well… We do what we can, and for the rest there’s google. Something to be said for a little self-teaching!

When I was running a free clinic 2 decades ago, we had a volunteer who took all her pre-reqs for med school at a community college. She got a 43 on the MCAT (using a prep course), went to UC medical school, and is now a professor there as well.

That’s incredible… I think that any way we go about this process, we will get out of it what we put into it. For me, I’ve been able to readily identify where the weaknesses are in what I’m getting at community college…which means it’s my responsibility to go after that information myself. I’d be doing the same thing at a 4 year school, by the way.

You have to take ownership of your own education. This process has certainly reminded me of that! I have an end goal in mind that’s different from most of the students in my classes. Therefore, it’s up to me to make sure I am completely prepared for that goal–regardless of whether I get tested on it or I have to do it in lab. I’m not just trying to get an A for this class at this moment. It goes beyond that…and as long we realize that, the gaps caused by deficiency in teaching, equipment, etc. (be it at a CC or a 4 year) can be minimized.

It’s so encouraging to hear all the positive CC experiences, though. Wonderful stuff!