So, my first question

I’ve seen contradictory advice regarding community college. My dilemma is that due to all the circumstances surrounding my particular brand of non-traditional student, I’m ineligible to begin classes this fall at most four year state universities. There are a few options at private four year institutions, but the cost difference is extreme. Nearly double a state school, and many times higher than a community college start.

Am I safe to begin at a community college? I wouldn’t be taking any of the medical prereqs there, I’d just be getting a lot of first year courses out of the way and then transferring to a state school in a year to finish. I don’t want to do anything to jeopardize my end goal.

Thanks in advance for your advice.

Hi TAChicago

I think while most folks on here agree that a 4 year institution is best, it is understandable when sometimes a Community College course is a better option (cost, timing, location).

I also think that as you are not planning to do the science prereqs at a community college, this would be fine. The comments I have heard before are that as long as some science pre reqs (particularly Orgo) are done at a 4 yr institution and perhaps some upper level courses are done there as well - it will be fine.

Thoughts from others?


As I’ll be paying for my education entirely out of loans, and intend on a heavy course load to shorten the length of time it takes to earn my undergrad, federal loans wouldn’t cover it at a 4 yr institution.

I would end up with ~$10,000 worth of private loans for my first year undergrad courses which I imagine are pretty elementary, and none of which are science prereqs for med school.

If I go to a local community college first, I can pay for it entirely out of federal loans and then finish up my final two-two and a half years at a 4 year institution.

Is the community college under consideration.

Is the 4 yr university under consideration. They have a bachelor’s program in Biology in the SCS program that covers all of the prereqs for their Med School.

I wanted to say that, at the same time, as Med School is the ultimate goal and the cost of Med School dwarfs undergrad, if the 4yr institution is viewed substantially more favorably for all classes taken, I would be crazy to try and save $10,000 and hurt my chances in the end.

typically, CC are viewed as less rigorous than a 4 year college and therefore can be considered a minor to moderate negative by an adcom. (remember these are general perceptions that we are dealing with and do not reflect the actual learning that takes place, that would be far too rational and logical) However, non-trads by definition are atypical. So it falls under Rule 3: It Depends.

As Ms. LJ “I got a brand new iPod” Simpson says taking the non-prereqs will likely be a non-issue. Personally I would say that freshman bio and chem would be nearly a non issue, provided you take the more advanced classes at a 4 year and you do well on the MCAT.

The other way to view this is by flipping the question. It really isn’t CC vs 4 year in your case, it is CC vs not taking the prereqs. And that is an obvious answer

Well, it turns out that Northwestern has a continuing studies branch with an appropriate degree that covers all the prereqs. So I can attend a 4yr institution right from the start so long as my application is accepted.

I really do have to decide now between starting at Northwestern, in their “School of Continuing Studies” branch, or attending community college first.

On that note, is there going to be some stigma attached to going through that particular program similar to the stigma associated with CC courses?

I spoke with someone at Feinberg School of Medicine admissions. They were exceptionally careful to be unbiased, but the moment the words “community college” escaped my lips the caveats came. She felt it wouldn’t an in issue at all for first year courses, but absolutely for the prereqs she felt it valuable to not take those at a 4yr institution.

Her initial reaction scares me away from CC in general. Schools with a 6.5% rate of acceptance don’t need many reasons to say no.

Am I, what’s the term used here often, becoming a victim of FUD already?

For what it’s worth, I’ve spoken to the admissions office of two med schools that both told me that prereqs taken at CC wouldn’t hold the weight that a 4 year university does.

So I’m now looking at the 10-15k it would take me to get the prereqs at a 4yr Univ. Sigh.

When FUD becomes an issue, employ Rule #1: TAKE A BREATH.

Do it. And again.

It really helps.

The whole CC thing is an ongoing debate, and there seems to be no clear-cut answer about it - especially because everyone’s situation is so different, and sometimes the only way to get the pre-reqs (or at least, some of them) done is through a CC. Then, as Richard said, the answer is obvious. If medicine is, indeed, your goal, of course.

I will share a strategy that I have used in my own decision-making struggles (I haven’t had to face the CC one, but I’ve used this w/others, including the decision of whether to pursue the med school dream at all).

As a very Type A person, and an oldest child (lucky me), I have always tended to think in very black-and-white terms. Right and wrong. Good and evil. Etc. In recent years, I have been trying, with all my might (and with some success, I might add), to understand that things are not usually that way. In fact, “shades of gray” is a much better descriptor when it comes to options and choices in our lives.

This is not to say I have no morals. I am not a relativist. But I do believe that in many - perhaps most - situations, there is no clear-cut “right” or “wrong” answer. No black and white. As I said, lots of gray.

Our job is to think through the options, count up pros and cons, consider potential outcomes, then choose something based on our best judgment. And then, deal with the consequences of our decisions. (Please note that I am not placing a value judgment on the word “consequences” here - I am using it as a synonym for “outcomes.”)

This might sound bleak (or again, relativistic) to some, but really, it’s very freeing. When you’re no longer concerned with absolute perfection, you’re more free to be yourself, and to experiment. And then in the end, to take responsibility for your decisions. That includes patting yourself on the back when you’re really happy with how things turn out.

When I was in my “black and white” days, I would sometimes become literally paralyzed with indecision. This strategy also helps with that paralysis. You’re no longer afraid of making a “mistake” because there ARE no mistakes. No right and wrongs. Just different choices, with different outcomes.

I know I haven’t answered your question. And that’s because I don’t have an answer.

I do hope, however, that this makes a little bit of sense, and that maybe, it might help you. If not, that’s OK too. Because every time I talk about this issue, it’s a good reminder for me, too.

Anyway … good luck!

And remember: DEEP BREATHS!

Actually found out I’m a calendar year away from qualifying as an IL resident, so the price difference between the two is now down to $1500 a semester. I’ll be applying to Northwestern.

I also checked out the SCS program for Biology and compared it against the standard undergrad program for biology. The classes are a near 1 for 1 match except for a single biology course which isn’t a prereq. Based on the feedback from Feinberg admissions, I think the SCS program is a very solid choice.

Just have to hope I’m what they’re looking for, time to write a Statement of Purpose.

Good luck!

Good luck, TA. I will just add for the benefit of others that knocking out a few gen Ed requirements at a CC can be very wise and I believe won’t affect your chances at getting into med school. I would also second what was told to you by Northwestern med school-- do your med school prereqs at a 4 year institution. However, hopefully none of that advice will be needed by you now! Again, best of luck.

I’d just like to support what terra said, in that the search for the “optimal” path has really screwed me over repeatedly in my life. At times - especially in my early 20s - I worried far too much about what might be my optimal path, and thus shot myself in the foot, missing what would be the right path for me.

… which, incidentally, could well have been said optimal path. It was more a matter of worry than anything else, really.

Once I started to let go of this concept of being somehow “perfect,” I was able to get much closer to it than I would have otherwise been able. Letting go and relaxing a bit really helped my state of mind, as well as my productivity.